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Improving philanthropy

15 December 2020

The article at a glance

COVID-19 pandemic shows the need to address the North-South power imbalance in global philanthropy, says report by the Centre for Strategic Philanthropy …

COVID-19 pandemic shows the need to address the North-South power imbalance in global philanthropy, says report by the Centre for Strategic Philanthropy at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School.

A new report into global philanthropy released today (15 December) says the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has highlighted the need to address inequalities in the philanthropic relationship between the Global North and South, including more core funding and local networks in the South.

The report – entitled Philanthropy and COVID-19: Is the North-South Power Balance Finally Shifting? is the first publication from the Centre for Strategic Philanthropy, which launched operations in June 2020 with a mission to examine philanthropy within and from the world’s highest-growth markets including Africa, developing Asia and the Middle East.

Through interviews conducted with two dozen Global South Social Purpose Organisations (SPOs) and foundations during the COVID pandemic – as well as analysis of secondary data – the report finds that COVID-19 has revealed “a deep sense of dissatisfaction with the status quo” in global philanthropy.

While philanthropic foundations in the Global North have historically exercised considerable control over how resources are allocated to Global South grantees, the urgent demands of the pandemic have started to shift some control toward Global South organisations. With the diversion of more and more resources towards public health, the old norms of decision making have been disrupted in favour of organisations with superior local knowledge. And the positive effects of this show that it is now time for change across the sector.

Building on these findings,the reportcalls for three key steps that will help global philanthropy apply the lessons learned from COVID-19. The resulting long-term changes will make philanthropic relationships more equal and improve the impact of Global South philanthropy:

  • Fund networks to improve infrastructure, capacity and knowledge. Networks help under-resourced, fragile SPOs collectively bargain for better relationships with governments, global grant-makers and the broader development community. They also help build better analyses of the needs and potential of the sector. During the pandemic, many Global South SPOs have begun to create regional networks for sharing knowledge: however, local data collection requires investment, and Global North grant-makers need to commit to funding local networks (plus their associated infrastructure) so that Global South SPOs can start to take advantage of the data revolution.
  • Improve partnerships between Global South governments and Global South philanthropists. Better partnerships with government would allow Global South SPOs and grant-makers to align with national development policy and scale up their initiatives faster. By working together, Global South SPOs and governments can also advocate for radical reform of existing global development policies. However, to achieve this, Global South governments need to become more comfortable working with civil society and local organisations. Projects like the OECD’s Network of Foundations Working for Development could contribute to this by bringing governments and philanthropists together.
  • Build resilience in the Global South by funding core costs rather than only project-specific funding. Historically, grant-makers have been reluctant to fund SPO overheads or salaries, due to a myth that this is less efficient than funding programmes. This hampers local SPOs in their efforts to build resilience, acquire expertise and manage data repositories – thereby diminishing their potential impact. Moreover, too many restrictions on grants entrench the power imbalance between grant-makers and Global South grantees, suggesting the latter cannot be trusted to decide where funding is best allocated. Instead, grant-makers need to trust the local knowledge of SPOs to spend the money effectively. Grantees that we interviewed all welcomed the simpler, faster due diligence and application processes that COVID-19 made necessary.
Clare Woodcraft.
Clare Woodcraft

Clare Woodcraft, Executive Director of the Centre for Strategic Philanthropy, said:

“The fact that Global South Social Purpose Organisations are finally making their voices heard is a positive step – but it is crucial that global philanthropy does not regress to the status quo once the pandemic is over.

“Achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 will require a shift towards a more collective, inclusive and local approach to identifying and prescribing social investment solutions. The need for this change – in light of the gravity of the pandemic – has never been more urgent.

“COVID-19 could thus be a catalyst for positioning philanthropy to respond even more effectively to the next unpredictable but not unforeseeable crisis.”

Kamal Munir.
Dr Kamal Munir

Kamal Munir, Academic Director of the Centre for Strategic Philanthropy and Reader in Strategy and Policy at Cambridge Judge Business School, said:

“The shift in the power dynamic that our research revealed is clearly nascent, fragile and patchy. However, it shows some early indications of practices that if nurtured and retained could potentially transform the relationship between Global North and Global South philanthropic actors. This in turn could lead to positive operational and policy outcomes that can help deliver more sustainable and scalable social impact.

“Beyond COVID-19, the UN’s SDGs could potentially be accelerated if the trillions of dollars of philanthropic capital available were systematically pooled and then targeted to locally defined critical needs rather than subjective criteria defined in the Global North. Moreover, new thinking around the delivery of the SDGs that incorporates truly grassroots Global South ideas and innovation – ideally generated by the young emerging philanthropists and social investor change-makers of the Global South – could rapidly improve their efficacity.”