Global Lessons Learned

Ellen Remmer
Global Philanthropy
Friday, June 14, 2013

TPI has always been committed to deepening the understanding and practice of philanthropy around the world.  We have been privileged to work with colleagues in countries including Brazil, China, Chile, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Mexico, the Philippines and Spain, who seek to deepen and grow philanthropy and want to build on lessons learned elsewhere. We’ve conducted seminars and conferences, authored research studies, interviewed and met with countless philanthropists, collaborated with academic institutions and conferred with government leaders.  With a grant from the Bertelsmann Foundation nearly a decade ago, TPI co-authored with Harvard’s Hauser Center and the Aviva Foundation the only overview I’m aware of on approaches to growing philanthropy around the world:  Promoting Philanthropy:  Global Challenges and Approaches.

In the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to re-engage with several  global colleagues who have taken a leadership role in strengthening the culture of philanthropy in their countries.  I met with Mario Valdivia of Chile when he was in Boston recently.  Mario was the champion behind a Harvard/TPI seminar for Chilean business leaders several years ago and has been the catalyst for a variety of subsequent efforts to increase the practice of strategic giving in Chile.  He and others are launching a new organization designed to serve as a peer-learning hub for strategic givers and propel a movement to improve the regulatory and cultural climate for Chilean philanthropy.

In April,  I returned to Northern Ireland to help launch the Giving Northern Ireland initiative, the product of a cohort of  philanthropy professionals whom came to the U.S. on an Irish Institute study tour in 2009.  This group had invited me back to N.I. to talk with hundreds of their compatriots in 2010, and out of those few short days, and in only a few short years, created the momentum for this significant philanthropy promotion initiative. Their foci for growing philanthropy are corporations and high net worth individuals and families and they are approaching it in a very thoughtful, sensitive way.

And a few weeks ago, Jamie Jaffee and I attended a reception for a group of Chinese philanthropists who are on a Mercy Corps study tour of American philanthropy.  TPI – in collaboration with Harvard again - hosted the first Mercy Corps study tour four years ago and it has been exciting to see the continued growth of interest and sophistication in civil society.  A decision to form the China Foundation Center was just one important outcome of the first study tour.  Illustrative of the growth of private foundations in China (vs. public), this year will be the fifth China Private Foundations Forum.

We look forward to watching and learning from all these efforts in the years to come.  Each initiative reflects the unique culture and context in which it lives: in Northern Ireland, the culture of privacy and modesty; in Chile, the small number of families of great wealth; and in China, the strong role of the State.  Yet there are some common threads in their approaches; champions  are pursuing change on parallel tracks at the policy level and on the ground with donors.

These are just three of many efforts around the world to grow philanthropy.  WINGS, the Worldwide Initiative for Grantmaker Supports group headquartered in Brazil, now has 150 members, nearly half of whom incorporated during the last decade.  Even amidst the global economic downturn, the drive for growing philanthropy marches forward.  Indeed, the trends noted in the 2004 study, Promoting Philanthropy:  Global Challenges and Approaches, ring just as true today:  “In recent years, severe cutbacks in government services, widespread political reform, and changes in government policy have redefined the roles and responsibilities among the state, the commercial marketplace, and civil society….As a consequence, the importance of civil society – and the role of private resources in supporting it – has increased dramatically.”

Is it time to take stock again?

If half of WINGS’ membership has been incorporated in the last 10 years, isn’t it critically important that we understand more about what is being tried, what has been accomplished and learned so that all these efforts benefit from a base of knowledge?

Again, from the 2004 report, “One of the principal hurdles to growing philanthropy globally is the fact that surprisingly little research has been conducted on philanthropy promotion efforts around the world.  Little is known about deliberate efforts to increase philanthropy in various countries, cultures, and contexts.  What are the real obstacles to more and better philanthropy, and what strategies might be employed to address them?  What approaches have been or are currently being tried?  Is there a need for new models?  What might those be?...[The intent is} to mobilize knowledge regarding today’s promotion strategies and efforts and to encourage their adaptation and use in countries and regions in which they are less well known and seldom practiced.”