Foundations and International Development


Magazine article

A little over a year ago, the OECD launched a Global Network of Foundations Working for Development (netFWD). We had spent the previous 12 months consulting with over 80 foundations from 20 countries spanning five continents. And what we heard was a clear demand from foundations for a dedicated platform to enhance the effectiveness and impact of their efforts while engaging in policy dialogue with governments, the private sector and key experts. On the other hand, the OECD Development Centre’s member governments1 (42 countries, of which 24 are OECD members and 18 are developing and emerging economies) were asking to learn more and engage in a dialogue with foundations, other than in ‘’ad-hoc’’ fashion.

The Network was our response. Its inception was, in some ways, inevitable. Less than a decade ago, philanthropy was seen by many as a quaint enterprise of the rich, disconnected from the global development system dominated by governments and multilateral policymakers.

Not so any longer. Foundations have become increasingly important in the development galaxy; their influence and traction in shaping innovative and more inclusive approaches is now undeniable.

Innovation and impact are also at the heart of members’ interest in netFWD. Several of them (e.g. the Rockefeller foundation, the Emirates Foundation for Youth Development, the Lundin foundation, the Shell Foundation , the Novartis Foundation or the Rothschild Foundation) have a strong interest or even associate themselves with models of venture philanthropy.

The questions they (and all of netFWD members) are asking are:

•        Are we having more impact through our renewed models?

•        Are we able to measure our impact?

•        What’s our specific social impact?

But most importantly, are these questions being discussed - or of any relevance - for other development professionals?

This is not always so clear. The ‘’Clash of Civilisations’’ between traditional donors and foundations has led to different actors speaking to themselves in separate circles, with little interaction and more worryingly, little operational relevance in the ground.

netFWD is now trying to bridge this gap. It allowed foundations to finally have a seat at the table: Foundations are now directly involved in Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC) and were offered a seat as observer as part of the Global Partnership Steering Committee since July 2013. But being at the table does not mean a tacit agreement to be the development community’s alternative ATM, at times when official development assistance is shrinking.

Foundations cannot be asked to merely pick up the cheque.

So while they may still write cheques, foundations are now making it clearer that they have a say in the development agenda. Being part of a network like netFWD allows them to voice some of these issues and to reflect on their impact, value added, comparative advantages as well as to reach out to governments.

As the new post MDG framework is emerging, foundations are now part of our development landscape. netFWD is trying to optimise their willingness to engage further into our collective ‘’ landscaping effort’’ and most importantly, to systematise how they learn from each other and from other stakeholders, beyond the usual siloes.

Together with governments and alongside social entrepreneurs, the private sector (through the UN Global Compact) and NGOs, they will hopefully be able to reflect on how to enhance collective impact and will certainly agree that ‘’doing good (or doing it alone) does not always mean doing it well’’.


This article is tagged under:

  • Philanthropy Advice
  • Promoting philanthropy