New Guide for Philanthropy in Times of Transition Published

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Nov 26, 2013
by Oscar Tollast
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New Guide for Philanthropy in Times of Transition Published

Guide for grant-makers builds off key Salzburg Global program Dr Barbara Ibrahim (top) and Mark Freeman (bottom) speaking at Salzburg Global in December 2012

The Institute for Integrated Transitions (IFIT) and the John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement at the American University in Cairo (Gerhart Center) have published a guide on supporting countries in transition.

Supporting Countries in Transition: A Framework Guide for Foundation Engagement’ aims to help private funders act with maximum effect when opportunities for disproportionately positive impact arise in the context of transitions out of conflict or repression.

During the making of the guide, the authors partnered with Salzburg Global Seminar on a session in December 2012 entitled, ‘Philanthropy in Times of Crisis and Transition: Catalyzing Forces of Change’.

It produced a set of key issues and questions that became the basis for 25 in-depth individual interviews and four donor roundtable meetings that later formed part of the research for the report.

Mark Freeman, Executive Director at the Institute for Integrated Transitions, said the guide offers a tailored framework for private grant-making foundations.

“This is the first report written for the private foundation sector that offers a framework for them to conduct their grant-making, and provide other forms of support.

“It’s one that focuses on the risks but even more on the opportunities and draws on lessons from the sector itself.”

The idea for the guide was born upon Mr Freeman and Dr Barbara Ibrahim, Director at the John D. Gerhart Center, being invited to speak to a group of private philanthropic donors from both Europe and the United States, shortly after the Tunisian uprising.

Dr Ibrahim said: “In the course of talking to the donors that were there, listening to each other’s presentations, we realized that there’s a lot of collective wisdom on the part of private philanthropy that’s never been collected in one place.

“Our hope is that this will be a guide that helps those new to the transition grant-making field, but also those who have some experience before who can benefit from it, can begin to become more collaborative and be truly supportive as transitions take place around the world.”

Mr Freeman said the timing seemed right to pull together the foundation sector’s lessons learned from decades of experience of transitions.

“In the context of the Arab Spring, a lot of foundations are struggling to define their engagement and I think have become somewhat reluctant become some of the more failed examples.

“Yet there are a much greater number of positive examples and that’s what we try and draw upon.”

The publication is split into three sections. The first focuses on the main challenges and opportunities of contemporary transitions, whilst the second looks at the roles and strengths of the foundation sector itself.

Mr Freeman said: “When we speak of transitions in this guide, we’re speaking of transitions out of authoritarian rule, as well as out of civil war. We also take a broad approach to defining foundations, while focusing on their comparative advantages in relation to other aid actors.”

The report’s third section sets out a framework called, ‘Informed Risk-taking for Disproportionate Outcomes’, which outlines two basic rules for the foundation community when a transition arises.

Mr Freeman said: “First of all, [a foundation] should see transitions as invitations for action. It should be thinking proactively about becoming engaged because transitions represent an opportunity – a brief window of opportunity – when they can have a disproportionately positive outcome with their investment.”

Nevertheless, Mr Freeman warned that an additional level of due diligence was required for this period of change.

He said: “[Transitions] involve all kinds of complicated challenges that really need to be anticipated and because there is such a wealth of experience in over 40 years of transitions around the world on every continent, there’s a lot to draw upon.”

The framework set out by the guide provides advice on how foundations can take decisions about their engagement in a transitional setting, looking at practical issues as who to fund, how long to stay and how to measure impact.

The guide, which for now only exists in English, is being translated into Arabic and will have additional material about the specifics of the Arab uprisings.

Salzburg Global recently held a session with the Arab Human Rights Fund entitled, ‘Getting Transition Right: A rights-based approach towards Diversity and Inclusivity’.

The session focused on four key countries in the midst of transitions that could pilot new approaches to diversity management for the Arab region: Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen.

Mr Freeman said the guide would have particular relevance in the context of the current transitions in the Arab world, but equally in transitions in places as different as Burma, the Ivory Coast, and Colombia.

IFIT and the Gerhart Center now plan to present the guide to a wide range of donor audiences and interested foundations, following various invitations they have received.

He said: “We see the publication as a starting point for what we hope will become a very in-depth but ongoing conversation with, and within, the foundation sector.”

Mr Freeman and Dr Ibrahim joined 28 foundation and development leaders at last year’s Salzburg Global session on ‘Philanthropy in Times of Crisis and Transition: Catalyzing Forces of Change’.

The session helped both institutions take away “essential questions” that would help shape the structure of interviews and roundtable meetings subsequently conducted with foundation leaders and transition experts.

Whilst the rich amount of data collected from individual interviews confirmed a lot of Dr Ibrahim’s previous observations, she suggested there was still much to take away.

Dr Ibrahim said: “One thing that really heartened me was to see a number of organizations drawing out from their past experiences prior policy statements about how they will respond to transitions, actually setting aside contingency funds to be ready the next time an unexpected event like this occurs.

“What that means is that there will be a much quicker response time and more systematic and thoughtful responses.”

Both Mr Freeman and Dr Ibrahim described Salzburg Global’s role in the development of the guide as significant, helping to generate discussions and major ideas later pursued in the report.

Dr Ibrahim said: “It was the first gathering of handpicked selected individuals that we knew would be just the right mix of backgrounds and experience to brainstorm together.”

Mr Freeman shared similar sentiments, describing Salzburg Global as a “fantastic piece” of the whole story.

He said: “It offered a chance for us to really go in-depth with a group of knowledgeable and experienced people from the sector and to give early form to the framework that we ultimately developed.”