Taking Advantage of the "Hope for Change"

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Dec 02, 2012
by Louise Hallman
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Taking Advantage of the "Hope for Change"

The role of philanthropy in times of crisis and transition Barbara Ibrahim discusses challenges and opportunities in philanthropy in countries of crisis and transition

Vast areas of the world are in a period of great change and transition, most notably in the Middle East and North Africa following the 2010-11 “Arab Spring”.  Countries that had long had a totalitarian or dictatorial regime, such as Libya, Tunisia and Egypt are transforming into democracies and opening up opportunities for civil societies.  These civil society groups and NGOs, long thwarted by the old regimes, either have to be “born or emerge from the underground”. To do this, many of them need funding – this is where foundations, both international and local(ized) can play a role.

28 long-experienced philanthropic foundation experts have come together this weekend in Salzburg, at Schloss Leopoldskron, home of the Salzburg Global Seminar, to examine this role, in the seminar ‘Philanthropy in Times of Crisis and Transition: Catalyzing Forces of Change’ (1-4 December).

Representing a variety of foundations, from small community foundations to large global foundations, participants have come 17 different countries in Europe, USA, Latin America, Africa and, unsurprisingly, the Middle East, to share their experiences and take part in a peer learning and exchange.

With Fellows from South Africa and Eastern Europe – which have had their time of crisis and are now working through different stages of transition – as well as those from foundations now taking advantage of the opening up of transitory Middle East, the seminar is eschewing the traditional Salzburg Global Seminar model of faculty and Fellows, with all participants instead focussing on knowledge sharing, skills building and capacity enhancement, and all dispensing their expertise in working in regions that have recently experienced significant socio-political transitions.

Times of crisis and the subsequent, much longer period of transition pose different challenges to global and local philanthropic foundations.  Local foundations might suddenly be able to act in a country where they had previously been legally prohibited, as was the case in Libya, but long-serving global foundations might find a new hostility in a newly nationally proud society that wants to oust seemingly foreign influence.  As new local NGOs sprout up, rather than relying on overseas grants – which can sometimes lead to them also being accused of being agents of foreign actors – large foundations can have a role in helping smaller local foundations improve their own sustainability and long-term capacity.

Over the intense two and a half day meeting, Fellows will consider what challenges and opportunities face philanthropic foundation in times of both crisis and transition; who should foundations partner with in these periods, particularly once new governments have been established; what role and interaction should international, local and localized donors should have; what balance should be sought between near and long-term investments; and how best can foundations create strategies for impact.

Creating strategy in such fast-changing societies can prove particularly difficult, especially as multiple transitions may be happening at the same time at different levels and in different areas of country, and as foundations often work in not only building philanthropic practices in a country, but also changing how these practices work at the same time.

This sharing of expertise, enhanced by group work and online interaction on the new Salzburg Global Fellowship Yammer network, will lead to the publication of a practical handbook for foundations working in countries of crisis and transitions by co-organizer the Institute for Integrated Transitions.

This seminar was developed with input from the Arab Foundations Forum and in cooperation with John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement at the American University in Cairo and the Institute for Integrated Transitions.