Philanthropic foundations should be included in discussions on development cooperation

28 February 2012

IDS Fellow Dr Noshua Watson advocated for philanthropic participation in existing development initiatives on the Millennium Development Goals and aid transparency, when she addressed a United Nations panel on new opportunities for private philanthropy and international development this week.

Dr Watson, who specialises in business and development, was addressing the UN Special Dialogue on ‘Private philanthropic organisations in international development cooperation: new prospects and specific challenges’, which was held in preparation for July 2012’s Development Cooperation Forum.

Speaking before the event, Dr Watson said: ‘Philanthropy can contribute a huge amount to development cooperation. Both private and corporate foundations directed $52.5 billion toward international development in 2009. They can also contribute greatly in many other ways, for example in their convening power, in running pilot programmes, in their ability to take risks, and in community engagement, research and advocacy.

‘However, despite the amount of funding, there is slow progress with respect to child nutrition, education, sanitation, urban issues and female employment, and progress is extremely uneven between regions of the world.

‘Health issues have benefited from multilateral/multi-actor frameworks for cooperation, such as the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria. What about multi-actor cooperation frameworks for education or gender? Coordinated responses from private and public bodies to development challenges is essential.’

Speakers at the event included:

  • Luis Ubinas, Ford Foundation
  • Rob Garris, Rockefeller Foundation
  • Akwasi Aidoo, Trust Africa
  • Bakary Kone, The African Capacity Building Foundation
  • Igbal Noor Ali, Aga Khan Development Network
  • Klaus Leisinger, Novartis Foundation for Sustainable Development
  • Ron Bruder, Education for Employment Network
  • Betty King, US Ambassador to the UN in Geneva
  • Lisa Philp, Foundation Center

Public-private partnerships

The Gates Foundation was one of the first private foundations to provide seed money for the Global Fund, which is now an established world-leading public-private partnership in global health, bringing together governments, international development partners, civil society organisations and the private sector.

However, while encouraging cooperation between development actors, Dr Watson stressed the need to have standards for any new frameworks. She said: ‘When we propose new frameworks, we need to ask: Are the right players taking the right risks? Will these initiatives contribute to a diversity of approaches that work? Are these initiatives that would not be funded otherwise?’

It is also important, she added, to consider how development cooperation efforts tap community resources, such as local leadership, and how development cooperation delivers non-material outcomes, such as cleaner environment, social capital and wellbeing.

The Bellagio Initiative

These issues were also among those considered as part of the Bellagio Initiative, a Rockefeller Foundation-funded programme exploring the future of philanthropy and international development, for which Dr Watson was the project manager. The Initiative, jointly led by IDS, the Resource Alliance and Rockefeller, will be producing its Framework for Action later this year.

Masters programme to explore business and development

The role of the private sector in achieving sustainable development is a key issue explored in the IDS MA Globalisation and Development programme, in which Dr Watson convenes the ‘Business as a Development Actor’ course.

Dr Watson said: ‘Whether through promoting sustainable economic growth, influencing government policy or providing funds through philanthropic giving, the crucial role of business in development is emerging as globalisation evolves. The opportunities and challenges this creates are key issues that our students explore.’

The updated MA programme starts in September 2012 and is aimed at students with relevant work experience, for example as a private sector consultant, business analyst, policy or research officer, or civil servant. Previous students have gone on to careers in the private sector, NGOs and multilateral organisations, including the African Development Bank, the World Food Programme and the International Labour Organisation.

Find out more about the MA Globalisation and Development programme.

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