Bellagio Initiative to consider call for greater checks and balances on philanthropic foundations
A distinguished expert in philanthropy is calling for a new system of checks and balances for philanthropic foundations involved in international development.
Michael Edwards, Senior Fellow at the New York think-tank Demos and Honorary Visiting Fellow at the Brooks World Poverty Institute at Manchester University, makes his appeal in a new paper, saying it is necessary to ensure the growing influence of foundations addresses global problems in a focused and democratic way.
The paper was commissioned by the Bellagio Initiative, a US$2m (£1.26m) Rockefeller-funded programme which aims to find new forms of collaboration between philanthropists and international development experts. It is jointly led by IDS and the Resource Alliance.
Edwards has studied and worked in the fields of philanthropy, civil society and international development for the past 35 years, including periods with Oxfam, Save the Children, the World Bank and the Ford Foundation.
Among the recommendations he makes in 'The Role and Limitations of Philanthropy in Meeting the Challenges of Human Wellbeing in the 21st Century' (pdf), are:
- The diversification of boards of trustees. He points out that the Gates Foundation, which controls a quarter of global health spending, has a board of three family members plus Warren Buffet.
- Greater coordination with host governments in order to generate a dialogue about priorities. He cites the Liberia case, where a special office for philanthropy has been established under the Office of the President, as a possible model for future good practice.
- The channeling of more resources through institutions governed by a broader cross-section of society, such as the Global Fund for Malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS which has formal civil society representatives on its board.Strengthening independent evaluation, transparency and debate.
Edwards points out that there are now more than 176,000 philanthropic foundations in the US and Europe alone, forming part of a growing movement to channel private funding to the public good in innovative ways. He says they are free from the financial and political pressures that constrain other funding agencies and can take risks from which governments and market-based investors might shy away.
However, he adds: 'Balancing the demands of democracy with the determination to address global problems in a focused and energetic manner is the key issue facing philanthropy in the century to come.'
Edwards is just one paper to have been commissioned by the Bellagio Initiative, which is engaging some of the world’s most respected and innovative thinkers to consider joint solutions to some of the major challenges affecting poor people today. As well as commissioning papers it is convening a series of global consultations on key topics affecting wellbeing, the results of which will feed into debate at a summit being held at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center in Italy from 8-22 November.
The Initiative also wants to hear from anybody with an interest in philanthropy and international development. To find out more about how you can contribute, go to the Bellagio Initiative website.
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