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Foundations and international development: partnership and outcomes


By dxw

What are the new trends and challenges in development thinking? Where do Foundations fit in? Donor government organisations, NGOs, representatives from Southern civil society, development experts and foundations met at Wilton Park for lively debate.


Foundations and International Development: Partnership and Outcomes

Monday 4 – Wednesday 6 October 2010 (WP1070)

In the aftermath of the worldwide financial crisis, there is a need and an appetite for new commitment on development. The UN Review Conference for the Millennium Development Goals underlined the magnitude of the task ahead if these basic commitments are to be met. The contribution of Foundations, both financially and in helping shape greater understanding of development requirements,  is increasingly highly valued.

New challenges, new actors, new approaches

The age of austerity in public finances makes it hard for developed countries even to meet their previous pledges of aid. The UK remains committed to pledging 0.7% of its GDP for development by 2013 and has challenged other G8 nations to move in the same direction – or at the very least to meet the pledges they have already made from the UN Millennium Summit and the Gleneagles 2005 G8 meeting onwards.

Our conference on Foundations and International Development also focused on how Prime Minister David Cameron’s vision of  ‘The Big Society’ can equally be articulated at a global level. Some of the main contours of the ‘Global Big Society’ have already been sketched by UK Development Minister Andrew Mitchell (see end of article for further details).

The new approaches include a shift of emphasis to careful assessment of development outcomes and results. Particularly at a time when resources are scarce, impact has to be real and seen to be real. Careful design of programmes, monitoring and evaluation, as well as detailed feedback and assessment from partners and recipients are essential. Incoming actors at international level include new donors (both emerging economies and foundations). The rising power of the G20 was also discussed.

In this context, two approaches can be highlighted. The first is the commitment of a number of Foundations and individuals devoting substantial resources to results-focussed development initiatives, based on a clearly defined mandate. Whether this is in the form of major players such as the Gates Foundation, CIFF (The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation) and Ted Turner’s pioneering endowment of the United Nations Foundation, or initiatives with more limited resources, a new impetus for development and a new constituency is emerging. The emergence of Philanthrocapitalism is well described by Matthew Bishop and Michael Green (who spoke at the conference).



Edith Prak, Director of Development, The Open University; Andrea Pizziconi, Principal, The Christie Company, New York; Roger Williamson, Programme Director, Sustainable Development, Wilton Park


Domestic mobilisation of resources is also part of the development consensus. This is a challenge to government (making tax systems more effective). It is also a consideration for organisations in developing countries, who are approaching the rich in their societies for endowments or donations. The development financing landscape is changing. Brazil and South Africa, for example, have wealthy sectors of the population, a strong civil society and a desire for international outreach.

There is still a need for significant levels of aid. Income generation and sustainable job creation (where possible) should be pursued. Foundations can provide a key role through providing start-up capital or first investments. The example of how the Fair Trade movement has grown its market and expanded the range of goods can be cited here. The Shell Foundation acts as a champion of market-based solutions. One initiative is cleaner cook stoves which have gains for efficient use of wood, reduced levels of respiratory disease and improvements in the lives of women including greater safety in the home and when collecting wood, as well as significant time savings.

A ‘home grown’ approach in Asia is the Bright Green Energy Foundation, established by a long standing staff member of the Nobel-prize winning Grameen Bank, which seeks to use an emerging network of women as village–level entrepreneurs bringing electricity to half the population of Bangladesh (75million people) at less than the cost of household kerosene.

The conference was marked by a great degree of honesty about the difficulty for Foundations to deploy resources well. Particularly in the start-up phase, mistakes are often made. If learning occurs as a result, this can provide a sound basis for the future work, particularly if learning can be shared with others in the field – if not, the result is wasted opportunities.

Most international organisations and development actors are keen to have partnerships with the private sector and Foundations. Foundations are, of their nature, independent organisations which set their own priorities and guard their distinctive approaches. Whereas government development agencies and development/disaster relief NGOs have seen the advantages of coordination and the negative consequences of competition, coordination among foundations remains weak. The two extremes can be ruled out as unhelpful – neither centralised control nor a complete free market with no information between Foundations is being considered. There is, however, a growing perception that information exchange and mutual learning, a coordinated approach to government and developed mechanisms for North-South cooperation could lead to greater efficiency in deploying resources to maximum effect.


Further Information

Conference on Foundations and international development: partnership and outcomes 

DFID’s news on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) summit in New York

An example of Foundation activity: The initiative by The Guardian in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on the MDGs and the Summit.

Prime Minister, David Cameron: Speech on Big Society

Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg: Speech at UN Millennium Development Goals Summit