Why I love philanthropy – and why it can only do so much


Gabrielle Ritchie, Director, The Change Room

2nd June 2016

Philanthropic funding opens up so much possibility.  It comes with the excitement of potential – the potential to design, implement and conclude a project with real social impact, that actually makes a difference to a community (however narrowly or broadly one delineates or defines “community”).  In many instances philanthropy provides the freedom and the space to create – new thinking and ideas, space for discussion, the development of new research, the discovery of new solutions.  The idea of new, sparkling, energetic. Potential. Possibility.

This is why, with all its contradictions, I love philanthropy (and because of what actually does get achieved!).

With this, though, comes hard work.  We know that nobody ever made anything happen by simply dreaming or talking about. An idea must be planned, and that plan must be executed, to become a reality.  Both the funders and the funded need to put in the effort, the thought, the planning, the discussions, the collaborations, and the willingness to allow for (and speak about) failure.

One funder that has engendered this sense of possibility, through its Reconciliation and Human Rights programme in South Africa, is The Atlantic Philanthropies, a limited life foundation currently spending out its endowment fund. Everyone in South Africa’s social justice activist sector will know of The Atlantic Philanthropies, who granted over $360million in South Africa in just over a decade for a wide range of projects and initiatives, until their exit in 2013/14.

The Atlantic Philanthropies announced last Tuesday (31st May 2016) the latest initiative in its “big bet” grant strategy – $200 million to the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) for an Atlantic Fellows programme, and for the establishment of the Atlantic Institute as a home for collaboration amongst the fellows.  This grant, according Chris Oechsli (Atlantic President) in their press release on the grant, is about supporting individuals to “recognize that they are most effective when they collaborate with others”.  Atlantic says that its ultimate goal is “to create, over time, a cohesive network of change agents who could impact the areas Atlantic has long cared about…”.

A key point on this massive investment, with the potential to change the collaboration game amongst progressive social development researchers, is that funding can only go so far.  The rest has to come from the individuals supported through this funding, either as members of the Atlantic Institute or as Atlantic Fellows.  Philanthropy is often viewed as the fix, and although philanthropic funding is a key component of the continuum of activism and the hard work of social change, it is only a component.  It will be up to the Fellows supported by the Fellowship grants and the Institute to commit to longer-term collaboration, and to commit to making the initiative work.  That must be part of the mutual expectations contract that comes with funding of this nature. The philanthropy can only do so much

And, as David Callahan says on his Inside Philanthropy blog on this grant “…Atlantic’s new thing sounds pretty cool. Let’s hope it works.”

For much more on Atlantic’s work in South Africa, particularly in the area of COLLABORATION, go to http://resourcingphilanthropy.org.za/approaches/responsive-collaboration/



One thought on “Why I love philanthropy – and why it can only do so much

  1. Pingback: Funding our future with philanthropy | philanthropediaSA

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