Philanthropreneurship Forum Alert

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The Challenge :

We have had reasonable success with the MDGs and yet we are in an extremely unhappy place with our world today. Globally, all forms of poverty have been reduced yet there are billions of people living in multi-dimensional poverty and it has become more deeply entrenched in certain areas. Similarly we have made progress in sectors like education and health but the battle is only half won.

A fractured world stares at us today, and in it lies the challenges for development and progress. It is a world with a glaringly unequal distribution of wealth, increasing disparities and multiplying divides; growing chasms between have’s and have-not’s are festering wounds, and the psychological fall-outs, particularly among a disenfranchised youth, are threatening the security and sustainability of all societies and economies.

Tools for Change:

  • The swift spread of the mobile and internet technologies and the 4th industrial revolution has made our world highly interconnected; market-based models are being used to deliver these technologies widely, and on their backs, a number of other products/services. This has meant major conceptual and methodological shifts in development delivery, making available a range of possibilities for better outreach of development goods & services. However, it also holds within it the challenges of equitable access to these technologies and benefits from them for those at the bottom of the pyramid, as well as the need for controlling their potential adverse effects on society and environment.
  • Global economic and geopolitical shifts have led to the creation of a class of young, wealthy individuals in emerging economies who are inclined to give back to their societies. Coupled with the trend of diffusion of development in these countries where governments are reaching out to include companies as donors and development allies, this has made available resources for rapid economic development that compensate (to an extent) for tighter north-south aid flows. However, the cost of solving the world’s problems is estimated at a staggering trillion of dollars, and the resources available are a trickle in comparison; besides, resource-flows still tend to be selective in their focus, and this could perpetuate or even increase the inequalities that characterise development today and deepen the social faultlines.
  • The economic liberalisation in developing countries has had a psychological impact on the local population. A spate of leapfrogging innovations are propelling change at the grassroots – although in pockets – overcoming the constraints in their environments. The Millennial generation is far more engaged and dedicated to bringing about change, and assisted by improving local and global communications that has increased public awareness on inequality of opportunity and access, damaging public policies, environmental degradation, human rights, corruption, etc., the pressure for change is stepping up in the emerging economies. The impacts of this burgeoning social conscience in terms of real development solutions are still few and far between however, and the new activist’s engagement with an issue is often very brief.

New requirements in Philanthropy:

The development ecosystem needs to shift gears in order to deliver solutions to critical development problems and gaps in essential services that can rapidly drive down poverty and bridge the divides.

Key concerns are centered around:

  • What newer ways can we create to solve persisting problems that have not been addressed by years of traditional programming and are at the heart of development gaps and government failures?
  • How do we manage technologies and markets such that they deliver change – but with a human face, pro-poor benefits and towards sustainable development? How do we effectively address the shadows of development – populations and areas in the margins – in order to ensure inclusive development and equity?
  • How do we scale and speed successful development initiatives/solutions, ensuring outreach to the large populations in need, along with efficiency of time and cost, optimal quality and maximal benefits?

The overwhelming need is for donors to take bold risks in order to shape and deploy innovative solutions to intractable and emerging problems, towards creating transformative and sustainable development. Traditional programs and techniques in development have proved inadequate in addressing these problems and are besides constrained by the drying up of traditional development funds. A new kind of donors has however emerged as a consequence of the dispersal of wealth and growing social conscience. The new generation of donors is active, engaged, and motivated to innovate. As against the formal stakeholders of development – governments and development workers – who are, unfortunately, driven by their constituencies to deliver only success and large outreach numbers, a demand which stults their creativity and effectiveness, the new donors are independent and can leverage this to take risks that break the mould. They must display sufficient risk-tolerance and deploy patient venture capital towards innovations in development; they have the luxury to experiment and be comfortable with both success and failure from such experimentation, and need to perceive in failures the learnings for future success.

For effective change, it is important for donors to plumb the depths of the problems they seek to solve, perceive their root causes, understand the cross-cutting issues, and get their full measure, before investing in their solutions. Intractable development challenges are complicated and contentious, and sustained by various socio-political forces. Donors with the resources to make a difference are, in most cases, distant from the site/group suffering the problems, and unfamiliar with the problem’s complexities. Donor learning must therefore precede their engagement with development challenges such that they recognize, support and deploy incisive solutions and leapfrogging technologies that have the potential to resolve the problems by countering the specific hurdles.

Enlightened leaders are critically required in the Development space to spur development that is both inclusive and sustainable. Philanthropists and development actors across the value-chain who can envision, catalyse and enable real-value and pro-poor change could contribute to creating a better world, one without the tensions and divides that characterise it today. Presently, access to development is significantly unequal, and several new initiatives and technologies, as much as they benefit some groups, are leaving large sections, particularly of the poor, without access to them, thereby serving to widen divides. Leaders in development must perceive their role as that of catalysts and change-makers to actively reshape the world with the goal of creating and propelling beneficial changes for societies and the environment, with a bias for the poor. This would mean investing in building good/better science, and discerning innovations with a human design and pro-poor initiatives. They would need to devise better ways to deploy them as well, using suitable technologies and market-mechanisms to overcome constraints, with due regard for outreach to the last person at the last mile.

Developing societies continue to be characterised by political insecurities, social biases/prejudices and imbalances in development that fuel social injustice and inequity. Development leaders must recognize this and ensure that they shine their light on the margins. Most philanthropy today is aimed at child welfare, delivery of education and healthcare, and poverty alleviation to enhance social mobility and equitable distribution of wealth but social injustices are avoided and economically-backward, un-industrialized geographies continue to remain in the shadows. It is imperative that concerned and enlightened philanthropists look at the equitable dispersal of benefits and inclusive development in their societies. This would mean confronting certain socio-political blocks and overcoming infrastructural hurdles to push development to the unserved areas and excluded and marginalised groups, and also influencing systems and advocating for equity and inclusion alongside meeting of basic needs.

Indeed, the size and nature of the task facing development actors calls for urgent changes in the philanthropy-development approach and architecture. Majority of the giving continues to be the feel-good sort – brief and small – that alleviates distress temporarily or in a tiny area but fails to leave a long-lasting impact. Donors have to start investing into building capacitaty and resilience of communities, reforming development policies and services, and creating infrastructure and systems that last. The traditional check writing for charity needs to make way for strategic philanthropy for delivering transformative solutions at scale and creating changes that last. Tenure of engagement must be sufficiently long, particularly for deep-seated and persistent issues, and donors need to stay the course till the change has been instilled and institutionalised.

For real, long-term impact on the complex and critical development challenges, we need a concerted effortfrom the development community, one that combines the knowledge and innovations of research & technology institutions, the resources and vision of enlightened philanthropists and the acumen and drive of the commercial sector. Each of these actors would not be adequate if they work in isolation. Hybridization of the sector is already evident. New development actors and modes of development are taking shape. But relationships in the sector have not reached comfort levels. Governments remain wary of both the private sector and civil society. The private sector perceives civil society to be ineffective and civil society does not trust the donors’ intent. Donors need to metamorphose to becoming enlightened development partners, building trust among the range of development actors, galvanizing new combinations of providers of development, forging multi-actor relationships and accelerating collaborations that leverage their diverse competencies and create multiplier development impacts.

A donor for development today needs to walk a different path therefore: the way of the Philanthropreneur.

A Philanthropreneur is an active dreamer who envisions a better world in which everyone’s needs are met with equity, an enlightened techno-preneur who creates or recognizes solutions to intractable issues and takes the risk on deploying them, and a committed crusader who galvanizes support and propels these solutions to the last mile and person.

Ms Gargi Benarji was a speaker at the 2015 Philanthropreneurship Forum in Versailles, France.