WINGSForum Interview: Barry Knight

In the run up to WINGSForum 2017, we will be publishing interviews with some of our esteemed speakers. For this interview we spoke to Barry Knight, Executive Director of CENTRIS.


WINGS: Tell us a little about yourself, your work in philanthropy infrastructure and your interest in attending WINGSForum 2017?

B.K.: I have been involved with philanthropy for a long time, and in fact was involved with WINGS before it became WINGS. I evaluated the first ever international meeting of grantmakers (IMAG) that took place in Oaxaca nearly 20 years ago that led to the demand to set up an international network of philanthropy support organizations.

I have played a variety of roles in philanthropy, advising foundations such as Ford and Mott, evaluating a range of programs, being on boards and taking part as a staff member. Currently I am heavily involved with the Webb Memorial Trust, the Global Fund for Community Foundations, the EFC, PSJP and of course WINGS. I believe in the transformative power of philanthropy.

WINGS: What might critical philanthropy mean to you?

B.K.: There are at least three senses in which the word ‘critical’ is very apt in an age of complexity. The first is that philanthropy is a critical moment. The problem of ‘closing space’ means that it is difficult for philanthropy to function in some places, and this is probably the biggest threat to the field. The second is that philanthropy can play a critical role in enabling the world to move forward from some of the crises facing the world. Philanthropy is virtually unique in having resources that it can use in ways of its own choosing to provide the venture capital for a new social order. The third is that we need to be critical of the performance of philanthropy. Partly this stems out of a routine need to examine how we are doing, but also reflects the fact that many foundations are working in ways that are narrow and outdated, and so fail to achieve their full potential.

WINGS: What is your involvement in the session you will be speaking at WINGSForum and what issue(s) are you most looking forward to addressing at WINGSForum2017?

B.K.: I am involved in quite a few sessions. One is the launch of ‘A New Global Picture of Organizations Serving Philanthropy’, which features the work of WINGS members. Another is on the ‘4Cs’. This is an evaluation system devised and developed by WINGS members for WINGS members. There are also various side sessions that study the role of philanthropy and I will be playing some part in those.

WINGS: Why do you think infrastructure and this global gathering are important for the development of the sector?

B.K.: Infrastructure is central to the identity of philanthropy and, without it, there would be no field of philanthropy to develop joint ventures or to protect the interests of foundations. Moreover, philanthropy support services are vital to the efficiency, effectiveness and the vitality of the work. Some years ago, Barry Gaberman, who was instrumental in developing WINGS, suggested that all foundations should contribute financially to the infrastructure on which they depend. WINGSFoum is an opportunity for WINGS members to showcase their work and demonstrate why Barry is right.

WINGS: Anything else to add?

B.K.: Philanthropy support organizations are unevenly distributed across the world and it is time that WINGS took a serious look at that issue.

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