How Can Academic Institutions Working in Philanthropy be Better Connected to the Broader Field of Philanthropy?

by Salma Khaled EL Tanany

Though philanthropy with its simplest form of giving has been embedded in our culture since long ago, there is still however, the notion that it’s a recent field of study but that’s due to the scarcity of data and knowledge on the sector, and there where comes the role of academic institutions to respond to such misleading connotation and narrow the chronic gap between theory and practice.

Through WINGS and similar conferences that aim to act as a platform and gather all the key players in the field of philanthropy; academic institutions needs to be more involved with groundwork and there should be open channels of communication where different academic institutions could be better connected to share their experiences rather than operate in separate spheres as seem to be the case. We need to realize that besides the role of academic institutions in generating and disseminating knowledge about the sector, there is a responsibility of sharing this knowledge and increasing the awareness of the importance of sharing data and knowledge of the sector and its impact.

During the session on “Philanthropy and the Academy: Higher Education in the Philanthropy Ecosystem” that took place during WINGS Conference 2017, presenters from academic institutions were sharing their different experiences, and one of the intriguing examples shared by the John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement at the American University in Cairo was how they were able during the last quarter of 2013, to organize some research advocacy activities on the revival of Waqf system in Egypt, targeting the 50-member committee, assigned with amending the 2012 constitution. At the time, the Committee was debating the removal of the 2012 clause on the state responsibility to promote Awqaf (endowments). Gerhart Center gave each member of the drafting committee a copy of a recent policy study on reform of Waqf laws in other countries and an assessment of its positive potential in Egypt.

They helped organize a segment discussing the Waqf system on a popular Egyptian television program.  A Waqf expert hosted on the program discussed the significance of Awqaf throughout Egypt’s history and the sustainable solutions it brings to contemporary socio-economic challenges and thus, in the final constitution approved by the committee, Article 90 requires the state to promote and protect endowments. This gives a direct example of how research and academics plays a vital role in shaping policies that affect the field of philanthropy, such experiences needs to be documented and shared among different academic institutions and similar success stories as an example of how academia can have a direct impact on the ground and can be felt by the people and society; it is extremely vital to shed the lights on such experiences to encourage more means of collaboration between different academic institutions such as peer to peer learning as well as get more involved with practitioners through consultation meetings or through forming different working groups that could meet more occasionally over the year. Academic institutions need to think of one another as equal partners rather than competitors; who collaboratively can work together to change the face of philanthropy.

Another notable examples are the new academic programs designed and implemented at different university levels such as (The Chair in African Philanthropy at Wits Business School in South Africa, and Ashoka University in India) and having prior research workshops to build the knowledge base on the sector such as the one that took place prior to the launch of the Chair in African Philanthropy in Nairobi, Kenya end of 2016.

These small expert meetings are meant to bring together all academics and practitioners in the filed together in one room to discuss a curriculum for the study of philanthropy, trying to balance between theory and practice which is exactly what is needed, if we want to overcome this widening gap between academics and practitioners, and focus on how we can all move forward towards a more strategic and institutionalized form of philanthropy, we then need to look at the opportunities rather than the disparities, where academicians support practitioners effort with more effective, evidence-based research and practitioners support academicians work by acknowledging the important role played by academic institutions in  documenting the successful case studies and materializing the impact of the work they do on the ground so it can be better felt by the people and the communities they are serving and the world at large.


Salma Khaled EL Tanany is Research Manager at the John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy, Civic Engagement and Responsible Business




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