In an effort to raise the importance and visibility of philanthropy infrastructure, WINGS is facilitating dialogue between funders of the field. The webinar had the participation of three speakers representing foundations funding philanthropy infrastructure:
Nick Deychakiwsky, Program Office, C.S. Mott Foundation; Megan McGlynn Scanlon, Senior Program Officer for Civil Society, Aga Khan Foundation; Oksana Oracheva, General Director, Vladmir Potanin Foundation.
During the webinar, main points were addressed following two key questions: Why is it strategic to support philanthropy infrastructure? What are the challenges and successes of funding this sector?
In his introductory remarks Benjamin Bellegy, Executive Director of WINGS, mentioned the shrinking space for civil society and the growth of philanthropy in emerging markets, needing a stronger ecosystem. He said however that there are currently gaps in this infrastructure- and referenced WINGS’ recent report on “Infrastructure in Focus: a new global picture of organizations serving philanthropy”.
Following Benjamin’s points, Nick Deychakiwsky, from C.S. Mott Foundation made a presentation as the first speaker. He spoke about how infrastructure often means things behind the scenes which are invisible and yet so important. He said that the sector needs good data and research to support both good policy and practice. Unfortunately, currently only a tiny percentage of foundation giving goes to supporting infrastructure – He also made the important point that it can be lonely for local infrastructure organisations in certain parts of the world, who may have no peers locally. Nick made two key points about why philanthropy infrastructure should be supported: first, on the policy front organisations need to make the case why it is needed- without it, their work is ineffective; second, the return on investment improves when there is better infrastructure (but we need better figures for this). However, it isn’t an easy sell: Nick thinks that infrastructure organisations need to work out how to better message their value proposition.
Oksana Oracheva from the Vladmir Potanin Foundation, spoke next and built on many of Nick’s points. She explained that infrastructure is needed for creative professionals to be able to do their work. However, there isn’t enough money devoted to infrastructure support. One way to combat this is to engage local donors- they need to step in from the very beginning, before the foreign donors leave. Needs are constantly changing: infrastructure organisations need both to be ahead of the curve and also to address the current needs of bodies that they help, which can be a difficult balancing act at times. To address the issue the Vladmir Potanin Foundation supports educational programs and conferences that allow the exchange of good practice. There is also an expectation gap: Do the infrastructure organisations represent the needs of the whole sector, or their individual members? Managing expectations is important- funders should realise that infrastructure organisations can’t make everything better immediately, so need long-term funding. Plus, there is an agenda gap: a collective voice and common agenda need to be formed if progress is to be made.
The final speaker was Megan McGlynn Scanlon, from the Aga Khan Foundation who gave some insights into their comprehensive program of work. Community philanthropy is core to the Foundation’s work, including to their work around infrastructure- rooted in the ethics of self-sufficiency, service to others and sustainability. This means that their work at the local level differs depending on the needs of the local context. In one area of their work, they try to create or apply technology tools that can be used to greatest effect locally, for example e-philanthropy. Megan made a really interesting point about trust- What sort of infrastructure is needed to gain trust at the local level? She also explained that systems work- infrastructure work behind the scenes, can be very hard. Like the other speakers, Megan expressed her belief in the importance of infrastructure and the need for us to work together to continue to try to make progress in this area.
Overall it was concluded that more communication is needed to convince a greater number of funders to invest in the infrastructure ecosystem. WINGS is committed to continue this conversation and build the narrative for the field, based on its members’ experiences and concrete achievements. There are a diverse range of approaches to supporting philanthropy infrastructure that can be successful. One difficulty is sustaining foundations with local and domestic funding: this is important as there can be restrictions placed on foreign funding and this may not be sustainable in the long-term. Effective philanthropy simply can’t happen without good infrastructure in the background.