By Barbara Ibrahim, Chair of WINGS Programs Committee and founding director of the John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement
Whenever a new field emerges – think nanotechnology or ‘big data’ – it usually comes with a buzz around the synergies to be freshly mobilized across disciplines or sectors. The huge field of environment barely existed 25 years ago, but now routinely generates collaboration among diverse research scientists, engineers, civil society groups and governments at all levels.
As a field, philanthropy has been slower to break out of its traditional boundaries – the foundations, public charities and religious institutions that populated the field. True, many western countries had intermediary associations of foundations while others were forming in the global south. And increasingly, we saw academics producing research or offerings courses about philanthropy. Still, it was a surprise to those of us working with WINGS, when an informal survey in 2017 turned up more than 70 academic institutions around the world with activities directly related to philanthropy. They are located mainly in universities, but also found in research institutes, NGOs and for-profit consulting bodies. Our data-base now contains individuals and departments on every continent. They encompass research, teaching and/or advocacy activities. Most take an enlightened, applied approach rather than one which is heavily theoretical in relation to social investing and philanthropy.
I believe that closer ties with and among these academics has great potential to take global philanthropic practice to the next level. The potential goes beyond important and well-known evaluation research inputs which donors already utilize fairly widely. Technological innovation is happening at such hyper speeds today that all of us will need to become educated about the potentials and pitfalls of artificial intelligence, to give one example. And as we learn more about the unique richness of forms of giving around the world, hopefully the field will push back against cookie-cutter approaches to grant-making and reporting requirements. #LiftUpPhilanthropy is a new initiative WINGS is starting this year to shine a spotlight on the role academic and other infrastructure entities can and do play in ‘building the field’.
Additionally, WINGS has recently convened a global affinity group for those ‘Academics, Researchers and Data Enthusiasts’ who want to network and learn more about each other’s work. Early ideas for the group’s activities include building an on-line repository for reports, articles, course syllabi and data sets groups members want to share. Meetings will include time to address debates on emerging topics in the philanthropy world with an eye to how research could contribute further clarity.
Following a few telecom meetings that stretched from Brazil to Africa to Singapore in order to get organized, the academic affinity group will hold its first face-to face meeting on July 10th at the opening day of ISTR’s International Research Conference in Amsterdam. For any interested readers who would like to attend, the full conference program can be viewed here. Drop a note to Sarah at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to attend the affinity group meeting as well.
 This number excludes the many non-profit management units or fund-raising schools in universities and elsewhere.