WINGS explores Harvard’s new Global Philanthropy Report

The Global Philanthropy Report: Perspectives on the global foundation sector, published in April 2018, seeks to develop a knowledge base to address the size, scope, and practice of institutional philanthropy across the globe.

Below, the WINGS network reacts to the publication: Graziela Santiago from GIFE in Brazil; Maria Carolina Suarez from AFE in Colombia; May Mei from the China Foundation Center in China and Tevfik Basak Ersin TUSEV in Turkey.

What surprised you about this study?


Graziela Santiago updatedThe collaboration effort put into this research, to bring together organizations around 20 countries has a very real impact on the comprehension of the philanthropic sector around the world. It brings light to the fact that, although there is a concentration of foundations in Europe and North America, there is a vibrant and growing philanthropic sector on other regions of the world with specific characteristics.

Tevfik Basak Ersin updated

What strikes us the most about this study is that the age of the sector. According to the results, nearly three-quarters of the foundations worldwide were younger than 25 years old. We are talking about a comparatively young but fast-growing sector. However, excluding the USA, the assets and operating budgets of the foundations are not really big and rarely top five percent of GDP. In most countries, foundations operate their own programs and activities, while grantmaking is central to philanthropic practices in several countries, the United States in particular.

Maria Carolina Suarez updated

The Global Philanthropy Report represents the first global approach to know how the foundation sector is in more than 20 countries, thanks to the leadership of Paula Johnson, the commitment of Harvard University and UBS, and most importantly, the engagement of different leaders worldwide that decided to collaborate and aggregate data to scale the institutionally-based philanthropy as crucial actor on social development.

As we have seen at WINGS Forums and peer learnings, the study ratify the similarities and common challenges faced in philanthropy globally, beyond the economic disparities each country can have.

What findings stroke you as being similar or different in your region/connect you work in?

Graziela Santiago updated

The youth and recent growth of the sector are notable in all regions and it is not different in Brazil, and although Brazil has a bigger presence of corporate foundations, the family foundations have grown the most over the last ten years. The small presence of family foundations in North America and Europe is somewhat surprising and makes us question the different classifications and types of foundations categories.

Education in Brazil has been the top priority since GIFE’s first research in 2001, and it is also the top priority around the globe even though the presence of organizations in this area in Brazil is much bigger than on the global set of the research. In Brazil, 83% of the foundations worked on education, while the research showed that globally, 35 percent of the 28,988 foundations in the data-set focus at least some of their resources on one or more levels of education.

Brazil is also following the global tendency on the alignment with the public sector and most of the foundations seek to align with the government, but here the alignment occurs more often on the local level than on the national level in opposition of what the research showed globally. The growing interest in impact assessment can also be seen in Brazil and this is an agenda discussed among Brazilian social investors in the GIFE network for quite some time now.

It was interesting to verify that the grantmaking strategy is prevalent in the US, but that other countries use a more diverse set of strategies for achieving their objectives. The whole discussion of the different strategies used by the foundations presented in the research is very close to the discussions occurring in Brazil and to its connection with the complexity of understanding civil society, the importance of the development and support of a vibrant civil society, and the intention to have more impact.

It is worth noting that many organizations have no paid employees, although in Brazil most of the foundations are small (41% have only 1 to 10 employees), all have paid employees.

May Mei updated

We also find the content of the report on foundation taxonomy has a lot of differences from ours (or our understanding), especially the definition of independent foundation and government-related foundation.

Tevfik Basak Ersin updated


What findings strike you as being similar or different in your region/connect you work in? In general, the results of the study are consistent with what we witness in Europe and in Turkey in particular. Majority of the foundations are operating foundations with modest assets, mostly having operations in the field of education.

Maria Carolina Suarez updated

As challenges, in Latin America, particularly in Colombia, we are seeing how we need to improve more diversity, because today corporate foundations are the predominant sector, and we have experienced the importance of having a more diversity sector that covers issues that corporate philanthropy cannot cover, such as the most controversial ones -human rights, justice, etc. – as well as being riskier.


What was it like collaborating on this with your network?

May Mei updated

China Foundation Center is a Chinese foundation data center, collecting, processing, analyzing data and advocating transparency in the philanthropic market is our basic work. Apart from that, we also pay much attention to establish contact with the philanthropy sector domestically and internationally, to know various actors in the market, to exchange our ideas and to learn from each other. Therefore we are really glad to read this report about whole world’s philanthropy. It provides us a wider view, more reflection, and more understanding. Our suggestion and hope for the future report and study: we wish there could be a deeper analysis of foundations. It can be a specific discussion on a region’s foundations (Latin America, Middle East, Europe), a type of foundation, their key programs, their attitude about impact investment with more data, etc.

Maria Carolina Suarez updated

The Study helped us to promote a partnership with Peru, Chile, Mexico, and Colombia, that we call “Towards a New Philanthropy in the Pacific Partnership”. We are working together Universidad Del Pacífico, Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez through the Center for Philanthropy and Social Investments, Alternativas y Capacidades and, the Association of Family and Corporate Foundations – AFE Colombia.

Based on the data each partner has compiled for the GPR in its respective country, over 450 Foundations, we are analyzing, interpreting and reflecting using statistical models, econometric techniques, and qualitative tools on an individual and comparative basis, yielding a better understanding and an evaluation of the philanthropic ecosystems in the four countries.

Additionally, the Project will identify challenges, share case studies related to best practices, and provide analysis and recommendations to promote and strengthen the philanthropic ecosystem in the four countries, thereby providing mechanisms that will generate dialogue that will lead to the strengthening of philanthropy and other social organizations in Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru.

Finally, the Project will use the data to create a philanthropy index (the “Index”) which will seek to identify and compare best practices amongst philanthropic institutions in the Alianza Del Pacífico countries. The data will allow us to create the first Index that measures the strength of philanthropy of each of the four countries involved.

The Index is being constructed through the analysis of variables that the specialized literature considers relevant and that has been contrasted with empirical study for different contexts and validated by the judgment of experts and sector leaders. Developed through statistical models and econometric techniques, the Index allows us to understand the relevance of strengthening philanthropic institutions. This Index is in a range of 0 to 1 and indicates a positive relationship with greater social results. It is composed of three pillars: (i) Transparency, (ii) Governance, (iii) Operability and (iv) Impact.

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