The future of philanthropy starts now!

Dr Louis Klein, Secretary-General of the International Federation for Systems Research and Dean of the European School of Governance

A glimpse of living the future in the present

Sometimes success gets in our way. Sometimes success lures us into dysfunctional practices. If my successful tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Philanthropy grew from humanitarian aid. Yet, the power-based philanthropy practices that worked successfully there, are not fit for sustainable development. This is what IPASA selected as the theme for this year’s IPASA symposium because of “the deep need for a change in mindset, a change in practise and a change of ways in engaging with others.”

“Changing the Way We Change Our World – Changing Philanthropy Practise to Allow for Deep Sustainable Change in the Future,” was and still is a bold claim, not only for the IPASA Symposium but for the philanthropic community aspiring to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The programme and the dynamic interaction at the IPASA symposium gave a first impression of what it feels like to “live the future in the present”. It felt like change, however, it is just a beginning, a point of departure for an exciting learning journey into the future of philanthropy.

The intriguing moments, according to the feedback of the IPASA symposium’s participants were the presentations that addressed systems change. In particular, the opening presentation by Karima Kadaoui, co-founder, and Executive President of the Tamkeen Community Foundation for Human Development, who proposed looking into “the change philanthropy needs to really change our world”. Marian Goodman, senior faculty from the Presensing Institute, built on this and asked: ”How does philanthropy shift from ‘Ego-system to Eco-system’ awareness and action?”

From my perspective as a system scientist and socio-cybernetician, the ubiquitous call for systems change felt like home. Yet while the call instigates movement, it lacks a shared understanding – not only about what systems change could be but more so what we wanted it to bring about. Indicating a desirable direction, I like to follow Karima Kadaoui pointing at societal metamorphosis towards “a humanising society”. For the systems change in the philanthropic community, I like to go to what is there already. There are more good examples than we think, and they are promising. The case studies and podium discussions at the IPASA Symposium gave a first impression of the change that is already happening.

What works well

The current joint efforts in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic have shown again the importance, effect, and outstanding capabilities of the philanthropic community. Humanitarian aid is what philanthropy grew from. This is where power-based philanthropy practises to get things done. However, getting things done is not letting things grow. We are looking at two different practices so distinct, that even the United Nations runs completely different set-ups to meet the diverse requirements. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) are all about getting things done, and usually pull out before the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) comes in. OCHA and UNOPS prepare the ground on which UNPD wants to support the elimination of poverty, sustainable economic growth, and human development. The intention is to develop local capacity towards long-term self-sufficiency and prosperity. It is about letting things grow.

The difference between getting things done and letting things grow is reflected in the distinction between charitable humanitarian aid, sometimes called philanthropy 1.0, and forms of philanthropy that aim at overcoming learnt helplessness and go beyond just giving to those in need. Venture philanthropy aka philanthropy 2.0, wants to enable people to help themselves, and to steer their own course towards a desirable future. Social entrepreneurs became the new award decorated heroes of venture philanthropy.

What is emerging

While humanitarian aid seems to work quite well, there are more and more voices challenging the venture-oriented approaches to development aid. Social entrepreneurship “projectified” development. Venture philanthropy became a market where doers sell what donors want. They cater to the donors’ taste, and this is often not what is really needed on the ground. Project management provides a framework for getting things done. Projects aim at measurable goals. They have a start, an end, a budget, and a timeline. When they are over everyone goes back to where they came from. This can be a good thing, yet, if we want to see sustainable development, we may want to look for a different framework.

Community philanthropy, aka philanthropy 3.0, certainly starts with engaging locally rather than focusing on a specific sector. At the IPASA Symposium Jenny Hodgson , Executive Director of the Global Fund for Community Foundations shared promising examples of community-led philanthropy. To engage with a community, it is essential to acknowledge it as a complex social eco-system it is. This is what a systems scientist will describe as inter-disciplinarity, multi-disciplinarity, or trans-disciplinarity.

Deep listening is key to engaging, and a lot has been said about this, including in earlier IPASA newsletters. However, there are much more pragmatic and immediate implications for the philanthropic community beyond the single engagement:

Firstly, there is the possibility to convene the doers in a donor’s project, or engagement portfolio. This will connect them beyond their locality and their specific topics. They  will form a community in their own right. Knowledge sharing may be a buzzword here, however, growing a shared understanding of development practices based on co-reflected lived experiences provides an opening to a field where change can be leveraged and even mind shift can be realised.

Secondly, as the IPASA Symposium showed, the philanthropic community is a community. Everything that was said about inter-disciplinarity, multi-disciplinarity, or trans-disciplinarity applies here as well. Change could be leveraged, and mind shift realised – in business terms, there is a lot of synergy sitting idle as long as funders remain donors instead of becoming partners for their projects and programmes, as well as amongst each other.

What is on the horizon

If you want to throw a stone over a wall, aim at the moon, an old Japanese proverb says. Community development is key, and there is a lot that can be done and is done already in the philanthropic community. Nevertheless, efficiency is still an issue. People want to see – as we heard as well at the IPASA Symposium – “more bang for the bucks”. However, what if community development could mine its own resources by doing what is needed to sustain desirable development?

Welcome to social value philanthropy, aka philanthropy 4.0. Mining resources in our days does not only evoke images of physical mines but also the mining of cryptocurrencies. And this is where social value philanthropy goes, too. Imaging a currency tied to social value based on the proof of work or proof of stake principles of cryptocurrencies. We already see pioneers going this way like the Dorium Community. Today, you can buy solar panels and water pumps at companies accepting such social value currencies, and locally you can buy a meal or get a haircut. We are talking about the integration of community development based on sustainable social value creation. Certainly, this sounds too good to be true, however, you can already invest in these kinds of social value cryptocurrencies. For the philanthropic community, this comes with two options to engage: firstly, to facilitate community development towards social value creation; and, secondly  to invest in those social value currencies.

How to realise the change

Starting from “the deep need for a change in mindset, a change in practise and a change of ways in engaging with others”, the philanthropic community is now being asked to walk the talk. And though we could rush and buy some social value coins right away, it starts with deep listening. It starts with deep listening to each other and growing a shared understanding of what philanthropy, the love for humanity, means to us facing the challenges of the 21st century. A shared understanding, as well as a genuine mind shift, grows from the open sharing and co-reflection of lived experiences. It can be described as an “experience-based, relationship-oriented, co-created, co-facilitated, process of inquiry, learning, and understanding, embedded in epistemic humility”, trusting our human potential and our humanity, realising the existentiality of love.

Providing a platform to convene philanthropists to grow a shared understanding is certainly an honourable task for IPASA. The IPASA symposium was living the future in the presence. It has been a wonderful point of departure.


The evolution of philanthropy


Further reading

The future of philanthropy – towards a global civil society realising the love for humanity.

Systemic Change

Realising mind shift – learning from the legendary Bauhaus Vorkurs

Beyond the magic – growing our understanding of societal metamorphosis

Systemic wisdom for and beyond systems change – A critical systems perspective convening not only indigenous traditions of wisdom

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