Shifting the Power Dynamics in Global South Philanthropy. Clare Woodcraft . University of Cambridge Judge Business School. IPASA Newsletter. December 2021.

Shifting the Power Dynamics in Global South Philanthropy

Clare Woodcraft, ED of the Centre for Strategic Philanthropy Cambridge JBS


Opportunities for radical rethinking of philanthropic practices

The Centre for Strategic Philanthropy (CSP) believes that change-makers from global growth markets are vital providers of solutions to entrenched societal and environmental problems. The Coronavirus  pandemic has created a very significant opportunity for philanthropy, not just to respond to the pandemic, but also to radically rethink best practice in the sector and notably shift the power balance between global North and global South philanthropic actors.


Since the establishment of our Centre (which coincided with the onset of the pandemic) we have spoken to multiple organisations working in emerging markets and discovered that many were already assessing and advocating for change in the power dynamic of philanthropy even before we published our thinking on the same. Indeed, an advocacy movement had already emerged out of Africa, powered by the hashtag #ShiftThePower (and now embodied in a dedicated website), which we decided to support. We designed a series of online webinars to deconstruct the components of imbalanced power structures, to better understand how change can come about and enable practitioners to define the nature of the change required. The series has already raised a range of important issues some of which we were already aware of and others that were less predictable.


Reducing dependence on restricted funding

We heard a lot about how the pandemic has created an even more pressing need to shift development philanthropy away from over-reliance on Northern actors and single source grant funding. Far too often, philanthropists and their organisations fall into the same traps that have long plagued more traditional foreign aid and development assistance programmes. The emphasis on grants is still deeply entrenched, with local recipient organisations in the global South often unable to rid themselves of a perennial dependence on short-term, mainly conditional funding. While the pandemic has triggered more momentum for sourcing peer and local funding, flexible core funding remains a very low percentage of overall grant making. As Dr Bheki Moyo, Director of the Centre for African Philanthropy and Social Investment, noted, civil society on the African continent has been a rich and thriving sector for many decades – the ongoing dearth of flexible funding with patient timelines, makes no sense.


Driving change through diversity

Our discussions also further highlighted the dichotomy of philanthropy being purportedly risk capital and yet having limited appetite for radical social change or challenging the status quo. We heard many examples of philanthropists that are reluctant to fund local programmes that support social justice causes—often deemed too politically risky by those at the helm and yet increasingly recognised as critical to socio-economic progress and system change. Indeed, the connection between change in the sector and the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and calls for the decolonization of philanthropy, were ever present in our discussions. As the Asia Venture Philanthropy Network’s CEO Naina Batra noted, driving a more inclusive sector depends on ensuring that philanthropic boards themselves are more representative and more inclusive: if philanthropic boardrooms are filled only with Northern faces or perspectives, the capacity to shift power towards localised needs in the South, is diminished.

Creating a conducive environment

Many global South practitioners cited the need for more effective government regulation of the sector that can encourage more giving, reduce bureaucracy, and drive innovation. The nascent state of emerging market regulation encouraged our panellists to see an opportunity to shape policy, rather than simply be subjected to it. Effective government regulation remains though a key challenge across emerging markets with a clear need for increased government capacity to recognise and understand the opportunity of philanthropic capital as a partner for socio-economic development and for innovation in public policy. Many of our experts cited the need for governments and donors to instil trust in their recipients and allow for greater flexibility on how philanthropic capital can best be deployed. Governments still too often restrict the deployment of philanthropic capital especially cross border transfers and overly scrutinize grant recipients such that they are operationally hindered. There is a clear sectoral need to facilitate capital flows and harness the creativity of grantees.

Learning from local voices

Harnessing the power of local voices was a clear common theme that underpinned our series and indeed, the powerful local leaders that we invited to speak were living proof of the growing trend of local organisations finding their voice, pro-actively challenging the status quo of philanthropic practices and leveraging the power of their local market knowledge and expertise. Covid-1919 highlighted the latter viscerally in many countries. As Kennedy Odede, a Kenyan social entrepreneur and founder of SHOFCO noted, when the crisis hit, many international actors “packed up and left, leaving local organisations to pick up the pieces.” The importance and value of working with local experts and building local capacity for real system change cannot be over-emphasized and is now being reflected in the moves, on the part of multiple INGOs, to localise their footprint.


Making funding accessible

Rendering funding more accessible was a common recurrent theme in our discussions. The complexity of application processes and due diligence, forces local organisations to invest time and precious resources in building systems to support an application rather than deliver on their mission. As the sector evolves, we believe there will be a growing focus on upwards accountability and calling out behaviour that favours the internal needs of donors, over the desire to build strong and resilient local organisations. We already see some global North actors easing some of their previously strict guidelines, but Global South organisations are leading the charge. Briggs Bomba, the Programme Director of Trust Africa described how his organisation had created a simple WhatsApp vocal message application process to facilitate emergency funding.


Data and digital

Many of our speakers discussed the potential of Covid-catalysed increased digitisation and data collection for revolutionising transparency and sharing knowledge in the sector. The need to improve data disclosure and accountability around performance has long been an industry mantra. We heard calls for funders to be more transparent “about decades of failed results and the need to acknowledge that communities better understand local needs.” Data sharing was also cited as a key driving factor for small local organisations that are often the first responders in a crisis. Our speakers highlighted the need to build the digital capability of smaller organisations and offset the bias of funding to those who have more mature data processing and analytical capacity. This latter area will form a critical part of our work with the Centre on African Philanthropy and Social Investment (CAPSI). We have signed an MOU with the Centre as our counterpart in sub-Saharan Africa with a view to doing joint research and working together to offset the dearth of data on philanthropy in Africa and help institutionalise the sector through research on policy and best practice. We are delighted to have actively expanded our links with African philanthropists over the course of the past couple of years and welcome the emergence of a powerful network of African philanthropic leaders pro-actively calling for change, collaborating across the continent and bringing new thinking on how improved power dynamics can drive impact – a philosophy that we fully support.


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