Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Reimagining Philanthropy in the Global South: Building Communities for More Impact

Clare Woodcraft, Kamal Munir, Nitya Mohan Khemka

Philanthropy is all too often misunderstood, mis-represented and subject to broad generalisations that obfuscate its potential, particularly in relation to the Global South. As Professor Beth Breeze outlines in her book, In Defence of Philanthropy, “Philanthropy is complex, messy and imperfect because it is an all-too-human response to enduring and intractable problems.” And yet, private capital for public good – the broadest definition of the concept – has been around for centuries often underpinned by deeply entrenched cultural and religious tenets that advocate for the well-being of society. Notwithstanding this complexity, we dismiss philanthropy at our peril given its potential role in supporting the delivery of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at a time when many countries are reducing official development assistance (ODA). Our latest publication aims to showcase this potential through real world examples of social innovation at a time of extreme global adversity.

While philanthropy equates to only around 7% of total ODA, this source of the “highest risk capital in the world” can catalyse significant societal transformation where it is deployed alongside other sources of development capital (i.e. private investment and public sector spending). Historically, philanthropy has contributed to changing the course of public education, influencing the quality of healthcare, and driving policy change. Perhaps most importantly, in the Global South, philanthropy has triggered social innovation in policy making notably where institutional voids often lead to limited technical capacity.

Our work during the COVID19 Pandemic highlighted this challenge. We found that institutional voids in developing countries prevent the efficient diffusion of knowledge, long term planning and good governance thereby holding back the potential of the sector. Where philanthropic practitioners are able to build professional communities and overcome these challenges by collectively sharing best practice, they can engender exciting new possibilities for impact. Our research found that while many Global South practitioners faced a reduction in funding due to the pandemic, they concurrently witnessed an increase in South-South collaboration, peer-learning, and peer-funding.

In that sense the COVID pandemic was both devastating and inspiring having induced greater resilience, unexpected new partnerships and more effective networking. This is the phenomenon that our book seeks to showcase: by engaging with experienced practitioners from the Global South, we have built a compendium of innovative examples of how system-change ambition can prevail over even the most challenging crisis. By collating examples of how development challenges were effectively addressed through philanthropic funding, we hoped to demonstrate how philanthropy can be both catalytic and inspire novel ways of thinking about social change. Our contributing authors did not disappoint. Their willingness to share openly and transparently – both successes and failures – has engendered this unique “think and do” collaborative publication.

Our ten chapters of case studies from Global South practitioners show how they responded to the COVID crisis: not with fear or paralysis, but with an overriding sense of tenacity, community spirit and self-determination. From transformational networks to pooled funding, effective partnerships, and multi-stakeholder collaboration to building resilience and ecosystems, this compendium shows diverse initiatives that emerged from the crisis. Such initiatives are now paving the way for a paradigm shift in the sector whereby local expertise and local solutions take precedence over historical practices.  

Our authors reflect the growing voice of philanthropic practitioners in the Global South calling for more local innovation, more flexible capital and more locally led interventions to address development challenges. Their geographical, institutional, and sectoral diversity, coupled with the impact of the interventions that they write about, show how the historical power dynamic of top-down solutions dictated by philanthropic institutions in the Global North is giving way to new examples of South-South collaboration. This body of work reinforces the idea that when philanthropic interventions are designed, deployed, and scaled by those communities closest to the issues they aim to address, impact is more likely and more sustainable.

We hope that our ten chapters, coupled with the optimism of the foreword contributed by renowned economist Mohamed El Erian, about the role of philanthropy within a crisis-ridden world, will support practitioners in rethinking their own resilience and the possibilities for peer-collaboration. We also hope that it can help philanthropists who are already active in the Global South better navigate the additional complexities that institutional voids present. And we hope that it can help those that aspire to work in these markets, identify local partners for co-creation to ensure maximum impact.

Our ambition was to create a textbook that can help all those interested in engaging in philanthropic activities in the Global South, better understand the challenges and the opportunities that render these markets so very different from their counterparts in more developed countries. We also wanted to inspire new ways of delivering development solutions using what is in essence, a very old social finance instrument. We have made this an Open Access book to ensure maximum inclusion in our work and to amplify the voice of Global-South practitioners: a community of change makers that believes that through collaboration, innovation and ambitious new thinking, anything is possible.

Reimagining Philanthropy in the Global South by Clare Woodcraft, Kamal Munir and Nitya Mohan Khemka

About The Authors

Clare Woodcraft

Clare Woodcraft is the former Executive Director of the Centre for Strategic Philanthropy at the University of Cambridge. She was CEO of Emirates Foundation and Deputy Director at ...

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Kamal Munir

Kamal Munir is Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Strategy and Policy at the University of Cambridge and the Academic Director of the Centre for Strategic Philanthropy. His resea...

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Nitya Mohan Khemka

Nitya Mohan Khemka is Director of Global Alliances at PATH, a global health think-tank, and a visiting Fellow at the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge where she ...

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