In May this year, I found myself in an inspiring and thought-provoking event in Los Angeles, USA. It was the annual summit for Women’s Funding Network, and the theme was “Women Economics and Peace”. It was a most refreshing experience for me. This was mostly on account of the worth and quality of the presentations done during the event, and I share a particularly stimulating one with you today.
It was a presentation by Jeff Kudash on “Catalytic philanthropy to collective impact- How funders effect large scale systemic change’’, which led me subsequently to read the article “Catalytic Philanthropy”, written by Mark R Kramer. This article discusses why the traditional approach to philanthropy cannot possibly be effective in the long term and highlights the need to paradigm-shift to catalytic philanthropy. Reading Kramer’s article brought to mind some challenges I had observed over the years, working in Fundraising and Financial Management at AWDF, and led to this desire to share my understanding of Kudash’s presentation, Kramer’s article, and their mutual relationship to the challenges hounding women’s organisations in Africa.
Traditional vrs Catalytic Philantrophy
In traditional philanthropy, what happens is that women’s organisations apply for funding from donors; the donors decide which women’s organisations to support, and how much money to give. What this means is that, the organisations are responsible for devising the solutions to their idetified social problems. However, considering the size and the budgets of most of these organisations working on women’s issues, they persistently face a lot of project and financial limitations, even though they are able to help thousands of people in need.
This is because generally, women’s organisations on the African continent tend to have a low institutional capacity. Some attribute this low capacity to the fact that the organisations do not have the required resources to attract and retain the necessary qualified staff, which eventually renders them inefficient. They are also not financially sustainable, partly because a lot of donors do not provide enough core support, but rather, prefer annual funding to medium-to-long term ones that consider three to ten year commitments. As a result of this challenge to secure long term funding, women’s organisations tend to spend a lot of their time, energy, and resources looking for financial resources rather than focusing on their key objectives, which ultimately makes them ineffective.
Additionally, a lot of women’s organisations tend to work alone, using strategies that they deem fit, with very little opportunity to learn from one another’s best practices, to develop the clout to influence government, or the scale to achieve national impact. This means that however generous the donors, or hardworking the staff, there is no assurance that these underfunded, non-collaborative, and unaccountable approaches of these countless women’s organisations will actually lead to workable solutions for large-scale social problems:
“The contributions of conventional traditional donors and the good work of effective women’s organisations may temporarily improve matters at a particular place and time but they are unlikely to create the lasting reforms that the African society so urgently requires. (modified from Kramer’s article)
Catalytic Philanthropy is therefore proffered as the new approach to philanthropy, already being practiced by some donors with great benefits and impact. These exceptional donors are acting differently, using these four approaches:
1. Taking responsibility for achieving results
Catalytic philanthropists have the ambition to change the world, and the courage to accept responsibility for achieving those results. This emphasizes the fact that funders have a more influential role to play than merely supporting these organisations. Foundations and corporations have the clout, connections and capacity to make things happen in a way that most non-profits do not, and by getting directly involved and taking personal responsibility for theory results, they can leverage their personal and professional relations, initiate public-private partnerships, import projects that have proved successful elsewhere, create new models, influence government(s), draw public attention to an issue, coordinate the activities of different non-profits, and attract fellow funders from around the world. All these powerful platforms are dissolved when donors confine themselves to writing cheques.
2. Mobilising campaign for change
Catalytic philanthropy stimulates cross sector collaborations, consequently mobilising stakeholders to create shared solutions. Funders should therefore seek and engage others in compelling campaigns, empowerment of stakeholders, and creation of collaborative and innovative tools. This is because systematic reforms require relentless and unending campaigns which galvanize the attention of the many stakeholders involved, and unify their efforts around the pursuit of common goals.
3. Using all available tools
Catalytic philanthropists use all tools available for the creation of change, including unconventional ones, and ones external to the non-profit sector such as corporate resources, investment capital, advocacy, litigation and even lobbying.
4. Creating actionable knowledge
Catalytic philanthropists gather knowledge; they create actionable knowledge to improve their own effectiveness and to influence the behaviour of others. Actionable knowledge is one that can impact government spending, and is not limited to compiling and analyzing data. In this same vein, funders must not rely solely on grant applications and grantees for information about social problems they are tackling, but must look beyond, answer their own enquiries through research, and have a broad perspective of the issue(s) at hand rather than focusing narrowly on it in financial terms. The information must also carry emotional appeal to capture people’s attention, and practical recommendations to inspire them to action.
In conclusion, women’s organisations on the African continent need more catalytic philanthropists than traditional philanthropists. These catalytic philanthropists can be institutional funders, corporate institutions or individuals who exhibit the four attributes highlighted above, and can work with the women’s organisations to continuously build their capacities, commitments, communications, connections, networks, and to learn from each other so as to create the large-scale lasting solutions we all want to see. And we do need lasting solutions.
The Finance Manager
AWDF (African Women’s Development Fund)