The world is at a pivotal moment for global development cooperation. While many stakeholders are brought increasingly into international development processes, philanthropy stands apart, despite the scale, ambition and potential of philanthropy’s contributions to international development. Its resources are growing as a proportion of total Official Development Assistance (ODA), and in 2011 philanthropic North-South flows from OECD DAC donors alone was at least US$59 billion. But philanthropy should not be viewed principally as “gap filler” for ODA. Instead, and crucially, philanthropy brings a complementary and beneficial set of new actors, approaches, and types of funding (Cannon, 2018).
Most philanthropy is directed to supporting individual and collective human initiative and ingenuity, an expression of belief that the answers to societies’ toughest challenges lie not in one institution or set of actors, but in the vast array of individuals and institutions who make up those societies, who represent different beliefs and perspectives, and approach the same problems with different solutions. The value of a philanthropic portfolio is that it enables one institution, even with modest resources, to simultaneously, and over time, test and support disparate organizations and interventions. And given the growing importance and enthusiasm around South-South cooperation and linkages, the burgeoning philanthropy originating in the Global South, which has not been well-documented, is particularly important to explore and analyze (Kihato, 2011).
Philanthropy is increasingly seen as an alternative source of global development finance, and one of the solutions to the steadily decreasing role of Official Development Aid (ODA). Philanthropy studies and research on social entrepreneurship are developing, and more work is being done to understand their impact. Aside private foreign direct investment, “innovative finance”, and diasporas’ remittances, the philanthropy sector – in its diversity – seeks to play a more significant role in Africa’s development. In that sense, the first reason why philanthropy is worth being seriously considered by all those interested in developing countries is that it is a substantial provider of development finance. The second reason why we should try to better understand philanthropy is that “Grant makers also give money” (Moyo, 2014).
According to the online Oxford dictionary referring to a definition dating back from the seventeenth century, everyone is a philanthropist in his or her own right, since philanthropy is “the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.” This definition is not only very broad, but leads to a number of questions to be constantly addressed by those practicing or studying philanthropy. Indeed, such notions as “desire”, “welfare”, “generosity”, “donation”, “money” and “good causes” may spread confusion, if not controversy, about the ways they are interpreted (Setkova, 2014).
Other definitions from the last century reflect a rather high degree of professionalization in philanthropy: in the 1960s American experts used the following criteria for identifying philanthropic foundations: “nongovernmental, nonprofit, possessing a principal fund of their own, managed by their own trustees and directors, promote social, educational, charitable, religious or other activities serving the common welfare”. Although Weaver’s 1967 definition is clearer, the question of what “common welfare” is remains unanswered. It has recently been replaced in latest American publications by the idea of “social purpose”, “social justice”, or “wellbeing” but also “social investment” (Viederman, 2012).