Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

May 8, 2013

To reach Millennium Development Goals, philanthropy needs to be a joined-up effort

Special to Philanthropy Journal

Resource Alliance Chief Executive Neelam Makhijani (©David Devins Photography)

Neelam Makhijani
I was proud to attend my first U.N. Development Cooperation Forum (DCF) on the 23rd of April, where, just two years shy of our 2015 target for the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the mood was optimistic and ambitious, but also fraught with practical complications that have left us behind in certain areas.

The DCF was born in response to the changing development landscape and the growing number of development actors. Under the auspices of the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), this biennial forum, co-organized by OECD netFWD, has successfully established a new platform for diverse voices across the international sector to highlight our achievements and address the challenges we face today.

As a participant in a special post-2015 policy dialogue, I was impressed by the humanity and the humility of all panellists. These included Jeffrey Falkenstein (U.S. Foundation Center), who expressed the need for cohesive data repositories, Tatiana Filgueiras (Ayrton Senna Foundation), who spoke on issues of scale and accountability, and representatives from the Gates Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation and U.N. Department of Social and Economic Affairs who considered how philanthropic organizations can take greater ownership of the MDGs.

We have learned a lot in these past 13 years. We have also made mistakes, and it’s encouraging to see those willing to admit them. Momentum is there, but how do we keep this fire burning? Commitment to philanthropy from the U.N., from world governments, from foundations and from the public remains strong – the test is how to bring these pieces together.

Our greatest challenge now is that we lack a joined-up effort. I strongly believe that philanthropy is not just the job of the Warren Buffets; giving millions and giving one dollar are equally important. Both have pros and cons – the individual philanthropist tends to make small but impassioned donations; they lead with their heart. Wealthy foundations give generously and with strategic intention, but can lack the local knowledge of people on the ground. It’s when we mix the passion of small-scale donors with the resources of large-scale organizations that we can change the world.

Both foundations and governments must take more ownership to encourage a cohesive vision.  My organization, the Resource Alliance, is doing its part by working with actors in all strata to implement sustainable models. Our current campaign, “At the Same Table,” features a series of workshops aimed at bringing together multiple development professionals, fundraisers and philanthropists to foster collaborative learning. Like the DCF itself, perhaps, such platforms can enable dialogues to occur and new partnerships to emerge.

We must also begin to think more cleverly about scale within the MDG strategy. It is human nature to feel overwhelmed when we look at the big picture.  If work comes in smaller chunks, then we tend to get on with it.

The MDGs are not relevant to all countries on the same level. Instead of trying to address them at once, why not encourage countries to pick their top three and create a national plan of implementation? In India, for example, a forthcoming law will see 2 percent of private corporation tax given to the development sector. This is a clear example of a joined-up national plan. With more manageable goals, we stand a better chance at collective action.

It is critical, too, that we increase MDG awareness within the public, particularly the growing middle class. I met recently with the UK-based Charities Aid Foundation who, in a new report, calculated that if the emerging middle class donated 0.4 percent of their income it would raise £200 billion per year – enough to make enormous strides.

As a fundraiser, I know that people feel greater ownership over their donations when they can see the larger impact. Outside the sector, even among many NGOs, I have seen a lack of understanding for our development goals. This is mainly a communications issue. We must develop a language to speak plainly with the general public if we are to engage them in the big picture and incentivise giving.

Lastly, I agree we need a coherent data network that takes the abundance of research widely available and turns it into information. From information, we can draw out action points and hardcore recommendations. You will only know what is missing if you know what you already have.

The DCF was a step forward. The sector is rich in ideas, but it is in implementation where we often fail. It will be the onus of the U.N., with its capital and credibility, to encourage next steps and guide new partnerships post-2015. At the same time, it’s important that the U.N. allow governments, foundations and NGOs to work things out for themselves. Too often, the conversation has stayed at the top level. There is a lot of talk and not enough action.

We should encourage players to work together, without egos, in this joined-up effort; tackling goals through a combination of passion and resource.  

Neelam Makhijani is the chief executive of the Resource Alliance.

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