A newly released report into global philanthropy says the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to address inequalities in the philanthropic relationship between the Global North and South, including more core funding and local networks in the South.

The report – entitled Philanthropy and COVID-19: Is the North-South Power Balance Finally Shifting? – is the first publication from the Centre for Strategic Philanthropy, which launched operations in June 2020 with a mission to examine philanthropy within and from the world’s highest-growth markets including Africa, developing Asia and the Middle East.

Through interviews conducted with two dozen Global South Social Purpose Organisations (SPOs) and foundations during the COVID pandemic – as well as analysis of secondary data – the report finds that COVID-19 has revealed “a deep sense of dissatisfaction with the status quo” in global philanthropy.

While philanthropic foundations in the Global North have historically exercised considerable control over how resources are allocated to Global South grantees, the urgent demands of the pandemic have started to shift some control toward Global South organisations. With the diversion of more and more resources towards public health, the old norms of decision making have been disrupted in favour of organisations with superior local knowledge. And the positive effects of this show that it is now time for change across the sector.

Building on these findings,the report calls for three key steps that will help global philanthropy apply the lessons learned from COVID-19. The resulting long-term changes will make philanthropic relationships more equal and improve the impact of Global South philanthropy:

  • Fund networks to improve infrastructure, capacity and knowledge. Networks help under-resourced, fragile SPOs collectively bargain for better relationships with governments, global grant-makers and the broader development community. They also help build better analyses of the needs and potential of the sector. During the pandemic, many Global South SPOs have begun to create regional networks for sharing knowledge: however, local data collection requires investment, and Global North grant-makers need to commit to funding local networks (plus their associated infrastructure) so that Global South SPOs can start to take advantage of the data revolution.
  • Improve partnerships between Global South governments and Global South philanthropists. Better partnerships with government would allow Global South SPOs and grant-makers to align with national development policy and scale up their initiatives faster. By working together, Global South SPOs and governments can also advocate for radical reform of existing global development policies. However, to achieve this, Global South governments need to become more comfortable working with civil society and local organisations. Projects like the OECD’s Network of Foundations Working for Development could contribute to this by bringing governments and philanthropists together.
  • Build resilience in the Global South by funding core costs rather than only project-specific funding. Historically, grant-makers have been reluctant to fund SPO overheads or salaries, due to a myth that this is less efficient than funding programmes. This hampers local SPOs in their efforts to build resilience, acquire expertise and manage data repositories – thereby diminishing their potential impact. Moreover, too many restrictions on grants entrench the power imbalance between grant-makers and Global South grantees, suggesting the latter cannot be trusted to decide where funding is best allocated. Instead, grant-makers need to trust the local knowledge of SPOs to spend the money effectively. Grantees that we interviewed all welcomed the simpler, faster due diligence and application processes that COVID-19 made necessary.
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