The marriage of Lady Philanthropy and Mister Impact

Yes, I know, this does not sound like breaking news. Some say they have already got married since long (not with a lot of clamor), others that they are a long established couple anyway. Does the ring really matter? Whatever the case, we all see that after years of turmoil, the couple is now at a turning point. Global giving is increasing, philanthropic vehicles are expanding, impact investing is more spoken about and social investors are coming out. All this in Europe, and beyond.

As a researcher and educator in this field, I feel the responsibility to help the spouses to be at their best, for the benefit of all of us. The bride being prepared for this marriage by knowing her spouse well, by having a clear vision of where they want to go together – and by wearing the right dress!, and the groom by proudly looking to his spouse, with loving eyes and the true intention of a life commitment (patient capital is something similar, isn’t it?).

So please forgive me the wedding metaphor, but follow me in giving a humble advice to these not-so-young-anymore couple, at least as it is evolving in the European context.


Something old

There is nothing new on the sense of philanthropy and impact nowadays: just read the biographies of visionary entrepreneurs or philanthropists of this or last century and you will realize it’s all there. “After all – you would probably conclude – this whole story of venture philanthropy is good old stuff with a flavor of new millennium re-make and some higher degree of personalization, consistently with our selfie époque”. However, after a decade of proliferation of venture philanthropy, strategic philanthropy, catalytic philanthropy, collaborative philanthropy and many other philanthropic flavors, the number of vehicles for being philanthropic has certainly increased, thank to globalization, new technologies and cross-sectoral contamination. The essence of course has remained the same: private assets dedicated to public purpose. Even the first examples of modern, rich, Western philanthropists – Rockefeller, Wellcome, Rowntree – knew that there was a paradox in itself, maybe that is why their first strategies were all based on a social justice narrative. With this in mind, they tirelessly dedicated their resources – financial, networking, skills, expertise, knowledge and time to have an impact. These examples are strong roots to look into the future. If you feel this is a North American/European story, you are wrong. The world’s traditions of philanthropy are old, rich and cover all latitudes. Let’s bring this along as part of our history.


Something new

Wearing something new in this wedding is not so challenging. We are in the era of Innovation (an “obsession” for some). While most of the times it goes hand in hand with technological innovation, this is not at all the unique part of the story. Social innovation is the new mantra. Surprisingly or not, knowledge, methods and skills are equally important to contribute to sustainable and innovative solutions to tackle social problems, than technological tools – which still represent a powerful trigger. However, there is more to add. We must acknowledge we have also new needs to respond to, and a desire to be always able to intercept them on time. Populations are witnessing an increasing number of new needs – sometimes because they are consequences of issues which have remained unaddressed before, such as the phenomenon of NEETs, a meaningless acronym just a decade ago (here some stats on Europe easily explained). While we cannot expect private efforts to respond alone to complex social problems by inventing new solutions – considering the ridiculously low budget they represent compared to governments or business, we can claim for their full risk taking potential to deploy the whole ensemble of assets to innovation and experimentation. Some commentators consider this role of philanthropy the best way it has to support – and not undermine, democracy.


Something borrowed

What if the true innovation was borrowing? Borrowing is extremely rare but needed in philanthropy when it comes to impact management and evaluation practices. For example, borrowing new languages can be a way: investors can be a rich source of a diverse way of thinking, more spontaneously oriented to data collection and interpretation, they may help a good part of the philanthropic sector supporting a culture of data. Figures used well can strengthen the relationship with internal and external stakeholders and reinforce strategic learning. Also the social finance sector can learn what to borrow from philanthropy on impact management and evaluation. Borrowing different methodologies, from disciplines that may sound out of the box: qualitative narratives in this respect are much better than one may think. Also, both sectors can borrow methods and frameworks from those who have already had a thought about it and have set a universal gold standard, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). And borrowing from our peers? This practice is called sharing. As an interviewee of our research on Philanthropy & Impact said once [the CEO of a somehow large family foundation], “We all copy each other and we pretend not to…probably at some point we should just sit at the table and share”. Peer learning is one of the most powerful learning tools: one of the most claimed and one of the most ignored. Many platforms exist in this respect, at the European level, at the global level, targeting the sector in general or very specific categories. The challenge is clear: how can we design a space (mental, physical, virtual) to practice sharing in this fast evolving scenario?


Something blue

Ah! Well, we live on the Blue Planet. With over 60% of water composing the adult human body (over 70-80% in newborns) and over 70% of water on Earth, we have no chances but being respectful of our bodies and of this big dance floor we are all dancing on. A vision of respect, change and inclusion is desirably what philanthropic leaders and investors need to bring to the table with governments and business, to let impact being the driver to make our Blue Planet a more decent place to live in. Don’t think at philanthropic leaders and investors simply as dreamers, but rather believe them deeply rooted in a vision of inclusion and openness for the benefit of more, and more of us. If impact is able to show its breadth, and not only its depth, we have an exciting love story to tell to Lady Philanthropy and Mr. Impact kids – and for the next generations to come.


And… the Wedding Gift!

If you like to know more about the newlyweds, join us on our Philanthropy & Impact program where we will discuss the findings of our recent research and contribute to building the couple’s journey as a success story grounded in vision, data, skills… and some cherries on the cake!