How collaborative philanthropy efforts are starting to learn from one another

Co-Impact staff and partners at their breakfast on collaborative philanthropy during the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos. Photo by: Catherine Cheney / Devex

DAVOS, Switzerland — The Rockefeller Foundation and the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth are committing $50 million over five years in a collaborative philanthropy model they are asking other companies and philanthropies to join.

The new initiative, called Data Science for Social Impact, was launched at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos this week.

“Scaling the highest, hardest walls in global development requires us standing on each other’s shoulders, working together.”

— Rajiv Shah, president, The Rockefeller Foundation

The collaborative announced that DataKind, an organization that brings data scientists together with social impact organizations, will receive $20 million to support its transition from a model based on projects to platforms.

The growing trend of collaborative philanthropy brings donors together to build partnerships that aim to be greater than the sum of their parts. Initiatives such as Data Science for Social Impact can help a range of donors — foundations, ultra high net worth individuals, corporate funders or even bilateral and multilateral donors that may not typically partner with philanthropy — find ways to work together. Because this trend is still in its early days, the small but growing number of philanthropic collaboratives are finding opportunities to come together to share best practices.

“Increasingly, we’re looking for partners who have the ability and desire to work together to solve some of the toughest challenges facing humanity,” Rajiv Shah, president at The Rockefeller Foundation, wrote in an email to Devex. “From our perspective, the need for partnership could not be clearer. Scaling the highest, hardest walls in global development requires us standing on each other’s shoulders, working together.”

Shah helped to open a discussion on collaborative philanthropy on the sidelines of the meetings on Wednesday. He said Co-Impact, a collaborative of funders focused on systems change that announced its first grants earlier this month, “is on its way to becoming the premier platform for global development philanthropy.”

The idea behind the event, and other events on collaborative philanthropy taking place at Davos, was to bring donors together to discuss not only how they can combine their resources but also ways the growing number of philanthropic collaboratives can learn from one another.

When Dubai Cares, a philanthropic organization based in the United Arab Emirates that focuses exclusively on education, started 11 years ago, its goal was systems change. The organization co-designed programs with implementing partners including the United Nations or local or international NGOs, explained Tariq Al Gurg, the organization’s CEO, at the Co-Impact breakfast on Wednesday. But without funding partners, it could only support pilots of new approaches to programmatic interventions, because it did not have the tens of millions of dollars needed to demonstrate the kind of impact bilaterals and multilaterals look for in order to take these models to scale.

“It was always us and it was always us alone,” he said.

Dubai Cares joined Co-Impact in supporting Teaching at the Right Level, one of the recipients of Co-Impact’s systems change grants, which are typically $10 to $50 million over five years. Dubai Cares funded some of the earliest work of Pratham, the Indian NGO that pioneered this methodology of refocusing education systems on teaching to the level of learning rather than age or grade. Now, Dubai Cares is joining forces with Co-Impact and other co-investors such as the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to scale this model in Africa, demonstrating the kind of collaboration Al Gurg said is needed to bridge the gap between philanthropy and larger scale investment by donors and governments.

“What I hope is to have more Co-Impacts,” he said.

Olivia Leland, who was the founding director at the Giving Pledge, which asks ultra high net worth individuals to commit a majority of their wealth to charity, has brought some of those same billionaires together to form Co-Impact.

Core partners of Co-Impact include The Rockefeller Foundation, where Leland is the managing director of collaborative philanthropy; Jeff Skoll, the first president of eBay and founder and chairman of the Skoll Foundation; Richard Chandler, a billionaire who started a foundation that also supports social entrepreneurs; Bill and Melinda Gates, the co-chairs of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; and most recently Nandan Nilekani, co-founder of Infosys, and his wife Rohini Nilekani. They joined in a separate meeting on collaborative philanthropy that included Gates and Nilekani — philanthropists who have already combined forces and funds — and others who are just beginning to consider the idea.

Community members of Co-Impact, including philanthropists such as Elizabeth Sheehan, who founded Care 2 Communities to focus on health care access, traveled to Davos to learn more about, and raise awareness of, the role of philanthropy in systems change.

“As a philanthropist, I feel impatient with the typical churn of grant-seeking and grant-making across sectors,” she wrote ahead of her trip to Davos. “Incremental grants aren’t changing the game and, too often, they aren’t even generating incremental progress.

Davos is not the only place where many of the most interesting conversations about trends in philanthropy happen behind closed doors, with recent convenings by donors including the Gates Foundation and collaboratives such as Co-Impact being closed to the press and the public so these organizations can share what is and is not working in this effort to scale philanthropy for systems change.

“There is a recognition that the movement is still nascent,” said Sam Mayer, vice president of public affairs at the END Fund, which brings donors together around efforts to control and eliminate neglected tropical diseases

The END Fund has worked with Co-Impact and other collaborative philanthropy efforts to share what models work, and its CEO Ellen Agler told Devex the key is collaborative and generous leadership among the people who are pioneering these models.

“Because of the collaborative spirit that is at the core of all of these examples, inherently there is value to everyone concerned in understanding everyone’s perspectives on what models can work in different sectors at different times in different contexts,” Mayer said.

About the author

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    Catherine Cheney

    Catherine Cheney is a Senior Reporter for Devex. She covers the West Coast of the U.S., focusing on the role of technology, innovation, and philanthropy in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And she frequently represents Devex as a speaker and moderator. Prior to joining Devex, Catherine earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University, worked as a web producer for POLITICO and reporter for World Politics Review, and helped to launch NationSwell. Catherine has reported domestically and internationally for outlets including The Atlantic and the Washington Post. Outside of her own reporting, Catherine also supports other journalists to cover what is working, through her work with the Solutions Journalism Network.