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Global Social Change Philanthropy: Grantmakers Without Borders

By Tom Watson on June 20, 2007No Comment

Global Social Change Philanthropy: Grantmakers Without Borders
By: Jeanne Alberts, 6/20/07

Earlier this month, Grantmakers without Borders hosted Just Giving: Global Social Change Philanthropy, a conference on international grantmaking and social change.  Committed to increasing strategic and compassionate funding for international social change, Grantmakers without Borders is a unique funders network which arose out of a concern that US-based philanthropy provides only marginal support to the developing world, and frequently in ways that do not get at the root causes of social ills.

The three-day gathering convened grantees, grantors and advisors for in-depth, engaged dialogue and roundtable discussions. Critical issues facing the world today, such as the challenges and opportunities of diaspora philanthropy; money and women’s movements; the future of African children and their caregivers; defending human rights; building organizational capacity through indigenous leadership; designing fair exit strategies; and integrating gender in grantmaking were among some of the dynamic and interconnected topics presented and discussed.

“Seeing with their eyes” was a common theme of this year’s conference.  The opening session, A Green Revolution for Africa: Gates, Rockefeller, and the Role of Foundations in Agriculture and Food Security provided the audience with an opportunity to engage representatives from both foundations on their thinking behind decisions to fund an African Green Revolution and those expectations for moving such an initiative forward. 

Anne Leonard of the funders working group on sustainable consumption and production presented a lively and thought-provoking explanation on The Real Costs of Consumption: Values and Strategies for Making Change. Ms. Leonard walked the audience through the current state of US-style consumption and provided positive alternatives that grantors and grantees are using in order to build a more sustainable and just society. Ms. Leonard believes the most important step to building positive alternatives is awareness.  In spending the time to think, learn, and research before buying something, we can improve our consumption and production processes.  She advises using three measurements sustainability, justice, and happiness in gauging our own practices.  Are our lifestyles and cycles of consumption sustainable?  Are we using renewable resources?  What are the values and practices of the organization or business we support?  What makes us happy?  Is it really the attaining of more goods?  Participants left the room armed with these and many other probing questions. 

The closing session discussed Microcredit Today: Its Challenges and Opportunities. Dean Karlan of Innovations for Poverty Action and Yale University; Susan Feiner of the University of Southern Maine; Soledad Gompf of FINCA International; Sangita Sigdyal of the Microcredit Summit Campaign; and Sarah Hobson of the New Field Foundation discussed the track record of microcredit in the developing world and in what ways it has either helped or harmed beneficiaries. There were many stories, from both sides some individuals have been given that first loan which made an enormous economic difference for themselves, their families and their communities.  However, for others, microcredit loans have been a burden and have forced individuals, particularly women, into dangerous situations in order to pay back the loan without reaping any economic or sustainable benefit. Without extensive longitudinal data available, discussion leaders agreed it was too early and difficult to tell exactly what microcredit has accomplished for gender equality and self-sustainability.  Several audience members raised the question, “Is microcredit poverty allevation or business promotion?” a question which requires more thought, research and time to best answer.

With this most recent convening of grantors and grantees, Grantmakers without Borders reminded participants that, while there is much work to be done, there are also committed, hard-working individuals dedicated to seeing a more just society built on social change.  In listening to those living around the world struggling to overcome institutional barriers, in raising the necessity of authentic, grassroots partnerships promoting local leadership, Grantmakers without Borders has certainly re-energized this participant. 

Grantmakers without Borders has offices in Boston, MA, San Francisco, CA and Silver Spring, MD.  For more information please visit,

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