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Building a Billion Dollar Bridge to Philanthropy

By Tom Watson on April 25, 2008No Comment

 Building a Billion Dollar Bridge by Susan Carey Dempsey

In fact, when Turner made that commitment 10 years ago, his intention was to pay off the United States’ dues that were in arrears. At a reception this week to mark the 10th anniversary, he recalled “the US wasn’t paying, and the UN was being, well, diplomatic. They’d send polite IOU’s, or actually You Owe Us notes, which the US didn’t pay much attention to.”  Turner found it wasn’t a simple thing to step up with his billion. In fact, a new entity had to be created, the United Nations Foundation, to accept his gift and channel it into humanitarian programs.

At the reception at the UN, the Foundation’s President, Tim Wirth, said they’d originally thought the Foundation would go out of business in 10 years, after spending down the gift. Instead, after several years, the Foundation Board persuaded Turner to stretch his gift over 15 years, reduce annual funding to $50 million through 2014, and chart a course toward a permanent foundation. The Foundation has secured additional $700 million from corporations, philanthropists, governments and NGOs to match the more than $650 million Ted Turner has given to date.

The creation of the Foundation has led to the formation of a separate entity, the UN Fund for International Partnerships (UNFIP) to serve as the interface between the UN system, with its many agencies, and the Foundation. Under the aegis of the UN Office for Partnerships, headed by Executive Director Amir Dossol, UNFIP has programmed more than $900 million into major initiatives in children’s health, opportunities for young women, clean energy, humanitarian uses for mobile technology, and preservation of world heritage.

In a keynote address at the recent Summit onPhilanthropy conference hosted by onPhilanthropy, Assistant Secretary General Robert C. Orr described today’s United Nations as “open for business,” more accessible and welcoming to NGOs and philanthropic partnerships than it has been in the past.

Amir Dossol spoke with onPhilanthropy of the advances that have been made by matching donors and socially committed corporations with international programs such as Nothing But Nets, to fight the spread of malaria; partnering with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help eradicate polio; mobilizing the tourist industry by working with Expedia, Inc. in support of sustainable development and preservation of natural World Heritage sites.

“The United States has a culture of giving, bar none,”  said Dossol.  “USA Inc. doesn’t get enough credit for its charitable giving as well as foreign direct investment. US multinationals are the biggest players.”

Foundation President Wirth said plans for the future will hopefully include the formation of further alliances in order to help the United Nations and its many partners in international development take their best ideas to scale. Ted Turner described his philosophy of philanthropy as not simply giving money away, but an investment in the future of the world. In his inimitably upbeat, expansive way of approaching challenges, Turner remarked, “the world is facing huge problems over the next 20-50 years. But if we can succeed in overcoming them we’ll have smooth sailing and a glorious future for generations to come!”

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