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Philanthropists and development agencies called upon to help rebuild trust and become less risk-averse
Institute of Development Studies

September, 2012

Philanthropic and development organisations must help tackle the corrosive loss of trust in those organisations charged with protecting and promotinghuman wellbeing, such as government agencies, regulatory authorities and NGOs, according to a major new report on the future of philanthropy and international development.

The recommendation is made in Human Wellbeing in the 21st Century: Meeting Challenges, Seizing Opportunities, the final report of the Bellagio Initiative. The report is the culmination of a global consultation to explore how philanthropic and international development organisations might work together to better protect and promote human wellbeing.

Through global dialogue meetings, specially commissioned papers and a high-level two-week summit, the Bellagio Initiative heard from a diverse group including policymakers, academics, opinion leaders, social entrepreneurs, activists, indigenous peoples and donors from over 30 countries. The Initiative was led by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and the Resource Alliance, and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.

The report recommends that more inclusivity, connectedness and greater levels of transparency and accountability are needed from philanthropic organisations and development agencies if trust is to be rebuilt with communities. Failure to do so, warns the report, will make it impossible to promote human wellbeing and tackle development challenges worldwide.

Professor Allister McGregor, Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies and Director of the Bellagio Initiative said:

“The Bellagio Initiative brought together voices rarely heard in global forums and demonstrated the need for new ways of thinking about what development is and should be. One clear message to come out of this global consultation is that communities no longer trust governments, aid agencies, charities and regulators’ abilities to promote better governance systems.

“Trust is one of the most basic qualities on which solid relationships are founded, but it has been eroded in the wake of the global crises that emerged in 2008. The real wellbeing challenge for the 21st century is not just to find ways to live well, but for us to find ways to live well together.”

Another recurring theme in the report is the risk-averse nature of manyprivate foundations and development organisations. Bellagio discussants agreed that many development agencies and philanthropic organisations tend to be inhibited by narrow evaluation approaches, limited time horizons for projects and a pressure to be seen not to fail. The report says: “… the status quo is unsustainable. If the collective international development effort is to be more effective in protecting human wellbeing in the 21st century, then someone, somewhere in this complex and evolving ecosystem has to risk changing what they currently do.”

Key recommendations from the Bellagio Initiative report include:

  • Build new development theory: Philanthropic and development organisations, including new institutions rapidly emerging in Asia, Africa and Latin America, must work with people on the ground to build new theories of development that have global-ownership and are environmentally and politically sustainable.
  • Recognise the role of politics: Philanthropic and development organisations must accept the profoundly political nature of the development process and get involved in this aspect of current development debates. This will require listening to marginal people, utilising new resources, and rediscovering philanthropy’s advocacy role.
  • Measure development differently: Philanthropic and development organisations must develop new, human-centred indicators of development, which better capture what really matters in people’s lives.
  • Invest in innovation: Philanthropic and development organisations must be more open to pro-wellbeing innovation. This will require them to develop better systems to collaboratively identify and expand pro-wellbeing innovations. In particular, philanthropic organisations should explore ways to be less risk-averse.
  • Involve and empower global citizens: Global development efforts need to be democratised. Philanthropic and development organisations should draw on the skills, creativity and aspirations of a wider group of people, giving greater voice to marginal groups such as youth, women, and migrants. This will require development organisations to be more transparent and to empower citizens to hold them to account.


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