Gul Rukh Rahman, Director of the Empowering Families for Innovative Philanthropy (ERFIP) Foundation talks about the North-South divide, the role of local philanthropists and parachute philanthropy.
How does the North-South divide affect global philanthropy?
Before jumping into the discussion about North-South divide and its impact on global philanthropy, one might ask what is global philanthropy? Is it cross border private giving within two similar sized economies or is it private capital flows from global North to global South? North being defined as rich industrialized countries and is not based on geographical divide.
The North-South divide affects global philanthropy in the same way that it affects global politics, socio-economics and cultural landscapes. The unequal and inequitable power dynamics that exists between the North and the South are deeply reflected in global philanthropy. The North enjoys immense control over global policy making which directly impacts countries from the South. Global philanthropy, thus, cannot be seen as operating outside the norms established by the likes of Bretton Wood institutions.
How should it be seen?
If the history of the North-South divide has been about the colonizer and the colonized; then at present, that has translated into the ever-expanding wealth gap between the have and the have-nots; where the haves have benefited tremendously from globalization, tax avoidance, offshore tax havens and political systems that help entrench these inequalities in favor of the few. The haves get involve in philanthropy – global and local – for reasons which are not really altruistic, in my opinion.
Global philanthropy is a mirror of the world order. There is no accountability, no transparency and representation, devalued local knowledge and context and the beneficiaries are treated with little respect in most cases. The culture of dependency created by both global philanthropy and international development are some of the ways North-South divide reinforces the power dynamics.
Global philanthropy is a mirror of the world order. There is no accountability, no transparency and representation, devalued local knowledge and context and the beneficiaries are treated with little respect in most cases.
Gul Rukh Rahman
Has anyone ever held the US, UK and their allies accountable for destruction of Iraq, loss of millions of lives for what we factually know was a war based on fake-evidence? No. But the West or the North countries will happily impose crippling sanctions on a country should they feel offended by its action.
And what does that mean for global philanthropy?
We can observe similar power dynamics in global philanthropy. Are there any instruments in place that can hold private global philanthropy and philanthropists accountable for the destruction their experiments may have or can cause? I am not familiar with any.
More to the point, the Gates Foundation is the largest private philanthropic player in agriculture in Africa. If its programs have done good for people, they have also caused immense damage to small farmers. Has anyone or can anyone hold a Foundation of this size accountable? The answer would be NO.
In many cases, large philanthropic actors operate with the blessing of local governments. These governments, as we know, are usually weak, corrupt and dictatorial and the power dynamic between the North-South determines who drives the political, social, economic and philanthropic agendas.
In other words, the imbalance of power is also evident in global philanthropy?
Global philanthropy creates dependencies similar to those of international aid and international development sector. There is nothing inherently wrong with global philanthropy but what is deeply concerning is that all decisions are made in countries other than the receiving community/country; real agendas remain unclear.
Are those acts of philanthropy about image makeover for a company, or reputational laundering for an individual, a family, or a business?
The white Savior’s complex is entrenched deeply into global philanthropy.
Gul Rukh Rahman
Because of the North‘s deep philanthropic pockets and access to global financial and political power, the local philanthropists in many cases are pushed out of conversations that are inherently about their countries, regions, cities and people. This lack of voice or what I call the devalued local knowledge and context is another reflection of North-South divide. To put it more bluntly, the white Savior’s complex is entrenched deeply into global philanthropy.
How can this be changed?
This is a deeper longer discussion but I feel that unlike North-South divide and the politics that surround it, global philanthropy needs to calibrate itself on basis of equity and equality. We also need to stop looking at philanthropy as a stop-gap arrangement where it fills the gaps where governments are failing.
The local philanthropists need to further step up and take control of narratives and decisions which impact them and their countries directly.
The global South needs to break the begging bowl in philanthropy.
Can cross-border philanthropy be based on local ideas and expectations, or does it need an overarching, uniform concept?
Cross-border philanthropy needs to be based on local needs defined by local community. An overarching uniform concept might not be needed because no countries or communities are alike.
What could be the appeal of cross-border philanthropy?
I think what makes cross border philanthropy interesting is who is the initiating party and what interests does the party have? Is it a business that has exisiting or perceived interests in the consumer market or is it a family that has roots in that region or country? Philanthropy does not exist in a silo so the inherent links to the country or the motivations of the giver will determine how deep he/she will go into determining local context and needs.
Alignment of values and goals of the giver and the receiver could also define success or failure of any cross border initiative. The environment of philanthropy also affects cross-border giving. For example, many governments in recent years have tightened rules on cross-border giving for example the likes of Hungary, Turkey, India and more.
We also have to remember that not all cross border philanthropies are created equal; cross-border philanthropy from certain countries is seen with a lot more suspicion than others. For example, any philanthropic money from Saudi Arabia usually raises red flags for its potential of spreading a certain kind of religious ideology or the Soros Foundation work in countries like Hungary raises political concerns of interference.
Cross-border philanthropic collaborations need safe spaces or platforms for dialogue to better understand the needs and sharing knowledge. These kinds of collaborations can help reach the SDGs but they also run the risk of enhancing the already exasperated partnership models.
What do you mean by parachute philanthropy?
In abstract terms, parachute philanthropy is when a philanthropic family, foundation, an individual or a business decides that a community in a far-away country has a specific need. This entity moves forward to address this need usually in a manner which usually does not address the needs of the community; the community is not considered smart enough to know what the needs are.
In more concrete terms what I mean by parachute philanthropy is that ideas, programs and projects that are pushed from the global North to the global South without taking into account local realities.
Can you give a concrete example?
Take the example of the Giving Pledge, which had been heavily talked about and promoted in the media. A Gates-Buffet initiative for asking the world‘s richest to commit parts of their wealth to philanthropy and the duo presented themselves as the role models. For some, it might have been a great idea to belong to yet another elite club. However, it was not received as well in many countries like India.
It was reported that when the duo was in India, some of the country‘s wealthiest businessmen ignored the meetings. Others like Yusuf Hamied, chairman and managing director of pharmaceutical company Cipla, were openly critical.
People give to each other without classifying it as philanthropy.
Gul Rukh Rahman
Different cultures have different ways of doing philanthropy, particularly giving practices stemming from religion are usually not talked about. So for leading western philanthropists to parachute in with an idea which isn‘t part of a culture is what I mean by “parachute philanthropy” in Ideas.
One can observe many missed opportunities and wasted resources when well-meaning but ill informed philanthropists land in a country to play the saviors. This has created a distrust amongst other issues in philanthropy.
What is the data situation in emerging countries and how can it be improved?
Data within philanthropy remains limited and at times elusive in emerging economies. The ERFIP Foundation, Switzerland was created to try and gather data from these markets. It was one of the ways to address the data gap from these economies by engaging with local philanthropic families.
Some of the reasons for lack of data is that philanthropy is not as professionalized as let us say in the US. People give from the heart without necessarily talking about impact measurement and more. There is a lot of horizontal giving; people give to each other without classifying it as philanthropy. It is philanthropy of the community and for the community.
Large scale philanthropy in emerging markets still remain personal. As we know that in these economies, large businesses are still family owned; and there are risks attached to be seen as doing more than the government. Thus, there is an inherent distrust of the system and no or little data is shared.
How can data situation be improved?
There cannot be a uniform method to improve data gathering. Every country is unique and has its own legal and fiscal policies, thus one size cannot fit all. I am unable to speak to this matter because publicizing giving numbers can have tax implications for some or for others it might be against their religious beliefs to publicize.
Please do not misunderstand when I talk about tax implications. It is not unique to the wealthy from emerging economies; in the North use of tax havens by philanthropists and businesses and other tax minimizing practices are wide spread and common.
Lack of data, a north-south divide: How capable is western philanthropy of responding to regional ideas and adapting its own understanding of philanthropy?
I think philanthropy at-large is capable to address issues however it needs to stand on a more equitable grounds.
In conventional wisdom, how Western philanthropy is understood is that money and ideas flow from the north targeted towards emerging markets. There is a stark difference between how a Western philanthropist will perceive and understand problems in any of the emerging countries vs how a local understands the issues and potential solutions.
One of my own observations have been that due to the power dynamics of western philanthropy, it chooses to ignore some of the best and most innovative work and solution from the grassroots level. If philanthropy from the North wants to be better equipped and more efficient in responding to regional issues, there needs to be behavioral changes.
What needs to happen?
Local anchors and local philanthropists are the difference between a successful implementation or not. Typically, an individual philanthropist or a foundation positions itself as the expert and decides what is best. However, I will come back to the notion of parity and equity amongst Western philanthropists and their regional or local counterparts.
There is a deeper need to decolonize philanthropic mindset. This notion that western philanthropy knows best because they have access to more research or they have access to better data and they have deeper pockets is true to a certain extent.
The most important question I think we need to ask ourselves is that what are the socio-economic and political frameworks which continue to feed the inequities and how can they be fixed? These frameworks create the need of global philanthropy, the dependency culture and the begging bowl.
Can philanthropy between emerging and western countries take place on an equal footing as long as there is a large wealth gap — or can it possibly take on a pioneering role?
In my opinion, philanthropy between emerging and western countries cannot be on equal footing because of multiple reasons including the massive wealth gap. Economically disadvantaged countries — whose inefficient and ineffective governments are many a times supported by Western countries are not in a position to be equal partners to their “economic masters” in any aspect including philanthropy.
Desmond Tutu, the great South African Anglican bishop and anti-apartheid fighter once talked about the concept of neutrality, the oppressor and the oppressed in terms of an elephant and a mouse. I will use the same analogy of a mouse and an elephant and ask if anyone has ever seen a mouse and an elephant as equals?
This rigged game of power and money is what needs to change.
Gul Rukh Rahman
Many western countries were previous colonial occupiers and they continue to exercise political, economic and social influence on their previous colonies. My frustration is that there are amazing philanthropists in emerging markets but they do not receive the recognition nor does the media provide them with the platform that they deserve.
This rigged game of power and money is what needs to change. There needs to be a paradigm shift in how philanthropy from global South and global North is received and perceived. This means philanthropy and philanthropists from the South be given respect they deserve while there needs to be push back against those who are using philanthropy as a tool to embellish their credentials in the West.
Philanthropy can be and has been in a pioneering position. However, I will come back to my initial assertion that philanthropic capital flows or idea flows from North to South re-enforces the old age colonial, master-slave mind-set.
A relapse into old structures?
As Western political powers created the structures that continue to perpetuate human misery, Philanthropy from the North in particular, needs to look at those underlying causes and try to address them in partnership with their peers in the South.
Innovation is needed in our approach to philanthropy and potentially building new systems and pathways of giving and receiving. These are uncomfortable conversations about rigged systems, broken approaches and inequitable philanthropy. Innovative thinking is needed to fix it all.
DAS Strategic and Operational Philanthropy
Module 9 – Interaction with regional philanthropic realities Speaker: Gul RUKH RAHMAN, Director, Empowering Families for Innovative Philanthropy (ERFIP) Foundation
Université de Genève
The DAS is developed by UNIGE and co-developed with Geneva Centre for Philanthropy GCP, Geneva Finance Research Institute GFRI and Genevensis communications.