Maximizing the Value of Philanthropic Efforts through Planned Partnerships between the U.S. Government and Private Foundations. A. CHARACTERISTICS OF SUCCESSFUL INITIATIVES

05/01/2009

1. Local Ownership

Firstand probably foremostpolicymakers, practitioners, and scholars alike agree that local ownership of programs and initiatives is critical to their successful roll-out, as well as their effectiveness and sustainability (HELP Commission 2007; Hudson Institute 2008; MCC 2008b). The importance of local ownership appears to hold for both public and private initiatives, and leaders in the foundation world are striving to encourage recipient buy-in and ownership through a host of strategies. For example, both the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation have required heavy involvement from local governments, businesses, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) at all stages in the development of their multi-million dollar agricultural initiative, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). Domestically, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation (EMCF) requires that recipients of its operational grants for youth development undergo a detailed business planning process, such that participants at all levels of the organization have a stake in the successful implementation of the grant (Balin 2003). In the public sphere, the federal governments bipartisan HELP Commission (U.S. Commission on Helping to Enhance the Livelihood of People around the Globe)which was statutorily charged with examining how to better structure U.S. foreign aid to achieve better resultssuggested as one of its 10 central recommendations that a new business model should focus on building local management capacity and leadership skills to ensure that programs are adequately adapted to and adopted by recipient nations (2007). Such ownership is also a cornerstone of the MCC approach to determining where to direct aid (MCC 2008a). While MCCs rationale is structured above all to support transparency and accountability, recipient governments must not only embrace the agencys goals, but also take the lead in developing a plan for reaching them.

2. Appropriate Technology

A second point of agreement about the conditions for successful philanthropy regards the use of technology. While the search for silver bulletsin nearly every area of assistance, from agriculture, to public health, to economic developmentis ongoing (Kramer 2007; Sandfort 2008), there is a consensus that any technology important to an initiative must be powerful enough to justify its introduction, yet simple enough to put in place under trying circumstances (HELP 2007; Hudson Institute 2008; WHO 2008). Even in touting the importance of new technologies in shaping public-private strategies around the delivery of human services, however, the Three Sector Initiative cautioned in its report, Working Better Together, that technology could be divisive, as it may leave users vulnerable to institutional (especially government) manipulation (Fosler 2002). In a different but related vein, Brookings Institute scholars Raj Desai and Homi Kharas have voiced skepticism about many of the newer foundation actors abiding faith in technological solutions to complex social problems (2008). This may be linked to the fact that much of the new foundation money comes from the technology sector. In any case, Desai and Kharas note that there is a potential for private donors to shift rapidly from one popular issue to the next, and that their efforts may not be large or cohesive enough to have significant impact.

3. Consideration of Scale

There long has been a tendency for foundations to focus on small-scale, innovative projects with the intent that programs will be scaled up later under local or national government leadership (Benedict 2003a; Kramer 2007; Sandfort 2008). Yet, as organizational scholar and consultant Mark Kramer notes (2007), few foundation-initiated programs have actually been scaled up by governments, and successful initiatives require a consideration of scale that goes beyond this historical pattern.

In fact, many USG initiatives are themselves quite small in scale, and gaining support for large initiatives requires a level of political consensus, will, and resources that may be difficult to achieve. Moreover, mere adoption of an initiative by government does not guarantee its successful extension to a large population. At a very basic level, the initiative itself must be scalable (which, in many instances, is related to the simultaneous power and simplicity of technology, as noted above). Functioning markets and institutions, too, typically are necessary for widespread success; while government can play a role in providing incentives to encourage broad adoption of technologies or programs, it cannot ensure that the markets will work (HELP 2007).

In the philanthropic world, these lessons also appear to be taking root. One of the most prominent recent innovations in philanthropy, venture philanthropyby private funders who approach social initiatives in a manner akin to that of investors, including heavy involvement and an expectation of resultsconcerns itself with scalability before almost all else (Desai and Kharas 2008). Such actors rarely engage in initiatives that they view as lacking the potential for widespread adoption. This is not to say that small-scale projects are without merit, but rather that scale is an important consideration in planning for and rolling out initiatives.

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