In the philanthropy sector, foundation efforts are generally considered supplementary to the work of government because of relative funding levels. In theory, USG could supplement foundation activities, but this is probably unlikely in practice. This is not to imply temporal order, however: foundations supplementary activities may and often do precede USG intervention in a given arena. Indeed, some foundations pursue an active strategy of involvement in areas they view as neglected or unrecognized by government (Benedict 2003a). These include, for example, large organizations, such as MacArthur and Gates, as well as small groups, such as Ashoka.
The MacArthur Foundation also seeks explicitly to act in areas where it views itself as having a comparative advantage, often resulting in a supplementary relationship to USG efforts. Currently, MacArthur focuses on three very broad issue areas: social justice, environment, and world peace. According to an inside observer, MacArthur would like to position itself as a leader in a new grantmaking and policy domain, so the choice of an area will likely lead the Board to favor those where few other public or private donors are operating (Benedict 2003a). This same dedication to leading new efforts and affecting policy change sometimes also casts the MacArthur Foundation in an adversarial or advocacy role. A prominent example of such interactions vis-a-vis the federal government can be found in MacArthurs conservation and biodiversity initiatives. When the Foundation launched the World Environment and Resources (WER) program in 1987, the scientific community had not yet developed a consensus about the importance of biological diversity, and the issue was just beginning to emerge in public and governmental policy circles. MacArthur invested heavily in this arena and, according to the same inside source, has encouraged government and other funder activity. Of course, since MacArthur acted independently on WER, decision-making for the initiative fell solely to MacArthur.
Similarly, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations Global Health Program (GHP) targets diseases and health conditions that cause the greatest illness and death in developing countries, yet receive little attention and resources (Gates web site). The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation views GHP as filling the large and urgent gaps in public health worldwide. Again, this supplementary role can have advocacy components, which the Foundation views as necessary to accelerate progress against the worlds most acute poverty. Whereas MacArthur tends to use the language of leadershipthat is, explicitly placing the Foundation on the cutting edge of important social issues that may come slowly to the fore in the public consciousnessGates tends to emphasize its initiatives potential for high and quick impact on problems it gauges to be addressed inadequately by other organizations.
Ashoka bills itself as the global association of the worlds leading social entrepreneurs. This relatively small public foundations activities can also be viewed as supplementary to the efforts of USG; however, here the difference is not so much in the programmatic area of investment but in the model of social change. In a very general sense, public development aid often relies on a top-down theory of change, with USG funding typically directed toward the governments of developing countries or relatively large NGOs. (This may be changing, particularly in the domestic sphere, as illustrated by the federal push for increased contracting with small faith-based and community organizations.) Ashokas model of social change, on the other hand, works through individuals more than organizations, and from the bottom-up. Ashokas main activity is identifying, funding, and supporting social entrepreneursindividuals who they believe can make a difference in addressing social problems. Ashoka identifies changemakers with new ideas and provides these entrepreneurs with the necessary support to increase the scale of their interventions. With relatively few resources, the foundation nevertheless is prominent in global philanthropy because of its innovative approach and ability to leverage other resources.