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20 Dec 2017
by Joost Monks and Arushi Terway, NORRAG

Philanthropic and Education Stakeholders Gather in Geneva for the Inaugural Symposium ‘Philanthropy in Education: Global Trends, Regional Differences, and Diverse Perspectives

Following the Inaugural Symposium, NORRAG is starting a series of blog posts around the topic of ‘Philanthropy in Education’. This debate stream will contribute to the ongoing dialogue to help unpack the questions, issues, and arguments concerning philanthropy in the education sector. As a starting point for this debate stream, Joost Monks, Executive Director, and Arushi Terway, Senior Lead Research Associate, of NORRAG, provide a summary of some of the key conclusions from the recent Inaugural Symposium on Philanthropy in Education.

On 22-24 November 2017, NORRAG launched the Inaugural Symposium “Philanthropy in Education: Global Trends, Regional Differences, and Diverse Perspectives”. The Symposium, which took place at The Graduate Institute in Geneva, was attended by approximately 140 participants from 80 organizations representing universities, philanthropies, policy makers, bilateral donors, program implementers, and international organizations.

This Inaugural Symposium marks the start of a two-year series of symposia, which aim to bring to the fore issues and debates related to philanthropy in education. Following the Geneva symposium, other regional symposia are scheduled to take place in Francophone Africa, India, People’s Republic of China, North America, Anglophone Africa, and Latin America. The series will conclude with a symposium held in Ras Al Khaimah, UAE in 2019.

The topic of philanthropy is one which has gained notable prominence in recent years, particularly within the global education community. Indeed, there is a growing need to discuss ways of filling the current financing gap in education reform, and equally to debate whether private donors should fund education, given that governments are traditionally responsible for education provision. Despite this, the role of philanthropy in education remains understudied, and consequently there is a dearth of knowledge and limited platforms for collaboration.

The Symposium thus presented a unique opportunity to gather education and philanthropy stakeholders in the same room, and to address crucial and lingering questions regarding philanthropies’ role in education provision. The Symposium facilitated lively debate and over the course of the three days, several clear take-home messages emerged.

Firstly, there is an evident blurring of lines between social and financial gains where ‘markets’ and ‘morals’ are no longer distinct phenomena. As the world struggles to fill the financial gap to realise SDG4, new financial resources are more often being brought into play in the education space. Given that education has philosophically and historically been labelled a ‘public good’, including private actors in education financing, especially when there are some profit-seeking goals involved, is often highly contentious. Yet these lines are becoming more and more blurred with many new actors wanting to leverage capital markets and use approaches that put philanthropy on the continuum between charity and investment.

Secondly, whilst we have seen a multiplication of actors and philanthropic giving, philanthropy in education has thus far been largely fragmented and uncoordinated. Agendas and donors regularly conflict, with some occupying the privatisation space and others the ethical space, vis à vis education. We must consequently consider how such conflict and fragmentation impacts the delivery of the global education agenda.

Thirdly, as philanthropic actors take a place at the table in policy discussions, new governance arrangements are emerging. Philanthropies are increasingly moving into the policy space which has led to the integration of some of these actors into governance structures. The Global Partnership for Education is one example of this. However, it once again leads to the question of complementarity, as well as to how these private actors are influencing public policy discussions.

Fourthly, there is a clear need for contextualised definitions of philanthropy to understand motivations of philanthropic engagement in different parts of the world – philanthropic giving does not necessarily take the same form in China as it does in Peru, for instance. There is thus a need for better contextualised typologies, so as to further understand the sources and purposes of philanthropic giving that are emerging in different geographical locations across the globe.

Fifthly, it was evident that transparency and accountability in education philanthropy is contested. On the one hand, it made clear that philanthropic giving should be more transparent, with specific accountability mechanisms. On the other hand, it was argued that transparency is not always desired – for example, in certain contexts, such as Latin America, a level of discretion may be required which is incompatible with transparency. In addition, some contended that transparency could hinder quick progress on the ground. Although there is no clear answer, this debate highlights the difficulty of reporting on philanthropic activities and also raises further pertinent questions concerning the transparency of measurements and impact evaluations.

And lastly, and arguably most importantly, participants at the symposium highlighted that some voices are clearly missing from the conversation. Global South actors, beneficiaries of philanthropic giving, and smaller philanthropies, are not sufficiently represented in research and in discussion platforms, including the Inaugural Symposium. Indeed, one of the key motivations for having planned other symposia around the world, is to ensure Global South voices will be brought out. Discussions often tend to focus on large philanthropic entities at the expense of smaller, yet equally valuable, organisations. The multi-faceted nature of philanthropic actors thus needs to be better built into future discussions. Moreover, the conversation must begin to include the beneficiaries of philanthropy – the children, parents, schools, and programmes. We must listen to their voices and opinions if we are to maximise the impact of philanthropic giving in education.

Following on from Geneva, and taking into account these messages, and the subsequent questions they raise, NORRAG is planning on producing an edited volume comprising select papers from the Inaugural Symposium. We have shared the presentations and videos from the Symposium which can be found here and we will also be posting regular updates concerning other symposia in the series on our website, and through our @norrag Twitter feed, using the hashtag #philanthropyinEd.

The Blog Debate Stream NORRAG is starting around the topic: ‘Philanthropy in Education’ will continue to foster dialogue between philanthropic and education stakeholders. The Stream will bring to the fore questions concerning philanthropy in education. For example: How does the relationship between the public and private sector change as a result of philanthropic activities? Is there such a concept as socially responsible, equity-driven, and sustainable giving? What is the relationship between philanthropic principles and social impact investment in education? Are there regional and organisational differences in how philanthropies operate? How do motives, rationales and mechanisms of philanthropic activities differ with the heterogeneity of private donors? To whom and how are private donors held accountable? What lessons can be learned from other sectors (e.g., the health sector) or specific areas within the education sector (e.g., early childhood education and vocational-technical education)? To contribute to this latest debate stream, please visit our Contribute page.

The Philanthropy in Education Symposium Series has been launch and co-sponsored by NORRAG, Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy ResearchOpen Society Foundations and The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. It is also made possible with support from the Education Network of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

Watch the following video, produced by the Graduate Institute, presenting the event.

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