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15 Feb 2024
Sofia Viseu

The OECD’s netFWD: A New Policy Network in Global Education Governance Towards “New Philanthropy”

In this blogpost, Sofia Viseu critically discusses the OECD’s netFWD, a transnational network of global philanthropic policy actors pursuing “new philanthropy” reasoning in global education governance. This blogpost is part of the NORRAG blog series on “International organisations and the global governance of education”.

Philanthropic foundations are becoming important players in new intra-national policy networks, as they are simultaneously moving from a “charity for development” to a “new philanthropy”. New philanthropy can be described as the process through which private foundations are becoming more business-aligned and concerned with the measurable impacts of their actions, more committed to capacity-building, training and skills development, consulting, entrepreneurial innovation, and adopting a hands-on approach. The Network of Foundations Working for Development (netFWD) is an example of the ways “new philanthropy” is enacted in global education governance.

Created by the OECD in 2012, the netFWD presents itself as a network that brings together some of the world’s most influential private philanthropies for development with policymakers and OECD experts to “address the world’s most pressing development challenges”. The OECD justified the creation of netFWD, emphasizing the “new practices emerging from actors in the philanthropy world” (netFWD brochure) and claiming that “foundations had not yet found a platform to influence policy while sharing innovative practices in the international development arena” (netFWD brochure).

While these new practices of philanthropy and the rise of transnational philanthropists’ networks are not new phenomena, netFWD represents a novelty compared to other philanthropists’ networks, in terms of its privileged access to OECD expertise. The netFWD constitutes a transnational network of global policy actors, in which the OECD plays a central role. Moreover, within this network, private foundations are pursuing a common education agenda, focusing on learning, access, skills, and evaluation.

The transnational dimension of the network stems from the geographic spread of the 121 organisations that make up or participate in netFWD. These organisations are based in 34 countries, primarily from Europe, but also North America, South America, Asia, and Africa. The network brings together global policy actors with a long-established presence in the education scenario. Among them are the Aga Khan Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Instituto Ayrton Senna, the Jacobs Foundation, the Laudes Foundation, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. OECD’s central role in the network can be explained by its capacity to frame a problem and assemble and coordinate people around a solution. According to a press release issued on the occasion of the launch of netFWD, the network serves as an informal forum for policy dialogue and knowledge sharing:

“Despite foundations’ growing investment in and impact on development, the global policy debate rarely takes account of their knowledge and experience. The OECD Development Centre’s recently launched Network of Foundations Working for Development (netFWD) will fill this gap, offering an innovative and informal forum for continuous policy dialogue and knowledge sharing”.

OECD’s central position in the network stems from its technical capacity to produce, collect and disseminate international and comparable data about philanthropy for development. The network activities aimed to provide “practical insights [about private foundations] for government policymakers and decision-makers in civil society organisations, social enterprises, and foundations” (OECD, 2018).

Data collection and dissemination are used to guide the foundations and lead to “new thinking on development and philanthropic strategies”, grounding foundations’ action in evidence-based solutions. Dialogue, best practices, capacity building, peer learning, venture philanthropy, results, and impact form part of the vocabulary of netFWD meetings, events, and reports, which shows how the network is moving philanthropy towards a “new philanthropy”.

In addition, closely following the OECD’s education agenda for development, netFWD is building an education agenda based on three pillars: to expand access to schooling; to empower teachers and school leaders through skills development; to promote evaluation of learning outcomes based on standardised data and large-scale assessments such as the OECD’s PISA or PISA-D. As a consequence, this network may a) strengthen the OECD’s role in global education governance by elevating its technical capacity and by expanding its influence to low- and middle-income countries and, b) contribute to the rising influence of private foundations as policy actors and shapers of social systems, legitimated by OECD knowledge.

In summary, netFWD can be described as an emergent global policy actor, founded in a transnational network of global policy actors, such as private foundations and OECD, which is pursuing “new philanthropy” reasoning in global education governance. Moreover, the netFWD introduces a certain social order into philanthropic intervention on a global scale by bringing together different private foundations, thus avoiding overlaps or competition.

In this scenario, it is relevant to learn more about the netFWD for at least two reasons. Firstly, we lack data on how these foundations enact the guidelines of netFWD in their on-the-ground practices. Thus, it would be important to understand the effects of netFWD on its foundations’ modus operandi. Secondly, because these philanthropic foundations (as well as other non-state actors) enter the realm of public policies, often as key providers of education, but in the case of unexpected effects or negative consequences, their responsibilities and accountability are not always clear.


About the Author:

Sofia Viseu is a researcher at UIDEF and Professor at the Institute of Education, University of Lisbon, Portugal.

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