“What brings us together this year is the sense that the social contract is fraying, but that it is also evolving.” So began this year’s Global Philanthropy Forum, “Towards a New Social Contract,” kicked off yesterday by GPF’s President and CEO, Jane Wales, in Washington DC.

The conference focus is on the changing nature of the global social contract – how globalization is changing the way our societies choose to divide up responsibility and allocate resources to improve the public good. GPF members are exploring the ways in which traditional roles and responsibilities have shifted over the past few years, and how they continue to shift – particularly the increasing power of the individual in the national and global arena, and how the private sector and government can and should work together to increase their impact.

USAID Administrator Raj Shah opened the conference by speaking about the role for creative public-private partnerships in enhancing development work. He pointed to specific examples where cross-sectoral collaboration made previously impossible outcomes possible, including the reduction of antiretroviral drug costs and the creation of new agricultural input markets.

Speakers from YouTube, Human Rights Watch and AllAfrica spoke about the importance of both new and old media, and how a blend of both is critical to holding our governments and businesses accountable, and also in allowing individuals to create their own truths.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair encouraged the GPF community of philanthropists and social investors to be bold in their leadership—to be creative not passive, to seek to disrupt, and to step into the areas where government is too fearful or risk averse to go. World Bank President Robert Zoellick picked up on Blair’s theme of innovation in philanthropy during his remarks at the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize dinner last night. He closed day one by calling for a new model to connect global players – a “modern multilateralism” – to bring together international institutions, individual countries, civil society and the private sector for social good.

Watch highlights from yesterday’s sessions here, and be sure to check out the livestream of GPF sessions on our website, and all of our GPF video archives at philanthropyforum.org/video.


This afternoon at the GPF Conference, we welcomed Ben Affleck for a conversation with Laurene Powell Jobs. The actor, writer, director, activist, and philanthropist, premiered a short film he created to show both the tremendous tragedy and the incredible hope and resilience he’s seen in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The film opened with a Congolese proverb — “No matter how long the night, the day is sure to come” – that perfectly captured the essence of the film.

At Laurene’s prompting, Ben shared the history of his involvement in the region.  After being asked to lend his support for advocacy efforts regarding the crisis in Darfur, he sought to educate himself about the region. He was shocked by the tremendous level of human suffering in the eastern Congo, about which he had not known enough. He spent the next year making multiple trips to the conflict-torn republic learning all that he could about the issues and the actors involved. He jokingly reported that he set out to get a graduate degree in the region without having completed college.

Undaunted by the larger challenges of working in a failed state that have kept other donors away, Ben decided to make the DRC a focus of his philanthropy. He reached out to smart, seasoned philanthropists, such as Howard Buffet, Pam Omidyar, and Cindy McCain, to devise a strategy that combines advocacy with philanthropic investment. In March 2010, Ben founded the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI), the first US-based advocacy and grant-making initiative wholly focused on working with and for the people of the eastern Congo. ECI grants directly support innovative Congolese-led community-based organizations that are working to create a vibrant, sustainable civil society in the long-troubled region.

A thoughtful, informed and committed philanthropist, Ben made a persuasive case. When asked how the lessons he has learned might inform the work of the many donors in the room, he spoke of the lack of shared learnings in philanthropy as one of its greatest failings. “It’s almost inexcusable,” he said. We must do better at transferring knowledge so that each does not have to reinvent the wheel. Convenings like the GPF and constant building of our learning networks are crucial for advancing philanthropic practice.

To conclude, Ben introduced the musical group Maisha Soul, four brothers from the DRC ranging in age 13 to 22. Prince, Eric, Achilles and Innocent chose music – a combination of R&B, blues, hip hop and traditional song – as their means of overcoming the pain in their lives. Their moving performance embodied the hope and promise of the youth of the DRC, and the future they will usher in for their country.


Jane Wales
President & Co-Founder, Global Philanthropy Forum

One of the turning points we are exploring at GPF 2011 is connective technology. On a scale previously unimagined, the expansion of connective technology has enhanced communication within and among societies and empowered individuals previously isolated by geography, poverty or politics. This has enabled many to engage in commerce and to access information and services, improving their lives and livelihoods. But technology also can be a force for ill depending on the choices that we take. We explored this duality over several conference sessions.

There are five billion mobile phones globally and approximately one billion are smart phones. Mobile telephony has become the primary means of communications in the developing world, providing an infrastructure to reach those who were previously invisible. With this connectivity we have a vast untapped platform for creating employment opportunities, advancing economic activity, and building wealth.

The adoption of mobile telephones is altering markets in unforeseen ways. Reuben Abraham, Executive Director of the Center for Emerging Market Solutions at the Indian School of Business shared with us how Indian fisherman are using cell phones to monitor prices across markets, make production decisions based on real time information, and manage their fishing practices to reduce time spent idle. As a result, high price dispersions have been reduced.

But Abraham cautioned that the majority of the benefits in this example are accruing not to the fishermen but to other supply chain actors—the boat owners and the commission agents. The technology also has enabled those at the top of the supply chain to coordinate attacks on the fishermen.

Leila Chirayath Janah, founder and CEO of Samasource, explained how connective technology is enabling her organization to bring dignified, digital employment to otherwise marginalized people around the world. Samasource disaggregates large contracts for content moderation and data entry into smaller tasks that can be executed by workers anywhere. Janah posits that micro-work is the reinvention of economic development and digital work centers are the factories of the future, enabling us to regard marginalized people as producers for the first time. To date Samasource has received contracts for more than $1.5 million in work from high profile companies, 85 percent of which goes to the workers themselves.

We also have seen the tremendous power of connective technology to provide a platform for the expression of popular discontent and political mobilization, unsettling and even helping to topple governments. Ken Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, noted that the use of technology in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere has enabled the modern human rights movement; access to information has been essential for advancing change. Facebook and Twitter made an enormous difference in these cases, permitting “leaderless” revolutions and creating the opportunity for people to stand up and be counted, but with a sense of safety in numbers.

But in the face of the challenge to authority this technology allows, some governments have sought to limit access to information.  The Libyan government closed access to the Internet, but soon discovered this thwarted communications among its own security forces.  The Syrian government welcomed Facebook to allow for a higher level of monitoring of individual and collective behavior. The Chinese government is cracking down on access to information in ways that have not been seen in over a decade and it is clear they have the resources to overwhelm any uprising.

Is access to information itself a right and what is our responsibility as the connective network grows ever stronger? Social norms have not kept pace with technology. As a result, the rights and expectations of users are unclear.

Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, cautioned that we are giving up more and more information about ourselves, whether through our mobile phones tracking our movements, voluntary “check-ins” via applications such as Foursquare, or an ever-expanding presence of surveillance cameras. He warns that technology is becoming ubiquitous and inescapable, and repressive regimes will use this information to their benefit.

Throughout these discussions at GPF 2011 we have seen that connective technology is both a goldmine of opportunity and a potentially powerful tool for harm. This is truly a turning point for philanthropy and the choices individuals make will dictate whether technology is a driving force for good or for ill.


Jane Wales
President & Co-Founder, Global Philanthropy Forum

Today we officially open the 2011 Global Philanthropy Forum—our tenth annual convening of donors and social investors committed to international causes. Over the last decade the GPF community has become a significant force for change. The members and early founders of the GPF have given “new philanthropy” operational meaning, testing novel approaches and infusing philanthropy with the same creative and experimental zest they bring to private enterprise. They have devised some of the most strategic, inspired and sustainable solutions to the challenges faced. As a result, the options have expanded, philanthropy is transformed.

This year’s conference takes stock of what we have learned over the last ten years. We are exploring the new fundamentals that have enabled success. We are considering philanthropy’s turning points, and exploring the issues and actors that are at a moment of inflection.  We look to share our lessons with growing economies to accelerate possibilities for social change.

One of philanthropy’s most promising new fundamentals that we will explore over the next three days is the tremendous growth in collaboration seen in the past few years. Today’s philanthropists are ambitious in their social goals and are taking on very large problems. They are leveraging not only one another but also other sectors, joining forces and aligning for impact. What can we learn from “networked” giving approaches and can they be replicated elsewhere?

One turning point we will explore is the expansion of connective technology, which has enhanced communication within and among societies and empowered individuals previously isolated by geography, poverty, or politics. These technological innovations are providing a larger set of tools for the social change toolbox. How will they change the work of philanthropy in the years to come?

Another significant turning point is the expanded definition of philanthropy. Our members were bold enough to define philanthropy broadly to encompass all private means of financing positive social change, a definition that allowed them not only to explore but to expand the options and more fully align their assets with their intentions. We will explore the emerging impact economy, considering its first building block in microfinance to the requirements of an enabling environment for impact investing. How will the emergence of an impact economy amplify our ability to achieve social change?

We also will explore regions at a turning point. North Africa is experiencing sweeping change. Pakistan and Afghanistan are struggling under the weight of enormous political, economic and social challenges that can undermine social cohesion and state capacity. Mexico and Central America are threatened by organized criminal networks that are affecting both human security and state capacity, raising the prospect of a failed state on our border. While in Central Africa, conflict continues to rage in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Over the next three days we will discuss the challenges and opportunities in these regions and the ways philanthropy and civil society can help to address them.

Last, we will consider the globalization of philanthropy. GPF started with a core of American philanthropists, but we’re now increasingly international and extending our reach. How can we take the lessons learned from the last decade to “leap frog” traditional charity in two fast growing economies: China and India?

The agenda for the 2011 GPF is rich in content and features speakers at the cutting edge of social change.  I invite you to follow our GPF experience over the next three days through our webcasts, which can be viewed at http://www.livestream.com/gpf2011, via this blog, and on Twitter (@gpforg; #gpf2011).


Jane Wales
President & Co-Founder, Global Philanthropy Forum

Fishsticks & Change

April 19, 2010

“We have only one world.”  So sang the members of Vocal Motion 6, a Namibian acapella group that performed for us tonight here at the 9th annual Global Philanthropy Forum.  The voices of Vocal Motion 6, a group that strives to effect social change through music, concluded our first full day here at GPF.  Like the volcanic ash that left many of our memberes stranded in airports, Vocal Motion’s lyrics remind us that we are indeed a global community, deeply connected to one another and the earth that sustains us.

This year at GPF we reflect on what drives social change.  Through exploring four basic necessities of life – food, water, health, and climate – we are learning how creative individuals and creative techniques are allowing us to address the challenges posed by their unequal distribution and impact.

But to effect change at the scale we seek, we need to use all of the tools at our disposal.  The opportunity to leverage markets, technology, policy and human ingenuity was the focus of an early panel. Megan Smith of Google.org called for a “mash-up” of our expertise to maximize impact.  Particularly through using social networks, she said, we can bring resources to each other.  By combining and leveraging the comparative advantages of design, markets, technology, and the public sector, we can achieve much greater social good.  Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, shared with us the five core principles for effective design: Put People First; Embrace Constraints; Seed the Movement; Open Up; and Change.

With these principles, Tim has provided a wonderful way for us to organize our own strategy of giving and our own approach to impact, regardless of our knowledge of design.  Matt Bannick of the Omidyar Network urged foundation leaders to diversify the financial instruments employed in pursuit of their mission statement, specifically, program related investments (PRI’s), using their assets to complement their grant giving. Carol Larson of the David & Lucille Packard Foundation highlighted the importance of the traditional, but no less crucial, priorities of trust, teamwork, a long-term view and the willingness to continue learning and modify our practices as we go.   The better we are able to constantly “recalibrate”, the more agile and nimble we will be as agents of change.  She provided examples of leveraging one another and helping to shape policy.  See the webacast and you will learn about fishsticks and refrigerators.

The GPF is about learning from one another, enhancing our impact.  But it is also about contributing to philanthropy itself.  An example we explored was that of a new model of collaborative giving in a post-conflict or post-crisis setting.  Five foundations have joined forces to finance a Philanthropy Secretariat within the Office of Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.  Its mandate is to align giving with Liberia’s Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS).  The GPF, for its part, agreed to test and refine this model to see whether it could be exported to other post-conflict states.  Reeta Roy, President & CEO of the MasterCard Foundation, asked how and if this model for philanthropic engagement could be exported to Haiti, noting the enormous need there for organizing all actors (philanthropic and other) to collaborate in a unified framework. For the model to be exportable, three key elements crucial to its success in Liberia would need to be present: one, an enormously inclusive and broadly consultative process for developing national priorities and a strategy for implementation (a la Liberia’s Poverty Reduction Strategy) – as it provides a clear framework outlining development priorities within which philanthropists can work.  And second, an entity similar to the Philanthropy Secretariat within the President’s office in Liberia, designed to act as a resource and coordinator for donors and social investors interested in investing.  And, finally, good governance is required.

Over lunch, I spoke with Louise Arbor, President & CEO of International Crisis Group, about the links between violent conflict on the one hand and the interaction among such stresses as poverty, disease and resource scarcity on the other.  Quoting President Roosevelt, Louise listed four main freedoms: freedom from fear, from want, of expression and of religion.  In relation to conflict, she noted that peace deals tend to address freedom from fear, but pay very little attention to alleviating freedom from want – essentially poverty – a result of unequal access.  Here, on issues related to peace and security, there is an increasing space for philanthropists and civil society to take action.  “We now have civil society actors who are sufficiently engaged to step up in State-to-State conversations,” and make their voices heard.

But stability and social cohesion are hard to achieve when over one billion people in the world now go hungry every day, and over two billion are malnourished.  Yet, foundations give only 20 percent of their grants toward food security related issues, and governments give far less. So, our afternoon plenary focused on providing food security.  Panelists agreed that solutions lie in policy reform and good governance, but that they will be complicated. Neal Keny-Guyer, CEO of Mercy Corps, addressed the need for the reform of food aid – especially because it ultimately hurts the small farmers in the country receiving it, by devaluing their crops. Robert Zeigler of IRRI mentioned promising new technologies that underlie his optimism, albeit guarded, on the state of global food security.  This month, IRRI is rolling out a transformational set of rice varieties that are completely tolerant of flooding.  These new rice varieties can withstand two to three weeks of flooding, which will save millions of crops each year.  In addition to these new technologies, Soumen Biswas of Professional Assistance for Development Action emphasized that we need to continue building linkages between the market and the community, and the government and the community, so that increased crop yields can be appropriately absorbed, without overwhelming the system.

In afternoon breakout sessions, we heard experts speak on issues in health, water, nutrition, and crisis-response.  In a panel on meeting unmet needs to strengthen health systems, Marko Vujicic of the World Bank discussed the shortages in the global health work force, and the negative impact this has on health systems worldwide.  Recent estimates project shortages of 3-4 million health workers globally.  But addressing this issue does not necessarily require ground-breaking technology.  A recent schematic for hiring a health worker into the system was designed and piloted in Kenya.  By streamlining and standardizing the process, recruitment time dropped from 13 to 3 months.  In a session on safe drinking water and sanitation, philanthropists were encouraged to use their money to leverage untapped funding from governments on the ground.  Philanthropists can condition their agreement to fund 80 percent of a project, by requiring the government to fund the rest.  Further, panelists encouraged those active in the water and sanitation sector to think about the importance of WATSAN issues in relation to other global issues, such as health, education, and agriculture.  In looking at WATSAN through this lens, we can break down silos and secure more funding from more diverse sources.

After dinner, Terry Kramer of Vodafone introduced us to the winners of the Vodafone Wireless Innovation Challenge.  The program seeks to celebrate innovation and partnerships around mobile applications.  This year, 100 Million Stoves, FrontlineSMS Credit, and Sana were honored.  In light of their work, our closing plenary focused on leadership and social change – both embodied by the Vodafone Challenge winners.

The final session was moderated by David Keller and focused on leadership.  Jawad Aslam, CEO of Ansarr Management Company, emphasized that often the most high risk and difficult situations have the most tremendous opportunity for social return.  Geeta Rao Gupta, Senior Fellow at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and former head of the International Center for Research on Women, has devoted her life to pursuing social change by advancing women and girls.  She defines true leadership as those who make shift possible – not heads of state, but people who “buck the tide” – pioneers who defy social sanctions and take risks for the betterment of the next generation.  She is optimistic that women and girls have a unique window of opportunity right now, and that we need to use it.  “We are no longer focusing on the why and the what in women’s issues, but the how.”

There was much to absorb today, and even more tomorrow.  We will pick up again on these themes tomorrow, to continue learning and recalibrating on how best we can aggregate our collective skills to achieve maximum social impact.

Until then,

Jane Wales
President & Co-Founder, Global Philanthropy Forum

GPF is kicking off now with its first plenary. It is a whirlwind tour of various creative approaches to large problems. Tim Brown of IDEO spoke of the power of design thinking, pointing out that big problems don’t always need big solutions. Sometimes they just need a bit of creative design: a mother without access to clean water doesn’t necessarily need a complex piece of infrastructure – she probably just needs a lighter and more convenient container to carry it!

Megan Smith of Google urged us to think about the way that networks are already solving problems without any prompting “from above.”  She walked us through a stream of examples in which networks have formed to achieve common goals: whether contributing specialized knowledge via Wikipedia, an explosion of online class content for those who couldn’t normally access sophisticated teaching, or the remarkable effects that crowd-sourced transparency efforts can have on problems as nitty-gritty as, say, how to drive supplies through Africa without paying bribes and hitting roadblocks (Smith showed us a snapshot of a web-based map to which people transporting supplies in Africa are contributing their knowledge, thus enabling others to move supplies more efficiently).

Matt Bannick spoke of the power of markets to transition grant-led efforts toward sustainable, private sector-led models that continue to solve a problem long after philanthropy has left. And Carol Larson reminded the audience that technology tools may be expanding our problem solving options, but it is good old-fashioned collaboration – the kind that the Packard Foundation and others are using to tackle climate change and overfishing – that leverage many disparate resources toward a specific set of goals that can spur lasting impact.

This was truly a quick tour of levers. Many ideas and discussions will flow from these examples. We will no doubt hear more on each of these examples in various breakouts to follow this week…

At a small cocktail reception this evening, we welcomed our first guests to the 9th annual Global Philanthropy Forum conference here at the beautiful Sofitel by the San Francisco Bay. Old friends reconnected and new peer relationships were formed. The positive energy in the room was palpable.

Tomorrow, we’ll officially open the 2010 GPF, focusing on defying barriers, effecting change and increasing access to health, food, and water. Over the next three days, some five hundred philanthropists and social investors will fill the hallways and rooms of this hotel with a diverse discussion on how we can enhance the strategic nature of our giving. With candor and humor, our GPF members will share their lessons learned and best practices, furthering the collective wisdom of the group and adding to the ongoing brain trust that is GPF.

Here, we’ll hear from thought leaders across sectors – from those leading large private sector organizations to those on the frontlines addressing barriers to access on the ground.

I invite you to follow our GPF experience over the next three days through this blog, on Twitter @gpforg, and through our webcasts.

Each year at GPF, I am inspired and energized anew at the compassion, courage and resounding brilliance of the members of our GPF community. I eagerly await these next few days and look forward to sharing this remarkable experience with you.

Until tomorrow,

Jane Wales

President & Co-Founder, Global Philanthropy Forum