At the ISTR Conference in Stockholm, a capacity-filled roundtable engaged a dialogue between researchers and a panel of foundation leaders about the state of knowledge about institutional philanthropy at the occasion of the ISTR’s launch of its Institutional Comparative project on Institutional Philanthropy. Session moderator Bernard Enjolras from the Institute for Social Research in Oslo and coordinator of the ISTR’s International Comparative project on Institutional Philanthropy provides a description below.
Though knowledge about the world of institutional philanthropy, especially the world of foundations, is relatively available in the U.S. and to some extent in Europe, we lack knowledge about the importance of institutional philanthropy in many parts of the world. Additionally, even where knowledge about institutional philanthropy is available, this field has received much less scholarly attention than the public and business sectors and their organizational forms. The task of comparing institutional philanthropy in a cross-national perspective is largely unachieved and impeded by two persistent obstacles: the imbalance concerning the availability of empirical data between countries and world-regions, and the diversity of institutional forms and cultural understandings and practices characterizing institutional philanthropy in different national settings.
Insofar as much of scholarly research on institutional philanthropy has been informed and influenced by the American understanding of the grant-making foundation, a comparative perspective needs to develop a concept which, from the outset, does not limit the investigation to a subset of institutions and practices bounded to a cultural and national setting, but, on the contrary, encompasses the very diversity characterizing its research object. ISTR’s International Comparative Project on Institutional Philanthropy aims at improving our knowledge of institutional philanthropy worldwide (differentiated from individual giving and other third sector manifestations), understood as the use of private resources oriented toward the public good within an institutional setting.
Because philanthropic institutions have limited resources relative to the issues they address and the causes they pursue, they increasingly seek to maximize their impact by fostering policy innovation and social innovation. Correlatively, for philanthropic institutions, having access to accurate and up-to-date information about philanthropic activity in different countries and fields is critical for enabling them to actualize their innovative potential and to maximize their impact. In spite of the strategic importance of reliable and relevant knowledge on philanthropic institutions’ activities and capacity to innovate, results from systematic cross-country comparisons studies are few.
Hence, the ISTR’s International Comparative Project on Institutional Philanthropy aims at improving the state of knowledge about philanthropic institutions’ innovative capacity globally and in a comparative perspective. More precisely, the project will consist in (i) clarifying the concept of “institutional philanthropy” in its diverse manifestations, (ii) mapping of the world of institutional philanthropy worldwide, and (iii) an inquiry into the ways by which institutional philanthropy innovate worldwide, and (iv) building research capacity and facilitate cooperation among researchers and research institutions.
- Clarifying the concept of “institutional philanthropy”
One a most challenging issue when it comes to comparative research is the definitional one. Indeed the definition of foundation and the requirements in foundation law vary from country to country. Given the definitional complexity inherent to comparative research, as well as the tendency shown by comparative research to focus mainly on grant-making foundations both for reasons of simplicity and because of the influence of the American tradition, the project emphasizes the need of conceptual clarification under the conceptual umbrella of “institutional philanthropy”. A central objective of this project is therefore to find common ground around a consensus “working definition” of the institutional philanthropic sector that can be applied cross-nationally.
- Mapping of the world of institutional philanthropy worldwide
Philanthropic institutions and especially foundations are in many ways the backbone of civil society; they play a critical role in canalizing private funds to value-oriented projects emanating from civil society initiatives. In spite of national studies and partial comparisons across countries there exists no systematic international comparative knowledge about the size, composition, structural features, and developmental trends of the institutionalized philanthropic sector on a global basis. Consequently, a main uncompleted task for the project will consist in mapping and measuring the world of institutional philanthropy in its different manifestations and to contribute to the standardization of data collection at the global level. Such an effort will allow examining cross-national and regional variations in the size, composition, assets, financing, and staffing of the philanthropic sector.
- Identifying the innovative capacities of institutional philanthropy worldwide
As many philanthropic institutions and foundations seek to maximize their ability to bring about positive social change, they find themselves emphasizing their capacity to support new ideas, new needs and new solutions, and to influence public opinion and public policy. The project will consequently proceed to a mapping of philanthropic institutions’ innovative initiatives worldwide and address the central issues related to their innovative capacity: How do philanthropic institutions’ innovate? Which types of innovation do they initiate in the fields of education, higher-education and research, health, social welfare, arts and culture, religion, and international philanthropy? By which channels do they innovate, through single issue projects, cooperation with governments – policy development, with other foundations – pilot projects, with the business community or jointly, in collaboration with business, government and other philanthropic actors?
- Building research capacity and facilitate cooperation among researchers and research institutions
In order to meet the needs of building research capacity within the field of institutional philanthropy, plans to establish a “young professional” fellowship program, offering internships to academics with foundations worldwide, as well as a PhD program associated to the overall project allowing selected research topics to be analyzed by PhD candidates in the academic institutions associated to the project.
Bernard Enjolras is Research Professor with the Institute for Social Research in Oslo and coordinator of the ISTR’s International Comparative project on Institutional Philanthropy.