Philanthropy’s Pick: Platforms for Efficiency or Leaders Who Inspire Us?

Placesinbetween Cross posted on Tactical Philanthropy as part of the blog team for the Council on Foundations 60th Annual Conference

Kudos to Rob Buchanan and his team this year at COF’s 60th Annual Conference for presenting an extensive list of sessions devoted to international grant-making and international issues. This move may have been encouraged by the increasing demand from members for more resources and the fact that international giving has spiked in the past few years. According to the Foundation Center’s Highlights of Foundation Giving Trends (Feb 2009), a pamphlet which I had picked up during a break at Resource Central, overall funding for international activities by 1,300 of the largest private and community foundations reached a record 23.4% of grant dollars in 2007.

The first session in the international track I attended was the update on the centralized repository initiative provided by COF and their platform partner, TechSoup Global. The purpose of the initiative was to create a database of international organizations that were vetted and were determined to be equivalent to U.S. charitable organizations. I have been following their work and was most interested in the cost of the service and the feedback from the audience. There are basically two fees, a membership fee and a per organization fee to be listed. Some folks in the audience said the $1,950 fee per organization was too expensive while others said it was much cheaper than what they were paying their legal counsel. According to the Initiative’s study, funders would increase their international grant-making by 16% if the platform was in place. This is a fairly remarkable increase if the respondents to the survey followed through and used the platform after it is built.

I left the session feeling a little blue because it reminded me what I had known all along. The platform certainly benefited the funder community here in the U.S. and the larger NGOs around the world, but the smaller, grassroots groups working to affect change in their local communities would not be able to benefit from the platform. They could still not bring their work to the attention of funders. But this was not the purpose of the platform from the beginning and so I appease myself with the thought that if platforms make it administratively easier and more efficient for funders then maybe one day, they will also create a platform for small, indigenous groups to showcase their work too.

Two things then happened that made me grin from ear to ear. I found out that Rory Stewart, author of The Places in Between and The Prince of the Marshes was at the Conference. He was available to sign books during the international reception and was the keynote speaker at the dinner. I am a big fan of Rory Stewart’s. He was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Malaysia and briefly served in the British Army. In 2000, Rory took two years off and began walking from Turkey to Bangladesh. This journey is told in The Places in Between. Rory lived in Kabul and became the CEO of Turquoise Mountain Foundation, which is investing in the regeneration of the historic center of Kabul. The Foundation provides services to save historic buildings and preserve and promote traditional crafts. I now have an autographed copy of his book and had a chance to shake his hand during the dinner. What is amazing is that he is only 36!