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Open Philanthropy

(Comment.gif: I am putting down these ideas for a possible opinion piece or strategies for facilitating change in the traditional models of philanthropy. --Randy Fisher 02:20, 17 November 2008 (UTC))

Context - 2008

Many funding models of philanthropy tend to be locked in an 'us vs. them' dynamic - a top-down, dependency model.

In trying to obtain funding assistance for their projects and initiatives, many NGOs research the priorities and interests of granting organizations; identify a 'call for proposal', and then enter into a funding proposal process - hoping to make it to a short-list, and be invited to make a detailed proposal. If they make it through all of the hoops, then they will receive funds on a milestone basis, after key phases of project completion. Many NGOs participate in this funding proposal cycle with many granting organizations; it's like a numbers game to see which proposals are accepted. In the process, the NGOs have become their own industry, justifying their survival and ongoing operations in terms of applying for grant funding.

In this traditional funding process, few granting organizations share the risk, or even provide assistance in completing detailed applications (i.e., put some skin in the game). It's as though the NGO's have to take ALL of the upfront risk. While some organizations do provide evidence of successfully-funded projects, yet they do NOT provide an example of a successful funding application - that a prospective applicant can use as a guide or a template. (For an example, please see WikiEducator's successful funding proposal to the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, US $US 100K funding for free OER wiki skills training in 53 countries).

The odds for odds of success in this type of funding process, are stacked against NGOs - and their funders(!).

  • NGO's tend to be resource-poor (which is why they are seeking funds in the first place!), and they often don't have access to the knowledge and or skill-set required for a time-consuming proposal process with no guarantees. Moreover, their projects are based on a dependency model too, whereby projects that are 'good ideas' are pitched to funders, with little thought about long-term (financial) sustainability or scalability - other than putting in another proposal to the same organization next year, or the year after.
  • Funding organizations find themselves in the unenviable position of not being able to spend all of their allocated funds. They also don't have the staff or resources to physically monitor and evaluate the project results to determine their Return-on-Investment (ROI). It's also hard for them to evaluate whether the proposed project has been done by another organization somewhere else: in hindsight, there tends to be a lot of duplication and reinventing the wheel, as well as a waste of precious time resources, talent and energy. Ironically, many foundations tend to have counterproductive policies in place (i.e., restrictive copyrights - so that materials may not be reproduced or re-used in another city, state or country) thereby reducing their ROI and ensuring a lack of sustainability and scalability.

Is a Shared-Risk Model Possible?

Can modern philanthropy become an equal partner in a given project, in much the same way that Venture Capitalists share the risk, in private sector ventures?

Today's Venture Capitalist (VC) environment is more than giving cash - it's about strategically investing in a viable business with a view to sustainability and high levels of return-on-its-investment (ROI). VC's provide cash on a phased-in bases, strategic counsel, take a seat or two on the board, and also start opening doors and opportunities by virtue of its own networks and connections.

  • strategic investment partner(s)
  • access to markets
  • access to networks
  • access to additional working capital
  • people who have been there, done that before
  • focus on sustainability and viability

VC's fully expect some of its investments to fail - if 2/10 succeed, they're doing quite well.

How can Philanthropists Benefit from the Successes of the Open Source Movement?

  • Tremendous learning is possible, info-sharing and knowledge transfer
  • Free and open (education) materials are scalable
  • A global ecosystem - based on knowledge, sharing and interdependence
  • Development of scalable models of interdependence - across size, geographic and cultural boundaries
  • Leveraging the revolutionary power of the Internet (i.e., messages, and ability to communicate around those messages, regardless of geographic considerations)
  • Tapping into established Communities of Support globally

Possible Strategies

  • Remove the (copyright) restrictions on materials outputs - so they can be CC-BY, or CC-BY-SA - free and open for everyone to use.
  • Identify 1 or 2 pilot projects to learn from
  • Educate their own Boards of Directors, Governors and Advisors - opportunities and possibilities

Questions for Consideration

  • Can philanthropic organizations develop Strategic Investment Partnerships with NGOs - so that project funding requests are designed with sustainability and scalability in mind AND advance/deepen the field of inquiry - rather than simply duplicating projects in other geographic areas?
  • How can the Venture Capitalist model of financial and strategic support be applied and adapted here?
  • Which are the philanthropic organizations using / exploring this type of approach? What are they doing to increase mutual performance, engagement and learning?
  • How can we share the successes of the Open Source movement with philanthropy organizations?
    • How and where can meaningful two-way dialogue and learning take place?
    • What are the opportunities for pilot projects?
    • How can the WE Community educate funding organizations regarding a strategic investment approach?
    • How can NGOs collaboratively develop funding proposals (with funding organizations, partners or others)
    • How can we support the growth of the Open Philanthropy approach?
  • How will we know when we are successful?
    • What is the timeline and metrics for success - by all parties?
    • How can we report / communicate this success so that it ripples out beyond Philanthropy Innovators, to say the Early Adopters (Geoffrey Moore, Crossing the Chasm)


Philanthropy Models

  • Please add others here....

Sources of Funding

Funding Sources

(Comment.gif: If you / your organization is interested in pursuing funding for open source learning materials, please contact us. We may be able to assist you.)