The theme of “foundations mobilization“ is gaining traction at an international level: inspired by civic mobilizations that took place during these last years, the question revolves on how foundations can help campaigns create a wider and more sustainable impact, and which proposals have a stronger potential to connect with the population and promote true change.
We discussed this issue with Debora Guidetti, independent expert and moderator of the 2017 Lang Philanthropy Day, to highlight new tools that foundations can integrate to empower their impact-ability.
How is the theme of mobilization emerging at an international level and what role can foundations play?
I would say that at an international level this issue has been emerging starting from community organizing – as for the Obama campaign – and from movements of protest – as those during the economic crises and the Arab Spring.
Foundations have been therefore witnessing a growing and fresher way of mobilizing from citizens. But what parts of that phenomenon are relevant to foundations and how can they leverage on this energy? Foundations need to understand what is going on, what are the techniques, the limits and the opportunities brought from this new approach. We saw these topics were taking force in the US while in Europe they still appeared quite unexplored in the philanthropic sector. So, in collaboration with Guillaume Bonnet of the Campaign Accelerator, we are launching a new training that will take place from October to help foundations effectively support the growing demand of civic mobilizations and people powered campaigns, and assess those that have a stronger potential to succeed and create lasting change.
The topic of foundations assessing mobilization proposals is of particular significance, and focuses on questions as “is the proposed impact aimed at just reaching a specific objective, or rather encompasses a path of incremental changes? What is needed to make sure that the results will be persistent, and not vanish soon because it was not really deeply-rooted in the hearts of the population?” For instance, foundations can refer to five criteria to be taken into consideration to evaluate whether a campaign for social change has the potential to be successful:
- The first criterion is whether a simple and concrete request was identified, i.e. whether the proposed campaign moves from a concrete problem whose solution can have a positive domino effect on empowering citizens and eventually lead to measurable change.
- A second criterion considers if the mobilization has a winnable and well-targeted campaign objective, e.g. whether it starts with a power mapping and stakeholder analysis
- The third assesses whether an emotional connection was established with the campaign target public, i.e. whether it is both based on evidence and incontrovertible facts and portrayed on some powerful human story to give content to data shown
- The fourth looks at whether an urgent and timely action is identified and proposed in a compelling way
- Finally, the last criterion would be whether this mobilization is transforming into a longer-term engagement from the public and which tools are needed to support this journey.
It seems that this could be a helpful approach to support the social sector to reconnect with the community – I am thinking for example at the migrants’ situation in Italy with the increasing man on the street’s perception of something as a “business of charity” when it comes to NGOs assisting refugees…
Indeed. This is relevant, because we are losing on the narrative, on the presentation and the explanation of the issues we are dealing with and NGOs should be encouraged not to lose their principles, but to explain them better to the community, to go back to the basics and empower their ability to reconnect with the people in general and the movable middle in particular. As the UNHCR recently stated, the numbers of the refugees’ emergency are manageable, what is overwhelming is the toxic narrative that circulates around this issue.
The reactions of the foundations have varied from those focusing on innovation (e.g. social enterprises), on basic needs, on stimulating public awareness… but I do like the approach of some foundations as Compagnia di San Paolo in Piedmont or Open Society in Greece: an “explicit but not exclusive” approach, targeting the needs of migrants, but not excluding the broader population. This has some very positive effects, for example taking off the possibility of people claiming that there is some sort of privileged focus on migrants; operating directly to promote social integration; and finally working for a systemic change for the overall society.
What shifts in the philanthropic landscape are you particularly excited about seeing?
There are many actually, and we have been studying them with Ariadne, in the last Forecast Report: I am particularly excited about the increasing coordination of efforts/the attention to systemic change, and the focus on transparency and accountability of the sector. Also, directly in my own activity I have been observing a constant trend – especially on how foundations are looking at grantees’ proposals to assess whether they are coordinated among one another and if in their totality they can generate a systemic impact. In terms of foundation’s internal perspective, an increasing attention has been brought on theory of change, on having a structured portfolio strategy and on coordinating more with other donors in the field. As of October, for instance, I will be supporting Ariadne in organizing a series of round-tables for foundations considering stepping up their investment to counter discrimination and xenophobic tendencies in Europe.
My idea is that if foundations rightly cherish innovation, and should continue to do so, they should never forget two interrelated things: openness to risk taking and longer-term commitment to delicate social change issues. Foundations in my view should think about allocating part of their budget to more risky activities otherwise they cannot aspire to becoming true actors of changes in society.