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Dispatch From Philanthropy’s Frontlines: Globalization in Chicago

April 23, 2013

(Michael Seltzer is a trustee of EMpower-the Emerging Markets Foundation and a distinguished lecturer at the Baruch College School of Public Affairs of the City University of New York. To read his earlier dispatch from the Council on Foundations' annual conference, click here.)

Global_villageGlobal issues were front and center at the annual meeting of the Council on Foundations in Chicago earlier this month. That shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. While many U.S. nonprofits have long been active in the international arena, the transnational dimensions of a range of issues, from food security, to sex trafficking and violence against women, to global warming, have become ever more apparent and have helped fuel the growth of nongovernmental organizations globally.

At the same time, more and more U. S. corporations, especially in information technology, financial services, natural resources extraction, and pharmaceuticals, derive a larger percentage of their profits from overseas operations, while a handful of the nation's largest foundations continue to fund international efforts. In addition, newer players like Bloomberg Philanthropies regularly make connections between their work at home and global efforts.

On Sunday, the first day of the conference, Dr. Tomicah Tillemann, senior advisor to the U.S. secretary of state for civil society and emerging democracies, remarked on the growing importance of the nonprofit sector globally and State Department efforts to position the U.S. government as a leading supporter of the global philanthropic and NGO movements, elevate the role of civil society in the formulation of U.S. foreign policy, engage multilateral organizations working to advance democracy and civil society around the globe, and promote the independence of civil society globally.

Other positive trends in this arena include the lowering of barriers that historically have discouraged U.S. foundations from funding efforts in other countries. John Harvey, managing director of the council's Global Philanthropy program, reported on recent efforts to modify and improve U.S. Treasury and IRS rules governing international grantmaking, including the launch of equivalency determination service NGOsource. Charities Aid Foundation America has announced that it is now providing 501(c)(3) equivalency services (something it has been doing for many years) at no cost to American donors. And public foundations like the International Youth Foundation and Tides Foundation have ramped up their international efforts. Tides now supports projects in more than seventy countries, while IYF is working with partners in more than eighty-six countries. More recently established organizations such as the African Women's Leadership Foundation-USA have joined the ranks of older organizations like the American India Foundation and Brazil Foundation in working to forge connections between diaspora communities in the U.S. and civil society efforts back home, while the International Center on Not-For-Profit Law (ICNL) today serves government officials and the donor community in more than a hundred countries.

Another indicator of the growth of global philanthropy is the emergence of national philanthropic associations around the globe. Centro Mexicano para la Filantropía (CEMEFI) boasts more than twelve hundred members and is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary. Indeed, the philanthropic sector accounts for 1 percent of Mexico's gross domestic product, while more than eight hundred Mexican companies have signed corporate social responsibility pledges.

The conference closed on Tuesday with a plenary appearance by two of America's most important social sector thought leaders: feminist playwright Eve Ensler, whose latest project, V-Day, seeks to create a global movement to end violence against women and girls, and who spoke about the organization's work in the war-torn Congo; and Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners In Health, the award-winning global health organization, who spoke about PIH's work in impoverished Haiti, where PIH has long had a presence.

As technology and capital flows continue to shrink the globe and the need to address climate change, nuclear proliferation, and other borderless problems grows more urgent, we should expect that more and more people in more and more places will look to philanthropy for funding and answers. The sense that this is already happening was palpable in the halls and conference rooms of the Chicago Hilton, and I, for one, am confident that it is one of the trends we'll be hearing a lot about it in the years to come.

In the meantime, click here to catch up on highlights from the 2013 CoF meeting. And if you'd like to share your thoughts about what philanthropy can and should be doing to promote the "greater good" globally, we'd love to hear them. Use the comments section below...

-- Michael Seltzer

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