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The Role of Philanthropy in Conflict Prevention: 15 Takeaways

December 15, 2017

Number15In early November, Foundation Center hosted an event with the Geneva Centre for Security Policy and the Donors and Foundations Networks in Europe (DAFNE) that drew more than forty-five people from ten countries to discuss the role of philanthropy in conflict prevention and resolution. The energy around the topic was palpable and there was no shortage of knowledge shared. Here are my top 15 takeaways from the meeting:

1. Less than 1 percent of philanthropic funding is going to peace and security. It's true; take a look at the data. Given the currency and the social and economic costs associated with conflicts worldwide, this is a worrying figure. According to former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, "The economic and financial cost of conflict and violence in 2014 has been estimated to be US$14.3 trillion, or 13.4 percent of the global economy." So why is this area of work underfunded? Is it because foundations are more risk averse than they like to believe?

2. Philanthropy has the ability to be adaptable, flexible, and take risks. It can play a research and development role in the field of peace and security, but it must respect that this work is high stakes and requires a great deal of flexibility; it is not philanthropy as usual and there are rules to be followed when operating in a sensitive environment. Funders must carefully consider relevant contextual and cultural information when funding and working in conflict-affected environments.

3. Without peaceful and secure communities, the climate, humanitarian, and development agendas will not be realized. Conflict, humanitarian disasters, and climate change are interlinked and their effects are unevenly distributed and primarily impact economically disadvantaged communities. These different agendas can’t be realized in isolation, and we won’t make progress without expanding our efforts to prevent and resolve conflict.

4. There are roles for both large and small funders. Some smaller funders feel that the situation is just too complex for them to get involved. However, increasing the availability of small, unrestricted grants can make a critical difference in conflict-affected environments, where the context is constantly shifting and flexible funding is key. Larger grants and long-term funding are also crucial to ensure the continuity and long-term relationships necessary for effective peacebuilding programs. Regardless of size, funders large or small, can support indigenous locally led efforts, provide core support, and commit to the long term.

5. Understanding and working within the local country context is essential. This includes working with local partners and communities of differing capacities. Without it, implementations happen to a community rather than by and for a community. Not enough emphasis can be put on the fact that interventions need to be locally led, or at least co-led with local partners. They must also involve working with local communities and actually taking the time to listen.

6. Funders need to be clear about their own value statement. Why are they really there, and what can they honestly offer? Are their resources or connections adding value and do they respond to local community needs?

7. Philanthropy is part of a broader ecosystem and must work and fund in collaboration with other stakeholders as partners. Relationship development and trust are crucial to creating these partnerships and ensuring their success. It goes without saying — this takes time, so patience and investment in those relationships are key. One example is the peace process in Colombia, where philanthropy is making key contributions and working with a range of stakeholders. The Saldarriaga Concha Foundation collaborates with USAID "to implement the Inclusion for Community Development program, which serves people with disabilities who are victims of armed conflict in the Montes de Maria region of northern Colombia. In partnership with Colombia's Department for Social Prosperity (DPS) and other local government institutions, the program has helped more than a thousand families overcome extreme poverty. In addition, the program has enabled these families to build and consolidate support networks with community leaders and organizations in the region." Such efforts demonstrate the importance of multi-stakeholder partnerships in designing conflict-sensitive development interventions.

8. Long-term commitment and relationship-building are key. Preventing and resolving conflict requires consistent effort over time. Short-term, project based approaches are not well suited to the building of long-term, trust-based relationships or the achievement of sustainable outcomes. Philanthropy needs to think about how it can make longer-term commitments and not exit too early, while not overstaying or deepening dependency.

9. Philanthropy doesn't need to wait until a conflict is well under way. Foundations can take action at the onset of conflict and must move and adapt as the conflict environment changes.

10. Social media and technology should be leveraged. Amnesty International is now using satellite imagery to document and improve their response to human rights abuses. In Syria, satellite imagery and sound engineering was used to triangulate and verify accounts from survivors of a prison to create a 3D model of what was happening on the ground.

11. There is a need to better connect existing networks and look for unusual allies. In particular, different types of donors can bring varying levels of flexibility and approaches to funding, which can lead to more opportunities for blended finance and more strategic partnerships. Not one organization will ever have all the funds or all the expertise.

12. The closing space for civil society and cross-border giving are major issues. Legal and operational restrictions on civil society organizations, in particular restrictions on foreign funding, are especially prevalent in conflict-affected environments. This makes it challenging for funders to work effectively and identify the right local partners, and hence get funds to where they are most needed.

13. Leverage Sustainable Development Goal 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. The SDGs provide a universal, global framework for development stakeholders to measure their progress against. Juan David Ferreira and Carolina Suarez of AFE Colombia understand the importance of integrating peace throughout the development agenda: "Peace interrelates closely with the SDGs, not only because peace is a specific SDG, but because a peaceful society makes it easier for development actors to engage in closing inequality gaps, work for environmental causes, establish new educational centers and health centers in different areas of the country, build capacity and create new jobs and improve quality conditions — particularly in the rural areas of the country." Want to understand how your organization is working toward achieving the SDGs? Find out here.

14. Ensure philanthropy is connected at the global and local level. Join relevant affinity groups, understand global frameworks and conventions, look at what is happening at the community level to understand the needs and challenges of those who are experiencing the issues first hand, and share this knowledge with other stakeholders across all levels of the development ecosystem to ensure philanthropy has a voice and is engaged in learning and dialogue.

15. Collect and share data so we can all better know who is doing what and where. Start by reading the Global Philanthropy Data Charter to learn how!

Not sure which organizations to connect with or read up on? Here is a list to get you started:

And in case you want to do a little more reading:

Headshot_lauren_bradfordLauren Bradford is director of global partnerships at Foundation Center.

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