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Learning from Liberia’s Unique Model of Engaging Philanthropy

Learning from Liberia’s Unique Model of Engaging Philanthropy

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This policy brief looks at Liberia's Philanthropy Secretariat as a model for other countries.
This policy brief looks at Liberia's Philanthropy Secretariat as a model for other countries.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Jul 17, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Summary: Following theconclusion in 2003 of a
14-year civil conict, the African
nation of Liberia began toattract increasing levels of 
transatlantic ofcial donorand philanthropic support.In an attempt to harness theburgeoning foundation activityin the country, the governmentof Liberia under the leadershipof President Ellen JohnsonSirleaf, in collaboration withseveral philanthropic partners,established the world’s rstPhilanthropy Secretariat, apresidential unit dedicated tobuilding the quality and quantityof philanthropy in Liberia. Thissecretariat could be a usefulmodel for other countries asa means for foundations to
maximize the effectiveness of 
their funding, for transatlanticofcial donors to increase
their level of collaboration
and partnership with thesefoundations, and for developing country governments to improvethe quality of external donorsupport.The views expressed here are
the views of the author alone
and do not necessarily reect
the stance of the German
Marshall Fund of the UnitedStates.
Learning from Liberia’s Unique Modelof Engaging Philanthropy 
By Dan Hymowitz 
1744 R Street NWWashington, DC 200091 202 683 2650F 1 202 265 1662E ino@gmus.org
July 2012 Number 9
Paper series on transatlantic trade and development policy issues
Context and Signicance of theLiberia Philanthropy Secretariat
Launched in April 2009, the LiberiaPhilanthropy Secretariat is a unithoused within the Oce o thePresident o Liberia that acilitatesthe work o external oundations andphilanthropists. While many devel-oping countries have governmentoces that seek to coordinate theunding o external donors, Liberia isthe rst in the world to establish anoce that ocuses exclusively on thisdistinct group o unders.Te creation o the PhilanthropSecretariat comes at a time when therole o non-traditional donors, suchas oundations, in developing coun-tries is expanding. Over 80 percento the developed world’s economicengagement with developing coun-tries comes in the orm o philan-thropy, remittances, and privatecapital investment. Philanthropy rom the United States to developingcountries continues to increase andwas estimated at $39 billion in 2010.Tis gure is signicantly more thanany bilateral donor’s Ocial Develop-ment Assistance (ODA), except orthe United States itsel.
1 Center for Global Prosperity’s 2012 Index of GlobalPhilanthropy and Remittances
o date, philanthropy has mainly operated independently rom theprinciples articulated by the aideectiveness movement, which isincreasingly guiding how bilateral andmultilateral donors approach devel-opment assistance. Tese principles,initially set out in the 2005 ParisDeclaration, include alignment o aidbehind developing country priori-ties and making use o a country’sown plans, policies, and systems;donor coordination to create ecientprogramming and to avoid duplica-tion o eorts; and striving or highlevels o transparency and account-ability on the part o both donors andhost countries.While some raise concerns aboutinternational philanthropy’s inde-pendence rom these principles,others see drawbacks to oundationsbehaving more like traditional donors.Liberia’s Philanthropy Secretariat isan innovation that is attempting tonavigate a course between these two views. Te secretariat seeks, on theone hand, to encourage oundationsto voluntarily move toward ParisDeclaration principles o aligningwith country priorities, harmonizingtheir support, and providing greatertransparency about their work. Itsimultaneously recognizes that oun-dations and philanthropy (much o 
which is coming rom the United States and Europe) aredistinct rom traditional donors. Te secretariat thereoreattempts to tailor its approach and services to philanthro-py’s unique characteristics, which include both strengthssuch as speed and nimbleness, exibility, and a willingnessto take risks, and challenges such as a tendency not to havein-country oces. Te lessons learned rom this experienceare o utmost relevance to transatlantic oundations andphilanthropists, to traditional government donors — whoare increasingly thinking about partnerships with philan-thropic actors — and to developing country governmentswho engage with external donors.Tis paper reects on the experience o this new oce,concluding with an analysis o what actors may be relevantto establishing a similar coordination mechanism outsideo Liberia as a means to strengthen transatlantic philan-thropy’s engagement in developing countries.
The Philanthropy Secretariat’s Origins
Te Philanthropy Secretariat’s beginnings should beconsidered within the context o Liberias recent history.In 2003, Liberia’s 14-year civil conict came to an end. Tewar killed an estimated 270,000 people while devastatingthe country’s economy, inrastructure, human capital, andsystems o education and health. Liberia’s GDP dropped90 percent between 1987 and 1995, one o the largesteconomic collapses ever recorded.Following two years o transitional government, Liberianselected Ellen Johnson Sirlea, who took oce in January 2006 as Arica’s rst-ever elected emale head o state. Teinternational community eagerly supported PresidentSirlea and Liberia. While bilateral and multilateral actorssuch as the U.S. government and the World Bank deliveredthe greatest volume o aid to Liberia, a number o trans-atlantic oundations and philanthropists also emerged asactive partners.On September 22, 2008, President Sirlea and George Sorosco-convened the rst Liberia Foundations Meeting at theOpen Society Institute, which brought together seniorLiberian government and oundation ocials. Several key results and themes emerged rom this meeting. Tere was acommitment rom the oundations to continue to supportLiberia’s development. However, many o the philanthro-pists present also expressed rustration about the challengeso working in Liberia. Some described it being dicult toknow how to access inormation rom the government toenable support or sectors o interest. Relatedly, severalparticipants noted the challenge o communicating eec-tively with contacts in Liberia given barriers such as limitedinternet and email access. In addition, a number o ounda-tion representatives seemed surprised to learn about otherphilanthropic actors seeking to support similar initiativesin the same sectors. As a result o these themes, a nalmeeting outcome was an agreement that the governmento Liberia (GoL) would seek to establish a mechanism toacilitate the work o oundations in Liberia.In the days ollowing the Liberia Foundations Meeting,the GoL and several o the country’s philanthropic part-ners
announced a “Coming ogether or Liberia’s Future”Commitment at the Clinton Global Initiative. Tiscommitment was to establish a new model or donor-investor-government collaboration in countries in transi-tion, to spur greater cooperation among private unders,and to mobilize private resources to support Liberia.From here, Te Liberia Reconstruction and DevelopmentCommittee (LRDC) secretariat, the Liberian Govern-ment’s primary donor engagement oce, began to shapethe concept o this oundation acilitation mechanism.
TeLRDC secretariat, with valuable support rom several oun-dations, developed a ramework or a proposed “Philan-thropy Secretariat” that would seek to:
Improve the quality o oundation- and philan-thropist-supported activities in Liberia throughapproaches including acilitating more eectiveoundation collaboration through better inorma-tion sharing between GoL, NGOs, and the ounda-tions and among the oundations themselves, and by enhancing alignment between oundation activitiesand Liberia’s Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS).
Expand both the number o private philanthropicinstitutions and individual philanthropists supportingwork in Liberia and the scale o the eorts o ounda-tions that are already working in the country.
2 These included Humanity United, NoVo Foundation, the Daphne Foundation, theGlobal Philanthropy Forum, the McCall MacBain Foundation, and TrustAfrica3 The author was involved with the process of shaping the concept of the PhilanthropySecretariat and served as the ofce’s Program Manager from April 2009 — July 2011.
A small and basic structure wasproposed or the oce. Teunit would be housed withinthe Oce o the Presidentand headed by the ministero state without portolio. TePhilanthropy Secretariat wouldinitially employ two ull-timesta, including a programmanager who would serve asthe primary link between thegovernment o Liberia and theoundations.In early 2009, a group o vephilanthropic organizations— including the NoVo Foun-dation, Humanity United,the Daphne Foundation, andthe McCall McBain Founda-tion— agreed to co-nancethe Philanthropy Secretariat’soperations. With buy-in andcommitted support rom thiscore group o oundations, theLiberia Philanthropy Secre-tariat ocially launched onApril 1, 2009 as the world’srst national-level oce dedi-cated to acilitating the work o philanthropy. Te unitwas initiated as a three-yearpilot program during whichstakeholders would evaluatewhether or not to continue.
Lessons Learned
Te Philanthropy Secretariatremains a relatively new inno- vation. However, it is worthexamining what the oce’sachievements and challenges havebeen during its rst ew years aswell as what lessons have beenlearned.
Functions of the Philanthropy Secretariat
While this paper focuses on the lessons learned from the PhilanthropySecretariat to date, it is worthwhile to briey list the core functions of thePhilanthropy Secretariat during its initial years:
1. Improving the Quality of Philanthropic SupportInformation Gathering and Sharing Develop and maintain a Philanthropy Secretariat website that enablesinformation sharing among foundationsConvene conference calls with foundation representatives providing updates on foundation-funded activities in the countryMeet directly with representatives from Liberia’s partners foundations
at least twice a year
Liaising with Liberian NGOsEducate Liberian NGOs on how to improve their engagement withphilanthropists and foundations through focused workshops and othermethodsIdentify high-quality Liberian NGOs that represent promising prospectsfor partnering with foundationsStrengthening the Government of Liberia’s Engagement with PhilanthropyWork directly with government bodies to strengthen their projectdesign and proposal drafting capabilities2. New Opportunities and New FoundationsOutreach to New Philanthropic ActorsBuild relationships with philanthropy afnity groups and associationsto allow the secretariat to promote its own work and to build Liberia’snetwork of fundersProvide documents, contacts, and information relevant to the interestsof philanthropistsPhilanthropy ConveningsOrganize an annual Liberia Foundations Meeting in New York to buildcohesion and interest amongst Liberia’s foundation partnersConvene an annual Philanthropists Visit allowing new foundations tolearn about funding opportunities in Liberia
* This lists some but not all of the main activities conducted by the Philanthropy Secretariat during its rst two years.

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