The session aimed at offering an opportunity of dialogue and exchange between the academia and the practitioners from the philanthropic world. A bridge needs to be built between the two world to translate needs and opportunities on both sides and bring the two together, to clarify mutual needs, to identify overlapping interests, to create research opportunities, to enrich academic thinking, and to bring the academic research back to the work of practitioners. Some key issues were discussed in parallel roundtables facilitated by academics and expert practitioners: Developing a joint research agenda; Expressing Learning Needs; Exploring interactive approaches; Formulating joint theories of change; Creating a Learning Lab for Peace philanthropy.
Key points raised by speakers and during discussion
Lisa Jordan spoke about the relationship between academia and philanthropic institutions developing three points:
- According to Lisa Jordan, philanthropic institutions tend to build basic relationship with academic institutions with the aim of learning from their own actions. These can include learning about impact measurement, how to do programming, grantee perception surveys, learning about other type of philanthropy, capacity building, leadership training etc. But the how-to-knowledge is hard to come by in the philanthropic field and requires a lot of flexibility from both sides. There are several centres for philanthropy in Europe and outside, and it seems that there are a lot of places to go to learn but finally most of them are studying trends in philanthropy and they seem not well equipped to serve the field. Although it is certainly necessary, this basic relationship built among the two world though, may not be the most interesting and sustainable one.
- There is a more fundamental relationship that stems from the desire to unpack common complex issues. Analyse whether the solutions are actually brining systemic change and those changes are leading to societal change. A more sustainable relationship could aim at having a shared agenda on new knowledge. It is content driven, it is about the complex social problem and its root causes. It speaks to the needs of research centres to create the knowledge and foundations to deeply understand the fields in which they are engaged.
- Sometimes ‘findings get in the way’ of this relationship: there may be a foundation needed to have someone researching on a given topic, or a researcher who needs funding for a given research. This is not the best way to build the relationship. The question should be ‘what is our shared learning journey? How do we understand the field we are working on, what are the complexity of this field, who are the stakeholders in this field, etc.
Virginie Xhauflair gave a panorama on the context of Belgian foundations and their recurrent needs and reasons why they address her given this context. Foundations in Belgium want to know better which other foundations exist (not all of them have websites and are easy to identify), and more about the sector itself in the country. They contact them to know about other foundation’s practices and to learn better how, where, what to support. According to her, foundations in Belgium are also looking for better educated staff members. According to Virginie, a distinctive role of the academia’s work lays in the distance they can have with foundations: they are not there to promote their work and although they may rely on them for funding, they can be more critical in their point of view when analysing the sector’s work.
Key points of learning
- Peace philanthropy resulted to be of great importance for the participants of the session, who saw positively the idea of having a dedicated learning lab. The lab would be an occasion to share best practices from the different actors involved in the field and from the different perspectives, with the aim of learning how to contribute more effectively to the field and how to drive innovation.
- There is the tendency among practitioners to develop their own hypothesis and theories of change and then have it researched by academics to prove it. It becomes more difficult when it comes to peace philanthropy, and the participants raised the question on whether it should be the practitioners or foundation’s role to formulate a theory of change or whether this is a role of the governments instead.
- It seems that the researches undertaken within the foundation sector are not shared enough among foundations. It was suggested that a platform could be created to share the foundation’s researches, develop tools for building research and evidence.
- While it seems that both play an important role, what could be considered as the distinctive role of the academics as opposed to consultants is their independency and their long term perspective while consultants are paid for specific limited time frame projects. In addition to that, academics tend to adopt an interdisciplinary approach. Academia researchers can be seen more as driver of ideas while foundations are searching for answers, this could be a bridge to gap.
- It seems that there is a lack of data about the field for foundations to prove the impact of the sector, while on the academic side, there is the need to prove the relevance of their research, which gives some power to foundations to influence the research.