Saturday,28 May

09:00 - 10:30

Bimhuis Café

This session aimed to better understand the impact of the internet on philanthropy, and how foundations are embracing, using or supporting it. Indeed, the internet is not only changing the way foundations communicate, it can also change the ways foundations and civil society organisations achieve their missions. Along with new opportunities, there are also concrete risks presented by the internet, which heighten the responsibility of stakeholders such as foundations to ensure that the internet is open and accessible for everyone, and that fundamental rights are protected – addressing the subtle balance between security, privacy and transparency.

Key points raised by speakers and during discussion:

This session, moderated by Olaf Kolkman, The Internet Society, offered a wide range of perspectives on foundations and the internet, how they use it from mapping giving to training farmers in rural areas in India and what issues they grapple with.

The moderator invited delegates to tweet and share their vision of the internet. A snapshot of the replies gave a sense of diversity on opportunities and fears, highlighting practices and key issues: the internet is the “Sum of our knowledge in my pocket”; a “Space to meet, connect.. and fight”;  “The place where the story of your organisation is told, sometimes by you”; ”A tool to communicate, to interact with our partners to do our mission”; a “Platform to enhance connectivity”; a “Global end to end network which is accessible and expandable, layered with content and services”; a “Place where you can find the worst and best of us, and which raises non-technical questions”.

Larry McGill recalled they key role of the internet to inform foundations and others about who is funding what and where. He emphasised that in a context where only 9% of the US foundations have a website, the open data movement is probably the biggest change/challenge in foundations’ transparency with the imminent release by the US administration (IRS) of foundation tax returns (where activity and financial data are recorded) as machine-readable open data.

Bhekinkosi Moyo and Diana Grasa Molina shared their experience of the digital transformation of their foundations, its impact and caveats. In the case of the Southern Africa Trust it took the form of a strategic redevelopment in a virtual platform enabling the foundation to hire, reposition and connect staff as well as stakeholders, and create a knowledge hub across the various countries in which this regional foundation is active. Both commented on the increased effectiveness for operations, the potential for resource generation, the increased visibility as well as the challenge of growing vulnerabilities for the organisation –  and potentially its grantees –  which is more exposed and has less time to react.

Ms Molina illustrated how La Caixa Banking Foundation has been using the  internet in its programmes through projects such as Educaxia a platform for teachers, and a new fundraising platform microdonations- ( ) to help grantees reach out to multiple donors through online or sms donations through improved communications, interaction and accountability.

Munir Ahmad, outlined opportunities for innovative technology solutions to address development challenges, drive social impact and ultimately contribute to the improvement of the quality of life of the communities that the foundations serve. Their work has focused on three areas; e-Learning with a learning and knowledge platform that uses video based training combined with face to face workshops to support capacity and skills; e-Philanthropy with a crowdfunding platform that connects civil society organisations to a large network of individual and corporate donors so that they can raise funds from local to international donors to increase resources; and finally e-Data through crowdfunding technologies and mobile data collection to enable more citizen engagement, less duplication of efforts and better project design to improve collective impact.

This threefold approach has been driving the development of the CivilSocietyNET initiative –  a cooperation between Aga Khan Foundation, La Caixa Banking Foundation and TeschSoup. It connects communities in the developing world to world-class expertise and knowledge through simple, cost-effective, tech-based solutions. It also offers high-quality, low-cost, replicable and sustainable technology-based solutions aimed at empowering disadvantaged and marginalised communities.


Key points of learning

Stephanie Hayne, Tactical Technology Collective, summarised some of the key learnings and commented on some pressing issues related to the philanthropy and the internet:

  • “Open data” is a great opportunity for increased transparency and accountability but brings in challenges for foundations of a different nature:
    • Losing control of their data and storytelling
    • Where they work in conflict areas or support human rights groups in challenging environments and contexts , “too much transparency” could endanger their partners and jeopardise their work
    • A heightened responsibility of foundations about data governance, security and risks policy, regarding thinking about what they collect, keep share and how; investing in processes and systems; and acknowledging that there is no zero-risk situation and adapting to this new context.
  • Don’t underestimate the challenge of digital transformation for foundations’ staff and its partners.
  • Foundations who are behind the curve, have to leap frog, and could reach out to those who have started this thinking and process.
  • Technology is an evolving field, always raising new questions, requiring adaptation
  • Technology does not solve human/organisational issues, don’t look for technical solutions if what you need is a “collaboration therapy”
  • Be vigilant: Technology can help solve social issues but doing it can contribute to creating other problems e.g. an organisation which used social media profiles to enhance the access to services would help the efficiency of the services but expose people/organisations to insecurity
  • Think about the future (issues):
  • The need for platforms and skills: building the capacity of foundations and their partners and beneficiaries to use new technologies
    • Foundations have to rethink their relations to social movements. The lag between the speed of social media and foundations’ response is startling. Foundations traditional tools such as grantmaking are being challenged by instant high impact movements such as social networks.
    • Internet and technology have become a very political space, and we’re in a time of trade-offs: what brought in some voices is taking some away. Foundations should get involved in theses dialogues and not leave them to lawyers and technicians.
  • The internet has become monetised and has created enormous wealth including today’s and tomorrow’s new philanthropists findings new ways to work.
  • The internet is enabling a few companies using online data to advise governments on a range of public investments (e.g. using professional profiles for education investments)
  • (How) is the internet democratising giving / improving foundations’ governance and power relation (e.g. participatory granting processes used by some funders)


Going forward

This was a sharing and learning session aiming at giving participants a better understanding of the internet, insights of foundations practices and challenges. Discussion will help inform the EFC knowledge base and future activities. Foundations and other stakeholders interested in pursuing some of these discussions are invited to contact the EFC secretariat at

All Sessions