Embracing as friends or putting your head in the lion’s mouth?

Andrew Milner

Andrew Milner

New partnership models, new opportunities: working with the World Bank to broaden impact (World Bank –International Finance Corporation)

Do partnerships between the World Bank and foundations? If so, under what circumstances and what benefits do they bring? The session explored these questions through the experience of a number of such partnerships – between the World Bank and, respectively, FIA Foundation, Bertelsmann Stiftung and the Global Fund for Community Foundations. It wasn’t quite a showcase for World Bank/partnerships because it emerged that not everything in the partnership garden was rosy. If the session didn’t exactly end up with the World Bank on the back foot, it certainly wasn’t a straightforward celebration of the partnership experience.

Road traffic accidents are responsible for 1.3 million deaths and 50 million injuries a year, the overwhelming majority of them in low and middle income countries, according to David Ward of FIA Foundation, yet the problem had received scant attention. He talked about the Global Safety Facility, a partnership between FIA and the Bank’s Transport, Energy and Water Department, to try to change this and enumerated a number of advantages the partnership had brought to the initiative: the Bank is a global leader in development policy; it is a multi-sectoral agency, critical when dealing with a multi-sectoral issue like road safety; it is both a ‘target’ and source of policy change; and its leverage effects can be enormous. The role it had played, for instance, in making the UN sit up and take notice of the issue of road safety had been critical.

However, he added, the relationship wasn’t always an easy one. In particular, he said there had been a misunderstanding about who was going to fundraise for the initiative, with one stormy meeting when the misunderstanding had been laid bare. The experience of Jenny Hodgson, of the Global Fund for Community Foundation (GFCF), mirrored this exactly. The Global Fund, said Jenny, had been under the illusion that once the partnership with the Bank had been formed, the money would flow, but this hadn’t happened. The key questions of trust and the difference of institutional backgrounds had been difficult, she said. GFCF’s management committee had comprised representatives from the Bank, from funding foundations and from representatives of community foundations. There was a divide between the experience of the two sides which, she felt had not been successfully bridged.

On the positive side, the money to test out the idea from the Bank had been a great boost, as had the ability to tap into the Bank’s approach to and expertise in evaluation. They had helped translate the foundations’ philanthropic discourse into a development one.

What lessons to draw from this?  Jennifer Barsky from the World Bank who moderated the session suggested three: find out what the concrete issue is on which you can build a partnership; take time and allow for different institutional backgrounds; and look beyond the money – expertise and capacity that each side can offer to the other are frequently more important.

There was general agreement that the Bank, despite its admitted transparency, was a difficult organisation to navigate. Barry Gaberman, formerly of the Ford Foundation, pointed this out from the floor and said you needed a champion – but 6 months later the champion had moved on! He also suggested a little dishonesty in notion of partnership. What people were often saying, he felt, was ‘”we’d like to invite you to support our project” – that’s OK, but it’s not partnership.’ There were big opportunities to play to each other’s strengths, a point endorsed by both Sabine Donner of the Bertelsmann Foundation, who talked about looking for complementary strengths – the networks and influence of the Bank and the flexibility and on-the-ground knowledge of the foundations.

Marc Shotten of the Bank acknowledged that the face of development was likely to change dramatically over the next 10-20 years given the scale and growing urgency of questions such as climate change, and food and energy security and the Bank would need to respond to that. Could there be room, he asked, for a foundations office in the Bank to think more strategically about how to engage with foundations? Jennifer Barsky pointed out that everyone in the room was looking for funding, which created a strange dynamic. She reiterated the need to look beyond money, which was often small, to the more creative elements a partnership could afford – the mutual strengths, etc.

‘We need a partnership unit in the Bank is what I’m hearing,’ she said. We’re listening, she said, but we need to think about it should be and she invited participants to give their views. ‘We’re here to help,’ she concluded.

Day 2 of Foundations Week
– the interactive fair has not so far attracted the kind of traffic that the organisers would have hoped. I was the only one watching a documentary made by the Sabanci Foundation at 9.45 in the morning. The number of people is not much greater than it was early yesterday morning as order slowly emerged out of the chaos of empty cardboard boxes, rolls of tape and electric screwdrivers and scissors.

Maybe the venue militates against exploration. It’s a big rambling place, slightly disorienting and with little natural light. Signs on the wall of the steps leading down to the fair inform visitors they might laugh, flirt, dance and join in. No flirting or dancing so far, to my knowledge. By contrast they are forbidden to touch the art or smoke (another prohibition simply says, mystifyingly, ‘animals’). Meanwhile, the discussion sessions are happening elsewhere and attending them involves a rather confusing trip by lift and escalator. It’s to be hoped that the separation between exhibitions of public interest and discussions of interest principally to foundations is only physical, not symbolic.

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