Lack of Diversity, Foundations and Development AID

Terry Odendahl

Terry Odendahl

On June 2, I attended a Friends of Europe, Development Policy Forum as part of the Foundation Week pre-conference. The roundtable format was innovative: some 35 participants spoke to each other in a highly moderated session, while an equal number looked on as the conversation proceeded. Being in the latter group, I had the opportunity to observe that only five of the featured guests were women. As far as I could tell, there were also only a handful of Africans, a few Latinos and one Arab represented. The audience was much more diverse than the speakers.

There seemed to be general agreement that foundations could be the providers of innovative ideas that somehow development agencies and governments had thus far been unable to generate. Coen Teulings, the Chairman of Merifin Capital, noted that the “development aid industry” (aptly put, I thought) had the prospect of being “perpetuated forever.” He said he would “like to hear more from the beneficiaries.”

When she finally spoke, Maria Manuela dos Santos Lucas, one of the few women and people of color featured, as well as Ambassador from the Mission of Mozambique to the EU, indicated that there was a “sitting down mentality,” in which recipients simply, “wait for the aid.”

Others in the development field spoke of “sticky red tape” and the need for a more” fast track” approach, which apparently foundations might provide.  According to most of the speakers, foundations could give money, expertise and knowledge. Someone said something about foundations and governments competing and each “don’t even know what’s going on.”

My own colleague, Chet Tchozweski, President Emeritus of the Global Greengrants Fund, spoke eloquently of the importance of “local knowledge, democratic self-determination, self-reliance and resilience.” Obviously, I support this approach, but the whole session was somehow disappointing and depressing.

How could it be that not much seems to have changed since I was an anthropology graduate student over 35 years ago? At least then, and I thought now, there was general agreement that more emphasis should be put on targeting women in the development process.

In marvelous contrast, the afternoon session of the EFC conference on “Building Philanthropic Infrastructure – Sexier than you think,” well facilitated by David Emerson of the Association of Charitable Foundation in the UK, involved an engaged audience and lively conversation. I hope someone else will contribute a blog on that session, about which I did not take notes as I was one of the involved. I look forward to today’s events.

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One response to “Lack of Diversity, Foundations and Development AID

  1. Dear Ms. Odendahl,

    Thank you for attending yesterday’s roundtable. We are pleased that you enjoyed the structure of the debate, on which we received many positive comments from discussants and observers alike.

    With regard to your concern that there weren’t enough women and representatives of developing countries, we did make every effort to ensure that all relevant stakeholders had a place around the table. Although there were not many ACP ambassadors present, all of them were personally invited as discussants. We were equally disappointed to learn that many, who are regular attendees of our DPF events, were abroad or otherwise engaged. As you noted, the ambassadors who were able to join us were given the floor as soon as they requested it, and their contributions were both valuable and insightful.

    It’s true that five women out of thirty-two is not an impressive statistic. Of the many women we invited, several who had initially confirmed pulled out at the last minute due to other commitments. Your observation that the audience was more diverse than the speakers is correct, and as you will have noticed, the moderator invited questions from observers as well.

    While we were not able to achieve the perfect balance of women and ACP representatives, the discussants present enjoyed a constructive debate and the discussion was fruitful and engaging. We will happily send you and any interested readers a summary when it is published. In the future, please do not hesitate to provide us with the names of female speakers and help us secure their participation.

    We look forward to welcoming you at the next DPF event.


    Ringaile Trakymaite
    Senior Project Manager
    Friends of Europe

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