Philanthropy has long played a vital role in disaster relief and recovery. Sarah Rennie, chairperson of the Independent Philanthropy Association of South Africa (IPASA), reflects on some of the lessons the philanthropy sector has learnt during the pandemic, and considers what it might look like in a post-Covid-19 world.
How has the philanthropic sector responded to the pandemic thus far?
We have seen a very active, immediate response. At IPASA, we convened several quick early meetings and attendance was very high. People were engaged and wanted to respond. The initial focus was on supplying emergency medical and personal protective equipment, to support health systems and initiatives, but the primary focus for philanthropists was supporting existing grantees within their strategic focus areas.
IPASA published its Members Best Practice Guidelines during Covid19 and we were gratified to see that many of our recommendations were taken up. Funders adjusted their funding practices and kept the lines of communication with nonprofit organisations (NPOs) open. Some requested a pandemic impact analysis from grantees to understand how the lockdown and pandemic were affecting them, and some asked specifically for Covid-19 response proposals, making emergency grants available to assist where possible.
What are some examples of foundations that have shown leadership during the pandemic?
We have seen some very powerful initiatives emerging – the result of an immediate desire on the part of philanthropists to understand the impact of the virus and how to solve the challenge of unequal resources. There was a desire for input from experts that would inform how various issues were addressed, from social justice and gender-based violence to education and youth employment. Some philanthropists were able to find new funds and provide additional support in particular areas. Many worked with existing partners, but some widened the scope of their activities to support or collaborate with more organisations than they had done previously.
Oppenheimer Generations set up the South African Future Trust in partnership with the five big banks, providing R1 billion in assistance to struggling small, medium and micro enterprise employees. On a smaller scale, JET Education Services launched its South African Bootcamp Research initiative, allowing for realtime inputs to be made into national education processes from the likes of the Department of Basic Education, the National Education Collaboration Trust, the National Association of Social Change Entities in Education and others (including IPASA). This initiative leveraged the insights of both established and emerging researchers, looking into topics related to Covid-19 and the impact thereof. The successful methodology will likely be used as a model in the future.
Regarding early childhood development (ECD), the Network of Early Childhood Training Agencies set up an ECD Covid-19 support fund, as Covid-19 funding from government did not extend to NPOs or the ECD sector. The ECD Funders Consortium, through the work of Ilifa Labantwana, is also raising a fund to support ECD practitioners. The Mergon Foundation set up a Gap Fund to financially support NPOs and the DG Murray Trust rolled out a R2 million electronic food voucher system to support at-risk members of the population.
With investment markets hardhit by the pandemic, are longer-term philanthropic commitments in danger?
The pandemic has had a marked effect on financial markets and most philanthropists have been affected. Trusts and foundations are typically funded through lump-sum endowments and these have seen a 30–40% drop in value during the pandemic (although there has been some recovery). Not all philanthropists make use of endowments, but many have had to dig into their capital reserves to respond to the crisis.
A sense of caution in the face of extreme uncertainty persists, which is uppermost in the mind of trustees, along with how to ensure the sustainability of funding flows. Trustees have a mandate to safeguard funds and honour future commitments (like three- or four-year grants), but they know that current need is greater than it has ever been. Every fund is looking carefully at their budgets.
What shifts in approaches to philanthropy are likely to be adopted more permanently?
I foresee a lot more collaboration – we are likely to see wide-ranging funding partnerships, as well as more funding platforms or apps that will make it easier for various stakeholders to connect with one another. Technology will match people with needs to those who have resources. We will hopefully see a more flexible and nuanced approach tofunding as funders get closer to NPOs, better understanding the constraints within which they operate. We will also see more innovation on the financing front, from soft loans and social impact bonds to impact investing and having an investment stake in a non-profit company..
What advice do you have for grantmakers, now and into the future?
The task at hand is to balance the need for rapid reaction with the need to wait for further clarity before formulating a response. It is good to be as generous as you can, but wise to give with both your heart and your head. Engage the intellect, not just your emotions. It is also a good idea to ensure that your giving is aligned with your fundamental strategy. If you want to innovate, consider what your core values are and be sure to align your efforts with them.
– Sarah Rennie, Chairperson of IPASA, www.ipa-sa.org.za