Background - 15.02.2023 - 11:30 

Making philanthropy more effective

What role can philanthropy play in our society? Where does it fit in with issues like climate change? And what approaches are needed to ensure that it has the best possible impact? These are the questions that engage the Philanthropy Competence Center at HSG.

Philanthropy makes a significant contribution to alleviating suffering and open up future prospects for poorer, socially disadvantaged people. Around the world, foundations, nonprofits, sustainable investment, and many other actors are engaged to help solve global problems. "Poverty, hunger and climate change are among the greatest challenges of our time. But when it comes to climate change in particular, we see that it is a systemic problem that calls for overarching approaches to solving it," emphasizes Dr. Andreas Böhm, who heads the Center for Philanthropy (CfP-HSG).

Climate change is a major concern for the philanthropy sector

Collaboration between organizations was also a central theme of a symposium organized by the CfP-HSG together with Professor Dr. Markus Frölich of the Center for Evaluation and Development (C4ED) in mid-February. Under the title "Effective philanthropic investment", the conference participants discussed in workshops what it takes to coordinate activities of several organizations and sectors and to achieve sustainable development through close cooperation.

Reto Thönen (SDC), Christian Krämer (KfW Development Bank), Dr. Maximilian Martin (Banque Lombard Odier), Dr. Lukas von Orelli (SwissFoundations) and Dirk Reinhard (Munich Re Foundation) then shared their experiences related to their engagements in climate change. All five emphasized that the burning issue has a very high priority in their organizations. Climate change, they said, is closely linked to most other challenges, such as hunger, poverty or lack of education. 

Working with partner countries

The panellists also addressed the role of foundations in the context of climate change. Unlike companies, foundations have the advantage of not having to make a profit. Foundations are civil society actors oriented toward the common good, which can simultaneously act as stabilizers, can anticipate future challenges, and can provide an impetus for change. They have the ability to act quickly and, in contrast to the public sector, can take risks in the search for effective solutions. The panel was quite self-critical in stating that this freedom could be used more often.

Coercion is not a good advisor, was the answer to the question of how cooperation with partners in the respective countries can be intensified. For the success of the projects, it is of central importance to communicate as equals and to include local concerns and needs. Sustainable development is only possible under these conditions. All five participants in the discussion identified potential for improvement in the cooperation between their organizations and other philanthropically active players.

Measuring the impact of engagement

The first part of the session focused on the importance and necessity of measuring the impact of philanthropic and public engagement activities in order to optimize their sustainability. It would be regrettable if valuable financial resources were wasted by projects without achieving a sustainable impact, explained Dr. Uwe Rudolf Eschner-Schoenfeld of the Center for Evaluation and Development. HSG Professor Michael Lechner and Professor Jochen Kluve (Humboldt University Berlin and KfW Entwicklungsbank) presented methods and tools for measuring impact. Both emphasized the importance of systematic, research-based approaches to establish causal relationships.

Andreas Böhm and Markus Frölich were very satisfied with the way the symposium went, with 70 participants coming to St. Gallen from Germany and Switzerland. Representatives of large institutions such as the Ikea Foundation and the Deutsche Bank Foundation also attended. According to the head of the Competence Center Philanthropy, the aim is to repeat the symposium annually. "Our goal is to intensify the exchange between science and practice and to expand the circle of participants."

From among the attendees came the suggestion to build bridges to entrepreneurship at a next event. Precisely because climate change requires the commitment of all sectors, the dialogue with business and politics is of great importance.

Claudia Schmid

Image: Adobe Stock / pogonici

Discover our special topics