How We Craft Strategy
The Foundation employs strategic philanthropy to achieve the greatest possible social impact – creating real and lasting change in the individuals, communities and initiatives that we support.
We are part of a great tradition, often referred to as “strategic philanthropy” that was developed over a century ago by the great titans of industry and philanthropic innovation John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie. As well, we are privileged to be part of a new generation of philanthropic innovators such as Bill and Melinda Gates (through the Gates Foundation) and former US president William Jefferson Clinton (through his Clinton Foundation) who are guided to use philanthropic capital in ways that create lasting and leveraged change.
What we mean by “strategic philanthropy”
Strategic philanthropy is an approach to giving that is driven by a hunger for impact, not simply putting “band–aids” or plasters on problems. It aims for big change – the kind of change that comes about as a result of supporting new and innovative approaches to tacking problems, or building new institutions that themselves can be the drivers of change. Some people refer to this as risk capital; that is, the use of private funds to support the very early and untested ideas that are not yet ready for government support.
Importantly, strategic philanthropy always strives to be knowledge-based, building out its work on the sound basis of data and input from experts and stakeholders. It builds on platforms of knowledge with analyses of what has been tried in the past and not worked; what has not yet been tried; it maps who are the leading players and what kinds of support will most likely accelerate solutions.
Strategic philanthropy does the hard work of taking on big, often complex challenges. As such, it recognizes that solutions cannot be achieved overnight. In this sense it is often referred to as “patient capital”. It is common for strategic philanthrophy to set its time horizons in terms of generations, not years.
Likewise, because it tackles big problems it recognizes that it must always work in partnership – with government, with other philanthropists and with stakeholders at all levels. The benefits of partnership are multiple: when multiple stakeholders come together, each with their expertise and experience, their connections and their commitment, we more readily advance toward solutions. Partnership with governments is particularly relevant in the context of the UAE where government is very active in the social arena providing an array of support to its citizens. As such, with strategic philanthropy we must always add value to government efforts, not to duplicate it.
Finally, strategic philanthropy places very high value on evaluation and measuring impact. Philanthropy does not have the luxury of throwing money at things; it has to center itself on the discipline of knowing what has worked, under what conditions and how; and, even more importantly, what has not worked. Philanthropy cannot be in the business of re-inventing faulty wheels. Rather, it uses platforms of knowledge and impact measurement to craft new solutions for moving forward effectively. Our approach to evaluation is described in detail below.
How we build strategy
We employ a theory of change approach to building out our strategies and structuring our philanthropic support. We use as a guidepost a seven-step process that includes:
- Defining with some discipline the issue that we want to take on and in which we hope to have impact. To that end, we embark on a systematic mapping of the issue area and those operating within it. This includes an analysis of what is driving the problem and where it is rooted, recent trends, what has worked/is working in effectively addressing the problem, who potential partners are and what dimensions of the problem are not being addressed. To do this, we rely on existing data, expert briefings, focus groups and consultations with stakeholders.
- Articulating a vision of change and setting realistic, measurable goals.
- Articulating a theory of change by developing the components or building blocks of our strategy that will assist us in achieving our goals.
- Considering what interventions – or levers of change – we need to invest in to advance toward our goals. In this, we consider grant support for research; model building and testing; investing in and building the capacity of people, leaders and social entrepreneurs; institution building and strengthening; policy research; broad-based public information dissemination and fostering partnerships with government.
- Mapping organizations and individuals that are at the forefront in our issue areas and determining with whom we might partner with.
- Executing a program of support based on all of the analysis conducted in the steps above.
- Defining performance measures and benchmarks to evaluate the effectiveness of the strategy over the short-term and long-term. If in the benchmarking we determine that we are not meeting our targets, we consider what changes we need to make in our theory of change and the interventions we support to realize those goals.