Collaborative Philanthropy: All Hands on Deck

Scattered around the world, more than 150 billionaires have pledged more than $365 billion to philanthropy. The majority, some on their own and others in small partnerships, have launched successful initiatives that have cut malaria rates in half, empowered hundreds of thousands of women entrepreneurs, and helped change the world little by little.

Now imagine: what could happen if these philanthropists pooled their financial capital, passion and knowledge together with both the private sector and public organizations doing work on-the-ground? Could philanthropy move faster and further to create a better future?

Planting the Seeds

That's what led Olivia Leland to found a breakthrough philanthropic model in 2017 called Co-Impact. It's a fund comprising hundreds of millions of dollars that's based on one simple premise: collaboration. Co-Impact brings together philanthropists and social change leaders from across the globe to create large-scale change in education, health, and economic opportunity for millions of people in developing countries.

As Co-Impact's CEO, Leland has a lot of experience when it comes to the topic of giving. She also serves as managing director at The Rockefeller Foundation, building upon years of experience at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Millennium Challenge Corporation. But it was Leland's work as the founding director of the Giving Pledge — the network of billionaires who commit to dedicating the majority of their wealth to philanthropy — that left her feeling excited not just about giving, but about collaborative giving.

Filling the Gap

Prior to founding Co-Impact, Leland had seen firsthand how some philanthropists wanted to do more for the causes they cared about. At annual events, donors would spend the entire day discussing how they could contribute beyond what they were already doing. "Since the potential and desire were there, we wanted to take that energy and somehow harness it so we could combine our forces and work together," Leland says.

She became singularly focused on the question of how philanthropy could drive more impact in the world. Leland set off on a year-long research mission to uncover the answer, speaking with hundreds of people around the globe: philanthropists, social changemakers, government officials, and private sector leaders.

The answer came in the form of an idea: Co-Impact. "We built out the collaborative giving concept from the idea of bringing together this community of philanthropists and leaders to drive consistent change with investments in efforts that are not only sustainable, but will also reach millions," Leland says. Nothing quite like it had existed before. As soon as she started sharing the concept, partners were eager to join.

Creating the Co-Impact Community

Co-Impact's core partners include Bill and Melinda Gates; Jeff Skoll, the first employee and president of eBay; Richard Chandler, co-founder of Sovereign Global investment firm; Rohini and Nandan Nilekani, co-founders of the EkStep Foundation; and The Rockefeller Foundation. Each have committed between $25 million and $50 million over a 10-year period.

Unlike some organizations in which philanthropists simply write a check, Leland strives to ensure Co-Impact is a true collaboration. Accordingly, each member of the small core group has a voice and a vote. "For collaborative philanthropy, it's really important to hear the voice of everybody in the coalition," she says. "We want our core group to have the type of deep and meaningful conversations that lead to shared decisions on Co-Impact's strategy and supported projects."

Beyond the core group, there's just as much engagement with the larger Co-Impact Community that commits between $250,000 and $750,000 over 3 years. "That group is really engaged deeply in learning and discussions. They can help select which of the initiatives they're most excited about and attend events where they engage with program partners," Leland adds.

In addition, Co-Impact partners with co-investors on individual initiatives where they may already be deeply involved whether in a specific geographic region or around a particular topic. such as health or education, for example.

The variety of engagement opportunities reflects Leland's initial motivation and now defines Co-Impact's ethos: that philanthropy, regardless of categories or labels, needs to be collaborative. Liz Sheehan, a Co-Impact Community Member and Founder of Care2Communities says, "Today, more than ever, we are in need of platforms that provide new models for philanthropic investment. Co-Impact has established a different approach where the path to achieving significant impact is collaboration. This is key to realign shared goals, incentives, and visions such that millions of individuals experience meaningful and sustained improvements in their lives."

Key Projects

In January, the organization announced its first round of grants to provide economic opportunity and improve the education and health of roughly 9 million people in Africa, South Asia, and Latin America. The grants, which total more than $80 million, cover the next five years. Recipients include:

  • Liberia's National Community Health Assistant Program, providing 1.2 million rural people with access to primary health services.

  • Project ECHO, a movement spanning 34 countries that leverages video technology to provide frontline medical practitioners with the specialized knowledge to treat diseases like TB, Hepatitis C and mental health conditions.

  • Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) Africa, a venture to assist African governments and partners help children learn to read and do basic arithmetic.

  • The graduation approach to economic opportunity: A global multi-stakeholder effort that will enable governments to help households sustainably boost their incomes and assets, as a pathway to lift more than one million people out of extreme poverty.

  • citiesRISE, a global network of mental health friendly cities and communities (initial areas include Nairobi, Chennai, Bogota, Sacramento and Seattle).

Driving Greater Impact

For business leaders, philanthropists or communities who want to get more engaged or be change agents, Leland has some advice. "Actively seek out ways to align together, or go out and listen and look for the proven efforts that are out there," she says. "And once you find it, lend support to those who need additional resources to fund their mission."

It all boils down to teamwork. "That's the most exciting thing about collaborative philanthropy—to think about what everyone can bring to the table. After all, every great achievement in history has been the result of people working together for a common goal. Now is our chance to unify people for causes that are affecting today's societies. So we can create a greater positive impact." Leland says.

Against a social backdrop of polarization and isolation, Leland's new model is gaining traction in the philanthropic ecosystem. "Whether it's a person or organization, it's about how well you work together," she says. "It's not about one person or organization driving change." With prominent philanthropists, resources and expertise, Co-Impact is replacing isolated philanthropic efforts with collaborative ones—so the process of creating a better future can happen at a quicker pace, with bigger and better outcomes for millions of people around the world.


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