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CfB Bureau

For the last few decades, increasing globalization of the world economy and waves of deregulation and privatization have facilitated the emergence and increased the power of private actors, particularly of large transnational corporations.

However, it is not only “big business” but also “big philanthropy” that has an increasing influence in global (development) policy, particularly large philanthropic foundations. They have become influential actors in international policy debates, including, most importantly, how to address poverty eradication, sustainable development, climate change and the protection of human rights.

The scope of their influence in both past and present discourse and decision-making processes is fully equal to and in some cases goes beyond that of other private actors. Through the sheer size of their grant-making, personal networking and active advocacy, large global foundations, most notably the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, have played an increasingly active role in shaping the agenda-setting and funding priorities of international organizations and governments.

So far, there has been a fairly willing belief among governments and international organizations in the positive role of philanthropy in global development.

Philanthropic Power and Development – Who shapes the agenda? released recently, examines the role and impact of philanthropic foundations in development. It addresses the impacts and side effects of philanthropic engagement by taking a closer look at the priorities and operations of two of the most prominent foundations, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in two crucial sectors, health and agriculture.

The findings of the study range from the foundations’ application of a business model to the measurement of results, their influence on policies and agenda-setting, the fragmentation and weakening of global governance, and the lack of transparency and accountability mechanisms.

The key message it seeks to get across in the concluding chapter is that governments, international organizations and civil society organizations must carefully differentiate among foundations in the philanthropic sector, assess the growing influence of the large global philanthropic foundations, especially the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, on political discourse and agenda-setting in targeted fields, and fully analyze the risks and side effects—intended and unintended—of these activities on sustainable development.

Philanthropic Power and Development: Who shapes the agenda? | Jens Martens and Karolin Seitz | Brot für die Welt/Global Policy Forum/MISEREOR | 76 pages |

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