IGS 2017: A Delegate’s Take
Author: Emily Bryant, Doctoral Candidate
CAF America’s third annual International Grantmaking Symposium was held earlier this month in Boston. As a first time IGS participant (or “delegate,” as we’re called), I took in a great deal of valuable information and received the opportunity to network with others in the field. Though not a grantmaker myself (I simply study them!), I benefitted from speakers with expert knowledge and gleaned insights from the roughly two dozen representatives of an array of organizations, from corporate foundations to public charities. This small group size enabled more intensive communication among participants, fostered learning between participants and speakers, and facilitated deeper dives into the material.
An overarching theme each speaker touched upon concerned the salient combination of challenges and opportunities funders face across an increasingly uncertain political terrain both at home and abroad. Yet, in light of the myriad restrictions governments are enacting to clamp down on their respective civil society sectors, there are reasons to be optimistic, such as the growing interest in diaspora giving (a compelling case for which was made by Nicholas Bassey and Dr. Jim Allen, moderated by Kinga Ile). In her keynote address, Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett reflected upon several cases of closing civil society, but urged IGS participants neither to lose sight of the importance of their work nor its ultimate beneficiaries.
Others expressed similar sentiments, from Adam Pickering’s typology of global regulatory regimes (if funders understand these, they can devise strategies to adapt) and Deirdre White’s exercise illustrating the difficulties of – but also opportunities presented by – cross-sectoral partnerships to each of the thorough examinations of various countries’ restrictions on foreign funding (Mark Sidel on China, Jessie Krafft and Sameera Mehra on India, and Michael Layton on Mexico). These country sessions, in particular, afforded participants the chance to discuss their experiences granting in specific challenging markets, while learning from experts both the broader context of the restrictions funders face and potential strategies to work around – and, in the longer run, resist – these constraints.
Grounding this cautious optimism were comprehensive lessons on the mechanics of international grantmaking. Jessie Krafft and Nicole Varner detailed several vehicles for giving abroad and how to select among them, while William Reger offered an in-depth presentation on anti-money laundering laws, risk assessment, and best practices for funders. John Bennett’s instructive lesson on the distinctions between equivalency determination (ED) and expenditure responsibility (ER) provided guidance on when to use them and what is required of both funders and grantees. Though at times a bit dry – heavy on the nitty gritty of IRS regulations; no blame placed on the speakers! – these aspects of international grantmaking are essential to funders’ work and so crucial to know in detail.
Indeed, it was that detail, the thoughtfulness and thoroughness with which each topic was explored, that struck me as most valuable. Yet I see room for improvement in several areas: first, are there countries other than or in addition to India, China, and Mexico in which funders face challenges? Perhaps polling participants prior to the Symposium to gauge their interest would be useful. Second, how else can CAF advise funders in their selection of their grantees? A session delving into assessments of potential grantees beyond their compliance with IRS regulations would be valuable. Finally, providing adequate time for each speaker to cover their material in its entirety may be worthwhile, as some sessions seemed to warrant more time for discussion.
In spite of these drawbacks, the content and structure of the Symposium – with its small number of delegates and detailed instruction – offered participants a rich and unique opportunity for professional development in the philanthropic field and laid a foundation on which delegates may build collaborative efforts moving forward. More fundamentally, IGS helped funders navigate the challenges presented by the increasingly global narrowing of civil society, in hopes of better informing their grantmaking to ultimately advance the goals of their funding.
Emily Bryant is a doctoral candidate in Sociology at Boston University. Her dissertation examines the decision-making processes of U.S. philanthropic foundations engaged in international grantmaking.