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2023 Symposium Recap

To capture the essence of the third Innovations in International Philanthropy Symposium is a daunting task. When we and our teams began to plan this a year ago, we only knew we wanted to distill the best of the 2018 and 2021 events into two days and to connect and inspire participants in a similar manner as we had successfully done in the previous two Symposiums but with an even greater sense of the urgency to take action. This year in particular we wanted attendees to recognize that supporting local communities globally in an equitable manner would also require us to adopt new narratives and norms in global philanthropy in order to ground relationships on more solid footing. In addition, we also wanted to challenge global funders to find the courage to take risks and more action. The world is on fire and more courage and action will be required in the future.

Personal Stories That Transform Perspectives


One theme that arose again and again during the Symposium was the power of narrative, and nothing is more powerful than global activists sharing lived experiences from the frontlines of crisis. Our opening keynote set the tone with what would be a recurring message of inspiration: The Courage to Take Extraordinary Action. We felt the need to begin with this to not only highlight individuals who have chosen literally extra-ordinary action and service, but also to the underscore the need for courage for extraordinary action in philanthropy now.

Left to right: Armine Afeyan, Jamila Afghani, Ilwad Elman

Armine Afeyan, Executive Director of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, introduced and led a conversation with two Laureates of the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity. Ilwad Elman is COO of The Elman Peace Centre and a 2019 nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, who returned to Somalia in 2010 to work there and in Mogadishu – constantly at risk of death – with women and children suffering the violence tearing through parts of those countries. Jamila Afghani, as founder of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organization, with some of her work centered now on teaching girls in secret under Taliban rule, also works at the highest possible risk as a champion of equity in civil society.

The two women made clear their stories of courage, of running toward crises, are repeated over and over in areas facing strife around the world. “We work (because) this is our human responsibility,” said Afghani. “We see so many miseries, but at the same time, so many opportunities. If we can hold each other’s hands, we can achieve.”
Elman reinforced that point several times. “It’s not just pockets of small intervention. (Leaders on the ground) have an exploratory approach to old issues. We are solving seemingly intractable issues. The capacity on the ground is greater than people believe.”

And both women spoke of purpose. Elman recalled leaving Canada to work in Somalia and that “what was supposed to be one month turned into 13 years. In my efforts to help, I found purpose.” And Afghani noted that many funders, in turn, find purpose when they connect with local activists.  “If there is a wound in one finger, the entire body feels the pain. One thing I want to focus on is the power of women’s hope, of sisterhood, of feeling responsible and that we are not useless (in meaningless lives).”


Moky Makura

Our second keynote, anchoring the second day, was Philanthropy’s Role in Changing Narratives in the Global South. This was designed to specifically address how past and present narratives about places and people have created implicit bias – even among the people being portrayed – and how the future of these narratives needs to unfold. Moky Makura, Executive Director of Africa No Filter, noted that Africa is having a “global moment” right now in multiple creative and industrial fields, and yet when one asks an outsider of their image of Africa, it often comes down to safaris or images of dire poverty and war, as, she said, “a country that needs saving.”

“We need stories to help us craft an African dream, particularly for our young people. At Africa No Filter we ask for two things: that the world tell better stories and that we tell stories better. There is a proverb, that until the lion learns to write, the hunter will tell their stories for them.” Makura asked of the funders and investors gathered, “Help us be the lions who learn to write.” She cited the organization’s Creative Vibrancy Index as a project funders can support or draw information from, learning where generative cultural centers are and supporting those efforts – or finding the gaps and working with local artists to foster that work.

In her following conversation with Shaheen Kassim-Lakha, Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Kassim-Lakha asked, “What is the story you want to write in 2030?” To which Makura answered, “The story is that Africa is known as an innovation hotbed. I’m looking for multiplicity of narrative. It will be an amazing place.”

Kassim-Lakha encouraged the audience, “If you don’t know how to get started, if it seems too far afield, find a collaborative (like Africa No Filter, which accepts donations and distributes funding locally). Take baby steps. It was really important for us to get started.”


Left to right: Nasra Ismail, Jhannel Tomlinson

Our closing keynote focused on climate change and Mobilizing the Next Level of Climate Action. No issue happens in a vacuum. As speaker after speaker made clear, every issue funders want to make progress on is threatened by climate change. In Jamaica, we have an example now of what happens when women and girls, those most affected by the issue, step forward to take action locally to shift the entire ecosystem from the inside out. How are funders working with them to make this possible? Jhannel Tomlinson, Co-Founder of GirlsCARE Jamaica, and also an Advisory Committee Member, Feminist Activism and Climate Justice, for the Global Fund for Women shared the complexities of the situation on the ground.

“Women and girls are often those most impacted (by large issues like climate change and poverty in the wake of development). We created a community of care for the environment, by women, for women… to help create the next cadre of climate champions.” Tomlinson noted people often ask why do the work with woman and girls specifically, and she laughed. “Why women and girls? Why not women and girls?” She added that as women are always the ones first and most impacted, in turn, “Women are always the first responders, mobilizing resources for their communities.”

Tomlinson was joined in conversation with Nasra Ismail, an International Development Consultant with more than 10 years working with governments, OXFAM, Giving Tuesday, and Co-Impact. Ismail noted that one funder hesitation in global philanthropy is being seen as overreaching, or “doing things wrong.” She told the audience that “there’s no evil behind (not understanding lived reality and what is really needed). We are all learners. We need to take the veil off, to take on the care economy and see how it’s not what we want to be” and support those making the changes necessary. Tomlinson emphasized that point, saying that funders’ value is not in the money itself, but when as a result of the support, “communities see themselves as champions in their own right and can use the funds to make the changes that are needed.”

Workshops to Build Knowledge, Confidence, and Networks

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The second day of the Symposium also saw funders attending workshops within four tracks to learn skills and engage in discussion with the leaders and peers.

Taking Action Now focused on how the actions we take today will help to shape our collective future.  We addressed effectively engaging in societies in prolonged complex crises, to best supporting refugees as well as indigenous solutions to climate change. Topics addressed included Pockets of Hope: How Donors can Effectively Engage in Societies in Prolonged Crisis; How Funders can Support Refugees at Home or Abroad During the Refugee Journey; and Supporting Indigenous Sovereignty to Address Climate Change.

Practicing Impact Investing focused on the need to leverage not only our philanthropic dollars, or the 5%, but to deploy all of our wealth for social good. With lessons on leveraging your full capital toolkit through socially minded investing in ways that strategically tackle Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specific workshops dealt with Aligning Your Values and Your Investing; Venture Philanthropy: Catalytic Capital - Investing for Impact with a Broader Toolkit; and How to Use Impact Investing to Reach the SDGs.

Advancing Equity focused on moving from a mindset of “us and them” around all marginalized people to the potent answer- and action-driven mindset that “we are in this together, and this is our problem to solve.” Workshops addressed: Frameworks to Action on Power and Equity; Using Funds to Achieve Localization; and Funding Beyond Identities.


Shaping the Future looked at the ethical use of AI, the future of democracy, and what happens beyond the global 2030 goal for the Agenda for Sustainable Development. Attendees selected from sessions tackling Challenges and Opportunities of AI in Global Health; Our Common Future: The Future of Multilateralism Post 2030; and Philanthropy’s Role in Ukraine: Supporting the Future of Democracy and Civil Society.

Call to Action

The event closed with this video message from the Eighth Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon. In it, he called all attendees to action, who shared his concern that “the number one reason for the problems we face today is the inability of leaders to see beyond their own limiting frameworks… a dangerous dynamic that puts their narrow interests above the common good.”

“That is where the power of philanthropy comes in. As philanthropists, you have the power to turn the greatest challenges into the greatest opportunities… You have the power to transcend boundaries. My advice to you is to not be timid in this work.”

“In times like these, those that believe that empathy and dignity should be reserved for just a few of us are counting on our neutrality and silence. And they know that we are weaker alone, instead of in collaboration with one another. We should not let them prevail. History is always calling. I encourage you to answer with courage and vision.  I call upon you to ask yourself where courage lies within you that goes untapped and unleashed.”

New Partnerships, New Commitments to Action


We had high expectations for this year’s Symposium, to help funders gather the courage to overcome whatever barriers to action they might face. We found that funders came with those expectations as well. And what was somewhat intimidating was realizing that we also set those high expectations of this event among our speakers, our presenters, and our guides into these new ways of thinking about and engaging in philanthropy. These people doing the work on the frontlines had agreed to share their time, their experiences, and their insights in the hope of accelerating the expansion of their global community of powerful changemakers.

We believe that all of us – the funders and partners who came together to learn from them – became a stronger community and responded. We invite all of you, as well, to join this expanding, strengthening community, to heed Ban Ki-moon’s call to work in collaboration with each other. Our speakers and workshop leaders showed us all that the old narrative is one of overwhelming crisis, of too much to accomplish to see success. That narrative is shifting precisely because we are coming together in new ways, with new narratives. The narrative we as a field and we as individual funders and investors must tell is that we found our way to work behind and alongside those doing the real work, to deliver an ever-evolving story of hope and achievement.

And finally, again, we thank our advisors, speakers, sponsors, and our amazing colleagues who made this year’s event possible.

Thank you!

NEID Global and The Philanthropic Initiative (TPI)

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