Stuart Short, Head of Wealth Management and Family Offices, The Power of Nutrition
A very positive response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been an increase in community engagement and philanthropic giving. Whilst most people think of philanthropy as the giving of money to a cause, philanthropy has grown in our communities with people taking the opportunity of having more time to take on new challenges. Just think of the 750,000 people in the UK who offered to work voluntarily for the NHS by taking over some non-medical responsibilities from staff.
The donation of people’s time was the response that philanthropy should always be in a disaster situation — unrestricted. These individuals were not insisting that their time be used in a specific way. They trusted that the NHS organisers would use their resources in the most efficient way and where the need was greatest. This example of catalytic and collaborative philanthropy triggered the ability for the NHS to direct its resources to where they were most needed and was only effective due to the large numbers of individuals all working together.
The urgent nature of the pandemic has highlighted the need for philanthropists to consider modifying their approach to giving. Philanthropists need to show more trust in the organisations that they choose to help — based on their expertise, experience and commitment to the cause, they will use the funds wisely — and grant them the flexibility to deploy funds where and when they are needed most. Donors working with The Power of Nutrition have trusted us to divert resources to our COVID-19 response, which has included strengthening targeted behaviour change interventions to raise awareness about the potential spread of the virus. This approach enables organisations to coordinate their responses with others. In this instance, the immediate role of philanthropy has been to provide emergency financing to organisations for their COVID-19 response. Some of this philanthropic giving has been to replace loss of other revenue streams and in many cases has been essential in keeping many good causes afloat. Philanthropy has often been seen to provide a much-needed service that is not met by other means. This leads to philanthropists donating as a result of circumstances they are aware of either locally or nationally, but a consequence of this pandemic has been to show the frequent interconnectivity of the causes that are supported, demonstrating that philanthropy needs to be more joined up, more collaborative.
This comes at a time with at least a third of the global population suffering a lockdown at some stage of the pandemic. Global wealth creation is set to fall, the IMF is forecasting a 4.9% drop in GDP for 2020 or in real terms approximately $4.3 trln. This has the potential to result in reduced government spending on the projects in countries with the greatest need. For instance, the UK is committed to spend 0.7% of its Gross National Income on overseas aid every year. In 2019 the UK commendably spent £15.2bln of Official Development Assistance (ODA). So, if, again as predicted by the IMF, the UK economy shrinks by 10.2% in 2020, the UK’s ODA budget potentially will shrink by over £1.5bln. This will immediately put at risk the funding of projects that, up to now, have made progress in improving the lives of so many. The pandemic has brought home to many the fragile nature of not only our own domestic healthcare systems but also highlighted the major shortcomings of developing countries healthcare systems. The Power of Nutrition works on strengthening healthcare systems in countries that need it the most. The magnitude of the potential reduction in funding will increase the role that philanthropy will need to take in these projects.
At The Power of Nutrition, collaborative and catalytic philanthropy is core to our work. It is not just about the financial support. It is the role of philanthropy to be the initial risk-taker in a project — to get things started. Well-targeted philanthropy can, and should, lead to governments and businesses joining together. It should allow any project to grow to the scale necessary to ensure its effectiveness and long-term sustainability.
We have seen evidence of the power of a philanthropist, be that an individual directly or through their foundation, attracting committed recipient governments to join in a collaboration simply because the philanthropist has committed first. It is essential for governments to be involved in order to make healthcare projects sustainable. In
October 2017, a philanthropist that was dedicated to ending stunting in Rwanda gave a grant to The Power of Nutrition of $10m. That initial philanthropic investment brought in other donors and led to that initial investment being leveraged into a four-year $116m “Stunting Reduction Programme” that commenced in June 2018, supporting the government in the scaling up of nutrition interventions and cash transfers to enhance access to health services for the most vulnerable mothers. Additionally, our innovative partnership with Unilever on a nutrition programme we co-finance in India has also shown that the risk capital that a philanthropist brings has often brought a private sector company on board that brings with it its own skill set and allows us to add innovative approaches to our programmes.
We regularly see the inter-connectivity of causes bringing philanthropists together. For instance, an investment in improving the nutrition of a young child has the potential to improve their education. Educated adolescent girls are less likely to marry early and this promotes gender equality and can improve their earnings later in life. Those improved earnings will also allow parents to feed their own families more nutritious food, ultimately breaking the circle of undernutrition, as well as boosting a country’s economy and tax revenues.
That initial investment in nutrition will also reduce the likelihood that that child will grow up to suffer from diseases such as diabetes or heart disorders and will reduce the demands on the country’s healthcare systems. This highlights the need for philanthropists, with varied interests, to join together to bring programmes to scale.
The role of philanthropy, therefore, is not just to give. The role of philanthropy is to make change happen and bring everyone together for the love of mankind. Because only by acting together can change really be sustainable.