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7 - Philanthropy in Emerging Economies

A Call to Invest in Resilience

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 February 2024

Clare Woodcraft
University of Cambridge
Kamal Munir
University of Cambridge
Nitya Mohan Khemka
University of Cambridge


This chapter examines current philanthropic trends in emerging economies, exploring the extent to which philanthropists in these settings are investing in resilience and how they are doing so. Three dimensions are considered: what philanthropists invest in, how they invest, and with whom they invest. The state of emerging economy philanthropy, both pre-COVID and in the wake of the pandemic, is discussed, and frameworks and considerations for understanding resilience in philanthropy are set forth. Resilience is understood as having sufficient stability within a system to protect communities – particularly the most vulnerable – and services from deep shocks. The COVID-19 pandemic has sent deep shockwaves through global and local economies, health-care and education systems, and into personal homes and lives. While the shock was universal, the impact and its long-term implications have been felt and will linger much longer for the most vulnerable countries, communities, and individuals. In emerging economies around the world, the pandemic has set back hard-fought progress in economic development and social equity. This system encompasses not only government, but also civil society, including philanthropy. The chapter presents case studies of philanthropic organisations in Brazil, India, and Saudi Arabia whose investments reflect dimensions of resilience, and makes the case for investing in resilience in emerging economies, discussing both challenges and opportunities for doing so.

Reimagining Philanthropy in the Global South
From Analysis to Action in a Post-COVID World
, pp. 145 - 167
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2024
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Creative Common License - CCCreative Common License - BYCreative Common License - NC
This content is Open Access and distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence CC-BY-NC 4.0


The COVID-19 pandemic has sent deep shockwaves through our global and local economies, our health-care and education systems, and into our personal homes and lives. While the shock was universal, the impact and its long-term implications have been felt and will linger much longer for the most vulnerable countries, communities, and individuals. In emerging economies around the world, the pandemic has set back hard-fought progress in economic development and social equity. As we begin to understand the real cost of the pandemic for everything from children’s learning to women’s economic opportunity, every sector and actor must reflect on their role and re-evaluate their position in building a more resilient system for all, in emerging economies and beyond.

In this chapter, resilience is understood as sufficient stability within a system to protect communities, particularly the most vulnerable, and services from deep shocks. This system encompasses not only government, but also civil society, including philanthropy. To examine the role of philanthropy in supporting resilience in emerging economies, we consider three dimensions: what philanthropists invest in, how they invest, and with whom they invest.

The Case for Philanthropy to Support Resilience

What Is Resilience in Philanthropy?

Within this understanding of resilience, there are several dimensions to consider. Lynn et al. (Reference Lynn, Nolan and Waring2021, p. 52) write of strategic resilience: ‘[a] philanthropic strategy is resilient when it supports the ability of grantees to collectively achieve long-term aims amid significant disruptions in context’. This resilience is drawn from the ability of networks of organisations to drive change. They argue that strategic resilience requires that funders: support networks, rather than strategies; focus on systems; do not aim to define the change process in place of the organisations they fund; support networks’ capacity for transformative action in response to crisis; and use philanthropic power to supplement – not replace or overshadow – the power of community leaders and organisations. As such, strategic resilience has major implications for who, what, and how philanthropic organisations fund. This concept of strategic resilience underpins the way that resilience in emerging economy philanthropy is understood in this chapter.

It should be noted that resilience in philanthropy can also imply contributing to the stability of the organisations funded by philanthropists in the face of shocks. Given the massive funding gaps faced by many organisations – for instance, a recent Bridgespan report found that many African non-governmental organisations (NGOs) face funding gaps – this element should be held in mind. The COVID pandemic has been a challenge for many NGOs who rely on philanthropic funding (Layode et al., Reference Layode, Schwier, Hayi-Charters, Holland and Andrian2021). Organisations surveyed in 2021 by CAF America (Charities Aid Foundation America) in Argentina, Brazil, India, Russia, and South Africa have struggled with fundraising in the wake of the pandemic.Footnote 1 Most of those surveyed noted that building financial reserves and strategic planning were areas of support that would help them improve. Among respondents, 45 per cent and 43 per cent noted that support in contingency planning and developing risk management frameworks, respectively, would help them improve their preparedness to respond to crises. Foundations’ willingness to recognise and respond to the needs of grantees is another dimension of resilience in philanthropy (Table 7.1).

Table 7.1 Dimensions of resilience in philanthropy

FoundationsStrategic resilience: effective support for grantees’ long-term impact even during crisis or disruption (see Lynn et al., Reference Lynn, Nolan and Waring2021).Supporting networks, focusing on systems, allowing grantees to design the change process, supporting grantees’ capacity to respond to crisis, and augmenting grantees’ and community leaders’ power (Lynn et al., Reference Lynn, Nolan and Waring2021).
Unrestricted funding, giving grantees agency, utilising multiple financial instruments (OECD, 2021).
GranteesOngoing ability to provide services and/or support social and civic engagement amidst crisis.Building financial reserves, institutional agility in adapting strategy and services as needed, put in place contingency plans or risk frameworks.
Philanthropic nexus of foundations, governments, and NGOsSystem-level change.Collaborative action to assess, build, and reform governments and other systems through data generation and usage, advocacy (OECD, 2021), and transformative system-wide programming.

COVID Poses Major Threats to Development

COVID has threatened decades of progress on economic and human development in many emerging economies. For example, Ram and Yadiv (Reference Ram and Yadav2021) estimate that the economic consequences of COVID may double India’s poverty rate, undoing consistent progress in recent years. Around the world, including in emerging economies like South Africa and countries in the Middle East and North Africa, the pandemic has exacerbated poverty, unemployment, and other inequalities (Futshane, Reference Futshane2021; Lopez-Acevedo and Hoogeveen, Reference Lopez-Acevedo and Hoogeveen2021). In Brazil, an emergency aid programme from the government reduced poverty substantially but is expected to be only a short-term improvement, as poverty rates have begun to bounce back as short-term pandemic aid slowed down, highlighting the need for more medium- and long-term investments in poverty reduction (The Brazilian Report, 2020; McGeever, Reference McGeever2021).

The pandemic has also raised severe challenges for several sectors. Notably in education, school closures have elevated major concerns about learning loss and growing inequities in learning outcomes. For low- and middle-income countries, the World Bank’s calculations for a ‘pessimistic scenario’ about school closures projected that as many as 70 per cent of 10-year-olds may not be able to read a simple text (what the World Bank deems the ‘learning poverty’ rate); this would be a substantial increase from the already alarmingly high learning poverty rate of 53 per cent pre-pandemic (World Bank, UNESCO, and UNICEF, 2021).

Brazilian schools faced some of the longest school closures in Latin America and the Caribbean, and remote learning highlighted and deepened inequities in the Brazilian education system, with over 90 per cent of children in wealthy parts of the country able to access remote learning, compared to less than half in the poorest parts of the country (World Bank). In South Africa, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), by July 2021, students were between three-quarters of a year and a full school year behind where they should have been, and up to half a million students had dropped out of school in the preceding sixteen months.

Philanthropy and Resilience during COVID

Globally, while there is widespread acknowledgement of the need for investments in resilience – including attention to the systems and policies that contribute to vulnerability and inequity – these types of investments do not appear to comprise a large portion of overall philanthropic giving. Research (Candid and CDP, 2021b) on giving during COVID noted that while most foundation leaders interviewed see supporting advocacy for systems and policy reform as important, few of their foundations began supporting grantee advocacy during COVID. Candid and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s (CDP’s) analysis of the state of disaster philanthropy notes that disaster funding tends to focus heavily on relief and recovery, not the mitigation and preparedness efforts that can help reduce the likeliness or severity of crises (Candid and CDP, 2021a).

COVID has intensified existing challenges in the philanthropic sector in many emerging economy contexts, including the difficulties that small organisations face in trying to raise funds. Smaller organisations in Argentina, Brazil, India, Russia, and South Africa surveyed by CAF America have struggled to raise funds in the wake of the pandemic, in part due to their own limited staff resources.Footnote 2 Such a challenge is a reminder that the capacity and strategies of all actors within the philanthropic ecosystem – not only foundations themselves – must be considered when thinking about resilience. CAF America also found mismatches between donors and the communities they intend to serve during the pandemic. That said, the majority of organisations surveyed noted that their preparedness to respond to crises had improved in the second year of the pandemic. Most also note that building financial reserves and strategic planning were areas of support that would help them improve; 45 per cent and 43 per cent noted that support in contingency planning and developing risk management frameworks, respectively, would be useful. These issues point to non-programmatic work that foundations may play a crucial role in supporting for promoting resilience.

Philanthropy in Emerging Economies

Significant Philanthropic Investment

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that 205 private philanthropic organisations gave $42.5 billion in philanthropy for development between 2016 and 2019. The sample included a large number (116) of organisations from emerging economies. In this period, middle-income countries received the most philanthropic funding (42 per cent) of the total, followed by lower middle-income countries (38 per cent), highlighting that emerging economies are major areas for philanthropic investment. Organisations based in emerging economies accounted for 19 per cent of total philanthropic giving for development, and many of these organisations give heavily domestically, with education as the largest sector for domestic philanthropy for development. Foundations in Colombia contribute about $100 million annually towards social programming, particularly education and small business, and large South African donors give about $76 million annually, much of it targeting education. With this large and growing role, the OECD sees domestic philanthropy in emerging economies as ‘the next frontier’ (OECD, 2021).

Pre-COVID, philanthropy appeared to be a growing sector in emerging economies, and existing philanthropic organisations in emerging economies tended to have tight geographic or thematic focus, often focused on vulnerable populations, and often implemented their own programming, some partnering with or funding local NGOs. Given these roles and, in some cases, their closeness to beneficiaries, philanthropic entities in emerging economies are well positioned to understand and collaboratively respond to challenges in their context; the philanthropic sector more broadly can learn from their knowledge and experience. In some of these contexts, funders are collaboratively working to make more data publicly available about the sector or governments are taking steps to mandate more reporting (OECD, 2021).

Traditional Approaches and Challenges

Many emerging economies have strong traditions of philanthropy in some form, but the modality and focus of giving has evolved over time, moving gradually towards strategic resilience in certain respects. Community aid and support for local social networks through individual giving have been long-standing practices, sometimes linked in part to religious traditions. Alongside these traditions, larger givers are innovating, becoming more collaborative, and placing growing focus on scale. In short, while lingering challenges from long-standing approaches can limit the focus on resilience in philanthropic giving, recent trends and opportunities also show signs of progress towards strategic resilience.

Ongoing Preference by Many Donors to Individual Giving

Community aid and support for local social networks through individual giving have been long-standing practices, sometimes linked in part to religious traditions. In India, for example, giving often takes the form of direct individual donations, rather than institutional philanthropic funding. For instance, crowdfunding – both before COVID and in the response to the devastating spike in infections that India faced – and other forms of online donations highlight how this direct style of giving allows for needs to be directly targeted by individual funders (sometimes to individual recipients). In line with this trend, more than two-thirds of respondents in a 2012 CAF report (cited in Hartnell, Reference Hartnell2017) said they would prefer to give to beneficiaries, while less than one third reported giving to charities. Similarly, in the Arab region, Muslims often give their mandatory annual contributions such as zakat (annual percentage of their wealth) directly to individuals who they have identified as needing financial support or through religious institutions. As such, this funding rarely targets systems-level challenges.

Hesitancy to Fund Issues Viewed as Challenging Social Norms or Politically Charged

Though there have been some promising shifts towards resilience in philanthropy, in many contexts there is reticence to fund politically contentious issues or causes that may challenge the status quo. For example, in the Arab region, since the Arab Spring, philanthropy appears to be shifting away from controversial issues, which may mean that key systems challenges remain unaddressed by the sector (Hartnell, Reference Hartnell2018). In Brazil, many donors, especially in the large corporate-giving sector, tend to focus on non-contentious issues such as public education, rather than other more controversial rights- or democracy-oriented causes. Even as social justice philanthropy has grown in recent years in Brazil, including with the formation of the Philanthropy Network for Social Justice in 2009, the current political climate has become strained and has limited social justice giving (Hartnell and Milner, Reference Hartnell and Milner2018).

Low Confidence by Philanthropic Entities in Investing in System Change, Due to Political Climate and Fragility

The political climate and fragility in many emerging economies have limited the interest of the philanthropic sector to invest in system-level change and therefore contribute to greater resilience. In the Middle East, where eight of the twenty-two Arab States are classified by the World Bank as fragile or conflict-affected, philanthropic entities do not view the government as a viable partner and are therefore often limited to working with NGOs to address the failure of governments to address issues systemically. Meanwhile, in Brazil, NGOs are not well trusted, which challenges the philanthropic sector and contributes in part to the prevalence of donors, the majority of which are corporate foundations, operating their own programmes rather than investing in strengthening civil society (Hartnell and Milner, Reference Hartnell and Milner2018).

Legal Frameworks Inhibit the Philanthropic Ecosystem from Becoming More Robust

Legislation and policy around philanthropic giving are not particularly favourable in many emerging economies. For instance, in Brazil, donations are taxed, which may discourage some philanthropic giving (Hartnell and Milner, Reference Hartnell and Milner2018). In the Middle East, too, legal restrictions limit the operations or innovation of philanthropic funders. Registering pooled funds is a challenging process, and more broadly, legal challenges with registration and operation mean that in some cases Arab philanthropists may operate their foundations from the United States or United Kingdom where laws are more supportive. These legal barriers point to the need for changing legal frameworks for philanthropic entities (Jalbout, Reference Jalbout2020).

Little Investment in Exploring New Innovative Solutions – the Sector Remains Largely Risk-averse

Broadly, many philanthropic givers remain more inclined to give to ‘safe’ causes than to invest in innovative new opportunities. Unlike governments, who need to be more cautious about investing public funds, philanthropists are well positioned to explore and support innovation, even if some degree of risk is involved. Such investments, though, have historically been limited. In the Middle East in particular, funders often lean towards supporting low-risk opportunities such as scholarships, university infrastructure, or humanitarian relief (Jalbout, Reference Jalbout2020).

New Trends and Opportunities

While these traditional approaches and ongoing challenges persist among many philanthropic actors, new trends and opportunities hold promise in helping philanthropy shift towards strategic resilience.

A Greater Use of Technology to Increase Funding and Deliver It More Efficiently

Technology has played a critical role in facilitating crowdfunding as part of India’s individual giving, as discussed in the section ‘Traditional Approaches and Challenges’. The COVID pandemic brought this sharply into focus. The Indian online crowdfunding platform Ketto raised over $55 million from 220,000 donors supporting over 4,000 fundraisers as part of its COVID relief, according to the fund website. Fundraisers were started by both individuals and NGOs. Around the world, crowdfunding platforms and other forms of online or phone-based giving strategies have enabled more and more direct giving to beneficiaries chosen by donors, whether they are individuals or larger organisations. This scope and scale of giving would not be possible without technology.

A Stronger Understanding of the Magnitude of the Challenges Facing Emerging Economies Coupled with a Search for More Scalable Solutions

Across emerging economy philanthropy, there is growing interest in scalability. This has been facilitated, too, by engagement in pooled funding and partnerships with governments, as will be discussed in the following sub-section. Among larger donors in India, including venture philanthropists and impact investors, interest is growing in scaling, measuring impact, and exploring new strategies for supporting social enterprise. There is also increased openness to pooled funding and accountability for investments. While large-scale programmes are still focused on service delivery rather than system change, this attention to scale and openness to new approaches may point to a gradual shift towards resilience, at least in the strategies foundations employ, if not in the types of projects they support (Hartnell, Reference Hartnell2017).

An Increase in Openness among Philanthropists to Adopt Collaborative Approaches and Pool Funds

Philanthropic collaboratives are also a promising, if nascent, trend in Indian philanthropy. As of 2020, they accounted for only 1 per cent of giving in India, and most have emerged from the early 2000s, but hold exciting potential for the philanthropic landscape in India. These collaboratives bring together multiple actors – potentially including funders, implementers, governments, and others – under a collective strategy and vision for impact and with shared funds, allowing them to work for large-scale impact, often with interest in scale, building up encouraging innovations, sharing knowledge and research, and influencing policy. While such collaboratives can face challenges in formation and execution, they mark a potentially meaningful shift – albeit at a small scale within the Indian philanthropic landscape – towards strategic resilience (Venkatachalam and Shah, Reference Venkatachalam and Shah2020). See the EdelGive Foundation case study (in the section ‘Investing in Sustainable Education Change: EdelGive Foundation in India’) for more discussion of the Collaborators for Transforming Education philanthropic collaborative, which brings together multiple funders, NGOs, and the Government of Maharashtra.

An Increase in Collaboration with Government

The Arab World also has strong philanthropic and charitable traditions, often with direct giving to support short-term challenges through local organisations or individuals, sometimes through religious institutions. Again, this community response helps individuals and responds to direct needs in the immediate term. Alongside this, social enterprise and impact investing are on the rise. With high rates of poverty or vulnerability to poverty – nearly two-thirds of the population of ten Arab countries are classified as poor or vulnerable (Khouri, Reference Khouri2019) – coupled with high youth unemployment and persistent refugee crises, there is growing recognition that governments may not be able to fulfil all community needs. In response, philanthropic institutions – including companies and high net-worth individuals (HNWIs) – play a bigger role. While high net-worth philanthropists in the region typically haven’t used high-impact strategies, there have been some promising trends pointing towards more large-scale activity. Partnerships between the state and the private sector or civil society appear to be on the rise (Hartnell, Reference Hartnell2018; Jalbout, Reference Jalbout2020). This trend suggests emerging elements of strategic resilience in the sector. As will be discussed in the section ‘Investing in Evidence to Inform Effective Education Systems: Community Jameel’, Community Jameel has supported large-scale, systems-oriented activities that require collaboration with government and civil society, highlighting optimistic trends within the region’s philanthropy landscape.

A Desire among a New Generation of Philanthropists to Make More Sustainable Investments

Social enterprises address unmet socio-economic needs through sustainable market-based solutions. Their approach can be attractive to philanthropic entities concerned with the long-term sustainability of their funding. It is not surprising, therefore, that there has been an increase in social enterprises in emerging economies. In the Arab region, social enterprises help tackle critical issues of youth unemployment among other social challenges, and some large funders have a growing interest in supporting social enterprises in scaling and sustaining their impact (Coutts, 2016).

While impact investing in the region remains nascent and venture philanthropy is relatively modest, both have large potential. For example, Alfanar, established in 2004, remains the only venture philanthropy organisation investing in social enterprises in the Arab region while Wamda is among the few entities publicly championing and investing in social enterprises. Both venture philanthropy and impact investing are expected to grow as more social enterprises are established and demonstrate the ability to scale. In Brazil, impact investing had $343 million in assets under management in 2018, according to a study by the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs in partnership with the Association for Private Capital Investment in Latin America. Financial inclusion is the top area of investment with education, health care, and environment figuring prominently (Hartnell and Milner, Reference Hartnell and Milner2018). Impact investing and venture philanthropy are also growing in India, where these strategies tend to target social enterprises in sectors such as agriculture and renewable energy (Hartnell, Reference Hartnell2017).

Three Examples of Philanthropic Organisations from Brazil, India, and Saudi Arabia Investing in Resilience

Education System Resilience: The Lemann Foundation in Brazil

The Lemann Foundation’s work in Brazil builds education system resilience by focusing not only on the student level but also on the quality and stability of the education system more broadly. Like many other foundations, the Lemann Foundation works at the individual level, aiming to improve student access in the immediate term. Beyond this work, the Foundation focuses on long-term policy reform and development, helping to build the resilience of the Brazilian education system. This work involves engaging with political and educational leaders to ensure that education system strengthening efforts are effective and relevant. It also includes generating commitment to education quality from key stakeholders and political leaders to ensure that reforms are effective and enduring.

The Lemann Foundation works closely with partners to build Brazil’s education ‘ecosystem’. In any philanthropic work, such partnerships are essential, and they are particularly important for the enduring systems-level change needed to build education system resilience. Such partnerships include those with organisations such as Nova Escola, which supports school managers and teachers, and the Reúna Institute, which supports implementation of the national standards.

Part of the Foundation’s work involves bridging disconnects between education policy and what happens in schools. As part of this, close collaboration with leaders at all levels has also been central to the Foundation’s efforts to build educational resilience, which links to the Foundation’s broader interest in building the next generation of Brazilian leaders across sectors. Two of the longest-running programmes funded by the Foundation – Formar and Educar pra Valer – show that schools involved in the programmes improve more quickly than similar schools and have outcomes that are above the national learning average. Both programmes help to implement education policies that improve learning or maintain strong learning results, with heavy reliance on partnership with regional leaders.

For instance, through the Formar programme, which has reached more than 840,000 students in 20 school districts, the Foundation, in partnership with education organisations, supports alignment between departments of education and schools. In particular, this work strengthens management, professional development, and communication. Similarly, the Partnership for Literacy via Collaboration (Parceria pela Alfabetização em Regime de Colaboração, PARC) programme, which builds on learning from the strategies that helped reform education in Ceará, provides a range of technical support to help states develop policies on education topics such as teachers, assessment, instructional resources, and incentives. The programme relies on collaboration with city governments. These programmes point to the ways in which building bridges between schools and policymakers can help foster education system resilience by promoting policies that support equitable and high-quality learning opportunities.

Critically, the Foundation has been active in supporting development of the country’s National Learning Standards (Base Nacional Comum Curricular, BNCC). These standards set out the curriculum – including lessons and competencies – that public school students should be receiving and developing throughout their schooling, bridging education policy and classroom practice. The standards were adopted by the federal government in 2017 and by the end of 2020, 74 per cent of Brazilian municipalities had approved the BNCC (2020 annual report).

The Lemann Foundation has worked on a range of digital efforts to strengthen the education system, including expanding internet access for millions of students, a critical avenue for learning continuity in the COVID era. According to the Foundation’s 2020 annual report, over 12 million students were impacted by distance learning initiatives and 27 institutions committed to supporting remote education. These efforts as a more immediate pandemic response have been coupled by digital education efforts that hold potential to build the education system’s resilience in the longer term. Surveys conducted by the Foundation revealed that almost three quarters of educators plan to incorporate more technology into their teaching after the pandemic than they did before COVID, though almost half do not believe their internet connection is sufficient and almost a third do not have internet in their schools, pointing to the need for support to connectivity and tech-supported education to facilitate education for all – including the most vulnerable – in the Brazilian system. In this way, the Foundation’s support to expanded internet access may also be valuable for building education resilience in the face of future shocks.

According to the Foundation, their support for expanded internet access and digital learning infrastructure has facilitated systems-level initiatives, including projects aligned with the BNCC. In collaboration with the Omidyar Network, for example, the Foundation conducted a survey to find digital-based opportunities to support BNCC implementation, and the two partnered to create an alliance, launched in April 2020, for entrepreneurs developing tech-enabled opportunities to support the implementation of the BNCC. The foundation also worked with to develop six thousand digital lesson plans for teachers to facilitate learning aligned with the BNCC.Footnote 3 The alignment across investments to ensure implementation of policy measures for effective teaching and learning demonstrates a commitment to system-level reform.

Investing in Sustainable Education Change: EdelGive Foundation in India

EdelGive Foundation supports grassroots NGOs that work with vulnerable communities in India. The Foundation’s theory of change, as shared in their 2020 annual report, sees ‘educated children, empowered women, and resilient communities’ as the foundation of inclusive society. As such, ‘[their] development, in-turn develops stronger, more sustainable, and inclusive nations’. The Foundation works for systemic change, with a model built around cross-sectoral partnerships and empowerment of grassroots leadership. These three goals – systemic change, strong partnerships, and development of grassroots leaders – align and lay crucial groundwork for the resilience that is built into the Foundation’s theory of change (EdelGive, 2021).

EdelGive began in 2008 disbursing small grants to implementing organisations across multiple states in India. The Foundation initially focused on education, livelihoods, and women’s empowerment, but, as their CEO explained, they increasingly saw that developing sources requires attention to the full ecosystem of social and human behaviour. With this recognition, the Foundation transitioned from a small funding organisation to a philanthropic asset-management foundation assisting institutional and individual givers in finding causes to fund. EdelGive currently supports about 200 NGOs across 20 states in India. Over the years, the Foundation has helped to facilitate about $70 million in commitments to their NGO partners. The Foundation holds a legacy of 150 capacity-building projects. EdelGive has also been awarded the National Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Award by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Government of India, for its work towards supporting education, women’s empowerment, and the livelihoods of vulnerable communities.

The Foundation recognises the need for sustained investment over a long period of time and invests in NGOs with innovative models that could grow exponentially. It takes an equity-driven approach to stakeholder engagement, recognising that not all stakeholder groups have equal power, but approaching them all as equally important. EdelGive also recognises that through their work, EdelGive’s investments (and the risks they take on in making those investments) benefit Indian society much more widely. And to ensure that change is sustainable, the Foundation and its partners provide NGOs with comprehensive support, not only through financial support but also through capacity-building and connections to other funding sources. This philosophy and approach point to a deep commitment to long-term resilience, recognising the need for a long-term lens on change, building up voices that often lack power in development and philanthropic conversations, and working for transformative change for society’s benefit.

EdelGive’s support to education reflects this interest in systems transformation. Working closely with the government, the Foundation has several strategies and initiatives to improve the education system. For instance, Collaborators for Transforming Education is an initiative that works to improve learning outcomes in Special Focus Districts in Maharashtra by implementing Pragat Shaikshanik Maharashtra (PSM), a state government initiative to strengthen education. The Collaborators is a public-private partnership with the Department of School Education and Sports, currently working in seven districts of Maharashtra with three non-profit organisations (NPOs), reaching over 1 million school children. Alongside improving education outcomes, Collaborators for Transforming Education builds system capacity and strengthens community engagement, with the intention of ensuring sustainability. The stakeholders involved in the project together identify and share practices to strengthen learning that can be incorporated into government systems. The project aims to cover all 36 districts of Maharashtra by 2026 to reach approximately 20 million students in 110,000 schools with about 760,000 teachers and over 10,000 civil servants. The Collaborators for Transforming Education was the first of the six collaboratives that EdelGive will be steering and or participating in in the coming years. Others focus on women, entrepreneurship, climate migration, and paying the true costs while supporting NGOs.

EdelGive’s education interventions have had wide reach: according to the 2021 annual report, the Foundation has supported more than 67,000 teachers and government officials in delivering quality education and has reached over 19 million children.

EdelGive’s newest initiative – the Grassroots, Resilience, Ownership and Wellness (GROW) Fund – is an initiative to build 100 grassroots organisations’ capacity and resilience. The Fund is a highly collaborative effort that has received funding from several other foundations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), MacArthur Foundation, ATE Chandra Foundation, and Rohini Nilekani Philanthropies. According to Naghma Mulla, EdelGive’s CEO, GROW Fund aims to build ‘empathetic structures of funding’, and its structure and approach highlight the growing need for blended approaches – in financing and in systems – to mitigate risks, especially in the wake of COVID (Lidji and Mulla, Reference Lidji and Mulla2021). While the GROW Fund is not specifically focused on education NGOs, this coalition-oriented approach to financing and systems strengthening demonstrates an understanding of resilience that is grounded in capacity-building and distributed risk to benefit the most marginalised. Almost 2,300 registrations were received from organisations across India through an open application process. After a four-month due diligence and selection process, the final cohort of 100 GROW organisations was announced in January 2022. The cohort is comprised of grassroots organisations from across the North, South, East, and West zones of India that work in nine social impact thematic areas.

This approach to building grassroots’ capacity without trying to dictate the organisations’ approaches points to EdelGive’s strategic resilience. The Foundation’s work and approach empowering grassroots NGOs is in contrast to the weak confidence in NGOs that often limits or undermines philanthropic efforts in India (Hartnell, Reference Hartnell2017). That said, the Foundation’s interest in collaborative philanthropy reflects another trend in India reported by Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace (PSJP): a growing interest in pooled funding for high-impact models that can be implemented at a large scale.

Investing in Evidence to Inform Effective Education Systems: Community Jameel

Following in the philanthropic tradition set by the late Abdul Latif Jameel more than seventy-five years ago, Community Jameel works to tackle education, health, and climate challenges through innovative and evidence-based approaches. Data and technology feature in much of the organisation’s work. Community Jameel is interested both in individual support and in systems strengthening. In education, these can take a range of forms, from scholarships at the individual level and pedagogical and technological innovations to strengthen education for the most vulnerable.

One of Community Jameel’s best-known support areas is the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), a research centre at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT) that aims to ‘reduce poverty by ensuring that policy is informed by scientific evidence’. The lab conducts randomised evaluations and works to promote evidence-based policy-making. The lab was founded in 2003 by MIT Professors Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, and Sendhil Mullainathan and named for the late Abdul Latif Jameel in 2005. It continues to receive support from Community Jameel. Since its inception, J-PAL has been a major force in poverty-reduction efforts. Its rigorous research has reshaped how governments and the development sector understand poverty and work to combat it.

J-PAL’s work in education has transformed the way governments and development providers approach education. The lab’s research on teacher training, pedagogy, school governance, incentives, and other key factors in education access and quality help policymakers incorporate rigorous research into decision-making.

J-PAL’s research has played a critical role in demonstrating the impact of the Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) approach, which aims to build foundational skills in primary students. The approach was developed by the Indian NGO Pratham and has since been used in a range of settings in India and Africa, in some cases as part of government interventions. J-PAL’s multiple evaluations of the approach over almost two decades have demonstrated its consistent ability to raise learning outcomes when effectively implemented, and through ongoing collaboration with Pratham, it has informed adaptations to the model to make it more effective. TaRL is regarded globally as one of the most promising approaches to raising foundational learning, and particularly in the COVID era, when governments and other providers have been attuned to the foundational learning gaps that emerged during school closures, has been seen by governments and nongovernmental actors as a potentially transformative approach. J-PAL’s rigorous evaluations of TaRL have been instrumental not only in strengthening the model but in making the case for its adoption in a wide range of contexts. J-PAL’s work on TaRL is one of many examples of the ways in which the lab’s rigorous education research has had profound impacts on education policy and practice in developing country contexts.

J-PAL’s work offers a powerful example of how Community Jameel invests in resilience in emerging economies. Evidence-based policy-making is essential for systems effectiveness and resilience, including (perhaps especially) in education. Rigorous evidence on what works in education can guide policymakers towards decisions that build education system capacity, quality, and equity in the short and long term. Community Jameel’s support for rigorous research – and, critically, for building bridges between researchers and policymakers – demonstrates interest in promoting system sustainability and effectiveness through effective policy-making. Investing in evidence gives community leaders, policymakers, and grassroots organisations tools for understanding what works without prescribing specific strategies to address them. This commitment and strategy puts Community Jameel at the forefront of a shift in current Middle East philanthropy: in a region that has historically been characterised by short-term, individually focused, giving, funders are gradually shifting towards more strategic long-term activities (Coutts, 2016; Hartnell, Reference Hartnell2018).


Philanthropy in emerging economies, like most philanthropic giving globally, is not contributing to building resilience with the depth and at the pace that is needed. The COVID pandemic has underscored the fragility of current systems as it threatens to reverse hard-won socio-economic progress over the past two decades by pulling millions of people back into poverty, locking children out of school, and holding women back from achieving equality. The case for investing in greater stability to protect communities, particularly the most vulnerable, is clear.

Philanthropic entities in emerging economies must actively move away from focusing on funding individuals to supporting networks of organisations by strengthening their capacity to respond to crises through more flexible funding and building their long-term financial sustainability. Utilising technology more effectively, investing in social enterprises, and adopting more innovative financial instruments, including impact investing and venture philanthropy, are proving to be credible opportunities.

The challenges facing philanthropic entities in emerging economies are not insignificant. Fear of political reprisals, government weaknesses, fragile states, and limiting legal frameworks are hurdles to investing in systems but they are not insurmountable. As demonstrated by three large foundations from India, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia, philanthropic leaders can take decisive action towards strengthening the resilience of emerging economies by not shying away from longer-term investments such as education, by investing in scalable solutions, by pooling resources with other philanthropic entities, and by critically working with governments.


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Candid and CDP (Center for Disaster Philanthropy). 2021a. Measuring the State of Disaster Philanthropy: Data to Drive Decisions. Scholar
Candid and CDP (Center for Disaster Philanthropy). 2021b. Philanthropy and COVID-19: Measuring One Year of Giving. Scholar
Futshane, V. 2021. Recovering from COVID-19 and Inequality: The Experience of South Africa. Paper prepared for the United Nations Virtual Inter-Agency Expert Group Meeting on Implementation of the Third United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (2018–2027). Scholar
Hartnell, C. 2017. Philanthropy in India: A Working Paper. Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace. Scholar
Hartnell, C. 2018. Philanthropy in the Arab World: A Working Paper. Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace. Scholar
Hartnell, C., and Milner, A. 2018 Philanthropy in Brazil: A Working Paper. Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace. Scholar
Jalbout, M. 2020. Governments Simply Cannot Do It Alone: How Philanthropy Can Drive Development in the Arab World. Dubai Policy Review, 2. Scholar
Khouri, R. G. 2019. How Poverty and Inequality Are Devastating the Middle East. Carnegie Corporation of New York. Scholar
Layode, M., Schwier, J., Hayi-Charters, S., Holland, M., and Andrian, S. 2021. Disparities in Funding for African NGOs: Unlocking Philanthropy for African NGOs as a Pathway to Greater Impact. African Philanthropy Forum and the Bridgespan Group. Scholar
Lopez-Acevedo, G., and Hoogeveen, J. 2021. COVID-19 Sets MENA Back on Poverty. World Bank Group Blog, 20 December. Scholar
Lidji, A., and Mulla, N. 2021. Naghma Mulla, CEO of the EdelGive Foundation, Talks about Philanthropy in India and Their New GROW Fund – Supporting 100 NGOs in India and Backed by the Likes of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Do One Better! Podcast – Philanthropy, Sustainability and Social Entrepreneurship, 13 December. Scholar
Lynn, J., Nolan, C., and Waring, P. 2021. Strategy Resilience: Getting Wise about Philanthropic Strategy in a Post-Pandemic World. The Foundation Review, 13(2), 5263. Scholar
McGeever, J. 2021. Millions in Brazil Thrown Back into Poverty as Pandemic Aid Dries Up. Reuters, 26 March. Scholar
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Figure 0

Table 7.1 Dimensions of resilience in philanthropy

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