I recently took part in a panel on philanthropy and education during the annual conference of the Comparative and International Education Society in Mexico City (CIES 2018), Re-Mapping Global Education: South-North Dialogue. The panel focused on the interplay at both policy and delivery level between the public sector and the philanthropic one. Funding to higher education is dependent on both national and global shifts in the grantors’ country, and in the receptiveness of African governments and institutions to the modalities of private funding. Neo-liberal trends influencing foundations have promoted the notion of the knowledge economy, which sees higher education as crucial for economic growth.
The panel was chaired by Natasha Ridge, representing the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research. The discussant was Arushi Terway, representing NORRAG. The panelists included Clara Fontdevila, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona; Antoni Verger, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona; Marina Avelar, UCL Institute of Education, who presented the paper Policy-influence as a core business: Exploring the strategies of the Philanthropic sector in the promotion of education reform. Noah D. Drezner, Teachers College, Columbia University presented Reclaiming the public good: Individual philanthropy giving towards higher education in a neoliberal world. Prachi Srivastava, Western University / University of Ottawa; Robyn Read, Western University presented Mapping private foundation and impact investors in Asia: Financing flows, target geographies, and priorities in education.
Proudly representing Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme in Paris, which has offered me a research fellowship and has published my latest book, Partenaires inégaux, I presented a paper entitled Reconsidering development: Rethinking the relationship between American foundations and universities in Africa. This paper offered a nuanced analysis of U.S. foundations committed to strengthening capacity in higher education in Africa. It examined the relationship between foundations and universities in nine African nations as both dynamic and complex when it operates within the context of international cooperation and the Sustainable Development Goals.
The research, which was developed and presented during this panel, is part of a series of symposia beginning in November 2017 (read A New Forum to Discuss Empirical Research on Philanthropy and Education) and continuing through May 2019 in partnership with NORRAG, the Al Qasimi Foundation, and Open Society Foundations. It aims to map global philanthropic activity, critically examines key issues around the role and impact of philanthropy directly or indirectly on the right to education, and provides case examples of good practice. As the panel organizers Arushi Terway and Natasha Ridge put it:
Contemporary philanthropy frequently aims not only to directly finance activities or institutions but also to influence overall education agendas by knowledge generation, networking and policy formulation. Furthermore, some non-profits structured as philanthropies are blurring the lines between capitalism and charity by impact investment and other forms of income generation. Philanthropists’ aims to innovate and incubate are high. They are also free of the need to demonstrate scalability, long-term impact or to consider unintended consequences beyond their realm of interests. Democratic oversight can be weak, and in some cases long-term commitment to stay a course of action is absent. Even when demand is not evident, public authorities can be reluctant to challenge potential benefactors. Many strong foundations address these issues frankly, but a considerable portion of private spending on education is done with little or no public oversight.
I also took part in a panel entitled Multiple Perspectives of Professional Development on the African Continent organized by the Africa Special Interest Group at CIES. I was able to talk about my book Unequal partners: American foundations and higher education development in Africa which is prefaced by Vartan Gregorian, President of Carnegie Corporation of New York. Thanks to Vartan and to Carnegie’s support I was able to participate in this conference. I am grateful for that.
Finally I participated in a round-table on Language Rights, Policy, and Activism alongside with Caroline Locher-Lo, University of British Columbia, and Zehlia Babaci-Wilhite, UC-Berkeley. I was able to present how parents and educators create dual language education programs from the bottom up in the American school system, a movement that I documented in my book The Bilingual Revolution, The Future of Education is in Two Languages (TBR Books, 2017).