Building Bridges Across Sectors (Foundation Building Best Practice Study Excerpt)

This section returns to the issue of the leading role foundations can play in building bridges between civil society, government and the business sector. Some of the experiences described influenced national policy while others produced impact at the local level.

  • Example 1: Enhancing Individual and Corporate Social Responsibility
    Esquel Ecuador Foundation
  • Example 2: A Multi-Sectoral Commission to Reform Middle School Education
    Puerto Rico Community Foundation
  • Example 3: Fostering Partnerships for the Environment
    Foundation for the Philippine Environment
  • Example 4: Exercising a Leadership Role in Partnership Building
    Children and Youth Foundation of the Philippines

What Roles Can Foundations Play in Building Bridges Across Sectors?

   Summary Points

  • Foundations can play a key role in building collaboration between civil society organizations and governments. This can take place at both the national and local levels. The collaboration brings multiple benefits. First it serves to bring innovative ideas and skills into government agencies in both the design of social policy and the delivery of services to the public. Second it enables civil society organizations to access information and resources that increase their effectiveness. Third it ensures that both public and private institutions are working together towards common goals avoiding duplication of effort and ensuring maximum impact.
  • Foundations, particularly corporate foundations, are well placed to facilitate cooperation between civil society organizations (CSOs) and the business sector. Such cooperation can benefit civil society by bringing in additional skills and resources in areas such as financial administration, credit management and marketing. The business sector for its part benefits from the advice of the CSOs in strengthening the impact of their programs at the community level.
  • Board membership can be a critical factor in facilitating the building of partnerships with other sectors. Those foundations that have leading representatives of different sectors on their boards are at an advantage when building collaboration and partnerships between sectors. They can draw on a wide array of personal networks to open up opportunities and build trust and confidence.

Foundations can play an important role in creating opportunities for civil society organizations to improve their communications with government and the private sector and work together on common agendas. Two common ways they build bridges between sectors are:

  • Convening people working on similar issues both within and across sectors by sponsoring meetings, workshops, working groups and other fora
  • Building partnerships -- relationships between individuals or groups around cooperation and responsibility to achieve a mutual goal -- that will result in a greater impact against a social or economic goal.

Building Bridges Between Civil Society and Government

In most of the cases in this section, the foundations sought to bring government agencies at the local and national level into communication with organizations from civil society. As in many instances, government and civil society are both trying to deal with some of the same social and economic issues; collaboration can bring new ideas and proposals into the policy arena and can empower civil society organizations with new information and resources. Both sides benefit in the long run.

The Examples of the two Philippine foundations show that foundations can play a role in getting independent civil society organizations a seat at the table. Some elements that facilitated their role in building bridges to government were:

  • Good contacts with key influential officials who have an expressed interest in collaboration with civil society
  • Programmatic flexibility to take advantage of opportunities when they arise
  • A track record of accomplishments in tackling social issues
  • Resources to invest in processes that involve risks and may take considerable time to bear results

Building Bridges Between Civil Society and Business

Experience shows foundations can play a critical role in reaching out to the private sector and enabling businesses and entrepreneurs to play a more effective role in tackling pressing social issues. Foundations, like the Philippine Business for Social Progress, that were created by the business sector have an advantage, of course. Other foundations without business origins face a bigger challenge in developing partnerships with that sector.

The experience of three non-corporate foundations -- Esquel Ecuador Foundation (FEE), Puerto Rico Community Foundation (PRCF) and Foundation for the Philippine Environment (FPE) -- that have engaged the corporate sector in partnerships is discussed in this section. Another case is the Children and Youth Foundation of the Philippines (CYFP), which has promoted partnerships around the needs of children and youth at both the national and local levels.

These Examples show that bridges between sectors were built at many levels where they did not previously exist. These connections, in turn, leverage new resources, create new policy initiatives, and improve the sharing of information and skills. Foundations are able to take risks where other institutions, particularly government institutions, may be more constrained. The building of partnerships requires foundations' best efforts to facilitate shared objectives and purpose.