Supporting Countries in Transition: A Framework Guide for Foundation Engagement

Published: October 2013

This guide contains three main sections. The first section offers an overview and conceptual frame for understanding contemporary national transitions that face familiar challenges but also new global complications. As used here, the term 'transition' refers to the opening created by the formal end of an authoritarian regime or armed conflict in which new possibilities for transformative political, economic and socio-cultural change become possible. The focus is particularly on the earliest period of such a transition, when events unfold most quickly, and multiple paths are open to achieve important structural advances in democratic participation, economic reform, rule of law and human security.

The second section explores the comparative advantages and limitations of private foundations in relation to the larger aid sector operating in transitional contexts. Lessons learned from private foundations involved over many years in cross-border grantmaking receive special attention. Because local philanthropy also plays an important role during transitions -- and helps sustain support over the long run -- consideration is given to how international and local foundations can work effectively together in transitional environments.

The third section presents informed risk-taking as a logical and practical framework to help foundations achieve disproportionate positive outcomes through the programmes they undertake in particular transitions. Drawing on the sector's collective wisdom following decades of global experience in transitional settings, as well as aspects of the broader aid industry experience, it gives actionable guidance on the strategic questions and considerations that can help foundations to put the principle of informed risk-taking into practice.

Key Findings

  • Given their comparative flexibility and speed, private foundations can make targeted interventions with relatively small amounts of money that can result in potentially large rewards. They can marshal seasoned talent and diverse in-house expertise in responding to transitional challenges. With their relative independence and legitimacy, foundations also have more latitude to be experimental and catalytic in their funding priorities.
  • 'Failed' philanthropic interventions in past transitions in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Guatemala and Somalia have led some to a wait-and-see approach rather than a proactive one.
  • The creation of a donor network or affinity group focused specifically on post-authoritarian and post-conflict transitions could be a further step.
  • With a few practical steps, the sector could set itself a more focused agenda in order to leverage its natural advantages and better respond to these unique historical openings. In so doing, foundations might profoundly assist these societies as they seek to establish the political, economic and social conditions to prevent a relapse into mass violence or repression.

Populations Women

Industries Business, Finance

Publishers Institute for Integrated Transitions, John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement at The American Univerity in Cairo