Philanthropy and the private sector

June 2019, Wasan Island,
Muskoka Lake, Canada

The philanthropic and private sectors are indelibly linked as wealth accrual through business is the source of many private and corporate endowments. Today, these sectors have roles both exacerbating and redressing pressing social and environmental problems. So, as businesses engage with more purpose-led activities, how can philanthropy understand its role and partner better with the private sector to maximise social impact? Their relationship needs more attention.

About the retreat

We convened 16 philanthropic leaders whose work spans business and philanthropy. They came from across the globe for a 3 day practice-led retreat exploring the relationship, tensions and opportunities between philanthropy and the private sector in advancing social innovation and systems change.

We explored:

  • Why do the philanthropic and private sectors collaborate?
  • What are some of the pitfalls of philanthropic work and the private sector working together?
  • What are the conditions, skills and capacities needed for the philanthropic and private sectors to meet on the common ground of transparent purpose and action?

Insights and learning

We produced a report highlighting the learning from the retreat. The report is intended to help funders focus on the role philanthropy can play in addressing problems at their root — where alignment, building relationships and collaboration are crucial and where funders must consider their position.

Participants named a lack of trust — and at times active distrust — between those working in the philanthropic and private sectors, based on a perceived tension between values around language and culture, lack of sharing of knowledge and skills. We need a new language for public value that goes beyond profit generation, and to help funders take on new roles: funding the ecosystem and supporting infrastructure for systems change; seeing their role as a multiplier of successful solutions; or supporting learning both ways across sectors; sharing examples and best practice of philanthropic-private sector partnerships.