Philanthropy needs a new paradigm. Chinwe Effiong, GlobalGiving’s Chief Program Officer, explains how prevailing frameworks undermine equitable international development and what must be done to shift the paradigm.

A paradigm is a basic framework of assumptions, principals, and methods from which members of a community work. Paradigms are meant to shift as new knowledge emerges, but, unfortunately, this is not always the case. Some paradigms die hard.

Paradigms often become deeply ingrained in society, shaping perceptions, policies, and practices. Flawed paradigms can lead to biases like sexism, racism, neoliberalism, and climate inaction, to mention a few. Interestingly, behind each persistent paradigm is a vested interest by someone, or group of people, to maintain the status quo.

International development literature is replete with old paradigms that continue to dominate development thinking and practice, in spite of their failure to explain new realities. I came face-to-face with one at a conference in Sub-Saharan Africa.

During one of the sessions, attendants were asked to rank their sense of power—0 reflecting complete powerlessness and 10 complete confidence in one’s agency and ability to influence decisions. Most Global North attendants ranked themselves between 9 and 10, while most Global South attendants ranked themselves between 0 and 5.

Seven years ago, the Shift the Power movement was launched by Global Fund for Community Foundations at a conference in Johannesburg. It started as a hashtag to promote the event. Today, a Google search of the phrase yields 1.5 billion results in a matter of seconds. Understandably so. The underpinning concept embodied in the hashtag—that sustainable development cannot be achieved until decision making power is “shifted” to actors in the Global South—is compelling. However, the implied modality for attaining this new decision-making ethos is flawed. Why? Power and perceptions of power, and powerlessness, are deeply entrenched in the history, culture, and identity of a people, and not easily relinquished. Relinquishing power requires the dismantling of entrenched structures and systems, belief patterns, and perceptions of self and others.

  • Power is not one dimensional. As the Shift the Power Manifesto states, we must “expand our horizons beyond money as the central driver of change and place value on other kinds of infinite non-financial assets and resources.”
  • Power is never linear. Power does not move from one location where it is predominant (the Global North) to another location where it is absent (the Global South).
  • Effective power is power used equitably. The data shared above does not obscure the reality that actors in the Global North still dominate access to philanthropic funds.

Read the full article about paradigm and power shift in philanthropy by Chinwe Effiong at GlobalGiving.