June 5, 2024

Collaborative Funds in the Global South Deliver Outsized Impact but Are Underutilized, According to Bridgespan Research

Sixty-six percent of funds surveyed directed less than $5 million in 2021 and could absorb far more funding.

BOSTON, MA—June 5, 2024—Philanthropic collaborative funds working in the Global South deliver outsized social impact but remain underutilized in global philanthropy, according to new research published today by The Bridgespan Group. The study also highlights that these funds are experts in channeling resources to “proximate” leaders—those with lived experience and local knowledge—and to local communities.

“Collaborative funds unlock the ability for funders to connect to organizations closest to the work, to get a pulse of what's happening on the ground level, and to achieve targeted, sustainable impact,” said Sonali Patel, Bridgespan partner and co-author of the study. “Funds working in the Global South can be an incredibly powerful vehicle in a funder’s global grantmaking portfolio, particularly funders moving into a new issue area or geography.”

As part of its research, Bridgespan analyzed nearly 40 philanthropic collaborative funds working in the Global South. More than 80 percent said that at least three out of every four of their grantees in 2021 are led by individuals who are representative of the communities they serve. That is particularly striking in comparison to US foundations’ global grant dollars, where only 13 percent directly support organizations in the countries where they are based, according to the Council on Foundations and Candid.

The research found three ways collaborative funds in the Global South stand out:

  • The funds are efficient ways of supporting donors with navigating due diligence, logistics, and risk. These funds often have deep relationships with local actors and have vetted the networks—an advantage for donors with lean teams who are eager to build issue-based or geographic knowledge efficiently.
  • Funds are effective because they are often proximate to communities and build capacity. There’s power in proximity and trusting those closest to the problem to design and implement the solutions that maximize impact. Many funds working in the Global South anchor their approach, from sourcing to diligence and decision-making, in principles of trust-based philanthropy. The vast majority of funds also offer critical support aimed at building stronger, more resilient organizations, and strengthening the larger ecosystem.
  • The funds engage donors in a learning journey. These funds give donors access to specialized issue-area knowledge and locally rooted expertise.

The number of collaborative funds—entities that strategically channel financial resources from multiple donors to nonprofits and community-based organizations—working in the Global South has grown to at least 175, according to Bridgespan’s analysis. Of the approximately 70 collaborative funds working in the Global South that participated in the Bridgespan survey, most have remained relatively small in scale: 66 percent of funds directed less than $5 million in 2021 but said they could absorb far more funding. These funds’ most prevalent focus area is gender equality, followed by environmental justice and climate change. Not all the funds in Bridgespan’s analysis are based in the Global South, but they all work there.

“Our report highlights not only the unique value proposition of collaborative funds in the Global South but also offers resources and practical next steps for funders to unlock their full philanthropic potential,” said Bridgespan partner Alexandra Hughes Browne, who co-authored the report. “We hope philanthropists will consider how they might advance their priorities through these funds.”

Read the full report at https://www.bridgespan.org/insights/want-to-fund-in-the-global-south-philanthropic-collaboratives-can-help.


About The Bridgespan Group

The Bridgespan Group (www.bridgespan.org) is a global nonprofit that collaborates with social change organizations, philanthropists, and impact investors to make the world more equitable and just. Bridgespan’s services include strategy consulting and advising, sourcing and diligence, and leadership team support. We take what we learn from this work and build on it with original research, identifying best practices and innovative ideas to share with the social sector. We work from locations in Boston, Johannesburg, Mumbai, New York, San Francisco, Singapore, and Washington, DC.

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The Bridgespan Group would like to thank the JPB Foundation for its generous and ongoing support of our knowledge creation and sharing work.