Skip to navigationSkip to content

Five things we learned in 2015 about the future of philanthropy

Reuters/Eric Gaillard
A migrant prays at sunrise on the rocks of the seawall at the Saint Ludovic border crossing on the Mediterranean Sea between Vintimille and Menton
  • Robert Harrison
By Robert Harrison

CEO, Clinton Global Initiative

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Philanthropy isn’t what it was 50 years ago. In fact, the sector isn’t even what it was last year. From the emergence of Silicon Valley philanthropy, to the growing influence of millennials as social entrepreneurs, to new adventures in virtual reality — 2015 took philanthropy on a ride that captured headlines and our imagination.

But this new world of philanthropy wasn’t built overnight. Ever since the Clinton Global Initiative was founded as an experiment in 2005, we have seen firsthand how bringing together the world’s top business, government, and civil society leaders could help address the great challenges of the 21st century. A decade—and by our count, more than 430 million improved lives—later, CGI members are helping shape modern philanthropy. Here are some of the lessons we took to heart in 2015:

  1. Work together across sectors

Whether partnering to transform parental leave in corporate America or to improve the livelihoods of over 300,000 smallholder farmers, some of the world’s most influential organizations spent 2015 making an even bigger impact by working with others.

Today, cross-sector collaboration seems like common sense. But in philanthropy, this approach is still emerging. An analysis of more than 2,800 commitments made by CGI members since 2005 revealed several lessons. For one, the review found that working together is more effective at achieving stated objectives than addressing global challenges independently. It also demonstrated that partnerships between the private sector and NGOs are increasing in frequency over time, presumably because their effectiveness is becoming increasingly evident.

We expect even more collaboration among governments, companies and civil society in the year ahead.

  1. Make inclusion matter

Inequality renders our planet not only less just, but also less safe. In fact, economic disparities impair a nation’s ability to withstand security, climate, and social threats, according to a report released in June.

Many influencers doubled down in 2015 on their efforts to create more inclusive communities. The Ford Foundation, in particular, sent ripples throughout philanthropy when it enhanced its commitment to eradicate inequality in its many forms. Meanwhile, organizations like the Brunswick Group and the Human Rights Campaign worked with Standard Chartered Bank, AT&T, Google, Microsoft, CA Technologies, Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, MasterCard, and others to launch projects that will increase inclusion for LGBT employees globally. Others, like Danone and Gap, will help advance economic inclusion for women and families here in the United States and across the developing world.

We believe philanthropy in 2016 must continue to search for new ways to bring people in from the margins.

  1. Inspire impact with technology

It seems hard to believe today, but neither Twitter nor the iPhone existed 10 years ago. Social media, smart phones, and tablets have since ushered in an era of crowdfunding, micro-philanthropy, and other approaches that are revolutionizing how people can make social impact.

In 2015, virtual reality emerged as a serious contender for the next big thing in philanthropy. Organizations such as Toms, Amnesty International, and even the United Nations have employed the technology to inspire empathy and, ultimately, action. In September, CGI became part of the vanguard when it premiered a virtual reality film, “Inside Impact: East Africa,” at its 10th Anniversary Annual Meeting. The eight-minute film allows people anywhere to join Bill and Chelsea Clinton on their trip to Africa to see how Commitments to Action made by CGI members are changing lives in communities otherwise inaccessible to most.

In 2016, we expect virtual reality to explode as a tool for social and environmental impact.

  1. Empower millennials to take the lead

Seventy-five percent of millennials believe businesses are focused on their own agendas rather than helping to improve society–reflecting a key focus of millennials on “people and purpose,” according to a recent survey. CGI University (CGI U) convenes more than 1,000 of these young people every year to address some of the most pressing challenges facing the world. In March, college students from more than 80 countries gathered at the University of Miami and focused their efforts on issues ranging from climate change to Islamophobia.

Social entrepreneurship was a popular vehicle for student-led solutions, a trend that we expect to continue in the coming year.

  1. Challenge others to raise the bar

As we closed our 10th anniversary year, CGI partnered with GOOD Magazine to ask what the future of impact means. We received responses from 47 countries, and yet a consensus emerged on what people around the world hope to achieve in the next decade: protection of our environment, increasing opportunity and access to education, helping others lift themselves out of poverty, and promoting greater equality, tolerance, and inclusion. These ambitious goals serve as a call for those of us in the trenches of philanthropy to dig deeper and raise the bar. Creating a safer, more prosperous, and more equal world will require a renewed effort to work more strategically—and together—in the New Year.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.