South Africa has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world. But 20 years after its adoption, only 48 percent of its population is satisfied with the way South African democracy works. Atlantic Philanthropies, the Open Society Foundations, and the Ford Foundation have—combined—over 100 years of experience working in South Africa, both before and after the end of apartheid. The funders have together committed $25 million to help ensure South African citizens can live into the full promise of their constitution’s words.
Successful collaborative efforts require partners to be aligned on goals as well as key strategic elements. The Atlantic Philanthropies, which will make its last grant commitments by the end of 2016, sought to “complete its grantmaking in a way that it could sustain” its work, claims Martin O’Brien, former Senior Vice President of Programs at Atlantic. In South Africa, Atlantic had for years invested in constitutionalism and in particular the promotion of “rights and greater equality for those most afflicted by the apartheid regime.” Given that the Ford Foundation and Open Society have ongoing funding in South Africa, and that the three foundations have several shared grantees in the country, Atlantic CEO Christopher Oechsli reached out to see if they would be interested in collaborating. They were, and their shared experience in South Africa enabled their agreement on a core commitment for the collaboration: that highly-respected South Africans would wield the decision-making for the Constitutionalism Fund. The Fund established an independent selection panel chaired by former Constitutional Court Justice Yvonne Mokgoro. Open Society has taken on management of the fund’s resources.
Other funders should be encouraged by this gift. Perhaps the largest barrier to making big bets is limited resources. Joint efforts, such as this, are a clear example of how collaborative, committed individuals can pool capital to enable transformative change. Additionally, joint efforts can leverage non-financial resources as well, combining experience, expertise, and capabilities in a way that empowers recipients to achieve what may seem like otherwise impossible change.
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