grantmakers without borders Skip to Content Global Social Change Philanthropy
site map  

home page about Gw/oB Gw/oB programs Gw/oB membership global social change philanthropy knowledge center advocacy action center advice for grantmakers advice for grantseekers critical issues news events jobs contact us

Global Social Change Philanthropy

The concept of social change is core to Grantmakers Without Borders’ identity as an advocate for the disempowered. Yet within civil society, “social change” has come to mean many different things to many different people—especially when one observes the vast range of contexts in which civil society operates globally.

What exactly does Grantmakers Without Borders mean then by “global social change philanthropy”? Is it simply grantmaking that engenders “social change,” however one chooses to define that term, or is there something more to it?

For Grantmakers Without Borders, “social change philanthropy” refers to a specific set of goals, strategies, practices, and values that grantmakers employ in their work.

With that premise as a starting point, Gw/oB is engaged in an exploration, in dialogue with grantmakers, activists, academics and others, to succinctly articulate just what these goals, strategies, practices and values are.

Though our exploration is ongoing, Gw/oB can now affirm that there are several key elements that must be present for philanthropy to be considered “social change”.

Above all else, social change philanthropy is grantmaking rooted in the ideals of justice, equity, peace, democracy, and respect for the natural environment.

Pulling out a few of these concepts and phrasing them another way, grantmaking that does not engender equity cannot be considered “social change philanthropy”. Grantmaking to projects that do grave harm to the environment cannot be considered “social change”.

In addition, Gw/oB maintains that social change philanthropy

Is based upon a critical analysis of political, economic, and social systems as a starting point for determining strategy

Seeks to address fundamental causes of social ills
and bring about systemic change;

Values and respects the wisdom and experience of local communities
in all their diversity, and affirms their power to unite and build social movements for change;

Serves those most acutely affected by injustice: low-income communities, women, children, Indigenous peoples, sexual minorities, and other traditionally marginalized groups;

Seeks to give voice to the unheard, and power to the powerless

Employs grantmaking practices that are accountable, transparent and inclusive
and which are highly responsive to the cultures, capacities and aspirations of grantees
back to top

Grantmakers Without Borders offers a place to discuss, share and explore the goals and practical steps of global social change philanthropy. We invite you to share your ideas and experiences with us in this ongoing exploration.

Development at the Grassroots

Building Organizational Capacity


Resources for Global Social Change Philanthropy

A critical issue regarding the meaning of social change is the context in which the work takes place. For many activists in the US, for example, “social change” work refers almost exclusively to community organizing and related activities. Social services are almost never in the mix. However, in the developing world, and especially in the global South, one finds a much broader range of activities falling under the rubric of “social change”.

This differential stems from the very different contexts in which social change advocates are working in the global South: More than a billion people in the global South earn less than a dollar a day. Some 30,000 children there die every day of hunger and malnutrition-related disease. Hundreds of millions of school-aged children in the global South have no access to education.

Living truly on the edge, struggling every day for basic survival, the world’s poorest communities first and foremost must meet their own basic needs before they can even think about participating in broader social movements seeking systemic change.

In the context of the global South, then, successful social change advocates must think about their work somewhat differently than in the US. In the global South, community organizing is not likely to succeed when it is not in some way coupled with efforts that address the urgent needs of people’s daily lives. On the other hand, if programs fail to articulate poverty in the context of structural issues, and if there is no effort made to organize grassroots communities to fight for their own well being, then the best that can likely be hoped for is poverty alleviation, not poverty eradication.

An excellent example of this coupling of strategies is the Peasant Movement of Papaye (MPP), Haiti’s largest peasant movement. The MPP carries out a wide range of economic development projects, including reforestation, Creole pig repopulation, and agricultural development. At the same time, as peasants are organized to join these projects, they also participate in popular education programs that explore structural issues such as US foreign policy in Haiti, economic globalization, and other important political, economic and social realities. It is in large part because of this coupling of community organizing and popular education efforts with “tools and seeds” development that the MPP has become Haiti’s largest and most successful peasant movements.
back to top

Global Social Change Philanthropy - Development at the Grassroots - Building Organizational Capacity - Resources - Advocacy

Grantmakers Without Borders   PO Box 181282   Boston, MA 02118
Phone 617.794.2253           Fax 617.266.0497
Copyright © 1998-2008. All rights reserved.
For more information contact us at
Please report any problems with this site to the webmaven