Human Wellbeing in the 21st Century: Meeting Challenges, Seizing Opportunities (2012)

September 2012
Bellagio Initiative

This report makes a number of key recommendations to philanthropic and development organisations. They are:

  • Build new development theories, through work with people on the ground, that have global-ownership and are environmentally and politically sustainable.
  • Recognise the role of politics and get involved in this aspect of current development debates. This will require listening to marginal people, utilizing new resources, and rediscovering philanthropy’s advocacy role.
  • Measure development differently, using human-centred indicators of development to better capture what really matters in people’s lives.
  • Invest in innovation. Develop better systems to collaboratively identify and expand pro-wellbeing innovations. In particular, philanthropic organisations should explore ways to be less risk-averse.
  • Involve and empower global citizens: Global development efforts need to be democratized and draw on the skills, creativity and aspirations of a wider group of people, giving greater voice to marginal groups such as youth, women, and migrants. This will require development organisations to be more transparent and to empower citizens to hold them to account.

The report says philanthropists must help tackle the corrosive loss of trust in organisations charged with protecting and promoting human wellbeing, such as government agencies, regulatory authorities and NGOs.

Professor Allister McGregor, research fellow at the Institute of Development Studies and director of the Bellagio Initiative said: “One clear message to come out of this global consultation is that communities no longer trust governments, aid agencies, charities and regulators’ abilities to promote better governance systems.”

McGregor said: “The Bellagio Initiative brought together voices rarely heard in global forums and demonstrated the need for new ways of thinking about what development is and should be."

The foundations for a new theory of development are well established in the work of Nobel prize winning economist Amartya Sen, the report says. His work on the capabilities approach, with others such as philosopher Martha Nussbaum, has been highly influential. The report says: there is a need to make this sometimes high-level conceptual work more relevant and more widely accessible.”

The report recommends that more inclusivity, connectedness and greater levels of transparency and accountability are needed from philanthropic organisations and development agencies if trust is to be rebuilt with communities. Failure to do so, it warns, will make it impossible to tackle development challenges worldwide.

Another recurring theme in the report is the risk-averse nature of many private foundations and development organisations. Bellagio discussants agreed that many development agencies and philanthropic organisations tend to be inhibited by narrow evaluation approaches, limited time horizons for projects and a pressure to be seen not to fail. The report says: "The status quo is unsustainable. If the collective international development effort is to be more effective in protecting human wellbeing in the 21st century, then someone, somewhere in this complex and evolving ecosystem has to risk changing what they currently do.”

Human Wellbeing in the 21st Century is the culmination of a project that involved meetings, specially commissioned papers and a high-level two-week summit.  The initiative heard from a diverse group including policymakers, academics, opinion leaders, social entrepreneurs, activists, indigenous peoples and donors from over 30 countries. The project was led by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), the Resource Alliance and the Rockefeller Foundation.

This report is tagged under:

  • International giving
  • Philanthropy Advice
  • Understanding philanthropy