Collaboration: from a challenge of our times to a philanthropic practice

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llaboration philanthropic practice

Collaboration philanthropic practiceCollaboration is, at the same time: 

(1) a premise for human development – as we only could dominate the rest of species and the planet by living in community and collaborating with each other;

(2) a challenge – as we can find a lack of collaboration in almost every dimension of our existence;

(3) a trend of 21st century – as many meaningful innovations, very appropriate to this century, are based on collaboration – from social media to start-ups focused on connecting people to share an Uber or to find a place to stay on vacation. 

Collaboration it seems is also (4) a paradigm change needed in these times.

When we are talking about philanthropy, collaboration has also been at the center of the debate in the last few years. Even more during the pandemic response and, with some luck, will from now on, more and more be practiced in the field.

But how to talk about collaboration in philanthropy without falling into a clichéd conversation, where everybody simply agrees, without talking about what we need to talk about?

The concept of collaborative philanthropy

Running away from the cliché was the premise and the effort that was made when I started research for GIFE* about collaboration in the philanthropic sector in Brazil to develop a publication on this theme.

Some months and many readings and interviews later, I came to understand that our focus should be to understand how collaboration can be applied in the main action that defines philanthropy: the action of giving.

That is how the concept of collaborative philanthropy was born. So, what we began to call collaborative philanthropy is defined as the different forms of collaboration involving the participation of at least two players in philanthropy – givers or managers of philanthropy resources. These players can be PSI (Private Social Investment) organizations (institutes and/or foundations), companies, philanthropists (families or individuals), other philanthropists (such as family offices), and/or individual givers of different sizes and profiles. 



Collaborative philanthropy also involves cooperation regarding the required philanthropy resources to operate in at least one of the following spheres:

  1. Collaborating in the mobilization of private financial resources to produce public good. In this case, the sources are diversified and, therefore, involve the participation of several givers or philanthropic resource managers, which qualifies the mobilization as collaborative. For example, a crowdfunding campaign for a project with a determined resource mobilization goal that includes resources from individuals (who can aggregate very different amounts of money) and/ or from organizations (be them companies of different sizes, institutes or foundations, and others).
  2. Collaborating in the coordination, allocation and/or management of private financial resources to produce public good. This can occur through processes and spaces for the exchange of information that enable philanthropic organizations to consider the performance of other funders, to act on the same agenda, to define strategies and the allocation of resources in a coordinated and complementary way. Allocation and management collaboration happens when decisions related to the distribution of resources and the design of the subsequent process—including a series of governance choices and combinations and action implementation —are proportionally defined and conducted among donors. For example, an alliance of diverse philanthropic organizations /grant makers/ social investors/donors (two or more) who share the same cause and make a joint decision to manage part of the resources they intend to allocate to it, thus establishing a common focus. Such management may include creating resource allocation strategies and formats, as well as monitoring grants, outcomes and impacts.

Other dimensions of collaboration in philanthropy

Before developing our concept of collaborative philanthropy we had intended to map ways in which collaboration was present in philanthropic labor. These analyses about how collaboration was part of this field identified 3 dimensions and many formats and architectures based on real cases. The figure below was produced to systematize and organize the analyses:

Collaboration philanthropic practice


Collaboration in philanthropy and collaborative philanthropy in practice

The cases below are two among many examples of how the sector in Brazil is doing collaborative philanthropy.  

Movimento pela Base (Movement for the Base )

The case of Movimento pela Base (n.d.) is a great example to illustrate this possibility. Some years ago we did not have in Brazil an institutional document to define what children should learn in each school year in order to give the bases and direction of public (and private) education: a common national curriculum base (BNCC). This agenda gained public attention and it was decided that the government would work on the creation of the document. But, who should define what children must learn in school in different stages and ages of education? The answer is maybe simpler than one can imagine: society (which at the same time makes it a little more complicated). Can there be anything more important than choosing what our children should learn? Because of that, groups of civil society started a process to make the development of the document a participatory process. That was how the Movimento pela Base (Movement for the Base) was created – a non-governmental and non-partisan network of people and institutions, which since 2013 has been dedicated to the quality construction and implementation of the BNCC.

The Movement brings together entities, organizations and individuals from different educational sectors, which have in common the agenda related to the National Curricular Common Base (BNCC). Many philanthropic organizations are part of the movement and collaborate with and through it in the different dimensions of collaboration that we identify in the field during the research work.

The Movement for the Base can be seen as an action of co-investment of several foundations that worked in education and understood that the construction of a BNCC for Brazilian education was a priority. The group decided to contribute resources together to enable an initiative that had the BNCC as the center of its activities. The way in which these organizations co-invested demonstrated how many social investors acted in a collaborative way.

Platform of Agroecological Circuits

Tabôa, located in Serra Grande, in the south of Bahia (northeast of Brazil), is a community-based organization that seeks to engage actors present in the territory (including in the mobilization of donations), so that it is, in itself, an example of collaborative philanthropy. But the case presented here is that of the Agroecological Circuits, a project conceived by Tabôa in conjunction with Povos da Mata Agroecology Network and the Ibiá Institute. The story begins when in 2018, in structuring its activities in food systems, the team of Instituto Ibirapitanga (a philanthropic family organization) traveled to Bahía to learn about the work of Tabôa and Rede Povos da Mata, having already visited the group that created the Instituto Ibiá. After the visit, the entities presented an ambitious project to Ibirapitanga, with a total budget of 7.9 million reais for three years. The project, focused on strengthening agroecology, is structured in four interdependent axes: assistance to production, regularization of agro-industries, creation of a marketing system between networks of farmers and access to credit. Ibirapitanga did not have the resources to fund it alone, but saw an enormous potential for impact in the initiative. So Ibirapitanga decided not only to invest, but also to work on the mobilization of resources. This is how Porticus, Instituto Humanize, the Brazilian Fund for Biodiversity (FUNBIO) and Instituto Arapyaú joined the project and also became agents in the search for new resources. A committee dedicated to finalizing the structuring and monitoring of the initiative was formed with these organizations. This imposed on Tabôa a greater challenge: to mediate the needs, logics and interests of all those involved. But, at the same time, it strengthened relations between partners and enabled the initiative, which began to be implemented in 2019. The five funding entities have contributed amounts of similar magnitude and have mobilized in one year 4.2 million reais. The strength of this collaboration also attracted new donors.

Collaboration philanthropic practice


It’s not easy, but it’s feasible and needed

Although it’s so fundamental and powerful, collaborating can be hard. And it’s important that the challenges and difficulties be recognized. It’s said that the first step to overcome an obstacle is to recognize its existence. It’s not different in philanthropy. That’s why we need to talk more and more honestly about those ‘stones along the way’. Although there is no magical solution to solve them, it’s only by identifying them that we will evolve to a more collaborative philanthropic ecosystem. Developing initiatives of collaborative philanthropy is a precious opportunity for us to exercise our capacity for creativity and innovation.

The publication Collaborative philanthropy – Summary in English can be accessed at:

The complete and original version of the publication is available only in Portuguese and can be accessed at:

Erika Sanchez Saez is a researcher, author of the book Collaborative Philanthropy, organizer of the book Horizons and Priorities for Philanthropy and Social Investment in Brazil published by GIFE and many others publications about the philanthropic field in the country. She is currently a member of the Leading Committee of the Movement for a Culture of Giving in Brazil and Executive Director of Instituto ACP, which works to strengthen civil society organizations in Brazil.

She has a degree in Social Communication, a postgraduate degree in Globalization and World Governance and Systems, and a master’s degree in Cooperation, Globalization and Development from the University of Barcelona.

Thank you to our partner WINGS for making the connection with Erika Sanchez Saez possible

This article is part of the special edition of February 2022: Philanthropy & Collaboration. You can find more information here