2. Taking stock of philanthropy’s contribution to development

Private philanthropy for development amounted to USD 42.5 billion over 2016-19. This is on average USD 10.6 billion per year, approximately USD 2 billion per year higher than the level of funding over 2013-15 identified in the first edition of this report. The difference can be explained by the expansion, from 143 organisations to 205 in the latest sample, which includes more philanthropic organisations operating within emerging markets.

Over 2016-19, official development assistance (ODA) from members of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC)1 totalled USD 595.5 billion (gross disbursements), Private philanthropy amounted to 7% of that level (Figure 2.1).

Despite the relatively small size of private financing in comparison to ODA, foundations are key funders in certain areas, particularly health, education and government and civil society. In health, cross-border philanthropic financing was the second-largest funder behind the United States, while in education it ranked similarly to bilateral funding from Japan (Figure 2.2).

Of all funding identified, organisations from the United States contributed more than half of all financing over 2016-19, with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) prominently providing approximately 38% of all private philanthropy for development. Spain was the second largest international provider, mostly thanks to the BBVA Microfinance Foundation, which supports efforts in Latin America and the Caribbean. The third and fourth largest international providers were the United Kingdom and Switzerland. India accounted for the largest domestic funding in a single country, with significant financing from companies in the form of corporate social responsibility (CSR) (Figure 2.3).

International and domestic funding are distinct in scope and scale (Box 2.1). International philanthropic funding is more diversified and tackles more topics and a wider geographic area, while philanthropy from foundations based in emerging markets is primarily implemented domestically, rarely with operations abroad. Furthermore, international funding often faces limitations on tax support for cross-border giving (Box 2.2).

In some emerging countries, domestic philanthropic funding is larger than international giving. India’s Tata Trusts is the largest philanthropic organisation operating domestically in emerging markets (Figure 2.4).

Philanthropic financing is highly concentrated in a small group of organisations, particularly international foundations. At an international level, the largest ten philanthropic organisations provided USD 26 billion, 76% of all cross-border financing. The largest ten philanthropic organisations operating domestically provided USD 4 billion, or 50% of all domestic giving identified.

From 2016 to 2019, USD 24 billion (56%) of total philanthropic financing was allocable by country or region. The region that received the most philanthropic financing from international and domestic sources combined was Latin America and the Caribbean, with USD 6.7 billion (16%). This funding was provided primarily by the Spain’s BBVA Microfinance Foundation and large domestic organisations in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil. South Asia was the second recipient region of both international and domestic philanthropy, with USD 6.3 billion (15%). In terms of international philanthropy alone, Sub-Saharan Africa was the top recipient region, with USD 5.5 billion (13%). The other regions – East Asia & Pacific, the Middle East & North Africa, and Europe & Central Asia – received relatively less funding (Figure 2.5).

India continued to be the largest recipient of philanthropic financing, with USD 5.5 billion (13%) from both cross-border and domestic sources over 2016-19. It was followed by the People’s Republic of China (hereafter “China”) with USD 3 billion (7%). In Latin America, Peru received USD 2.2 billion (5%), mostly from cross-border financing, while Colombia received USD 1.4 billion (3%) and Mexico USD 1.3 billion (3%). In Africa, the largest recipients were Nigeria (USD 0.8 billion), Ethiopia (USD 0.7 billion) and South Africa (USD 0.6 billion).

Moreover, India, China and Mexico received more domestic philanthropic financing than cross-border funding in our sample, while other countries, like Colombia, Peru, Nigeria and South Africa, continued to receive more cross-border philanthropic funding than domestic funding (Figure 2.6).

Middle-income countries remained the main recipients of both international and domestic philanthropic financing over 2016-19. Approximately USD 9.9 billion (42%) of all country-allocable giving was directed towards upper middle-income countries. Lower middle-income countries received USD 9.1 billion (38%). Only a small fraction of philanthropic financing was directed towards low-income countries, reaching USD 3 billion (13%) between 2016-19 (Figure 2.7).

Looking at allocations of private philanthropy for development by sector, most financing went to the health sector over 2016-19, with health and reproductive health jointly receiving USD 18.4 billion (43%) (Box 2.3). The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation accounted for 69% of total health-related giving. Education received the second most financing and was the top sector for domestic philanthropy, with USD 4.5 billion (11%). The agriculture sector and government & civil society sector followed, with USD 3.5 billion (8%) and USD 2.5 billion (6%) respectively (Figure 2.8).

In global health, international foundations provide substantial funding towards the control of infectious diseases, in particular malaria and tuberculosis. Philanthropy contributed more than USD 9.9 billion towards combating these diseases, and most of this was provided by international foundations.2 In addition, funding towards non-communicable diseases (NCD) is estimated at USD 0.9 billion, which represents 5% of all health funding.3

International foundations also made a significant effort to fund family planning services and reproductive health care, which together include education, counselling, the provision of contraceptives, prenatal and postnatal care, and other services. They allocated approximately USD 2.9 billion to these services over 2016-19, while financing towards the control of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) received around USD 1.2 billion. Domestic foundations, while less involved in the health sector than cross-border donors, tend to provide direct funding for access to basic health care services and grants to cover payment of medical services and basic nutrition (Figure 2.9).

In addition to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, international foundations that provide significant funding include the Susan T. Buffet Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and Bloomberg Family Foundation. Among foundations that operate domestically, Tata Trusts (India) and Carlos Slim Foundation (Mexico) are the largest donors in the health space (Figure 2.10).

Education-related giving from domestic donors surpassed giving by international foundations over 2016-19, and was more varied in terms of the thematic areas where the funding was allocated.

Within education funding, institutions of higher education, such as universities, received the most support from both international and domestic donors, either as direct support or as scholarships for advanced education. Vocational training and school infrastructure absorbed significant funding from domestic donors, while early childhood education received more support from international foundations (Figure 2.11).

The largest international foundation in education was the Mastercard Foundation, followed by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, while the largest domestic donors in education were Reliance Industries CSR from India, OceanWide Foundation from China and Carlos Slim from Mexico (Figure 2.12).

Financing towards agriculture aims to develop the sector and carry out research related to agricultural productivity, including food crop production. Training in agriculture and veterinary services and export-oriented crops also feature among the most-funded areas within the agriculture sector (Figure 2.13)

The largest international foundation in agriculture was the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, followed by BBVA Microfinance Foundation, Howard G. Buffet Foundation and Mastercard Foundation, while the largest domestic donors in agriculture were corporates from India (Figure 2.14).

Philanthropic donors are significant funders of causes and institutions from civil society at large. Under the OECD-DAC classification, the government and civil society sector includes activities aimed at strengthening the public administrative apparatus and support for civil society organisations. This funding targets areas such as human rights advocacy; increasing democratic participation and the role civil society plays in development; financing media and the free flow of information; development of legal and judicial systems; support for women’s rights organisations; and conflict prevention and resolution.

Most philanthropic funding in the government and civil society sector over 2016-19 supported human rights advocacy. Other top targeted areas were support for women’s rights organisations and for ending violence against women and girls. Financing to support media and the free flow of information was another top area, particularly from domestic organisations (Figure 2.15).

The largest international foundations in the government and civil society sector were the Ford Foundation and the Open Societies Foundations, while the largest organisation operating domestically was Fundación Televisa from Mexico (Figure 2.16).

A few issues cut across all philanthropic donations. As these issues can straddle multiple sectors, they are better understood through a cross-sectoral lens. This section analyses foundations’ support for research and for the long-term objectives of tackling climate change and moving towards gender equality.

Financing from philanthropic foundations has long been a key source of financing for universities, particularly in the United States (Stephan, 2012[5]).

Philanthropy also has a long-standing role in financing research centres. According to OECD data on research and development (R&D), funding from private non-profit institutions towards R&D in 37 OECD countries represented, on average, 1.4% of all R&D spending between 2015-18.4

In relation to private philanthropy for development, funding towards universities amounted to USD 2.5 billion over 2016-19. Much of this funding came from philanthropic organisations that fund research relevant to development, such as infectious diseases prevalent in developing countries, but is carried out in institutions within the United States and the United Kingdom. Other major recipients were China’s Fudan University, Tsingua University and West Lake University, and South Africa’s University of Cape Town (Figure 2.17).

Climate change and environmental protection are two related areas where foundations also allocate resources. Funding towards general environment protection amounted to USD 1.7 billion, or 4% of all funding, over 2016-19 (Figure 2.18). Some funding targets specific areas, like protection of biodiversity. But do foundations take account of the effects of climate change across their entire portfolios?

The OECD organisational survey asked whether foundations include climate change in their strategy and general objectives. A majority – 58 out of 103 respondents – replied that they do not make use of a climate-change lens in their grants or projects. Of the 45 organisations that do apply a climate lens to their grant making, 20 (44%) are concerned with minimising the carbon footprint of their operations and grant making, while 17 (38%) try to assess how the foundation’s mission can be affected by climate change. Moreover, 13 organisations (29%) say they are divesting the foundation’s endowment from fossil-fuels or investing in climate solutions, and 9 are asking their partners and grantees to account for climate-related risks and plan for mitigating strategies. Finally, some of the foundations commented that they are developing large climate programmes, supporting environmental initiatives and generating alliances within the framework of the circular economy.

Within the general environment protection sector, the top funders are the United PostCode Lotteries and the UK’s Arcadia Fund, followed by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in the United States and Switzerland’s MAVA Foundation. Among domestic donors, InfoSys Limited CSR from India and SEE Foundation from China provide the largest funding (Figure 2.19).

As a cross-sectoral issue, reducing structural gender inequalities through philanthropic funding operates mainly through two channels: 1) reproductive health and family planning, and 2) supporting organisations that advocate for women’s rights and for an end to violence against women and girls. Taken together, these areas amounted to 8% of all private philanthropy for development over 2016-19 (Figure 2.20).

The largest cross-border funders in these areas are the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Susan T. Buffet Foundation, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and United Poscode Lotteries, while the largest domestic organisations is Hindustan Unilever Foundation from India (Figure 2.21).

The classification of grants and projects by thematic area allows a closer examination of activities that have an effect on the lives of women and girls and can contribute to reducing or eliminating gender inequalities. The OECD organisational survey asked foundations whether gender equality was a primary or secondary objective. The aim was to distinguish organisations that establish gender equality as the most important and explicit goal of their grants and projects from those that advance the well-being of women and girls but pursue other goals as well.

Of the 103 respondents, only 5 foundations make gender equality the main objective of their giving. A total of 29 foundations see gender equality as both a primary and secondary objective, while for another 30 respondents it is a secondary objective. For 39 foundations, gender equality is neither a primary nor a secondary objective of their grant making (Figure 2.22).

Organisations for which gender equality is a primary and secondary goal mainly fund the direct delivery of services to women and girls, such as support of activities to improve women’s reproductive health or women’s economic empowerment, among others. They also finance programmes that target men and boys, with the aim of promoting behavioural and attitudinal changes in support of greater gender equality.

Interestingly, organisations for which gender equality is a secondary goal are increasingly using gender analysis5 as a tool to design their programmes, particularly trying to identify how their interventions have differential effects between men and women. Organisations financing efforts towards gender equality face two main barriers: first, they do not wish to discriminate between their beneficiaries based on gender, and second, they may be unable to measure and report tangible results from interventions aimed at improving gender equality.

Philanthropy is becoming more interconnected. Philanthropic donors work with one another to fund joint initiatives for multiple reasons, from scaling up a particular programme to pooling funds to tackle an issue that a single funder cannot address alone. However, the extent to which private foundations co-finance their programmes remains an understudied feature of the philanthropic sector.

To identify co-financing operations, the OECD survey defined private philanthropic collaboratives as partnerships involving at least two private donors that allocated financial resources to a common objective, or organisation, before deploying the funding. Survey respondents could highlight up to three private philanthropic collaboratives, indicating all other organisations involved – including government agencies, universities, companies and non-profit organisations – as well as the amount of resources the organisation allocated to each private collaborative.

Among 103 respondents, 67 organisations had at least one collaborative between 2016-19. Based on the partners indicated by each respondent, it was possible to see a global network of private philanthropic collaboratives. This network is not an exhaustive picture of philanthropic collaboration, yet it shows the multiple existing relationships among philanthropic organisations, both internationally and domestically, and distinguishes between those that work individually or collaboratively (Figure 2.23).

Interestingly, foundation size in terms of annual expenditure is not related to whether organisations work through private collaboratives: foundations both large and small have a similar number of partners. International foundations have more private collaboratives than domestic foundations do, and these international collaboratives are larger, involving more resources and partners. More importantly, collaboratives involving international foundations are often connected through common partners, indicating that a few key participants are engaged in multiple private collaboratives.

The OECD survey asked which barriers to collaboration were the most binding. Respondents who are part of a collaborative, as well as those who are not, indicated that the biggest barrier is finding partners who have aligned interests. This indicates a lack of awareness among donors about each other’s objectives (private philanthropic donors as well as providers of ODA). More foundations are providing information on their funding, priorities and behaviour (Box 2.4 and Box 2.5). Yet there is still much room to improve transparency on philanthropic resources allocated for development. Other salient barriers were the administrative costs of managing resources from multiple organisations, and the fact that formalising a collaborative agreement, contractually, can be burdensome (Figure 2.24).

Respondents to the OECD organisational survey have multiple target populations for their financing. More than half (60 of the 103 respondents) target age groups for their financing, with an emphasis on children and youth, while the rest (43 foundations) do not target populations according to age. Few foundations explicitly target the elderly.

In terms of socio-economic vulnerabilities, the populations most targeted by respondents are those living in poverty (77 foundations). Other top target groups are the unemployed, migrants and refugees. Most foundations that provide funding in the health sector target populations with specific disabilities or experiencing chronic illnesses (Figure 2.26).

Beyond financing, philanthropic donors provide non-financial resources that play an important part in the development and sustainability of the organisations they support. Most foundations provide grantees with access to networks and coalitions of funders, in the form of connections to additional sources of financing, information and expertise. Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) capacities and managerial practices are also supported by foundations, which may sit on the board of a beneficiary organisation to contribute directly to its strategic orientation.

Funders likewise help to improve the visibility of their grantees through communications and fundraising opportunities. Non-financial support plays a role in how foundations help their grantees engage in advocacy, and also in how they become sustainable in the long run (Figure 2.27).


[3] OECD (2022), (Forthcoming) Domestic Philanthropy for Development and Gender Equality in Nigeria, OECD Publishing, Paris.

[1] OECD (2021), Domestic Philanthropy for Development and Gender Equality in Colombia, https://www.oecd.org/development/philanthropy-centre/researchprojects/countrystudies/OECD_CoP_DomesticPhilanthropyColombia.pdf.

[2] OECD (2021), Domestic Philanthropy for Development and Gender Equality in South Africa, https://www.oecd.org/development/philanthropy-centre/researchprojects/countrystudies/OECD_CoP_DomesticPhilanthropySouthAfrica.pdf.

[6] OECD (2021), Research and Development Statistics: Gross domestic expenditure on R-D by sector of performance and source of funds (Edition 2020), OECD Science, Technology and R&D Statistics (database), Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/19151f52-en.

[4] OECD (2020), Taxation and Philanthropy, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/df434a77-en.

[5] Stephan, P. (2012), “How economics shapes science”, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674088160.


← 1. See http://www.oecd.org/dac/financing-sustainable-development/.

← 2. Includes the following OECD DAC purpose codes: Infectious disease control (12250), Malaria control (12262), Tuberculosis control (12263) and STD control including HIV/AIDS (13040).

← 3. Includes the following OECD DAC purpose codes: NCDs control, general (12310), Tobacco use control (12320), Control of harmful use of alcohol and drugs (12330), Promotion of mental health and well-being (12340), Other prevention and treatment of NCDs (12350) and Research for prevention and control of NCDs (12382). These estimates are likely to be underestimated in terms of all NCD response and the amounts philanthropy is providing, given that a a significant portion of funding that addresses NCDs is often categorised as general health sector support.

← 4. Calculations based on (OECD, 2021[6]).

← 5. For the purpose of this survey, gender analysis was defined as “assessing the differences between women and men, girls and boys in terms of their relative distribution of resources, opportunities, constraints and power during the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of its programmes to ensure equitable participation of women and men”.

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