Three trends are shaping the future of philanthropy: a growing interest in embedding climate considerations into philanthropic endeavors, the use of technology to test and scale up successful programs, and the use of data to create transparency and build trust in new solutions.
These trends are inspiring the next generation of philanthropists to invest in “social impact unicorns” that offer innovative solutions to issues that could potentially benefit billions of people, as well as the environment. Next-gen philanthropists are also keen to learn more. In order to help meet this need, in 2021 UBS Optimus Foundation launched three Collectives that allow clients to pool their expertise, interests and capital to tackle global issues in line with the company’s vision for the impact economy1.
Among them is Max Taylor2, a member of the UBS Accelerate Collective, which focuses on health and education. During a recent trip to Ghana, he was impressed by how tablet-based programs were changing the lives of schoolchildren by sparking their interest in learning and reducing dropout rates. Taylor says the trip helped him “redefine and understand business and investment in a different way […] that has a much deeper sense of value.”
Transparency measures impact
Taylor views his professional and philanthropic work as two sides of the same coin. Indeed, a UBS study on next-gen philanthropists3 found that many prefer to pursue opportunities that align with their personal interests and values, and allow them to be more involved and engaged. Access to data provides a transparent way to measure the impact of an initiative. Tom Hall, Global Head of Social Impact and Philanthropy at UBS says, “Transparency is key if we are to scale impact beyond philanthropy and unlock the $100 trillion in private and institutional capital seeking returns and mobilize it to deliver the $30 trillion needed to finance the Sustainable Development Goals.”
This novel approach to philanthropy is being tested by the Global Mangrove Trust4, a partner in the UBS Climate Collective, in Indonesia, which is trying to get more precise data on the health of mangrove coverage from satellites monitoring North Sumatra. The hope is that the data will help develop a market for “ultra-high-integrity” carbon credits in which investors can have confidence. Mangroves are one of nature’s most effective carbon sinks. If this eco-service can be accurately measured, then mangroves could support a market-based carbon trading system to help countries and firms reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Without data, you have a very incomplete picture.
Reliable data underpins Last Mile Health5, a non-profit set up in 2007 to provide healthcare services to remote communities in Liberia. Its evidence-based program has been so successful that its delivery model has become national policy6 and has caught the attention of governments in Malawi, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone, where the organization is now working. It hopes to reach 40 million people by 2028.
Counting is vital
“One of the most useful exercises LMH did at the beginning was to count how many families, how many pregnant women, how many children,” says CEO Lisha McCormick. “If you are not counted you are invisible and there is no finance or medicine or workers to meet your needs. Without data, you have a very incomplete picture of the needs and the burden of disease in any given country.”
“LMH is a great example of the systemic, catalytic change philanthropists are looking for,” says Hall. “It is a simple solution that has had an outsized impact and is rapidly scalable. It is no exaggeration to say that this small Liberian NGO will ultimately impact billions of lives around the globe.”
Whilst LMH is an example of using data to convince government that a model is effective and scalable, data is also being used innovatively by private providers too. Access Afya7, one of UBS Optimus Foundation’s flagship projects, has a health-tech platform that uses a custom analytics tool to identify communities in Kenya without access to healthcare and those that can afford to pay for it. It then uses an app to monitor waiting times and patient satisfaction. As a result, access to care and patient recovery have dramatically improved and visit times have been significantly reduced. Access Afya aims to provide quality healthcare to a million Kenyans a year in the next five years.
Trust supports investment
Data is not just proving key to measuring the success of philanthropic initiatives, it is also proving important in building up trust. When data are collected and monitored by the communities receiving philanthropic aid, the community has more trust in the results. In addition, the process is democratized, as the community is involved as an active participant. It can even persuade private capital to invest and replicate philanthropic initiatives at scale. This community-based monitoring is what GMT is using.
Paul Skidmore, CEO of Rising Academy Network8, an affordable education initiative supported by the UBS Accelerate Collective, explains that many social impact unicorns have proven models, an ecosystem of implementers, secured risk capital and interest from government partnerships. “The one missing piece is individuals and organizations who will commit to paying for results,” he says. “The value proposition for philanthropists strikes me as very compelling—measurable results guaranteed, or your money back.”
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