Is This the End of Single-Issue Grantmaking for Development? Let's Hope So

Some of the most effective approaches to alleviating conditions that affect vulnerable young people globally rely on holistic, comprehensive interventions encompassing various needs of the poor. It is admirable, for example, to fund a program providing education to those who otherwise would have no access to schooling, but programs that educate within a full context of what the child needs are especially valuable. The best programs do not fit into clearly drawn lines, boxes, or silos. The best programs reach a child on multiple levels.

Numerous studies from expert groups such as the National Institutes of Health, UNICEF, and the World Health Organization have shown a clear relationship between a child's nutritional intake and his or her capacity to learn. Quite simply, hungry children cannot absorb new information as readily as children who are adequately fed. Schools in underdeveloped areas show better results when a nutritional component is made part of their daily schedules. Feeding children a simple breakfast or a protein-based lunch makes them better students and, more importantly, healthier individuals.

Many funders, though, from private foundations to multilateral organizations, routinely fund schools in marginal areas without provision for health or nutrition. A brief survey of private foundations with a funding emphasis on education finds that most, in fact, do not have guidelines incorporating funding for nutrition or health-based programs. According to the Foundation Center database, slightly more than a third of foundations with an international focus on education will also support health initiatives, and less than 10% have guidelines that incorporate nutrition. The intersection between these needs remains blurred for funders with legitimate intentions but narrowed approaches. Consequently, programs that receive funding may only be able to achieve truncated results if the other elements necessary for success are not present.

By contrast, several intermediary grantmakers — nonprofits in the United States that receive donations and use them to make grants internationally to legitimate NGOs — have adopted guidelines that blur these traditional lines. The Global Fund for Women, for example, emphasizes collective approaches to women's support and empowerment that do not necessarily rely on single issues or single-focus initiatives. The organizations they support most often adopt a multilayered approach in their communities that encompass education, economic development, women's rights, health care, and civic participation in whatever mixture is most relevant for the communities they serve.

Related: Global Fund For Women: Grants for Global Health

Trends in international philanthropy are gradually pointing away from single-issue grantmaking and toward this type of multilayered approach. What is apparent is that complex social issues are being increasingly met through interventions that focus less on one aspect of underdevelopment (education, health, and so forth) and more on drilling deeply into the community fabric to identify and treat root causes. And these causes almost always cross the boundaries traditionally drawn around giving guidelines.