Launched in 2001 as a project of the Tides Center (which served as its fiscal sponsor), Grantmakers Without Borders (GWB) was a network of some 160 public and private foundations as well as individual donors professing a commitment to “increasing strategic and compassionate funding for … global social change philanthropy.” GWB defined this brand of philanthropy as charity “rooted in the ideals of justice, equity, peace, democracy, and respect for the natural environment.” Advancing a doctrine of “systemic change,” the network aimed to provide grantmakers with a “forum for a critical analysis of political, economic, and social systems” that were the “fundamental causes” of the world’s “social ills.”
Chief among those destructive systems, in GWB’s calculus, was capitalism, which allegedly inflicted its greatest harm upon “low-income communities, women, children, Indigenous peoples, sexual minorities, and other traditionally marginalized groups.”
In 2004, GWB executive director John Harvey—a proponent of the anti-capitalist agendas endorsed by the World Social Forum—condemned “corporate-driven globalization” that “insists on free flows of capital, the opening up of markets, more trade, and less regulation.” “It embraces the notion … that all trade is good, that growth, never-ending economic growth, is a good thing,” Harvey elaborated. “But it’s not…. The bottom line is that in most parts of the world, globalization is lowering the standard of living for people, it’s costing them their jobs, it’s making them more susceptible to illness and disease, it’s making things worse.”
Viewing America as an inherently greedy nation guilty of exploiting its neighbors in the Western Hemisphere and beyond, GWB focused much of its philanthropy on recipients in Central and South America, the so-called “Global South.” “We believe that equity between the global North and global South is critical to furthering global well being,” said GWB. “We recognize the current imbalance in this relationship and understand the dangers it poses to the environment and to humanity.”
GWB blamed America not only for the poverty of nations in the Global South, but also for the rise of Islamic terrorism. As John Harvey put it in October 2004: “Many people [in the Middle East] feel an acute sense of humiliation as a result of the actions of the West, and the U.S. in particular…. For decades, we have supported repressive, authoritarian regimes throughout the region … We have invested heavily in exploiting the region’s natural resources and invested almost nothing in developing its human resources. We have criticized the role of religion in the region’s politics…. Why are we surprised that these forces breed terrorism and terrorists?”
In the post-9/11 era, GWB lamented the allegedly negative effects of new federal laws and guidelines that were put in place to thwart the diversion of philanthropic resources to terrorist groups. “Even though there is no evidence that foundations are a significant source of terrorist funding,” said GWB, “some of these changes are directed specifically to U.S. grantmakers. These policies impose daunting new responsibilities on charitable organizations that may prove insurmountable, especially for those with limited financial and personnel resources. They have already had the chilling effect of halting humanitarian and other life-saving international work.” In particular, GWB objected to: (a) a Bush Administration executive order and Treasury Department guidelines designed to stop the financing of terrorism; (b) a paragraph of the Patriot Act declaring it a federal crime to knowingly support terrorists; and (c) IRS requests for “information on how public charities and private foundations safeguard their international grants” from making their way into the coffers of terrorist organizations.
In conjunction with the International Human Rights Funders Group, the Council on Foundations, the Independent Sector and Interaction Group, and the American Bar Association, GWB fought the new anti-terror provisions. It dismissed as anecdotal and relatively insignificant the list of more than two-dozen charities suspected by the U.S. government of funding Islamic terrorism at that time.
GWB’s major programs and services included the following:
* Philanthropic Learning: GWB held an Annual Conference, open to members and non-members alike, where major issues related to grantmaking were discussed. The network also held periodic thematic workshops and conference-call workshops wherein members and supporters could increase their knowledge regarding such matters as “best practices in grantmaking,” emerging issues in key international grantmaking areas, and current events and policies of concern to global grantmakers.
* Peer Learning and Sharing: GWB organized interest-area networking groups such as the Meso-America Grantmakers Group, the Africa Grantmakers Group, and the Haiti Grantmakers Group. Of particular concern were matters related to the environment, anti-war activism, and civil rights.
* Information Services: GWB’s Member Knowledge Center disseminated e-newsletters such as The Weekly Planet and China Philanthropy News to its members and supporters around the world. Moreover, it offered philanthropic consultations and referrals.
* Policy Advocacy and Legal Issues: This program focused on legal and regulatory issues related to international grantmaking.
Among GWB’s more noteworthy sources of funding were the Conrad Hilton Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the McConnell Foundation, the National Capital Region, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, George Soros’s Open Society Institute, the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, the Schooner Foundation, the Seattle Foundation, and the Wallace Global Fund.
Grantmakers Without Borders left the Tides Center umbrella in 2008 and became an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity at that time. It was also a member of the National Network of Grantmakers.
GWB has been inactive since about 2012.
For additional information on GWB, click here.
Information on funders was derived courtesy of the Foundation Center.