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“Foundations are everywhere, all the time”: New philanthropy’s diffuse approach to education policy-making

Tue, April 16, 3:15 to 4:45pm, Hyatt Regency, Pacific Concourse (Level -1), Pacific F


New philanthropy has a growing presence in public education in many countries. The provision of public services is increasingly shared in networks of governance with public and private actors, including business and philanthropy. Concomitantly, philanthropy is changing by incorporating business sensibilities, referred to as “new philanthropy”. Besides operating in service delivery, new philanthropists are working in policy-making as well, and have been considerably successful in promoting education reforms that draw from corporate practices. This paper aims to address the question of how new philanthropy operates education policy-making, focusing on its diffuse and “across the board” approach to education policy. Understanding how new philanthropy is working in education policy-making offers the possibility of revisiting governance practices and looking for more accountable ways of working and fostering debates in society without silencing opponents or ousting traditional actors, such as teachers. Though having the main empirical setting of Brazilian institutions, this paper analyses networks, policies and discourses that surpass national borders, and considers their “glocal” dynamics. So it provides data examples that support the findings and illustrate how new philanthropists are connected to global networks and participate in global policy mobilities.

Three fundamental and interrelated “types of labour” are identified in the activities of new philanthropy institutions. First, foundations work to frame policy problems and solutions as policy entrepreneurs. This means they aim at participating in education policy-making, and labour to frame policy problems and solutions discursively through efforts like research funding and production and press releases. Second, new philanthropies work to coordinate, mobilise and activate relationships and resources in networks with public and private members. So networks are created and animated with activities such as promoting small meetings and large seminars to foster relationships or sharing and leveraging resources to implement joint-ventures. Third, philanthropic organisations work to institutionalise policies and relationships in new network arrangements with public and private actors, so called “heterarchies”. In these structures, new philanthropy and public authorities collaborate in many formats, including PPPs, to influence the governance of education. Through these widespread efforts, boundaries between public and private are blurred, the roles of education policy-making are reframed, and education policy is rescaled globally. The effectiveness of foundations in steering agendas and reforming education can only be properly understood when this complex work is taken into account. Each of the “types of labour” has a role in creating political effectiveness, while each is also dependent on the others to be sustained.

So new unelected and in many ways unaccountable voices are having a significant say in determining the methods, contents and purposes of education. In spite of arguing they are working for the improvement of education and the public good, new philanthropists’ policy agendas, aims and methods have no public validation and cannot be held accountable. The paper concludes with a reflection on the urgent need of making governance more inclusive and transparent, as the participation in governance defined by unelected individuals or groups on the basis of financial, social and network capital poses challenges for democracy.


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