Gabrielle Ritchie, Director, The Change Room – 2 June 2016

Philanthropic funding opens up so much possibility. It comes with the excitement of potential – the potential to design, implement and conclude a project that actually makes a difference to a community. In many instances philanthropy provides the freedom and the space to create, discuss, develop and discover. It’s the potential of possibility.

With this, though, comes hard work. We know that nobody ever made anything happen by simply dreaming or talking about it. An idea must be planned, and that plan must be executed to become a reality. Both the funders and the funded need to put in the effort, the thought, the planning, the discussions, the collaborations, and the willingness to allow for (and speak about) failure.

One funder that has engendered this sense of possibility, through its reconciliation and human rights programme in South Africa, is The Atlantic Philanthropies. This well-known limited-life foundation granted over $360 million in South Africa in just over a decade for a wide range of projects and initiatives, until their exit in 2013/14.

On 31 May 2016, The Atlantic Philanthropies announced the latest initiative in its ‘big bet’ grant strategy – $200 million to the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) for an Atlantic Fellows Programme, and for the establishment of the Atlantic Institute as a home for collaboration amongst the fellows. This grant, according to their President, Chris Oechsli, is about giving individuals the support they need to “recognize that they are most effective when they collaborate with others.” Oechsli says that its ultimate goal is “to create, over time, a cohesive network of change agents who could impact the areas Atlantic has long cared about… .”

A key point to this massive investment is that funding can only go so far. The rest has to come from the individuals supported through this funding, either as members of the Atlantic Institute or as Atlantic Fellows. Philanthropy is often viewed as the fix, and although philanthropic funding is a key component of the continuum of activism and the hard work of social change, it is only a component. It will be up to the Fellows supported by the Fellowship grants and the Institute to commit to longer-term collaboration in order to make the initiative work.

For more on Atlantic’s work in South Africa, particularly in the area of collaboration, go to

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