4 November 2016

Can philanthropy work effectively with government?

There is a growing interest in how government and philanthropic organisations can work together to achieve social goals. Working together is not a straightforward task. Governments and philanthropies have different perspectives and emphases that need to be understood and addressed if they are to cooperate effectively. There are risks and rewards for both government and philanthropy in the development of partnership working.

The Atlantic Philanthropies and Irish government have a long history of partnership working

The Atlantic Philanthropies grant making in the Republic of Ireland began in 1987. In the first phase, up to 2003, the focus was on higher education. This phase culminated in a signature investment in the Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions, co-funded with the Irish government. Phase two of Atlantic’s grant making in Ireland began in 2003. Since then Atlantic’s grant making has concentrated on three areas: ageing, children and youth and reconciliation and human rights, again securing co-investments with the Irish government.

Atlantic in Ireland took the view that working in partnership with government and its agencies was important if it was to achieve its objectives. This meant working directly with government on programme development and encouraging grantees to work together where appropriate to influence government policy.

New study throws light on the success of Atlantic’s work with the Irish government

A recently published report commissioned by Atlantic examines the extent to which their approach of working with government to influence policy and practice, with a particular focus on public service reform, can be considered innovative and successful. This study considers the way in which Atlantic’s approach and the partnership style fostered through its grantees has coalesced with and influenced the government’s public sector reform agenda.

The study concludes that Atlantic has made a significant contribution to influencing government policy and practice. This is not to say that Atlantic is the only or even the main influence in most areas of its engagement with government. Rather that Atlantic has contributed in a way that has made a difference. For example, Atlantic’s work has had a direct influence on key government policy statements such as Better Outcomes Brighter Futures (a national policy framework for children and young people), the Irish National Dementia Strategy and the National Positive Ageing Strategy.

The study also highlights challenges to mainstreaming the approach advocated by Atlantic in government. For example, whilst influential, the number of senior managers who could be seen as advocates for the kind of approaches to service delivery advocated by Atlantic are relatively small, and tend to be concentrated in a limited number of organisations across the public sector where Atlantic has focused its efforts. To this extent, it is questionable if a ‘critical mass’ has yet been reached which could be self-perpetuating across the public sector.

But overall Atlantic’s work with government has been very well received by policymakers. It has been seen to be a good working relationship, with benefits for Atlantic, government, and the NGOs supported by Atlantic. There is clear evidence that the goals of Atlantic have fed into the thinking of policymakers, and led to changes in policy and practice.


Further research currently underway

As it begins to withdraw supports in line with its limited life requirement, Atlantic is putting concerted effort into trying to ensure that the changes it is promoting live on within government, and that the lessons learned from their experience of working with government are available to others. In that light they have commissioned a further study of their work with the Irish government, focused on its final phase of grant giving. Since 2012 Atlantic has supported nineteen major co-investments with the Irish government. Atlantic’s investment of €99m in the areas of children and youth, dementia, and disability has leveraged €260m of public funding. The study is intended to complete the story of co-investment with government, and will be completed in 2017.

For further details contact the researcher, Richard Boyle (rboyle@ipa.ie), head of research at the Institute of Public Administration, Ireland.



Richard Boyle

Head of Research, Publishing and Corporate Relations, Institute of Public Administration