Tony Blair on Philanthropy

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20th April 2012

Catch-up time on a busy week for Tony Blair on the other side of the pond, including this –

If the Mail, Guardian, Independent, BBC & the rest haven't told you of this award for our great former PM, well... what do you expect? The truth?

Keynote speech: Tony Blair outlines his philanthropic vision

Monday, Apr 16, 2012 in Office of Tony Blair, Africa Governance Initiative

Tony Blair speaking at the Global Philanthropy Forum in Washington, DC made the case for the value of innovative philanthropy. You can read the full transcript of his speech below.

Video of speech & questions, & transcript of speech

A consequential risk of the continuing travails of the global economy, is that in concentrating on our own challenges, we lose the appetite to help others. What we may call the global social contract – a sense of responsibility on the part of the better off to help the worst off – comes under strain. For my 10 years as UK Prime Minister, this social contract was growing. But that was in different economic times. Now the pre-occupation is bound to be internal. So a debate about how we re-shape and re-invigorate this global social contract now – and the role of philanthropy in doing so – is timely. This is absolutely the right moment for government to do all it can to promote philanthropy; and certainly nothing to harm it.

The laziest sentiment in politics – by which I mean not politics in its partisan sense but the broader polity of society – is cynicism. The party political debate may, at times, give us much to be cynical about, though it is an essential part of vibrant democracy. But in larger terms, the history of the past half century should give us cause for celebration as well as concern. Many more people live in freedom, many fewer live in poverty.

Change for the better does happen. Progress is alive. Change happens through committed people. It happens best when motivated by a desire to improve the lives of others; when that desire is accompanied by a strategy for change not just a vision of it; when it is creative; and when it challenges rather than accommodates the status quo.

Change can happen through committed people in Government and some change can only happen through Government. When I think, in my own 10 years in office, of reforms in health, education, law and order; advances in civil rights; peace in Northern Ireland – these changes required the power of Government.

However, 10 years taught me something else; the limitations of Government. This is where desire and strategy get blocked by the politics of vested interests; by bureaucracy; by the innate tendency to inertia of a system designed to manage the world not change it.

Government in this guise, loves process. It rewards caution. It disdains risk and distrusts creativity. It thinks in a linear way and challenges that don’t fit neat Government definitions or which stretch across boundaries, disappear into the machinery never to re-emerge and certainly not as solutions.

When acute crisis threatens, Government can act with speed. But otherwise it ponders endlessly and then proceeds at a glacial pace.

It is into this space – not as a substitute but as a complement to conventional Government and politics – that the philanthropic sector has marched. Today its contribution is vast. In the USA it dwarfs, say, Government spending on overseas aid. It is why imaginative leaders like Raj Shah, new head of USAID, want to work with it not apart from it.

It is why when I left office, shorn of power, I decided to exercise influence instead, by joining it.

As well as my responsibility as Quartet Representative for the MEPP, centred in Jerusalem, I created three new philanthropic organisations. I have a Sports Foundation in the North East of England which encourages grass roots sport and reflects my belief that sport is an essential not optional element of modern education. The two global Foundations are the Africa Governance Initiative; and the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. Both reflect lessons I learned in Government but in respect of which I found traditional ways of Government inadequate. Both relate directly to the new social contract that is the theme of this year’s Forum. Both have taught me a lot about global philanthropy and its opportunities.

The Africa Governance Initiative is based on this idea: that the problems of Africa cannot be solved by aid alone. The fundamental challenge today is not simply external flows of money; but internal systems of Governance. What’s more, this is not just about honesty in Government, vital thought that is, it is also about efficacy. The biggest challenge for many Governments – by the way, elsewhere as well as in Africa – is getting things done; delivery; deciding priorities, creating mechanisms for achieving them and tracking the performance until the objective is actually achieved. This is true even for sophisticated systems of Government like our own. It is true in abundance for those of emerging countries. I see too often leaders take power. They have the will and vision. They may be completely honest and abhor corruption. But once in power, they find the levers of effective implementation are missing; they get overwhelmed by the pressures of the job, events for which they are unprepared; and a bureaucracy that can often be a major part of the problem not the solution. They usually have a stack of well-written reports from international institutions telling them what they should do; but no-one helping them with how they do it. And it is the ‘how’ not the ‘what’ that is the issue.

So my Africa Governance Initiative –now in 6 African nations – puts teams of people; all of whom have hands-on experience of ‘doing it’, whether in Government of the private sector; into the country to work alongside the country’s leaders to build the necessary capacity and transfer skills: to decide priorities; develop plans of action; build the infrastructure of implementation; and track performance. The results in areas as diverse as healthcare, encouragement of private sector investment and even in seemingly small but in truth crucial areas like the organisation of the President’s time and private office, are transformative.

But the concept at the heart of it, is very different from the traditional donor-recipient relationship of Government aid. It is live-in technical help, not fly-in fly out consultancy. It helps deliver the country’s priorities not ours. It includes, through my interaction with the leaders, the politics as well as the technical theory. It works to bring in quality private sector investment, not regard it as an enemy. If focuses as much on the rule of law as on small scale community projects. Above all, it is based on partnership not dependence. In this sense, it absolutely fits the notion of a new social contract. It implies a maturing of the relationship between wealthy and emerging nations; and the role of philanthropy and the private sector in helping those nations to help themselves. So the value lies not just in the work AGI does, but in the approach it symbolises.

Likewise with my Faith Foundation. Again this idea was formed during my time in Government. Even before 9/11 and certainly since then, I could see that the use of hard power and even the use of traditional systems of soft power were inadequate to deal with a strain of fundamentalist ideology that was religious in nature. I started to understand that however much we flinched from acknowledging it, the extremism was not based simply on a set of political aims; it was based on a profound distortion of Faith. I began to analyse conflict in the world and found the majority had a religious or cultural element. I became convinced that we could not confront the extremism unless we were prepared to engage with religion as religion, not as a derivative of politics.

I could also see that driven by the unstoppable force of globalisation – in person through migration, online through the internet – it is in the nature of today’s world that people of different cultures and faiths will mix together, live together and work together as never before. Therefore understanding the faith of the other, learning about it and learning to live with it in peace becomes a central objective of a policy to secure peace. In this way, a new part of a new social contract, is respect for difference, for diversity, for the minority’s rights as well as the majority’s power.

In the years since 9/11 and again following the Arab Revolutions around the Middle East and North Africa, my conviction as to the importance of this has grown. What’s more, though those peddling a poisonous and exclusivist view of religion, which sees those who have a different faith as the enemy, are immensely well organised and funded, with a multiplicity of websites dedicated to their cause; by contrast virtually nothing organised or funded comes the other way. So a wholly malign view of the West is often fostered in Muslim nations; and in the West there is widespread misunderstanding of what Islam really stands for. This is not confined to Muslim/Christian relations; there are strains of extremism also in Christianity itself, in Judaism, Hinduism and even Buddhism. The intolerance to minorities also encompasses persecution of Bahais and sects within a Faith i.e. intra-religious as well as inter-religious extremism.

So the Tony Blair Faith Foundation has designed programmes of education and action, now in 20 different countries, all with the aim of fostering knowledge, understanding and therefore respect between those of different faiths. We know we cannot by ourselves change the balance of argument and debate; but we believe we can show that through inter-faith collaboration, we can encourage the acceptance of “the other” and that this should become part of mainstream Government and international policy, every bit as important as conventional soft power diplomacy. So in both cases, I have entered a new sector for me – philanthropy – to try to point the way on issues which I dealt with deeply in Government but in respect of which I always felt traditional Government fell short.

It has been my luck to have entered this field at a time when it is more exciting and dynamic than ever. The work being done by those represented here today is extraordinary and inspiring in its breadth, reach and impact. My reflections on the sector having now experience of it both as a partner to me in Government and now as a player in the sector itself, are these:

First, the best philanthropy is not just about giving money but giving leadership. The best philanthropists bring the gifts that made them successful – the drive, the determination, the refusal to accept something can’t be done if it needs to be – into their philanthropy. It is creative not passive; it seeks to disrupt not follow conventional thinking. It steps into areas Government is too fearful or too risk adverse[sic] to go. It uses technology and its power to change the world in innovative ways. It is visionary, seeing the connections, the trends, the patterns that others don’t.

It is change-making, no matter at which level –community, nation or globe – it is operating.

In this way, it can also help Government institutions, again global or national, to change. Here is where partnership between public and private and philanthropic sectors is today of the essence. The real challenge for Government especially following the financial crisis of the past 3 or 4 years is to change itself. Government has to become more strategic, more about empowering than controlling. In this endeavour, creative partnership with those in the business or philanthropic sector can be a huge part of that reform. This can happen within countries; but also globally for example through the World Bank or UN. The ability to leverage Government or IFI power through working with the philanthropic sector is enormous and only just being fully comprehended.

Philanthropic foundations could also do more to work with each other – one reason why this Forum is so important. There are synergies, shared experiences, and contributions that can happen if we talk to each other as friends not rivals. One small example: in Sierra Leone, AGI and TBFF now co-operate in delivering the Government’s anti-malaria programme through using the unparalleled reach of the faith infrastructure – churches and mosques – to disseminate important public health messages about malaria prevention.

My conclusion is about the new social contract itself. There is a political debate about globalisation – good or bad? In my view, this is an entirely pointless discussion. Globalisation is a fact and it is propelled forward by people through technology and travel. The real debate is therefore how do we make globalisation work and for the many not the few? The answer lies, in part, in understanding that the key dividing line in politics today is less traditional ideas of left vs right, than the struggle between the open-minded and the closed, between those who see in globalisation an opportunity to open up the world so that it is not riven with conflicts of race, nation and faith; and those who find such an open world too frightening and close down in the face of it. Central to this goal is the fight against poverty and injustice, whether social, economic, or political. The open-mind seeks to imbue globalisation with common bonds and a shared sense of justice. The closed-mind seeks to retreat behind the walls of identity of race, nation and faith.

At the core of this new social contract is the open-mind: optimistic, not cynical; celebrating difference not scared of it; and believing that to be committed to the service of others, is a life purpose worth striving for. It is what you represent here: and I am honoured to be part of it, a refugee from conventional politics, who has found a new lease of life in philanthropy!


In case you are of the opinion that Tony Blair’s speech on philanthropy was timed by design to chime into the current debate in Britain on charity taxing,  it wasn’t.

Davos, 2009 on – guess what – philanthropy.

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One thought on “Tony Blair on Philanthropy

  1. I wrote to PM Blair when he was still England’s Prime minister. I asked for help in fighting a religious war with islamic fundalmentalism
    because of the danger of ‘certainty’ in the minds of believers of the Koran, sharia, jihad, and salafism/wahabbism. I asked that a worldwide program of teaching young minds that Faith is a belief
    and is contrary to fact-not proven empirically. In this manner, all religions would be easily respected as just a matter of Faith, much
    as one can easily allow for the belief of aliens having visited Earth or
    in climate change. Who would commit suicide in order to make
    the world all believe the same?
    I was ecstatic when I heard Mr. Blair expound on Faith when he was a guest on the Morning Joe Scarborough Show this past Thursday.
    I hope he takes a few minutes to learn about the students of
    Modesto, California being required to pass a course on the 6 major religions as a requisite in order to graduate.

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