World Summits and Conferences: Grantmaking on a Global Stage

Summits and world conferences can give grantees an important opportunity to contribute ideas to governments and international agencies — and to link with counterparts and kindred movements around the globe. This guide, drawing on grantmaker experiences, looks at how funding in connection with a summit can advance grantees' programmatic goals and help them get the most from a summit experience.

Highlights

  • Why fund in connection with a summit
  • Working with grantees to advance their goals
  • Supporting their efforts to engage the media effectively
  • Understanding the debates about summits

What's in the Guide?

  • Setting the Stage: What are international summits? What can they accomplish? And what issues can be expected to arise along the way? This chapter lists a few of the opportunities and challenges that grantmakers may encounter.
  • Why Fund in Connection with a Summit? International summits are complex and sometimes controversial events, but with immense potential value. Here, grantmakers describe some of the ways that funding in connection with a summit can advance program goals.
  • How Some Grantmakers Prepare: Well before they make the first grant, grantmakers can prepare themselves by learning about the process, developing program goals and networking with potential partners. This section includes some preliminary actions grantmakers can take to get the most out of a summit opportunity.
  • Working with Grantees: What kinds of activities could a grantmaker fund? From help with coalition-building, to providing funding for summit news bulletins, grantmakers offer ideas about how to support grantees and other actors before and during a summit.
  • Engaging the Media: The quality and extent of media coverage can have a big impact on a summit's success. How can a funder help grantees prepare to work well with the media? In this section, grantmakers offer some experience and guidance on how to engage the world's eyes and ears.
  • Beyond the Summit: Work doesn't end when a summit closes its doors. Here are examples of ways in which funders have contributed to important summit follow-up activities.
  • The Debate about Summits: Grantmaking in connection with summits can offer short-term benefits to participants and longer-term impacts on policy. There are costs as well as benefits associated with mobilizing governments and non-governmental organizations at a worldwide gathering. So, before stepping into this arena, it's wise to understand the debate about summits. Here are issues commonly raised and how some grantmakers respond.
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    Challenges and Benefits of Global Conferences and Summits

    The sheer size, expense, and political and logistical complexity of conferences raise a host of issues and problems that come with bringing people from a wide range of perspectives together to address social inequities and development challenges. This is an ambitious goal and, not surprisingly, governments, the U.N., and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have expressed frustration about the process and its outcomes. By their very nature, summits make debates about how to address social inequities available to global audiences and not everyone is going to agree on the best solutions. Reaching joint recommendations for solutions is an important and challenging task.

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    Forms of International Summits and Conferences
    1. An official U.N. summit is typically an official meeting of governments convened by the United Nations to address a vital social and economic issue affecting all countries, for example sustainable development, the status of women, or racism.
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    Controversies Surround World Conferences and Summits
    • Weigh costs and benefits. It’s important, said one grantmaker, to recognize that incidents may take place and things may be said that are highly offensive to some people and even run counter to a foundation's core values. “When you’re a funder,” he cautioned, “you have the idea that you’re funding something specific. But in the court of public opinion, there’s an assumption that if you fund it you must agree with it. So you need to look at the whole summit and do a risk analysis.”
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    Why Fund in Connection with a Global Summit?

    A successful summit might be expected to produce these general outcomes:

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    Preparing for Global Summit Involvement
    • Develop long-term goals as early as possible in the summit process. “You have to think about what your goals are, going in. Now, my goals are often to help grantees spotlight an issue – to pluralize the voices that are engaged in these debates, to bring voices to that debate that would not have been there without us..."
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    The Official UN Summit What It Is and Does

    Summits and their preparatory and follow-up activities can involve literally tens of thousands of non-official actors engaged in a wide range of advocacy, networking, capacity-building, movement-building, and public education efforts - well beyond the perspection that they are the exclusive domain of governments.

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    Strategies for Working with Global Summit Grantees (aka Organizers)

    Some of the ways that grantmakers have funded grantees in connection with an international summit include:

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    The NGO Forum What it Is and Does

    Taking the summit agenda as a point of departure, an NGO forum generally engages large numbers of people from non-governmental organizations around the globe.

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    External Resources World Summits and Conferences
    • The U.N. Non-Governmental Liaison Service (NLGS) provides information about the United Nations and U.N. summits. The NLGS office helps NGOs and others learn how to enter and participate in the summit process, including implementation and follow-up activities. NLGS often provides orientation sessions prior to PrepComs. It contains useful logistical and strategic information on how NGOs can prepare for any summit.
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    Engaging the Media in World Summits and Conferences
    • Provide support to grantees that already work well with media, and make training and technical assistance available to those who need it.
    • Help grantees to reach out to journalists early in the preparation stage.
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    The International Civil Society Meeting What it Is and Does

    International civil society meetings come in all sizes and shapes, but some can seem positively summit-like in their numbers of participants.

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    Follow Up Steps: Beyond the Global Summit or Conference
    • Facilitate and support various forms of debriefing with and among grantees. Grantmakers should prepare grantees in advance of the summit to expect and plan for these kinds of follow-up activities.
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    Meetings of Multilateral Institutions What They Are and Do

    These large international meetings of special purpose institutions like the World Bank or World Trade Organization can seem summit-like. As with summits, civil society representatives may attend these meetings as observers, but with many of the same constraints imposed on access and participation as may be found at official U.N. summits, if not more.

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    Sample Timeline for a UN Summit

    “All the member states in a conference essentially put their items on the table in the first few rounds. These inputs come from all directions. They come from regional meetings. They come from national consultations. Some of the agencies will have done special papers. All of these things are poured into the process.”

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    Glossary of Key UN Summit Terms
    • Accreditation: In this guide, we use the term to refer to the process by which an NGO gains official permission to enter the meeting grounds of a particular summit. For details about the credentialing process.
    • Caucus: A group of organizations and individuals interested in similar issues or regions that come together during a summit or PrepCom to exchange information, hold briefings, and formulate positions or statements relevant to the proceedings.
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This guide was written primarily for grantmakers and donors who may be considering funding in connection with a world summit or conference. It is intended as a first step in helping them decide whether and how to proceed, and where to go for more information. But it may also be useful to distribute copies to others who can be important to your success. For example:

With Your Board — If you are prepared to consider support in connection with a world summit or conference, board members might want some guidance in thinking through the special considerations that such activities may raise. You could offer this guide with questions such as these in mind:

  • For a given field and our organization, what are the benefits of funding in connection with a world summit or conference? What kind of controversies might come up and how will we handle them?
  • Do we have, or want to develop, the resources — time, management, budget — necessary for success?

With Colleagues and Advisers — You might find it helpful to discuss this guide with other grantmakers with whom you might collaborate, or with experts who advise you on grantmaking, either informally or on a more structured basis. This guide could prompt a discussion about:

  • What approaches have others found useful in targeting world summits or conferences?
  • What would it be helpful for us to learn, or what technical advice do we need, to help in formulating our decisions?
  • What is the potential for collaboration across organizations and programs?

With Grantees — If you feel ready for an exploratory conversation with a grantee or grant applicant about whether funding in connection with a world summit or conference makes sense, this guide could assist in organizing that conversation. You and the grantee could use the conversation to consider:

  • What activities would it make sense for the grantee to carry out before, during, and after the summit?
  • How would the grantee organization and its field benefit from involvement in a world summit or conference?
  • What organizational, management, or fundraising strains might this work entail, and would the likely benefits be worth the cost and effort?

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