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International Politics Beyond States: Foundations and the Philanthropic Sector in Global Governance

The times of Metternich and Bismarck are long gone. 100 years after the end of the First World War, it is no longer the prerogative of political leaders and great powers to organize international affairs. Quite the contrary: global governance is shaped by a multitude of governmental and non-governmental actors. With private wealth significantly rising over the past decades, the philanthropic sector, and most notably foundations, has emerged as a relevant actor not only in nation states, but also at the global level.


Foundations and other philanthropic actors can explore trends and topics free from political constraints and agendas. Because of this, they act as important agenda-setters for pressing topics in global affairs that might otherwise not have received the attention they deserve. In this function, foundations can prompt public debates and thereby raise public awareness for the challenges that societies are currently facing. As independent voices, they can enrich public discourse and contribute to the pluralism of opinions and the competition for the best ideas.

Kick starters

With their substantial financial resources, foundations are in a position to implement their own projects and programmes, but they can also support promising initiatives by other actors, e.g. by providing seed funding. Foundations thus play an important role in exploring new grounds and often act as catalysts for translating new ideas into practice.


Foundations can facilitate international exchanges and dialogue by organizing conferences and other forms of meetings and gatherings. In doing so, philanthropic actors create platforms for frank and controversial discussions. Next to testing new ideas, these exchanges help build trust among the involved actors and improve mutual understanding in global affairs — they very basis of peace and cooperation.

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Thomas Paulsen. Credits : Körber-Stiftung/ Claudia Höhne

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