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

Guest post by Thomas Paulsen

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.

Across the globe, you will find more than 260,000 foundations in 39 countries with combined assets of USD 1.5 trillion and annual spending of USD 150 billion. The annual budgets of the largest players such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or the Open Society Foundations exceed USD 1 billion, thus topping the state budgets of many nation states in the developing world.

Because of these financial resources, their influence, and tax privileges, foundations need to pursue their objectives in a transparent and accountable way in order to be perceived as legitimate international actors. If foundations live up to these standards, they have a constructive and beneficial role to play in global governance in various ways. There are at least three functions that philanthropic actors fulfil in international affairs:


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.

All the above functions of philanthropic actors come together at the Paris Peace Forum, which will take place at la Grande Halle de La Villette from 11 to 13 November 2018. Foundations do not only support the Forum by providing funds, but also by mobilising support for 120 governance projects selected to be presented during the event, thereby kick-starting and promoting fresh ideas. Actively engaging in various debates on multilateralism and global governance issues to be held during the Forum allows foundations to make available their expertise in facilitating international dialogue and — ultimately — to shape the agenda of international affairs.

Open dialogue and fresh thinking are two key ingredients that are urgently needed for restoring and reviving the international order. Körber Foundation, one of the founding members of the Paris Peace Forum, is ready to play its part in this undertaking.

Views expressed in this publication are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Paris Peace Forum.

Thomas Paulsen. Credits : Körber-Stiftung/ Claudia Höhne

Dr. Thomas Paulsen is a member of the Executive Board of Körber Foundation (Hamburg), one of the Founding Members of the Paris Peace Forum.




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Paris Peace Forum

Paris Peace Forum

Better #governance for a world at peace. Visit:

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