Breaking Up is Hard to Do: How One Funder Used Landscape Mapping to Effectively Exit a Field
Transitioning funding from one program area to another is difficult. But using an old tool in a new way allows donors to position a field for continued success.
Funders often need to make strategic decisions about pivoting resources to new funding strategies or exiting specific program areas. As responsible philanthropic stewards, they want to nimbly shift strategies while ensuring that their hard work isn’t lost and that their former grantees don’t lose momentum. Recently, we used landscape mapping—a tool we commonly employ with funders to explore new issues—to help the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provide crucial stakeholders with an actionable map for the future as it was exiting the global libraries field. As a result, our Cultivating Global Library Leadership landscape scan is assisting other funders and implementing organizations in the library sector to identify where to focus their efforts for the greatest impact. Foundations that find themselves in similar circumstances can use this tool in similar ways.
What’s Landscaping Got to Do with It?
Landscape scans (sometimes called environmental scans) provide in-depth information about the important actors involved in a specific area, what strategies are achieving impact, and the challenges and opportunities for investment. Traditionally, funders have used landscape maps to inform investments in a new issue, confirm an existing funding approach or strategy, understand rapid transformation in a sector, or help organizations gain shared understanding about potential partnerships or co-investments. Funders can also use it to provide a baseline map of what is happening in a field so that their grantees and peer donors can target their programs and resources to the areas of greatest need after a funder exits the field.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation employed landscape mapping in this way when it decided to close its longest-running program strategy, the Global Libraries program. For over two decades, the foundation has supported the strengthening of public libraries, investing over a billion dollars in nearly 30,000 public libraries in over 20 countries, and positively impacting the lives of more than 253 million people. In particular, the team prioritized the development of leadership capabilities to ensure that librarians are equipped to lead their organizations through the rapid transformations occurring in the sector and to adapt to the changing resource needs of the communities they serve.
As the Global Libraries team began planning its transition, it realized that no one had a comprehensive picture of librarian leadership capacity-building programs worldwide. It became difficult to identify what was needed to leave the sector strong since the only evidence in the global arena of the core leadership competencies librarians were trained on, of underserved regions, and of programs that track and share successful training models, was anecdotal. The Global Libraries team invited us to help with its transition by conducting the landscape analysis. We systematically researched and documented the existing capacity-building programs, finding that they have reached over 6,000 librarians worldwide but that access to training is limited, particularly in less economically developed regions. Our research also revealed significant variation in program structure and content and that few programs are rigorously tracking the impact of their trainings or codifying successful capacity-building models that can be replicated and scaled. In addition, programs and participants are not well connected, limiting the opportunities to develop economies of scale through networking and shared learnings. These challenges point to opportunities to strengthen collaboration and improve access to capacity building for underserved populations.
The foundation knew that the leading organizations in the field would decide and own the future direction of the sector. The landscape mapping tool offered these actors a mechanism to share their understanding of the current situation, ideas for addressing challenges, and opportunities for further growth. The foundation has also used the landscape map as an important conversation starter for vital players in the sector, inspiring discussions about its greatest needs, which organizations are best positioned to fill which gaps, and what additional capacity might be needed to take advantage of the opportunities.
By investing in a landscape map that is being shared broadly, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has extended its long-term impact and made it easier for partners to select the most effective strategies for continuing the essential work of training library leaders. It also provides a standard against which organizations can measure their progress and the strengthening of the field over time. It is the foundation’s hope and intention that this resource be updated regularly, thus continuing to provide value. Finally, by assessing what has been accomplished and remains to be done, the foundation used this scan to help identify program close-out grants that would enable partners to work toward its vision after it exits the field.
As donors consider how best to exit an area in which they have invested time, energy, and funds, landscape scans are long-lasting investments to consider. Based on our experience, this can leave grantees, peer donors, and other partners with crucial data and recommendations to encourage continued focused investment over years to come.
Rachel Reichenbach is a director at Arabella, where she oversees projects and advises clients on a range of issues. As part of the global philanthropy team, she focuses on conceptualizing, designing, implementing, and evaluating initiatives to achieve bold and lasting change. Rachel has lived and worked in East and Central Africa and is interested in how philanthropists can play a catalytic role in a variety of issues facing the continent, including market access, human rights, and global accountability.