Matching Goodwill with National Priorities: Liberia's Philanthropy Secretariat, 2008-2012


After a protracted civil war ended in 2003, Liberia’s government began the costly and complex task of rebuilding. During the early years, philanthropies and foundations stepped forward to help but often worked on isolated projects that had little to do with Liberia’s broader needs. In addition, some donors duplicated the efforts of others or, worse, worked at cross-purposes. At the same time, government capacity was severely strained. Many experienced and skilled civil servants had died in the war or fled the country, and those who remained were swamped with work. When she took office in 2006, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf knew philanthropies and private foundations could help her achieve ambitious development goals. But although she had a strategic plan and concrete funding priorities, Sirleaf lacked the time and organizational means required to integrate private donors’ resources into the overall effort. After struggling with the problem early in her first term, Sirleaf assigned one of her most trusted advisers, Natty Davis, to work directly with private donors, enlist new contributors and channel philanthropic investments toward government priorities without burdening her office or ministers with repeated information requests and meetings. Davis created the Philanthropy Secretariat within the Office of the President to match donors with local nongovernmental organizations or government ministries on projects of mutual interest. By 2012 and despite shortcomings, the new unit had succeeded in linking more than a dozen new foundations and philanthropies with local organizations and government institutions. The funders gave more than US$16 million in grants, admittedly a small sum compared with annual contributions by multilateral and bilateral donors but still significant in helping the country move forward.

Michael Scharff drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Monrovia, Liberia and the United States in April and May 2012. Case originally published August 2012. Correction appended and case republished October 2012.
Associated Interview(s):  Dan Hymowitz
managing aid influence
aid coordination
Natty B. Davis
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Focus Area(s)
Centers of Government
Critical Tasks
Adaptive management
Donor coordination
Core Challenge
Principal-agent problem (delegation)
Country of Reform
Case Studies
Michael Scharff