Philanthropic Foundations and Local Policy Making in the Austerity Era: Does Urban Governance Matter?

  • Stefania Ravazzi University of Torino, Department of Cultures, politics and society, Lungo Dora Siena 10010153, Torino
Keywords: local governance, philanthropy, urban regime, public policy


Over the last decades, European cities have been facing serious constraints. In particular, decreasing transfers from central governments, the introduction of domestic ‘Stability pacts’ and the economic crisis have significantly challenged the capacity of local governments to address societal issues. Within this context, local governments have tried to find new ways by establishing collaborations with a wide range of private actors, including non-profit organizations and the civil society as a whole. Among these private actors, big philanthropic organizations are gaining prominence, acting as public policy supporters and policy makers. In particular, those philanthropic organizations, which focus the operating activity on single communities, are emerging as potential key actors in local governance, thanks to their capacity to concentrate resourses and efforts in specific and limited territories. For this new emerging role, a recent debate on their impact on local policy making has raised in the last years. This paper aims at presenting the findings of a comparative analysis on the impact that some of the world’s biggest philanthropic organizations have produced in two Italian urban contexts. In particular, the comparative analysis of these two cases had the aim of testing a major thesis: the impact of philanthropic foundations on local policy making varies in relation to the consolidated mode of governance within which they operate.


Amato, F., Bolocan Goldstein, M., Cremaschi, M., Governa, F. & Pasqui, G. (2011) Torino, Milano, Roma, Napoli. Ciclo politico, agenda urbana, policies (1993-2010), In: De Matteis, G. (ed.) Le grandi città italiane. Società e territori da ricomporre (Venezia: Marsilio), pp. 207-260
Anheier, H. K. (2001) Foundations in Europe: a comparative perspective, In: Schuelter, A., Then, V. & Walkenhorst, P. (eds.) Foundations in Europe. Society, management and law (London: Bertelsman Foundation), pp. 35-81.
Anheier, H. K. & Daly, S. (2001) Comparing foundation roles, In: Schuelter, A., Then, V. & Walkenhorst, P. (eds.) Foundations in Europe. Society, management and law (London: Bertelsman Foundation), pp. 27-45.
Anheier, H. K. & Daly, S. (2001) (eds) The politics of foundations. A comparative analysis (London and New York: Routledge).
Belligni, S. & Ravazzi, S. (2013) La politica e la città (Bologna: Il Mulino).
Belligni, S. & Ravazzi, S. (2013) Policy change without metamorphosis. The 1993-2011 urban regime in Turin, Metropoles, 2013(12), available at: (May 31, 2016).
Blom-Hansen, K., Baekgaard, M. & Serritzlew, S. (2014) Tax Limitations and Revenue Shifting Strategies in Local Government, Public Management and Finance, 34(1), pp. 64-84.
Bobbio, L. (2005) Italy: After the storm, In: Denters, B. & Rose, L. (eds.) Comparing Local Governance: Trends and Developments (London: Palgrave), pp. 29-46.
Brenner, N. (2004) New state spaces (New York: Oxford University Press).
Brenner, N. & Theodore, N. (2002) Spaces of neoliberalism: urban restructuring in North America and Western Europe (Blackwell: Oxford).
Clark, T. N. (1994) (ed) Urban Innovation: Creative Strategies for Turbulent Times. (Thousand Oaks: Sage).
Clemens, E. & Lee, L. C. (2010) Catalysts for Change? Foundations and School Reform, 1950–2005 In: Anheier, H. K. & Hammack, D. C. (eds) American Foundations: Roles and Contributions (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution), pp. 51-72.
Colwell, M. A. (1993) Private Foundations and Public Policy: The Political Role of Philanthropy (New York: Garland Publishing).
Coulson, A. & Ferrario,, C. (2007) ‘Institutional Thickness’: Local Governance and Economic Development in Birmingham, England, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 31(3), pp. 591-615.
Davies, J. S. (2004) Conjuncture or Disjuncture? An Institutionalist Analysis of Local Regeneration Partnerships in the UK, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 28(3), pp. 570-585.
Davies, J. S. & Pill, M. C. (2012) Hollowing-out neighborhood governance? Re-scaling revitalization in Baltimore and Bristol, Urban Studies 49(10), pp. 2199-2217.
Dematteis, G. (2011) Le grandi città italiane. Società e territori da ricomporre. (Venezia: Marsilio).
Dente, B., Bobbio, L. & Spada, A. (2005) Government or governance of urban innovation? A tale of two cities, DisP – The Planning Review, 41(162), pp. 41-52.
Denters, B. & Rose, L. (2005) Comparing Local Governance: Trends and Developments (London: Palgrave).
DiGaetano, A. & Strom, E. (2003) Comparative urban governance: An integrated approach, Urban Affairs Review, (38)3, pp. 356-395.
European Commission (2003) Public Finances in EMU, European Economy, 2003(3), available at: (May 30, 2016).
Galimberti, D. (2013) Milano – Città Metropolitana : entre conservatisme et innovation incrémentale au-delà du politique, Metropoles, 2013(12), available at: (May 29, 2016)
Geddes, M. (2006) Partnership and the Limits to Local Governance in England: Institutionalist Analysis and Neoliberalism, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 30(1), pp. 76-97.
Gerber, P. (2006) Der lange Weg der sozialen Innovation - Stiftungen und sozialer Wandel: Unternehmensnahe Stiftungen in der Bundesrepublik als Innovationsagenturen im Feld der Bildungs- und Sozialpolitik (Frankfurt/Main: Peter Lang).
Glaeser, E. L. & Gottlieb, J. D. (2006) Urban resurgence and the consumer city. The Social Science Research Network Electronic Paper, Harvard Institute of Economic Research, available at:, (May 25, 2016)
Greasely, S., Wolman, H. & John, P. (2011) Does government performance matter: the effects of local government on urban outcomes in England, Urban Studies, 48(9), pp. 1835-51.
John, P. (2001) Local governance in Western Europe (London: Sage).
Jung, T. & Harrow, J. (2013) Developing a better understanding of community foundations in the UK’s localisms, Policy & Politics, 43(3), pp. 409-27.
Hambleton, R. & Gross, J. S. (2007) (eds) Governing cities in a global era. Urban innovation, competition, and democratic reform (New York: Palgrave MacMillan).
Harding, A. (1999) Review Article: North Urban Political Economy, Urban Theory and British Research, British Journal of Political Science, 29(4), pp. 673-698.
Harrow, J. & Jung, T. (2011) Philanthropy is Dead; Long Live Philanthropy?, Public Management Review, 13(8), pp. 1047-1056.
Kantor, P. (2013) The two faces of American urban policy, Urban Affairs Review, 49(6), pp. 821-850.
Kantor, P. & Turok, I. (2012) The politics of urban growth and decline, In: Peter, J., Mossberger, K. & Clarke, S. E. (eds.), Oxford Handbook of urban politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp 468-85.
Kitson, M., Martin, R., & Tyler, P. (2011) The geographies of austerity, Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 4(3), pp. 289–302.
Knott, J. H. & McCarthy, D. (2007) Policy Venture Capital. Foundations, Government Partnerships, and Child Care Programs, Administration & Society, 39(3), pp. 319-353.
Kovacs, P. E. (2011) (ed.) The Gates Foundation and the Future of US ‘Public’ Schools (London & New York: Routledge).
Le Galès, P. (2002) European cities: social conflicts and governance (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
Logan, J. R. & Swanstrom, T. (1990) Beyond the City Limits (Philadelphia: Temple University Press).
Lowndes, V., & Pratchett, L. (2012) Local Governance under the Coalition Government: Austerity, Localism and the ‘Big Society’, Local Government Studies, 38(1), pp. 1-20.
Martínez Muñoz, M. & Chapa Sánchez del Corral, A. (2014) Una aproximación a la regulación de las fundaciones bancarias, Revista cuatrimestral de las Facultades de Derecho y Ciencias Económicas y Empresariales, 92(2), pp. 151-76.
Meegan, R., Kennett, P., Jones, G. & Croft, J. (2013) Global economic crisis, austerity and neoliberal urban governance in England, Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 7(1), pp. 137–53.
Navarro Yàñez, C. J., Magnier, A. & Ramírez, M. A. (2008) Local governance as government–business cooperation in Western democracies: analysing local and intergovernmental effects by multi-level comparison, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 32(3), pp. 531-47.
Overmans, J. F. A. & Noordegraaf, M. (2014) Managing austerity: rhetorical and real responses to fiscal stress in local government, Public Money & Management, 34(2), pp. 99-106.
Painter, J. & Goodwin, M. (2000) Local governance after Fordism: a regulationist perspective, In: Stoker, G. (ed.) The new politics of British local government (Macmillan: Basingstoke), pp. 33-53.
Parkinson, M. & Boddy, M. (eds.) (2004) City Matters: Competitiveness, cohesion and urban governance (Bristol: The Policy Press).
Peck, J. (2012) Political economies of scale: fast policy, interscalar relations, and neoliberal workfare. Economic Geography, 78(3), pp. 331-360.
Pierre, J. (1999) Models of Urban Governance: The Institutional Dimension of Urban Politics, Urban Affairs Review, 34(3), pp. 372-396.
Pierre, J. (2014) Can urban regimes travel in time and space? Urban regime theory, urban governance theory, and comparative urban politics. Urban Affairs Review, 50(6), pp. 1-26.
Pill, M. C. (2013) Urban governance when austerity is the norm: the role of philanthropic foundations in Baltimore (Cardiff: De Monfort University).
Pollitt, C. (2010) Cuts and reforms-public services as we move into a new era, Society and Economy, 32(1), pp. 17-31.
Pollitt, C. & Talbot, C. (eds.) (2004) Unbundling government: A critical analysis of the global trend to agencies, quangos and contractualisation (London: Routledge).
Reynaers, A.-M. & De Graaf, G. (2014) Public Values in public-private partnerships, International Journal of Public Administration, 37(2), pp. 120-128.
Richardson, J. (2011) (ed) From Recession to Renewal: The Impact of the Financial Crisis on Public Services and Local Government (Bristol: Policy Press).
Roelofs, J. (2003) Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism (Albany: SUNY Press).
Salamon, L. M. (2014) Philanthropication thru privatization: building permanent assets for social progress (Bologna: Il Mulino).
Saltman, K. J. (2010) The Gift of Education: Public Education and Venture Philanthropy (New York: Palgrave).
Sapotichne, J. & Jones, B. D. (2012) Setting City Agendas: Power and Policy Change, In: John, P., Mossberger, K. & Clarke, S. E. (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Urban Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 442-467.
Sassen, S. (2012) Cities in a world economy (London: Sage).
Savitch, P. & Kantor, H. V. (2002) Cities in the International Marketplace (Princeton: Princeton University Press).
Schelter, A., Then, V. & Walkenhorst, P. (2001) Foundations in Europe. Society, management and law (London: Bertelsmann Foundation).
Schoeller, O. (2006) Bildung geht stiften: Zur Rolle von Think Tanks in der Wissensgesellschaft, In: Bittlingmayer, U. & Bauer, U. (eds.) Die ‘Wissensgesellschaft’: Mythos, Ideologie oder Realitaet? (Wiesbaden: Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften), pp. 171-192.
Smith, J. & Wohlstetter, P. Understanding the different faces of partnering: a typology of public-private partnerships, School Leadership & Management, 26(3), pp. 249-268.
Stoker, G. (2011) Was Local Governance Such a Good idea? A Global Comparative Perspective, Public Administration, 89(1), pp. 15-31.
Stone, D. (2010) Private philanthropy or policy transfer? The transnational norms of the Open Society Institute, Policy & Politics, 38(2), pp. 269-87.
Suarez, D. F & Lee, Y. (2011) Participation and Policy, Public Management Review, 13(8), pp. 1117-1138.
Thuemler, E. (2011) Foundations, Schools and The State, Public Management Review, 13(8), pp. 1095-1116.
Tortorella, W. (2010) (ed) Città d’Italia. Le aree urbane tra crescita, innovazione ed emergenze (Bologna, Il Mulino).
Turok, I. & Mykhnenko, V. (2007) The trajectories of European cities, 1960 - 2005. Cities, 24(3), pp. 165-182.
Van den Berg, L., Braun, J., & Van der Meer, J. (eds.) (1998) National urban policies in the European Union: responses to urban issues in the fifteen member states (Aldershot, Ashgate).
Van den Berg, L., Braun, J., & Van der Meer, J. (eds.) (2007) National policy responses to urban challenges in Europe (Aldershot, Ashgate).
Vandelli, L. (2004) Il sistema delle autonomie locali (Bologna, Il Mulino).
Vandelli, L. (2014) Il governo locale (Bologna, Il Mulino).
Villadsen, K. (2011) Modern Welfare And ‘Good Old’ Philanthropy, Public Management Review, 13(8), pp. 1057-1075.
Wang, L., Graddy, E. & Morgan, D. (2011) The Development of Community-Based Foundations in East Asia, Public Management Review, 13(8), pp. 1155-1178.
Wolman, H. (2012). What Cities Do: How Much Does Urban Policy Matter?, In: Peter, J., Mossberger, K., & Clarke, S.E. (eds.), Oxford Handbook of urban politics (Oxford, Oxford University Press), pp. 415-441.