I have come to appreciate, over years of peripheral but attentive observation of the work of GFCF, that the poorest communities very frequently give the most as a proportion of their wealth. The contribution of the poor is not only the most generous but frequently better at reaching its target. The GFCF attempts to channel collective help, whether from major foundations or individuals, to poorer communities that have a history of local participation and philanthropy. They have direct and profound interaction with community organizations and foundations. Through the GFCF bigger donations are re-deployed through community foundations that have an immediate grasp of local short and long-term goals and their feasibility.
I have made a small donation to the GFCF because I trust the work they do. I also believe that the dilution of ‘big donor’ influence is crucial to the survival and success of community foundations. Much as I admire and appreciate the work of many of the larger philanthropy organizations or development agencies, they can be easily swayed by the political and economic trends of the societies where they originate. Furthermore the bureaucratic, administrative and geographical distance between them and those in need can alienate donors who, despite clever campaigns, begin to doubt the value of their donations. Donor fatigue and disillusion are less likely if we begin with the idea that people in poor communities know what they need and need to be given the opportunity to make those decisions for themselves.
Though Africa is generally seen as major consumer of international aid, and mostly a drain on it, it is good to discover that it also has strong philanthropic practices that have much to teach the world about giving. The very factors that make Africa a recipient of aid – poverty, political and social exclusion, corruption and bad governance – have also led to creativity in community philanthropy. In dire circumstances, people develop their own banking and saving systems and invent ingenious ways of managing and financing projects that would be beyond the call of an individual’s capacity or savings. These are often based on the idea that small and regular contributions in cash or kind to a collective project or group can allow the financing or implementation of bigger projects that benefit families or communities. In the histories of the wealthier world, there are many relatively recent examples of how we managed poverty through co-operative banks and buying collectives. These still exist of course and are being revitalized because they make great sense when international banking becomes untrustworthy. To a degree most non-governmental giving, and even governmental giving (via taxes) recognizes that plans and projects can be helped through the subscriptions of many. The difference between poor and better-off subscribers to such efforts may be more of size than systems.
Another difference is that the further we are from the necessity or cause, the more diluted and insubstantial our efforts seem.
Guest blog from Georgina Hamilton, a South African-based donor to the GFCF