Good news – you don’t have to reinvent the wheel! The eco-system for supporting new community foundations is there


Two years after an earthquake devastated Haiti, conversations have begun in earnest about the creation of a Haitian-led, Haitian-owned institution – a community foundation – which can mobilize a range of different resources – public and private, local and international, institutional and individual, cash and in-kind  – and which can provide the type of financial capital and technical support to Haitian NGOs, community based groups and other grassroots initiatives which are both sorely lacking in Haiti. In January I facilitated a two-day workshop in Port au Prince to develop the idea of establishing a community foundation. When I asked the participants to reflect on what was and wasn’t working in Haiti today, what emerged was a strong sense of frustration and disillusion as to how little had still been achieved, particularly given the vast outpouring of philanthropic donations and international aid in the aftermath of the earthquake. The weakness – or, in some areas and sectors, complete absence – of government as a mechanism for delivering development to the Haitian people was identified as one key factor. But the international aid effort also came in for criticism: the lack of coordination, the sense that Haitians were being excluded from decision-making, that their voices were not being heard and that Haitian NGOs and groups were being overlooked and certainly not being invested in. In the words of one of the participants, “A country cannot run on projects – Haiti is a country of projects.”

Two years since the earthquake and it seems that for many the time feels about right to start thinking about new models and approaches for Haiti: the gear change from the immediate humanitarian relief effort to long-term development is well established and the limitations of the current development effort seem all too apparent.

The timing for a conversation about new and alternative approaches and models to development in Haiti is good from another perspective. Ten years ago, or even five, there were far fewer examples and experiences of setting up a community foundation in a developing context like Haiti to look to for inspiration and to draw upon for direction. Today, the journey of setting up a local foundation in Haiti – or anywhere else – need no longer be a lonely one. All over the world, there are individual institutions as well as national and regional networks of community foundations, women’s funds and other types of local grantmakers which are increasingly well networked, able to articulate a collective voice in dialogue with international donors and governments and which offer a treasure trove of practical and grounded experience derived from no better place than the front-lines of foundation-building. They may not be as well sign-posted as other elements of today’s global civil society but the basic infrastructure, relationships, networks and knowledge are there and together they form the basis of an important eco-system in which new and emerging institutions and initiatives can emerge and thrive.

The value of such a global network and the experiences that it can bring was evident at the Haiti meeting. In attendance was the Kenya Community Development Foundation (KDCF), which is now fourteen years old, as well as the Fundación Comunitaria de la Frontera Norte (five years old) and the Corporativa de Fundaciones (thirteen years old) from Mexico, and the recently established Baoba Fund for Racial Equity in Brazil. In terms of experiences specific to Haiti there was also the Lambi Fund of Haiti, a grassroots grantmaker (14 years old) and the Haiti Fund at the Boston Foundation (established in the aftermath of the earthquake in 2010).  And with each of these institutions comes a rich assortment of different experiences to share, stories to tell, advice to give (and a combined track record amounting an impressive fifty years!).

Josette Perard and Marie Marthe St Cyr of the Lambi Fund of Haiti

The experiences from Kenya, in particular, resonated with the group. There were many parallels between the environment in Kenya in the late 1990s and the situation in Haiti today and it was these contextual factors that served to shape the development approach, culture, governance and management style of KCDF. Janet Mawiyoo, CEO of KCDF, characterized those factors as:

–        Many international actors in Kenya and yet not much to show for their efforts

–        High levels of corruption and inefficiency in government and in public institutions

–        A sense that development agendas were being set from outside Kenya

–        A low level of input and participation from communities

–        Increasingly, a dependency mindset, with people looking for help from outside and not recognizing what they have

–        The existence of strong giving traditions in Kenya, particularly around family units, which were not appreciated as something that could be built on.

In framing the new institution of KCDF, therefore, its founders had sought to emphasise some key principles which continue to underpin its work today. They are:

–        Sustainability – taking a long term view of the community

–        Listening to community issues / voices – and being responsive to them

–        Promoting local giving – as a move away from depending on foreign support and changing mindset

–        Importance of local accountability

–        Capacity development of local organizations

Janet Mawiyoo, CEO of KCDF

As work on the Haiti community foundation initiative begins to gain pace, and to negotiate its space in what is an extremely crowded NGO landscape in the country, there will be challenges and distractions – of money and politics, no doubt, and of managing expectations, particularly in the short term.   The support of sister institutions, who have travelled that lonely path before them and who have sought to change mindsets and offer an alternative approach to development, will come to play an enormously important role.

Jenny Hodgson

Aga Khan Foundation and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation release report on the role of community philanthropy and aid effectiveness

The Value of Community Philanthropy: Results of a Consultation is written by Barry Knight, CENTRIS (and consultant to the GFCF). It is the result of series of consultations in Asia, Africa and North America to explore how community philanthropy can help build local capacity in which GFCF staff, board members and grantees were active participants. The results of these consultations demonstrate the importance of foundations and development agencies partnering with local communities to achieve lasting development outcomes.

The report offers a definition of community philanthropy for practitioners and identifies key priorities for building the capacity of the field of community philanthropy. According to Knight, “The roundtable consultations in Washington, DC, Johannesburg and Dhaka revealed an enormous potential for local community foundations around the globe to build links between partners and identify priority areas and next steps to propel forward the field of community philanthropy.” Read more

Want to know more about YouthBank? Join our webinar on March 14th

As part of our Youth Civic Engagement programme, the GFCF will be hosting two webinars on different aspects and examples of community foundations’ work with young people in various parts of the world. The first webinar, on Wednesday 14th March, will be on YouthBank, which is a unique way of involving young people in community issues, decision-making and local grantmaking. Our two presenters will be Vernon Ringland from the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland and Simona Serban from the Cluj Community Foundation in Romania.The webinar will be open to any community foundation practitioner interested in finding out more about how YouthBanks works, and will be particularly geared towards practitioners from emerging community foundations in the Global South and Central and Eastern Europe. We will be sending out more details about timings and how to register to all current and past GFCF grant partners in due course or you can find out more by contacting us at info<at>

Second community foundation workshop in Haiti: practitioners from Kenya, Mexico and Brazil share their experiences

Conversations about the creation of a community foundation in Haiti have been ongoing over the last year or so as part of a process initiated by Espwa and the Puerto Rico Community Foundation and supported by the GFCF, the Kellogg Foundation and the Inter-American Foundation. An initial workshop to discuss the idea was held in Haiti last year which brought together an initial group of community and business leaders, diaspora and funders. On January 31st and February 1st 2012 a second workshop was held in Port au Prince to take the idea further. In attendance were an expanded group of Haitian representatives as well as foundation practitioners and board members from Mexico, Kenya and Brazil. Over the course of the workshop, which was facilitated by Jenny Hodgson of the GFCF, participants identified some of the key obstacles that were inhibiting the realisation of Haitian-led development agenda as well as some of the local assets – such as existing grassroots groups, the commitments of individuals, support from the diaspora etc. – which could be built on in the framing of a new institution.

Sarah Hendricks, Tanguy Armand, Luiz Alberto Gonçaves, Pierre Noel

They heard from foundation practitioners and board members about the experiences of establishing community foundations in Kenya (Janet Mawiyoo from the Kenya Community Development Foundation) and Mexico (Karen Yarza from Fundación Comunitaria de la Frontera Norte and Ixánar Uriza from Corporativa de Fundaciones and Luiz Alberto Gonçaves, a founding board member of the Baoba Fund for Racial Equity in Brazil. And they began to map out a vision for a Haitian community foundation and a plan to move the process forward. For further information, contact Marie-Rose Romain Murphy at Espwa (romainmurphy<at>

Participants at the workshop in Port au Prince



Remembering Olga Alexeeva and her contribution to global – and community – philanthropy

Olga Alexeeva’s sudden and untimely death in July 2011 marked a huge loss to the world of global philanthropy. In recent years, having kick-started and encouraged many of the more interesting new philanthropic initiatives in Russia, Olga had “gone global”, bringing her passion, her energy, her no-nonsense style and her profound commitment to issues of justice and human rights to the emerging philanthropic arenas in countries such as Brazil, China and India, working with new foundations and wealthy individuals and families to help them think through and realise their philanthropic goals. Initially Olga did this the Charities Aid Foundation and, more recently, under the auspices of her own new organization, the Philanthropy Bridge Foundation.

Olga Alexeeva

Olga also had a profound influence on the development of the global community foundation field. Although most recently she had been operating in a world of big money, she never lost touch with her belief in the power of communities, educating her donor clients about the value of local organizations in helping to bring about real change in the communities that they knew and understood so well. In the mid 1990s, it was Olga, then working at CAF Russia, who had recognized the potential of the community foundation as a vehicle that could model a new type of cross-sectoral collaboration and foster civic activism in the newly-configured political and economic landscape of post-Communist Russia. The first Russian community foundation was established in Togliatti in 1998, with support from Olga and CAF. Today there are over 40 across Russia, from the exclave of Kaliningrad to Primorsky Krai in the Far East and that number continues to grow. The field is now sufficiently established so as not to have to rely on the energies and leadership of a single person, with national and regional networks in place and a bevy of seasoned practitioners for new community foundations to turn to.

Less established, however, is the field of philanthropy in emerging economies and it was this that Philanthropy Bridge Foundation was setting out to rectify. Alas, with Olga’s death and the foundation so new the trustees of the PBF have decided to wind up the organization. On January 23rd and 24th, the PBF trustees hosted a seminar, “Building Bridges: Developing Philanthropy in Emerging Markets” in London for philanthropy practitioners and former colleagues of Olga to determine what parts of Olga’s work and her vision can be carried on by others. You can read more about the outcomes of the meeting in a piece for the Alliance blog by Filiz Bikmen, director of programmes and international relations at the Sabanci Foundation.

Youth Civic Engagement Programme: new grants

The GFCF is pleased to announce four grant supplements to community foundation partners in Macedonia, Brazil, Egypt and Zimbabwe to supporting the ongoing development of their youth programmes. Building on the success of their Youth Club programme, Local Community Development Foundation Stip plans to explore the potential for YouthBank in Macedonia, starting with a study visit to Cluj Community Foundation in Romania to learn from them. In Brazil, Florianopolis-based community foundation ICom will develop a joint programme with four other partners that connects and engages young people from all walks of life. And grants to Uluntu Community Foundation (Zimbabwe) and Waqfeyat Al Maadi Community Foundation (Egypt) will support youth programmes in the overall context of the institutional development of these two relatively new community foundations. A new grant was also awarded to Juarez-based Fundación Comunitaria de la Frontera Norte to support the further development and implementation of its Youth in Philanthropy Programme.

ICom, Brazil: focus group with young entrepreneurs