Learning to drive each other’s cars…..

Can community philanthropy coexist with the big external aid entities? Are community foundations part of a larger movement of emerging hybrid organizations in a new social economy? These are some big questions for the community philanthropy field which have been raised in the past few weeks.

The Value of Community Philanthropy argues that increasing local ownership and accountability leads to stronger communities and should be a main focus of development aid practitioners. The report sets out the results of a consultation (conducted by the Mott Foundation and the Aga Khan Foundation USA, in association with the Global Fund for Community Foundations),  to explore ways to stimulate and develop community philanthropy as a way of strengthening civil society and enhancing aid effectiveness.  Its formal launch at an event hosted by the Aspen Institute in Washington D.C. earlier in the month was attended by donors and development practitioners, and generated a positive buzz on the social media airwaves.

The report was written by Barry Knight, Executive Director of CENTRIS and adviser to the GFCF. Barry is also co-author of another new report, The New Generation of Community Foundations, just released by the GFCF and the Coady International Institute, which explores the emerging community foundation phenomenon in the context of other forms of “social solidarity” institutions and movements, and also as a response to disillusionment with conventional channels of international aid.

The collaboration between the GFCF and Coady emerged out of chance encounter at a workshop in South Africa in 2009. During a brief conversation during a coffee break, Gord Cunningham (then acting director at Coady) and I discovered that, although we were coming from slightly different angles we shared a common interest in community-driven development and, in particular, the role of local assets.

For the GFCF the past six years of grantmaking to almost 150 organizations in 40-plus countries has allowed us both to support and observe local community philanthropy institutions emerging and developing in very different parts of the world. We have seen that community philanthropy and its institutions vary according to context. And sometimes this has lead us to wonder whether the term “community foundation” is itself always helpful or whether it can sometimes end up constraining our thinking. There is no doubt that precise terminology can bring clarity to an emerging field and affirm its collective identity, but there is also a danger that if we are only looking for similarities – or a lowest common denominator – we end up losing the contextual and nuanced forms that these institutions can often take. So increasingly, in our grantmaking we have become less preoccupied with form alone and more interested in how such institutions evolve and fit within the broader landscape of people-led development and other forms of social innovation.

On its part, the Coady Institute’s interest in citizen-led development has its origins in the work of Jody Kretzmann and John McKnight on Asset-based Community Development (ABCD). Gord Cunningham and his colleague, Alison Mathie, became interested in seeing how a development approach which shifts from a focus on needs, deficits and problems to assets, strengths and contributions, could be built on and applied in different settings. Through their international work, they had seen how the introduction of an “ABCD” approach often had a rapid uptake at community level, and how groups began to organize informally around new activities by identifying assets and opportunity. At the same time, they had also observed that these informal activities eventually reached a ceiling and couldn’t continue without formalizing in some way: this led them to starting looking at innovative types of formal organizations that used assets as leverage and asked for investment, not charity.

At a subsequent meeting between the GFCF and Coady, where we were joined by Johanna Hendricks from the West Coast Community Foundation in South Africa and Janet Mawiyoo from the Kenya Community Development Foundation, we decided that the best way of testing the value of a joined-up approach was to conduct a joint study of a successful example of community development, which involved both a community foundation and an asset-based approach. Our joint report The Story Behind the Well, tells the story of how a rural community in Makutano, Kenya, has transformed itself over a period of 14 years and looks at the role played by the local development association and the Kenya Community Development Foundation in bringing about that change.

Building on the evidence presented in The Story Behind the Well, and with funding from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), we invited a group of “innovative thinkers” to come together to discuss new approaches to community and organizational development last July at Coady, in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. The group, which included participants from South Africa, Brazil, Canada and the United States, working variously in community organizing, membership-based organizing, rural development philanthropy and the social economy, was asked to consider:  ‘whether recent developments in community development (e.g. community philanthropy, social enterprise, member based organizing) offer an opportunity to think differently about support for people led organizing for social justice?’

Our “think-tank” for the GFCF / Coady Institute research initiative

One key point which emerged out of our two days’ together was the need for groups and individuals to reach out across disciplines and “silos” and challenge the accepted “rules” of development in order to learn from each other. As the world becomes more interconnected, the opportunities for even the smallest, most “grass-roots” organisations to engage in these sorts of debates are becoming much more common, challenging more established theories and organisations, to the benefit of all.

In reflecting on this need for behaviour and mindset change one participant observied: “We need to learn more and drive each other’s cars, and move from stick shift to manual, and then try out a convoy.”

Jenny Hodgson

New report from the GFCF and Coady Institute: The New Generation of Community Foundations

Community foundations have enjoyed considerable growth in recent years, not only in their number but also in their character. This emergence of a ‘new generation’ of community foundations is occurring within a larger context of other emerging forms of ‘social solidarity’ movements and institutions, including rural development philanthropy, member‑based organizing and other hybrid forms of citizen‑led actions.

 “The New Generation of Community Foundations” has been produced by the GFCF and the Coady International Institute and explores the emerging community foundation phenomenon in the context of disillusionment with conventional channels of international aid.

Dalia Association: A New Generation Community Foundation?

The report draws on the literature relating to community philanthropy, mutual responsibility and the broader social economy, as well as empirical data on the growth of the field, and it provides an analysis of five case examples of community foundations in the Global South as evidence for a re‑conceptualization of their role and potential contribution as catalysts for citizen‑led and socially inclusive development.

Read the report


YouthBank webinar attracts participants from 18 countries

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, 52 people from 18 countries (including India, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Egypt and Russia) tuned into our first webinar on March 14th. Vernon Ringland, from the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland, who has worked with YouthBanks all over the world, kicked off with a general overview of the programme, including its philosophical roots in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, its “Golden Rules” and “10 Top Tips for Getting Started”. He also touched on what was required from community foundations and other types of support organization in terms of trust, inspiring leadership and ability to engage with youth people.


When it came to Simona’s turn to talk about the Cluj Community Foundation’s YouthBank, she gave a detailed description of the foundation’s programme and activities, talked through a standard one-year cycle and also described the kind of administrative support that a YouthBank requires on the part of the community foundation. Finally, she described how YouthBank has taken off at a national level in Romania: there are now seven across Romania, which together have collectively financed 116 community projects implemented by 570 young people, to the value of $80,000.

The webinar, which was an hour long, prompted a stream of questions from participants and there wasn’t enough time to answer them all. We will be making both Simona and Vernon’s presentations available for download (slides and commentary) and we will also be preparing a “Q&A on YouthBank” sheet where Simona and Vernon will respond to any outstanding questions. Watch this space, too, for news of our next webinar!


Spotlight on the Dalit Foundation, GFCF grant partner

The GFCF is pleased to announce a new grant for $10,000 to the Dalit Foundation in India to strengthen community-run initiatives within the Dalit community through grantmaking and local philanthropy (asset) development.

The word ‘Dalit’, in Sanskrit, means “oppressed” or “downtrodden”. In Marathi, the language in which the word was first used for social and political mobilization by the ‘untouchable’ communities means “broken” or “broken to pieces”. Dalits are placed at the lowest rung of the caste hierarchy, based on ritual purity and occupation.

Godna art, promoted by the Dalit Foundation

Dalit Foundation, a non-government organisation, is the first grant-making institution in South Asia working for the empowerment of Dalit communities. The Foundation supports individuals, community-based organisations, and networks that work to secure social change and protect the rights of Dalit. Dalit Foundation provides small grants and fellowships towards strengthening the Dalit Movement and nurturing future leaders for the movement. Learn more about the Dalit Foundation.

Foundations Partner to Promote Report on Community Philanthropy in Washington DC

On March 1st 2012, the Aga Khan Foundation U.S.A. (AKF USA) and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation (Mott Foundation) hosted an event with 45 philanthropy experts and global civil society representatives at the Aspen Institute in Washington, DC to officially release a new report, entitled The Value of Community Philanthropy: Results of a Consultation. Participants engaged in a lively discussion at the Aspen Institute about how community philanthropy can be a powerful vehicle for strengthening civil society and enhancing aid effectiveness.

The jointly released report makes the case that increasing local ownership and accountability leads to stronger communities and should be a main focus of development aid practitioners. Barry Knight, CENTRIS Consultant and Facilitator and the report’s author, noted that it is very timely as civil society groups awaken around the world. “I think we are now in the midst of a philanthropic revolution. People on modest incomes, and in fact, typically classified as poor, are stepping forward because they want to take a stake in their societies. The report is an opportunity for development practitioners to focus on strengthening civil society to improve development aid.”

“I think this is an excellent report. They made a wise choice in taking their time and spending a year talking to different communities. And I think Barry Knight’s summation of their findings and discussions is right on. I hope going forward these dialogues will continue” stated Eleanor Fink, Senior Philanthropy Advisor at the World Bank and one of the event’s panelists.

AKF USA and the Mott Foundation used the event to bring together diverse views, giving voice to people from community foundations, multilateral development agencies, and field researchers and practitioners, all in support of this promising field.  Panelists included:

  • Eleanor Fink, Senior Philanthropy Advisor, World Bank Group
  • Joyce Malombe, Program Officer, Wellspring Advisors LLC
  • Apoorva Oza, CEO, Aga Khan Rural Support Programme, India
  • Barry Knight, author of “The Value of Community Philanthropy”
  • Jane Wales, Vice President of Philanthropy & Society, Aspen Institute, moderator

Discussions centered on building a set of metrics that includes both quantitative and qualitative data, showing the success of the field in terms donors and foundations can understand, and supporting institutions that help local assets grow.

As Jane Wales, Vice President of Philanthropy & Society at the Aspen Institute and discussion moderator noted, “This is a marvelous opportunity to draw together strategic philanthropy and community giving. Among the most important things has been the consultative process that has brought together community voices, the ideas and insights of scholars, the views of practitioners and of intergovernmental and donor agencies. It’s about capturing lessons learned in an on-going basis and sharing that knowledge, and that will make all of us more effective.”

See the full press release here. (AKF USA: Partnerships in Action)