Guest blog: The Old and the New

I’m feeling “old.”  Not as opposed to “young” but as opposed to “new.”  I think it’s all this talk in our sector lately about innovation. Whatever happened to “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?”  And it’s just oh so sexy and attention-grabbing to label something as “new” even when it’s not.

OK, so I’m sounding like a stuffy old curmudgeon pining away for some mythical good ole days.  But I still do have serious questions about how “new” some hot trendy things in philanthropy really are (e.g. venture philanthropy, collective impact, scaling, even community leadership) or whether it’s just things people have been doing for quite a while but were calling them something else, or not calling them anything at all but still doing.  The proverbial “old wine in new bottles.”

Anyway, in thinking about a session at the upcoming fall conference on some new (there I go – as guilty as the rest!) and exciting things going on at community foundations around the world as well as in the U.S., Jenny Hodgson and I almost went with “old wine in new bottles” for (a feeble attempt at) a catchy title for the session.  But then we realized – although there’s certainly some of that in what we’d like people to learn and think about – there’s more of the reverse going on.  If the bottle is the value base and purpose of community foundations, then the wine is what they actually do day-to-day to make a difference in their communities.

A recent report (published by the Global Fund for Community Foundations and the Coady International Institute) called The New Generation of Community Foundations talks about how this “new generation … blurs the boundaries between mutual aid and philanthropy by placing a particular emphasis on the role and value of local assets and resources [ed. – don’t see nuthin’ new here – yet], which may include money as well as different forms of social capital, such as trust and volunteerism or mutual help and support [ed. – there it is!].”

Waqfeyat al Maadi Community Foundation, Egypt: a “new generation community foundation”?

Whether or not you think that’s really new, I would say that it’s different than most of the last few decades in the U.S. community foundation field.  Or, at the least, it represents a shift in emphasis between the various components of the value proposition of community foundations.  And it’s beyond just the by-now-slightly-tiring and somewhat false dichotomy between asset development/endowment building/donor service on the one hand and community change/social justice/lasting impact on the other.

Especially in  some places around the world facing huge challenges, there seems to be a new (different?) way of considering what community assets really are (certainly beyond endowments or even money), by whom and for whom and how they are unleashed and applied, and what role community foundations play in all this.

In many cases this “new generation of community foundations stretches the concept of what a community foundation is.  So – are we talking about new bottles as well?  Is it really new wine?  Or is it all just same-old same-old, but using different terms?

Please join the conversation by reading the report and posting a comment to this blog and/or at the session (at the Council on Foundations Fall Community Foundation conference in New Orleans) called A new generation of community foundations: New wine in old bottles? on Tuesday September 11, from 4 to 5 p.m.

Nick Deychakiwsky is Program Officer at the CS Mott Foundation. This blog was originally published on the US Council on Foundations RE: Philanthropy blog.

New grants to Naseej and South Asia Women’s Fund; grants to provide ongoing support in Vietnam, India, Mexico

The GFCF is pleased to announce five new grants under its Youth Civic Engagement (YCE) and Asia Programmes.  Naseej is a young regional foundation – based in Jordan and working across the Arab region – which works with youth and uses an asset-based approach. The GFCF grant will support a strategic planning process for the foundation. Grant supplements have also been awarded to Fundación Comunitaria de la Frontera Norte (Mexico) and the Foundation for Social Transformation (India) to provide ongoing support to both organizations’ youth philanthropy and development programmes.

A speed networking event in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, hosted by LIN Center

Under the Asia programme, a grant to the South Asia Women’s Fund (SAWF) will support SAWF’s efforts to build a local donor constituency for social justice grantmaking. And in Vietnam, the GFCF grant will support the LIN Center for Community Development community grantmaking and local philanthropy development work. Read more about grants made by the GFCF in 2011 and 2012

Rubtsovsk community foundation: building philanthropy and civic engagement in one of Russia’s “dying cities”

Philanthropy in Russia today is no longer just about big private Moscow-based foundations or humanitarian aid organizations. Editor of Philanthropy (an online portal on all matters philanthropic run by Charities Aid Foundation Russia), Matthew Masal’tsev, went to Siberia, to find for himself out how local philanthropy is changing lives at the community level. He began his journey in Rubtsovsk, in the Altai region of Russia.

In many ways, Rubtsovsk can be regarded as the birthplace of a new kind of local philanthropy which is as much about civic participation as it about money. Eight years ago, the local community foundation (known in Russian as City Charitable Fund, “Development”) produced its first “charity show”, an adaptation of the children’s story, “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. The performers included prominent businessmen as well as local officials and deputies, and proceeds from ticket sales went towards a community grantmaking programme. The show was an instant hit: it has been performed every year since and has raised over 1.2 million rubles, or around US $36,000. (It has also inspired similar types of charitable / theatrical productions in other parts of Russia).

Building on this success, the community foundation went on to hold other community-oriented charitable events, including a talent show and, most recently, a music contest called, “Together Through Song” where the musically talented – and the less musically talented – all have an opportunity to perform.

Talent competition organized by the community foundation

Igor Levin, director of a local metals factory, is a newly inspired bass guitarist, having picked a guitar for the first time only a few months ago to join one of the bands playing in the competition. This isn’t Igor’s first foray into the activities of the community foundation – he’s starred as the heroic lover in five of the charitable productions, competed in the talent show, and been a key member of the team in a charitable football tournament.

Rubtsovsk is in the Altai region, near the border with Kazakhstan and a 300 kilometres from the nearest airport in Barnaul. Although the city (pop. 150,000) was founded 120 years ago, it began to grow significantly during the Second World War when two large factories were relocated there away from the front lines. These two factories – one producing tractors the other agricultural machinery – formed the pillars of the city’s economy during the Soviet era, bringing jobs and infrastructure. In fact, during Soviet times, Rubtsovsk was one of the largest employers in the manufacturing industry across the Union.

However, in the early 1990s with the demise of the Soviet Union, industrial production ground to a halt and Rubtsovsk went through a very difficult period as state salaries and pensions went unpaid.  Although things improved after 2000, Rubtsovsk is still categorised as one of Russia’s “dying cities”. (Even in the last year the city has seen more job losses with the abolition of customs controls between Russia and Kazakhstan).

As times got more and more difficult, local businesses found themselves frequently approached with requests for assistance. Businessmen like Alexander Varatanov and his partners felt strongly that it was their responsibility to do what they could to help. “But then I became concerned that we were starting to see the emergence of a ‘professional beggar’ mentality. It’s impossible to help everyone. And it’s hard to make decisions when people turn up at your office,” says Vartanov. “At the same time, you need to have systems in place to ensure that money is spent properly and for the intended purpose. A few of decided that we needed some kind of structure which could help address some of these problems.”

Tatiana Bukanovich, director of the foundation (on right)

The idea of introducing such a mechanism took root and the foundation was established in 2000, under the charismatic leadership of Tatiana Bukanovich and with support from local business leaders. Over the last twelve years the foundation has organized charity performances, grants programmes, social projects, public campaigns and, more recently, it has been the driving force behind the alliance of Altai community foundations. It has also created a stronger links within the local business sector and the conversation these days is much more about the development of civil society and of active citizens than about charity.

For one of the donors to the foundation, the aspiring bass guitarist and head of a local factory, Igor Levin, the relationship with the community foundation has been an interesting journey. Levin believes in “doing” and had always been rather sceptical about the idea of “charity” as something that perpetuates passivity and inertia. So it was only in 2003, when he decided to run for political office and was advised that he needed to improve his image in the community, that he approached Tatiana and her colleagues at the community foundation – and promptly received an instant and thorough education about the role and importance of philanthropy.

For Levin, the community foundation goes beyond mere charity to community development and innovation. He describes receiving requests from two kindergartens: one was for a television and video recorder and the other was to purchase materials to decorate a room that they had turned into a children’s theatre. “Of course, I supported the second: after all, how many children will pass through that children’s theatre. You never know, some of them might turn out to be great artists in the future!” (He adds with a sly smile, “And by the way, one of the community foundation projects has actually brought me business”. His company was commissioned to construct 10 play structures with the funds raised through the charity show).

Marat Yelagin, a former radio journalist turned furniture entrepreneur and a board member of the community foundation, harbours a rather sceptical view of the local community whom he sees as often disengaged and distrustful. Despite this he has established his own designated fund within the community foundation and is exploring the idea of creating a system of legal aid for citizens to support them in asserting their rights in their dealings with government. Whether people would appreciate such an effort, he muses, is another thing altogether.  So why engage in philanthropy at all? “In my own way, I’m just trying to make sure that everything I’m involved in is at least transparent and effective.”

And it is around that last sentiment, it seems, that the Rubtsovsk Community Foundation continues to strike a chord: that in a broader environment of inertia, corruption and distrust it is still possible for individuals to come together to engage in philanthropic giving in ways that are both transparent and effective.

 Translated and adapted from an article originally published on the “филантроп” website published by CAF Russia


Changes to the GFCF board

Monica Patten, one of the founding members of the GFCF board, has announced her retirement from the GFCF board. Monica, who was the President and CEO of the Community Foundations of Canada until her retirement last year was involved with the GFCF from the very beginning, when the idea for a fund was first developed under the umbrella and leadership of WINGS, and she was the Chair of the Fund’s Management Committee from 2005 until 2008 when it was established as an independent organization.

Gerry Salole has joined the GFCF board. The Chief Executive of the European Foundation Centre and current Chair of TrustAfrica, Gerry was also a member of the original Management Committee which oversaw the GFCF in its early days as a pilot project.


Mott Foundation profiles the global community foundation field

The Mott Foundation, a long-term supporter to the global community foundation field and an important funder to the GFCF, has published two articles as part of an occasional series about the community foundation field and the Foundation’s role in supporting and strengthening it. The series reports on what is occurring in Mott’s major geographic focus areas — Central/Eastern Europe and Russia, South Africa, and the U.S. — as well as providing information about how the field is expanding globally. Mott’s goal is to inform the public about the latest trends in the community foundation field in advance of its 100th anniversary year in 2014.

Community foundation = community leaders at home and abroad

Community foundation circling the globe

Free subscriptions from Alliance magazine. Sign up by the end of August!

Alliance magazine, the leading magazine on philanthropy and social investment worldwide, is now offering FREE electronic subscriptions to those in over 140 countries not designated as high-income countries by the World Bank. Alliance aims to facilitate the exchange of information and ideas among people working for social change in order to maximize the impact of funding for social development.

The new interactive map, developed with the support of the Foundation Center, highlights which countries are eligible – visit for full details.

What’s included:

  • Four issues of Alliance magazine to read online or in pdf format
  • The Alliance Bulletin, providing regular updates on developments in the sector
  • Unlimited access to the Alliance website, including the entire Alliance archive
  • Additional articles and interviews published exclusively for the website
  • Email updates whenever new content is published

To date, Alliance has provided free electronic subscriptions to 2,500 individuals in India and South America. The charity now aims to widen this to offer those in over 140 countries around the world unlimited electronic access to their articles.

To celebrate this launch, Alliance is also offering those who are not eligible for a free subscription a special discount on electronic subscriptions if they sign up before the end of August. They simply need to complete the discounted subscription form and return it to

Regional philanthropy conferences coming up in Cairo and Johannesburg

Arab Foundations Forum Meeting, 16-18 September 2012

As the Arab Region witnesses the organic maturing of demands for social change and social justice, the Arab Foundations Annual Meeting ‘Maximizing Philanthropic Resources in Times of Change and Austerity’ in Cairo promises interesting conversations, reflection and advanced thinking on the role of philanthropy in sustaining this spirit of change. For more information click here.

African Grantmakers Network Assembly, 29 October – 2 November 2012

The 2012 Assembly of the African Grantmakers’ Network (AGN) in Johannesburg , ‘What’s New? Whats Now? What’s Next?’ seeks to ‘explore Africa’s changing landscape, and craft a shared agenda to build the field of African philanthropy for development effectiveness.’ The Assembly will provide a unique opportunity for grantmakers and social investors to explore new trends, exciting innovations and emerging practices in the diverse terrain of African philanthropy.  For more information click here.

Submit your session ideas for the next CFC Conference, Winnipeg, June 2013

Community Foundations of Canada is inviting session ideas for its June 2013 Conference, Inspiring Smart and Caring Communities, which will take place in Winnipeg, Canada (June 6th – 8th 2013). The five conference themes are:

  • Cultivating our Communities
  • Unpacking Impact
  • Smart Solutions
  • The View from the Edge
  • Celebrating Success

The deadline for session proposals is October 15th 2012. Find out more