A new paper by Hilary Gilbert and Mohammed Khedr al Jebaali examines the role that one NGO – a community foundation – has been able to play in promoting civic participation by Bedu, a structurally marginalized minority in Egypt, in the wake of the 2011 ‘Lotus Revolution’.
Gilbert and al Jebaali (respectively board chair and programme coordinator of the community foundation) tell the story of the Community Foundation for South Sinai (Al mo’assessa‑t‑al ahliya lijanoub sina), which was established in 2006 as a mechanism for promoting local, small‑scale development among Bedouin communities in Egypt’s South Sinai.
Although the Community Foundation for South Sinai (featured here on the GFCF website) was established with serious and long term aspirations its initial ambitions were, like its funding base, modest: early activities included economic development projects such as olive oil production. However, in January 2011 when Egypt’s massive people‑led revolution swept across the country the foundation – encouraged by local community leaders – saw an unprecedented opportunity to harness this newfound democratic momentum in Egypt’s South Sinai.
Importantly for the global community philanthropy field, the report demonstrates the value of an evidence-based approach to practice, with the foundation’s activities and spending priorities emerging from research and constant contact with community members. As Egypt’s democratic transition enters a period of uncertainty, the mo’assessa continues to grow slowly but deliberately. The authors use a natural simile that accords well with the outlook of the communities with which the foundation works: “we say we have planted a seed, and are watering it slowly so it puts down strong roots. We expect it to grow in time – insha’allah! – into a shady tree that will outlive its founders and support many people.”