“Currency of giving goes beyond the dollar, rand and euro”

  • The answers to local problems often lie within the community itself, says the executive director of the Community Development Foundation Western Cape.
  • Knowing how to tap into residents’ interests and energy, and also change mindsets, are characteristics of an effective community leader.

The familiar phrase that starts fairytales worldwide — “once upon a time” — also triggered the development of a sustainable food programme in South Africa.

Beulah Fredericks, executive director of the Cape Town-based Community Development Foundation Western Cape (CDF WCape), smiles when she recalls how the project started.

After a local community-based organization in one of Cape Town’s townships applied for a $50 grant to cover one month’s operating expenses for a soup kitchen that feeds the poor, Fredericks visited the site, listened to their stories, engaged in conversation and then declined the request.

“A soup kitchen is an obvious solution,” Fredericks told the group.

“But after listening to your stories, I see you are a community that has it in you to move beyond the soup. We cannot give you $50 to buy food for the soup kitchen because next month you will be hungry again and ask for another $50. Why not start a community garden instead?”

Fredericks’ rejection did not prompt disappointment; it inspired local residents.

Beulah Fredericks

One person replied, “Once upon a time we grew our own vegetables right here in our own community.” That simple reminiscence was all it took for the vision to catch on — plus a $600 grant from CDF WCape to build two greenhouses in which to grow the produce.

That was five years ago. Today, the region boasts multiple community gardens that supply more than enough vegetables for the local soup kitchen and school lunches. Surplus food is sold to generate funds for student scholarships. One student’s grandfather receives a stipend from CDF WCape to oversee the gardens, which are located on school grounds. Additionally, students of all ages, even preschoolers, are tending their own family gardens.

Community foundation leaders — locally, nationally and globally — point to projects such as the community gardens as evidence of Fredericks’ ability to see beyond the horizon in pursuit of positive and long-lasting societal changes.

Instead of funding a soup kitchen, she engaged and empowered local residents of all ages to meet their own needs, says Jenny Hodgson, executive director of the Global Fund for Community Foundations, based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

“Beulah brings an extraordinary level of energy and creativity to her work in the Cape Flats,” Hodgson said. “This is enormously important in the communities where the foundation operates — because apathy, hopelessness and despair are often the order of the day.”

Along with CDF WCape’s board and staff, Hodgson says, Fredericks is building an organization that offers opportunities for local people to engage in their own development. Whether it is involving youth in a project linking photography with South Africa’s Bill of Rights, she says, or working with a specific community to overcome barriers and divisions so residents can establish their own community fund, Fredericks’ goal is often the same.

“Beulah has sought both to change mindsets and to tap into local energies, interests and assets that may have lain latent or been disregarded by others,” Hodgson said.

She also praises Fredericks for voluntarily serving as both teacher and pupil in a global network of community development partners.

Fredericks, who prefers the term “community philanthropy” to “community foundation” to describe the grantmaking organization she heads, laughs when people call CDF WCape a field leader.

“If you want to look at us as a community foundation, you can do that,” she said, “but you won’t see us operating in the traditional way.” [Read more about community foundations in South Africa.]

Fredericks’ ability to see things from an alternative perspective and do things differently earned her recognition in 2005 as one of 144 Synergos Senior Fellows from more than 50 countries. One of the many qualities that distinguish these fellows, according to Synergos, is that they “possess a compelling vision about solving complex, systemic problems of poverty, inequity and social injustice.”

CDF WCape strives to involve youth in helping shape the future of their community

The Mott Foundation funds CDF WCape’s work through its Civil Society program, providing five general-purposes grants totaling $400,000, since 1991. By supporting the organization’s work, Mott aims to strengthen its efforts to encourage local giving through a variety of local initiatives, and also help develop a network that advances community philanthropy in Southern Africa.

Fredericks says she believes that answers to local problems often lie within the community itself. One of her roles as a leader is to draw them out from residents so they can give back, especially those who say they have nothing to offer.

“There are a lot of currencies of giving in South Africa. There is time, skills, sharing of resources, and there is money,” Fredericks said.

“We’re bringing in volunteers to help us here because we know that the currency of giving goes way beyond the dollar, rand and euro.”

While Fredericks has shared her knowledge and experiences about community development at international conferences and via Internet webinars, she says her greatest satisfaction comes from working with residents to improve their quality of life in the Western Cape province of post-apartheid South Africa. It is in that same Cape Town region that Fredericks was born, reared and university-educated.

Although she and the organization’s founder, Renier van Rooyen, have been thanked face-to-face by former President Nelson Mandela for the work they do, Fredericks remains humble and focused. For her, there are three entrenched issues still to address: poverty alleviation, youth development and HIV/AIDS prevention.

“I have wanted to resign 99 times,” Fredericks said. “Then, something small but meaningful happens with the young people or in the community, and I see they are so eager to make a difference and it gives me hope to continue.”

Maggie Jaruzel Potter, Mott Foundation

This article is part of an occasional series by the Mott Foundation 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

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