Weaving the threads, shaping the cloth: harnessing public assets for public good

A recent peer learning event organized by the African Grantmakers Network and the East Africa Association of Grantmakers focused on sustainability, a topic that has caused much heartache and angst among both civil society and donors since the very first grant was ever made, back whenever that was. One of the presenters, was Kgotso Schoeman of the Kagiso Trust in South Africa, an organization that reached the promised land of milk and honey (so, sustainability) when a rather unique set of funding circumstances presented themselves fifteen years ago. These were seized upon by Kagiso’s leadership who some bold steps and set up an investment company which now funds the Trust’s programmes. With the economies of Sub-Saharan Africa growth projected to grow at 5.5 % over the coming years, asked Kgotso, is African civil society ready to shift from its “programme – fundraising” mind-set to one of “finance and investment”? Or was the plan just to wait for money to be made by others, who may then set up their own charitable foundations – to which we can all apply for grants? The NGO sector in Africa, he lamented, has been slow to respond to the seismic shifts that have occurred in the global environment.

“Ah,” responded many in the room (silently, obviously), “It’s all very well for you to say that, sitting as you do in your comfortable, sustainable, position. But it’s not so easy for the rest of us.”

At a day-to-day working-in-the-office level this is probably true. When you live on a hand to mouth, project-based, existence it can be hard to find the time or energy to think about how to fundamentally re-design your business model. But times are changing, and as the scramble for Africa’s mineral wealth continues and as privatization processes continue with more momentum than ever all over the world, are there new opportunities to harness some of those resources for the public good?

Well, the good news is that there are a number of positive developments that are taking place in terms of this conversation which can perhaps help lay the groundwork for some big and bold thinking and action around how public or quasi-public assets can be harnessed for the public good, particularly in emerging markets and developing contexts.

Precedent: A recent study, “Philanthropication thru Privatization: Buiding Asset for Social Progress”, led by Lester Salamon at Johns Hopkins University concludes that  more than 500 endowed, independent charitable foundations have been created or enriched during privatizations, most of them since 1990 and that together they control assets of $128 billion (see this article in the Economist). The study takes an in-depth look at 22 such “P-t-P” foundations (in Europe – starting with the Italian “foundations of banking origin” whose assets amount to over 50 billion euros, the United States and New Zealand). It concludes that there is a hitherto undiscovered or unconnected “family” of public benefit foundations which, despite the fact that they emerged in complete isolation from each other, derive from the same gene pool and together constitute what one consider a “field”.

 The Philanthropication thru Privatization Team presenting the “Findings to Date”, Hanover, Sept 2013

How might the experiences of this newly discovered field serve, then, to inform the development of new charitable institutions in other parts of the world where privatization is happening but where the foundation sector is still weak? The study observes, for example, that if 10% of 2007’s sale of 40% of the stock in Kenya’s Safaricom mobile phone network to the U.K.’s Vodaphone company had been dedicated to the creation of a Kenya Community Foundation, the result would have been a charitable institution with nearly US $65 million in assets. Food for thought….

Opportunity: The report observes that privatization (whether one likes it or not) is continuing to take place around the world at an unprecedented rate (2009 and 2010 were particularly busy) so now is the time to act. Similarly, as extractive industries (also dealing in a nation’s “iffy” public assets) are increasingly required to demonstrate long-term benefits to the countries and communities in which they are operating, can the creation of charitable foundations provide one type of long-term solution for local social and economic development? In Ghana, for example, the Newmont Ahafo Development Foundation is one example of an effort by a mining company to create an endowed, community-owned development foundation with resources derived from mining in the region.

A growing field of indigenous philanthropy: Getting the governance right in these types of “philanthropication thru privatization” foundations is clearly a big issue. How to ensure that they ensure their multi-stakeholder quality and aren’t just another funding mechanism for government? Well, one place to look is to the growing field of local foundations around the world – public benefit foundations, community foundations etc. – whose very existence and ability to raise local money derives from the credibility of their governance and management functions. Although many of these might not be rich in terms of financial capital (it’s slow work building up a local donor base, particularly in context where international development aid has ruled the roost for a long time), they are often rich in social capital and public trust. So, while historic precedent and the institutional track record of established P-t-P institutions in the North can offer one source of influence and learning, so this new generation of local foundations in Africa, Asia or Latin America has a lot to offer in terms of practical advice.

New donor interest in community philanthropy: A new donor collaborative, the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy, offers another potentially important addition to this discussion. One of the broad objectives of the Alliance (whose members include the Mott Foundation, Aga Khan Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Inter-American Foundation and USAID) is to demonstrate is that fostering local ownership and accountability in development processes (including the creation and stewardship of long-term local assets) leads to stronger communities and that this should be a key focus of development practitioners in their pursuit of sustainability.

Asian community philanthropy practitioners gather in Shillong, India

In mid-September, a group of community philanthropy practitioners and supporters gathered for a two-day meeting in the hill station of Shillong, capital of the state of Meghalaya, one of the “Seven Sister” states of Northeast India, which is connected to the rest of the country by a narrow corridor squeezed between Nepal and Bangladesh. This part of India is quite isolated from the rest of the country and it has seen decades of conflict and separatist insurgency. The meeting was organized by the Global Fund for Community Foundations and the Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace Network and it was hosted by the Foundation for Social Transformation – enabling north east India.

In 2011, the GFCF convened a meeting of South Asian community philanthropy practitioners at Tewa Women’s Fund in Nepal. The aim of that meeting had been to begin a regional conversation about the state and practice of organized community philanthropy in South Asia, a field which is still quite scattered and disconnected. This time, the geographic net was extended even further: so, in addition to foundation representatives from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka, there were also participants from southeast Asia – Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand.

We asked three participants, Gayatri Buragohain (Foundation for Social Transformation and our excellent local hosts), Nhu Ngo (LIN Center for Community Development, Vietnam), and Amelia Fauzia (Social Trust Fund, Indonesia) to tell us about their impressions of the meeting.

GFCF: Firstly, Gayatri, as the local hosts, how important was this convening on community philanthropy in Asia to the Foundation for Social Transformation?

Gayatri: Northeast India has suffered much over the last few decades due to on-going conflict, both in terms of economic and social development and in the recognition and protection of human rights. Although there are many local initiatives all over the region working to restore peace and support development, it is a big challenge for such groups or organizations to access resources that are needed to support and sustain their work. To fill this resource gap, in 2005 a group of people from the region got together to create the Foundation for Social Transformation as a local philanthropic organization.

Foundation for Social Transformation – enabling north east India [the organization’s full name] is the first philanthropic organization in the North East that has been started by local people and that is exclusively dedicated to giving grants for development projects in the region. However, the concept of ‘community philanthropy’ is quite new in this region. Although community giving has existed in the various different cultures of the region, with community dwellers pooling resources to help one of its members in distress, the concept of organized philanthropy is still at a nascent stage.

For the team of FST, the Asia Community Philanthropy Peer Learning and Exchange came at a time when we were seeking some much needed support. We were happy to organise the meeting on behalf of the GFCF and the PSJP Network and felt a great sense of pride that it was going to be held in our part of the world! We feel it helped us highlight the region on the global “map” of community philanthropy. It was also very helpful for us to see the larger picture of community philanthropy in Asia, meet with others and understand our place in this larger picture. It reconfirmed the need for an organization such as ours. Being located in a geographically less accessible place, and working on very different social context from mainland India, we do feel a little lonely and disconnected. More importantly, we have a very new team on board for whom the understanding on local philanthropy is new. This meeting helped us feel connected, inspired and gave much needed conceptual clarity on local philanthropy.


GFCF: Gayatri, Nhu and Amelia, what were you impressions of the meeting, in particular, in terms of the similarities and differences between different institutions and different countries as well as the current state of community philanthropy in Asia overall?

Gayatri: FST has been struggling to survive over the last few years due to a serious financial crunch. We started recovering towards the later part of 2012 following some major strategic changes in the way we function and raise funds. In this meeting we realized that the challenges we are facing are very similar to what many other community foundations are facing, especially when it comes to raising operational costs for the foundation. It also came out from our various conversations that the strategies other organizations have used or are considering are also very similar to what we have adopted or are considering. It was certainly clear that through networking, sharing of experiences, we can share best practices and not reinvent the wheel. A lot of discussions also resulted in identifying possible collaborations which we are very excited about. At the same time, however, we did feel that there were some ideological differences with some tactics of raising funds [in particular, in engaging corporates], but we feel that discussing those helped us to examine and reflect on different perspectives on resource mobilization.

Nhu: We were honoured to participate in such a convening that lets us exchange and learn from other institutions building philanthropy.  Although we come from different countries, our issues and concerns are similar.  This was my first meeting with other community philanthropy institutions in the region.  I was so impressed by the way that we were all so open with each other about our successes, experiences and challenges.  In one group, for example, we were five people from five different countries; when the first one finished talking about his institution’s goal and challenges, most of us said, “Same here!”  Each different institution has different programmes for fundraising and different approaches to serving its local community. 

Amelia: The meeting was very productive and useful for us all to learn from each other on some very practical issues related to community foundations. It is also a great opportunity for everyone to reflect on his or her own organization and to define where it “sits” in the working concept of the community foundation concept.

Previously, I had thought my organization, Social Trust Fund, had a rather uncommon or unusual form, but in Shillong, I found that my institution is not alone at all. There are many similarities in terms of activities, visions, and organizational characteristics (such as grantmaking and capacity building) among the different community foundation-type institutions in different countries. Culture, religion, ethnicity, gender, are all big issues that have caused particular problems across Asia. Because of this, it seems to me that these Asian-based community foundations try hard and are perhaps more outspoken in their missions of pluralism, inclusiveness, and targeting non-discriminative approaches and aims. Community philanthropy in Asia is not yet strong enough in terms of asset and numbers, but it is certainly rising as an important force. It matters because change or transformation should be led and done by the community itself.

Yes, I learnt the importance of grantmaking, community leadership, community money and cause, and capacity building within community foundations, which are very important for growing community foundations in Indonesia. Although the term “community foundation” is not familiar in Indonesia, there are similar types of institutions (although they tend to involve less grantmaking, community leadership and capacity building). I have many ideas as to how to build up my own institution (Social Trust Fund-STF) as well about how to seed and grow community foundations in Indonesia. …In terms of the national context, I think there is an urgent need to transform “traditional” foundations into more community foundation-like institutions.

GFCF: From our grantmaking experience over the last few years, we have observed that although community philanthropy institutions around the world may be quite diverse and operate in very different contexts, some of the particular aspects of their work that bring them together as a distinct cohort include an interest in a) building assets b) building agency of local institutions (often by strengthening them through small grants) and c) building trust across and within different parts of a community. What are your thoughts on this as far as your own institutions are concerned?

Gayatri: I agree with all three points you have mentioned. For FST, it is a top priority right now to build trust within the local community around the notion of civil society and also build assets within the community to support local progressive development projects. It has become important for two reasons. The first is that accessing traditional funds from foreign foundations and donors has become more and more difficult for local NGOs because of both a reduction in international funding and the introduction of new government rules and regulations that restrict access to such funding. Secondly, we feel it is important for people of the region to own the responsibility of development of the region and peace building in the region. There are many local institutions that are doing remarkable work for the region. They need support from the local people to sustain their work. Otherwise they will always find themselves flowing against the tide. So even for us, building assets, building agency of local institutions and building trust are key priorities – all of which need to take place within the framework of a rights based approach.

Nhu: LIN’s approach to community philanthropy indeed seeks to achieve all three of the objectives you mentioned:

(1) We build assets in our community by attracting and pooling resources from as many sources as possible to address the needs in our community.

(2) We build agency of local nonprofits not only via small grants but also by other means, including the creation of organizational development tools, peer working groups, workshops, introductions to skilled volunteers and information sharing.

(3) We are working to build trust across and within different parts of our community by being transparent about our activities, income and expenditures and proactively communicating what we are doing to as many people as possible. We are also trying to support our local non-profit partners that want to do the same.

Amelia: Yes, these three are very important to us. They are inter-related: trust, agency and assets. Social Trust Fund chooses to start from building trust. We are very new organization, almost two years old. Trust aspect is very important to us, and it is explicitly stated as name of our institution. Trust should be started from our internal institution (staff, board, activities) and then transformed to our wider programs and communities. Based on trust, we build agency and we build our assets.

Read more PJSP Coordinator, Chandrika Sahai’s blog here and Drishana Kalita’s (Drishana is a staff member at FST) here. Also on the PJSP Network’s website is an interview with Sumitra Mishra, Country Director, at iPartner India, who talks about the unique and important role of “intermediary” organisations and their “value added” in the process of philanthropic giving

DEADLINE EXTENDED to 18 October for nominations for Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize!

The Second Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize will be awarded to an individual who has demonstrated remarkable leadership, creativity and results in developing philanthropy for progressive social change in an emerging market country or countries.

Sound like someone you know? This year’s winners were from Kenya… Where will next year’s winner come from? 

The winner of the prize, which will be announced at WINGSForum in Istanbul in March 2014, will receive £5,000. All of the finalists will be invited to Istanbul and profiles of their work will be published in a special supplement of Alliance in March 2014.


Read more about the prize and nominate someone here 

Stephen Pittam joins the GFCF board

We are delighted to welcome Stephen Pittam to the board of the Global Fund for Community Foundations (UK).

Stephen is well know in the philanthropy world for his work with the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, for which he served as Trust Secretary for eleven years and where he was responsible for the democracy, human rights and corporate accountability programme.  

Read more

New on the GFCF website

1. Community philanthropy and power

No matter where they are located, the multi-stakeholder nature of community philanthropy organizations means that they will always have to deal with the tension that arises from juggling donor interests and pursuing social justice imperatives. Indeed, part of their task is to work out ways to successfully build bridges between the twoRead more

From the latest edition of Alliance magazine, Community philanthropy and power.


2. Tracking the growth of organized philanthropy: is it the missing piece in community development?

From the 2013 CIVICUS State of Civil Society Report

This article provides an overview of the current state of global community philanthropy, with particular reference to the global South. It describes the factors that are driving a growth in community philanthropy, and the key features of this distinct section of civil society and its role in driving community development agendas that are locally formulated. This small but growing field, which emphasises local asset development and multi-stakeholder good governance, may have particular relevance in the context of increased limitations experienced by and reduced resources for CSOs in many parts of the world. Read more


3. Profile of Uluntu Community Foundation

“What will make us different? The first five years of the Uluntu Community Foundation” is now available for download as a PDF file.

Engaging young people in philanthropy – webinar presentations now available!

Earlier this year, we invited Anderson Giovani da Silva, from ICom, Brazil and Lubica Lachka from Nitra Community Foundation, Slovakia to talk about their work with young people in a webinar which formed part of the GFCF’s ongoing Youth Civic Engagement grants and learning programme.

The two presentations are now available on our website.

Watch Anderson Giovani da Silva present “Conecta: playing for change”, a web-based game aimed at engaging young people in the life of the community 

Watch Lubica Lachka’s presentation on the Young Nitra Philanthropists


Advancing the practice of community philanthropy worldwide: GFCF is appointed Secretariat to new multi-stakeholder collaborative

The GFCF has been appointed Secretariat of the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy, a new multi-donor, multi-stakeholder initiative supported by founding partners, the Aga Khan Foundation USA, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and USAID, which aims to make the case that growing local ownership and accountability leads to stronger communities and that this should be a key focus of development practitioners.

The Alliance offers an exciting opportunity to advance the field and the understanding of community philanthropy globally and the ways in which it can mobilize trust, assets and capacities and, by doing so, strengthen local development outcomes. For the GFCF, the work of the Alliance promises to build on a programme of work that has been developed over the course of the past seven years, aimed at strengthening individual institutions of community philanthropy, supporting the development of community philanthropy networks and raising the profile of community philanthropy among a broader cross-section of stakeholders.

In March 2013, a strategic review of the GFCF was conducted by two external consultants. It examined the work and achievements of the institution to date and concluded that the GFCF “is playing an exemplary role in identifying, nurturing and supporting the field of community philanthropy based on a solid programme of small grants to organisations around the world”. 

Read the strategic review and options appraisal

More details about the Alliance will become available over the coming months.

The Case for Community Philanthropy – now available in Portuguese

The Case for Community Philanthropy: How the Practice Builds Local Assets, Capacity, and Trust – and Why It Matters is now available in Portuguese. The report makes the case that increasing local ownership and local accountability leads to stronger communities and should be a main focus of development aid practitioners. The community philanthropy approach works at the grassroots level by looking at local assets – financial and otherwise – and by building capacity and trust for addressing community needs and priorities.

Translations of the report will also soon be available in Russian, Arabic, French, Chinese, Albanian, Serbian and Creole!

Read the report in Portuguese