My experience celebrating philanthropy in DC

“Celebrating Philanthropy in Emerging Economies” was the title of the 2014 Global Donors Forum that took place April 14 – 16 in Washington D.C. during the cherry blossom season. The Global Donors Forum is the biennial convening of the World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists that seeks to promote effective giving and forge strategic partnerships for high-impact social investment. I was thrilled when Jenny Hodgson from the Global Fund for Community Foundations invited me to join a plenary with a remarkable of group of community foundation gurus like Avila Kilmurray from the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland (who will be joining the GFCF staff as Director of Strategy and Policy in July), who moderated the plenary entitled “Community Philanthropy for Social Cohesion”, together with Rita Thapa from Tewa in Nepal and Haaris Ahmed from Canton Community Foundation in the U.S.

El-Daly (centre), Kilmurray (second from right) and Thapa (far right)

As a believer in community philanthropy and the role of local change-makers in enhancing living conditions, opportunities and fair access to resources for all citizens, the forum was an important venue for me. In times of crisis and in relation to the so-called democratic transformation after what we used to refer to as the “Arab Spring”, civil society and community philanthropy are being challenged as never before. Our session on community philanthropy reflected the depth of this challenge. As Kilmurray indicated, people of the Dalia Association in Palestine or those young people working in the Cluj Community Foundation in Romania (among others across the world) are part of a coming of age of community foundations. Such organizations are pooling resources in creative and dynamic ways to respond to the root causes of social injustice. Through presentations of the WMCF and Tewa, our session demonstrated how the power of people coming together to effect change also brings hope and power to actions that are empowering and sustainable.

After what was an engaging discussion that highlighted community foundations’ spirit of “business as unusual”, there was a plenary on faith-based giving innovations that drew on models from Malaysia. A plenary entitled “Zakat: The Unexplored Power of Faith Giving”, moderated by Achmat Sali, Director of Islamic Studies of the University of Detroit, spoke about how faith-based giving like “Zakat” could be used as a tool for justice. Equally inspiring was the discussion on the model of “waqf” which means endowment and is an indigenous tool in the Arab and Muslim Worlds that has allowed for the creation of private foundations that are called waqf, Waqfeyat or Awqaf. These functioned as civic donor-advised funds for hundreds of centuries, serving development until governments confiscated them under a ministry in each country of this vast region. Thus, in the forum, it was very informative to see how the Islamic Solidarity Fund for Development (ISFD) has capitalized on this old and forgotten tool that was adapted by the West yet forgotten in the East, to fund social development projects across the world.

The session entitled “Unleashing the potential of Islamic social assets” by Diab Karrar, the Activing Director of the IFSD and Manager of the Awqaf Properties Investment Fund (APIF), spoke about innovative solutions for reviving the “property waqf” and encouraging social investors to contribute to it. Of course this was “big money” talk by the bank and it was not so relevant in monetary terms to the cash-waqf revival mechanism that we have been developing in Egypt. However, it was great learning between two organizations, a community foundation and a bank, even with all differences approach. The first lesson for me, as a representative of an Egyptian community foundation, was the importance of big capital to invest in property or cash waqf – which means further battles on the legal arena to change policies in this time of transition in Egypt, in addition to the fundraising challenge. In the case of a “property waqf” partnership between the bank and a community foundation such as ours it would involve the community foundation having rights to a particular piece of land on which some kind of business (such as a hotel, a private school, etc) could be developed. Any profits from the partnerships would be divided equally between the bank and the community foundation to support its development projects in a sustainable way.

Last but not least, the highlight of this forum, apart from these interesting linkages, potential partnerships, models, power struggles, etc, was that the forum signaled the launch of the “Hassanah Fund” that was initiated by the World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists. The IFSD provided its seed funding, a form of cash-waqf, that has allowed the Hassanah Fund to begin working on its mission of combatting hunger across the world. Some involved theorized that USD $5 million was a modest amount and, as I learned in Washington, a cash-waqf is typically around USD $20 million to be worthy of the investment: a depressing fact that I quickly turned into a target. If others can manage to raise such funds, our community could too!

Marwa El Daly is Chair of the Waqfeyat al Maadi Community Foundation (WMCF) in Egypt

New grants for community philanthropy and the environment to Turkey, Bosnia, Egypt and Nepal!

The GFCF is pleased to announce grants totalling $117,000 to 10 community foundations and community philanthropy organizations for a new programme aimed at exploring the links between community philanthropy and the environment. New grantees include the Bolu Community Foundation in Turkey, the Tuzla Community Foundation in Bosnia, the Waqfeyat al Maadi Community Foundation in Egypt and Tewa in Nepal.

This programme represents a new area of exploration for the GFCF and builds on a series of activities conducted last in year which included consultations and two pilot grants in Romania and South Africa. In addition to grants to individual organizations, the GFCF will create a peer learning network and will host at least one face-to-face meeting later this year.

A full list of grants can be found here


Photo courtesy of the Monteverde Community Fund in Costa Rica, another 2014 GFCF environment grantee

New regional network launched at Russian community foundation conference

Since 1998, when the first community foundation was established in Togliatti, the development of the community foundation field in Russia has been impressive, with 45 community foundations now in existence and an additional dozen or so institutions which could be described as community foundation-like. This growth has been accompanied by the emergence of a variety of networks; indeed the infrastructure supporting the work of Russian communtiy foundations is one of the most developed and robust in the world.

In another sign of the Russian communiety foundation sectors’ maturity and growth, the seventh regional platform of cooperation amongst community foundations in Russia was established in Tyumen (Siberia) on May 20th 2014. Representatives of the Pervouralsk, Nefteugansk, Noyabrsk, Berezovskiy, Tyumen and Sorokino community foundations signed an agreement which brought into being the Ural Federal District Alliance of Community Foundations. The development was welcomed as an opportunity to provide greater regional solidarity as well as offering a network for exchange of information and learning. Two of the member community foundations pledged a sharing of equipment which augured well for the spirit of cooperation.

Each of the six member community foundations is very different, reflecting how community philanthropy can be responsive to local circumstances. The youngest member has been operating for just two years, whilst the oldest – the Tyumen Community Foundation – was celebrating its fifteenth birthday. The Tyumen Community Foundation serves the urban centre of Tyumen in comparison to the dispersed rural area covered by the Sorokino Community Foundation, which relates to village populations of 10,000. Similarly, both the community priorities identified and the resources available cover a wide spectrum.

Larisa Avrorina, Avila Kilmurray & Vera Barova at the 15th anniversary of the Tyumen Community FoundationWhat was evident from the description of the programmes of work of each of the six community foundations was the emphasis placed on civic activism and volunteer energy. Whether it was organising a fundraising charity ball or environmental clean-ups, success depended in local participation and enthusiasm. At least one of the community foundation representatives explained what could happen if activities were organised in the absence of community buy-in – a tree planting initiative failed to attract the involvement of local people and within a week the trees that had been planted were vandalised and uprooted. The learning from this experience was taken to heart. Next time round the local community foundation activists took the time to invest in community engagement.

Each of the community foundations operated programmes of grant competitions, with a wide range of beneficiaries, however they also promoted a number of development interventions often in partnership with local government authorities and with the support of the small business sector. There was investment in children’s playgrounds and hostels for the homeless; also support for clean river campaigns and the rehabilitation of recreation zones. The Pervouralsk Community Foundation responded to the fact that there was no cinema in its area by sponsoring monthly film shows around local villages; and a number of the community foundations supported a very popular Book Exchange project, whereby children could exchange the books that they had read for new ones. In identifying community priorities, reference was made to household surveys and community focus groups as forms of consultation.

The new Ural Federal District and Russian Community Foundation Alliance received expert advice from speakers on behalf of the Russian Community Foundation Partnership, the Perm Alliance of Community Foundations, the Russia Donors’ Forum and Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) Russia, amongst others.  Speaking on behalf of the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy, Avila Kilmurray congratulated the community foundations in attendance at the two day event for their commitment and welcomed the new Ural Alliance. She noted that it was a particularly timely development, given that 2014 marks the centenary of the community foundation movement globally.

Philanthropy in Pakistan: Private energy for public good

Philanthropy is “private energy for public good” and it is particularly effective as a “fuel” for civil society which can drive socio-economic development. So said Dr. Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, Chairman of the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy, speaking in Washington DC in April 2014 and sharing his thoughts with audiences at both the Global Donors’ Forum and at a discussion held at the Hudson Institute. He was joined at the latter by Dr. Carol Adelman, Director of the Center for Global Prosperity, Hudson Institue, and by Dr. Mirza Jahani, CEO of the Aga Khan Foundation, USA.

He also referred to the role of civil society and active citizenship in helping to think through the mantra of democracy and models of governance. However, in stepping up to these critical roles civil society needs to be supported – one area that requires further examination is the interface between civil society and the private sector, which Dr. Kassim-Lakha depicted as “a magic in that space that we haven’t quite captured.”

Commenting on the growth of philanthropy in Pakistan, the point was made that when a comparison is made between indigenous giving and foreign grants, Pakistanis give Rs 20 billion in money, which represents some five times the amount that Pakistan receives in outright grants by way of foreign aid.  Equally it was noted that 28% of all giving in Pakistan is made by people that are earning less than US$2 per day – a model of the generosity of the poor. This ethos of giving was traced to a long established ethos of giving in Muslim countries, although the challenge remains as to how to turn this impulse of generosity into more strategic philanthropy. An important contextual framing for this challenge is the development of an enabling legal and fiscal environment for philanthropy which the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy is currently working on.

In a country where two-thirds of the population are below the age of 20 years, the potential linkages between philanthropy, civil society and active citizenship are clearly critical, with the need to harness the impulse of generosity and translate it into the development of sustainable social assets.  Dr. Jahani emphasized the importance of indigenous philanthropic organisations and developments in this context, making reference to the fact that the recent Spring Meeting of the World Bank linked strategic development to citizen engagement. Mechanisms to facilitate communities to bond together around locally identified needs were recognised as central building blocks in any future partnerships between strategic philanthropic investment and grounded civil society initiatives.

Call for applications: Emerging Leaders International Fellows Program for community foundation professionals

The Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society at the City University of New York is seeking young community foundation professionals from around the globe to join its 2014 fall International Fellows Program, to be held Monday September 22 – Friday December 12. Individuals should apply who:

  • Aim to strengthen community philanthropy and place-based grantmaking organizations
  • Want to increase the sector’s impact in their local community
  • Seek networking opportunities with third-sector colleagues worldwide
  • Aspire to lead the community philanthropy sector in new directions

The final deadline for applications is June 13 2014. For more information and how to apply, visit the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society’s website.

The Case for Community Philanthropy – now available in Polish

The Case for Community Philanthropy: How the Practice Builds Local Assets, Capacity, and Trust – and Why It Matters, is now available in Polish. 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 are now available in 12 different languages!

Local foundations in the Balkans mobilize to support flood-affected communities

Communities across the Balkans are struggling to recover from the May 2014 flooding, the worst in a century after three months of rain fell over the period of just three days. With more than half a million citizens having to flee their homes, and with tens of thousands without drinking water, Bosnia’s Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija compared the destruction to that of the country’s 1992 – 1995 war.

Stepping up in the immediate aftermath of the flooding were several local foundations based across the Balkans including the Mozaik Foundation, Trag Foundation and Tuzla Community Foundation (among others). With boots on the ground, robust networks of partners, and the flexibility to move quickly, these foundations can mobilize quickly, proving immediate relief and timely information sharing in vulnerable areas affected by such disasters.

Only a week earlier, the Tuzla Community Foundation had been awarded a grant through the GFCF’s new grants programme which focuses on the role of community philanthropy organizations and local environmental issues, with a particular interest on how community foundations can help build and foster community resilience. Who could have expected that this issue would arrive so emphatically at the foundation’s door as flood waters rose across the community?

Moving beyond immediate needs, each of these foundations will have a key role to play in assisting individuals, families and communities in rebuilding their livelihoods, and contributing to finding lasting solutions to help those affected recover. To support these organizations in their vital work, please refer to links below for information on how to contribute to the Balkans flood relief.

Mozaik Foundation (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Trag Foundation (Serbia)

Tuzla Community Foundation (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

European Foundation Centre


Photo courtesy of Mozaik Foundation


Climbing the ladder: GFCF referenced in New Statesman article

“If civil society is to play a role in combating poverty, we need a vibrant, independent voluntary and community sector”, argues Barry Knight, Executive Director of CENTRIS and adviser to the GFCF, in a recent article in the New Statesman. Climbing the Ladder is the lead article in a special supplement on Civil Society and Poverty.

“Much of the voluntary sector contributes little to civil society because it is highly professionalised, possessing few connections to local people other than through the delivery of services” says Knight. “Resources should instead go to organisa­tions such as London Citizens, which is composed of citizens themselves and en­ables them to build their own power. We can also learn from international organisations like the Global Fund for Commu­nity Foundations, which helps citizens’ groups to build their own asset base so they can be free from the persistent ‘pro­jects’ demanded by official aid agencies.”

Read the full article

Community philanthropy: A new model of development

13 December 2013, AsianNGO

It has always been a weakness for many small non-government organisations that donors tend to ‘own’ them and their programmes in the communities where they work. But a new model in development—community philanthropy—is emerging through forms of community foundations shaped by local context.

It could be the new driving force for local communities to more actively and effectively manage their programmes given their sharper sense of ownership, a stronger trust among each other based on common culture and thus, a more personal sense of accountability. “Community philanthropy organisations are organic, rooted in local culture and thus, do not necessarily adhere to the standards of someone else’s notion,” says Halima Mohamed of TrustAfrica.

Although booming only in the last two years, community philanthropy is not exactly a new concept. Between 2000 and 2010 alone, community foundations grew by a staggering 86 per cent, averaging with 70 new institutions born annually. But apart from the traditional values of NGO activities—organised structure, self-direction, an openness of its strategies of engagement and being a civil society institution—community philanthropy takes on enabling local groups to use their own assets and building an inclusive and equitable society guided by local context.

This makes for a reciprocity based on a principle of solidarity, providing for wider public benefits as opposed to that contained or limited to certain privileged groups in the community—whether internally in a community or externally. These benefits transcend traditional tangible results; they also yield trust, community leadership, social capital, sustainability and reduction of the attitude of dependency—factors typically regarded as important yet very hard to measure.

The rise of community philanthropy, mostly through local community foundations, have also been vital in democracy-building, such as the case of Egypt’s Waqfeyat al Maadi Community Foundation; and in changing people’s mindsets, as in the success of the Dalia Association in Palestine demonstrates.

With civil society in Egypt deeply rooted in its history of conflicts and political turmoil, Waqfeyat al Maadi seeks to revive and modernise the concept of endowment to encourage sustainable non-governmental financing and development in the country. To kick-start and support development efforts, the organisation has been working since 2007, a bit before the Arab spring, to close the gap between the rich and the poor in Al-Maadi and improve the residents’ standard of living through social endowment.

Palestine’s Dalia, meanwhile, organised an art competition called ‘Momentum for Philanthropy’ that called for poetry, short stories, videos and photographs from youth entrants from Palestinians across the world. The competition showcased examples of Palestinian philanthropy to change the concept that [Palestinians] receive help but do not give any.

Despite these organisations being small, local people are both taking the lead in the works and are contributing their own resources. At its core, community philanthropy thus harnesses the passions and dedication of local communities to enable their members to help each other even at a personal level—which is very well a natural group dynamic in any society.

In India, the Prayatna Foundation has brought together over 5,000 residents across 50 villages, mobilising Dalit and Muslims to contribute their time, resources and knowledge to work together on addressing housing and unemployment issues, protecting their human rights and pushing for government accountability and social justice. With a history of religious divide between Hindus and Muslims, both groups have now forged connections together to develop the skills of local leaders in bringing real development in their community.

In Nepal, the Tewa Foundation has rallied over 3,000 local donors. Giving has become intimately connected with identity, being an important their culture. It has been a powerful means of bridging the varying interests and patching gaps of differing opinions; but still offering a sense of hope for sustainable interventions that transform their community away from dependency from external aid. The people’s use of their own money to carry out their programmes has thus affirmed the legitimacy of the organisations’ legitimacy.

The alternative model that Tewa presents is grounded in local realities. Despite a troubled history and a deeply conflicted contemporary cultural landscape, Tewa has done away with many of the established hierarchies of gender divide, social classes and the caste system, ethnic divisions and even geography. This shows an empowered civil society with an all-inclusive structure that can be transparent and accountable; as well as trusting and respectful. And global foundations are certainly not one to ignore this new emerging value system.

“Community philanthropy leads to better results for development works. If people feel like they’re co-investors in their own development, bring their own assets to the table and are enabled to govern the works, then they care more of the outcomes and are more accountable in ways that build social capital. The power dynamics are more equal in a partnership setting, not the traditional donor-beneficiary relationship,” says Jenny Hodgson of the Global Fund for Community Foundations.

The Aga Khan Foundation, together with the Mott Foundation, The Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Global Fund for Community Foundations, has rallied partners across the globe—donors and NGO recipients alike—to pursue community philanthropy in their respective scopes of work. They all agree that having local people involved as donors is a game-changer in efforts to build civil society and enhances prospects for sustainability of (external) funding even when the programme has been completed.

“We have worked on civil society for a long time. When people do things for themselves, those programmes have been the most sustainable. Leadership, financial resources and voluntary support are all sustained,” says Aga Khan Foundation CEO Mirza Jahani.

If community-level collaboration has the power to transform societies from within, using local resources and talent, then it’s about time that corporate philanthropy becomes a mainstream development strategy not only for local NGOs and civil society groups. Rather, it is an engagement policy that multi-lateral donor agencies can integrate into their collaborations with NGOs and CSOs, particularly in developing countries. And that programmes should develop the capacities of local organisations’ community philanthropy, making them more effective partners with foundations and development agencies.

The collective and inclusive picture of community philanthropy—as a new model for development and civil society engagement—sends a powerful message for the ‘within group’ and ‘between group’ dynamics in a society. Such a process holds high potentials to resolve, if not avert conflicts—armed or political; builds harmony and frames an equitable point of reference for real development to take place: one that empowers each member of every level of the community. (With reports from the Aga Khan Foundation and the Mott Foundation; image from the Mott Foundation.)

This article was first published on 13 December 2013 in AsianNGO