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In February 2014, plans to create a Katanga Community Foundation (KCF) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) got underway. An initiative group, coordinated by NGO professional, Pierre Kahenga, engaged in a series of consultations and discussions aimed at exploring how to grow the idea of local philanthropy under the auspices of the new community foundation. The Katanga region is in the south of Congo and is known for its rich deposits of copper and cobalt.
Once a shared understanding of what a community foundation for Katanga might look like had emerged within the group, it was time to translate these ideas into action. It’s fair to say that we all had some reservations, even fears: the fear of the enormity of the task; the fear of stepping off the “beaten path” of development and discovering new ways to work; the fear of writing a new page in history, of innovation. There were other things missing too: a greater sense of legitimacy perhaps or more resources… or knowing even where to start!
And so it was to help overcome these “birthing pains” that we looked to Kenya and the well-established Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF) for both guidance and energy. In July 2014, eleven of the fourteen members of the FCK planning group traveled to Nairobi on a study visit. KCF has already benefited from good relations with its partners, the King Baudouin Foundation, GFCF and the Haiti Community Foundation initiative. KCDF can now also be added to the list.
Understanding the context
The global financial crisis that hit many of the world’s developed economies in 2008 forced a radical rethink about the potential role of local resources in supporting community development. This thinking is now also moving beyond the traditional sphere of development cooperation.
According to current statistics, the DRC’s economy will grow by 8.7% this year, thanks mainly to the development of the mining industry. However, although the impact of this growth is not yet evident in terms of poverty reduction among the majority of the population, it is enough to convince traditional development partners to shift their attention to other provinces in the country. At the same time, few companies are using their social responsibility programmes to really invest in supporting the socio-economic recovery of communities, preferring to establish funds or foundations or to run their own social development programmes directly. But the unbalanced distribution of development assistance to urban and mining areas is clearly felt by rural areas.
In the face of such inconsistencies, how can one contribute to the overall wellbeing of the greatest number of people? What could we learn from KCDF’s fifteen years of experience and expertise to help inspire and shape the Katangan project? And would KCDF be ready to accompany us on this journey. If so, how?
In Nairobi, Janet Mawiyoo, Tom Were, Francis Kamau and the rest of the KCDF team provided a warm welcome and an excellent programme for our visit, which was comprised of both meetings with KCDF and visits to some of KCDF’s partners, including St. Martin’s School, Haki Self Help Group, Grapevine Hope Centre, and Watoto Wema Centre. We were also invited to attend the Forum of KCDF’s “Fund Builders” which focused on the review of performance evaluation and investment strategies, as well as the launch of KCDF’s new strategic plan (“KCDF: 2014 to 2018”) and its “Community Day.”
What did we learn?
KCDF emerged as the result of the frustrations of its founders, who wanted to challenge the situation in Kenya, where despite numerous external interventions, the poor continued to be poor. International donors continued to design projects from their own countries, without a real understanding of local needs or of local expertise. KCDF has its roots in both the Kenyan national context as well as within the broader African cultural heritage. Its institutional architecture and form were shaped by its long-term vision and KCDF has invested in building up a strong and professional staff, which can continue to maintaining the trust of the general public.
KCDF is a truly public fund that operates in the service of the most disadvantaged. It has filled an institutional vacuum in Kenya by establishing two key roles for itself. Firstly, as primarily a grantmaker that mobilizes resources and targets them towards development projects. As such, KCDF doesn’t seek to be an operational organization but rather to position itself at the national level and to provide financial support and capacity building to 180 partners scattered across the country. The organization has also managed to build financial capital, including property (specifically the office block where its office is located), all of which generates interest and / or income. These resources are held in perpetuity in the form of a Trust, which can provide ongoing funding for local development. Its donors include companies, individuals, the government as well as grassroots organizations, all of whom are regularly invited to forums to discuss strategic direction and reflect on outcomes.
An organization that started from scratch and learnt through its experiences, KCDF has evolved into a highly complex “machine” which is hard to sum up. As a highly trusted organization, KCDF has managed to build up a sustainable development fund for the community. KCDF’s success comes down to the skills and commitment of the individuals behind it, who have combined their know-how and values to create a mechanism for local communities to be in charge of their own development. No-one can develop someone else but, at the same time, no-one develops alone. As such, KCDF works to empower communities.
This trip to Kenya encouraged us all to reflect on some of the fundamentals: vision, mission and goals. Returning home, we have continued to work on this, inspired by KCDF’s story.
We need to:
- Review Congolese laws governing non-profit organizations in order to develop an organizational structure that best meets FCK’s vision.
- Embark on a campaign to build up some initial capital.
- Create a simple organizational structure with light and flexible management procedures.
- Meet regularly and consistently.
- Analyze our own local context further in order to be able to review our options and then to develop a multi-year plan of action.
Pierre Kahenga has been involved in the planning group for the Fondation Communautaire du Katanga initiative from its outset. The King Baudouin Foundation has been a key source of support to the process. The GFCF has also provided technical support to the intiative.