Community-based philanthropy and peacebuilding

Members of the Foundations for Peace Network were clear about their message to the wider world of independent philanthropy and development aid when they met in Istanbul over the weekend of 10th – 13th October. Representing a range of locally-based funders from Serbia, Georgia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Colombia, India, Indonesia and Northern Ireland, they agreed that grounded community reach, knowledge and connections were essential for building the relationships that are necessary for effective peacebuilding strategies. Experience shows that grantmaking is an essential calling card, but trust and relationship building is also essential. The importance of mobilizing a diverse, and extensive, range of partners that can share their views about the specific challenges and opportunities in a contested society was also highlighted as an important remit. Conflict transformation needs uncomfortable questions to be asked in order to create space for different views and experiences. Community-based foundations can offer the safe space for this to happen.

The crucial area of mobilizing resources was not ignored, although it was accepted that this can be difficult in the midst of violent conflict when many external funders, and potential internal donors, might prefer to play it safe. From its experience of working in Sri Lanka, Ambika Satkunanathan from the Neelan Tiruchelvam Trust (NTT) argued that this was the very reason that external funders should utilise the insight and local knowledge of organisations such as NTT. Funding partnerships, that might include the potential for a locally-based re-granting facility, were felt to be important.  Shaheen Anams, representing the Manusher Jonno Foundation in Bangladesh, made the point that organizations such as hers had a track record in transparency and accountability which could alleviate some donor fears.

Another message that was agreed on was the importance of offering more than the financial grant.  The added value work provided by community philanthropy in times of conflict ranged from cross-community meetings in order to challenge divisive stereotypes, to introducing new ideas from other societies that have successfully negotiated settlements. The Foundations for Peace Network members have already engaged in peer exchange visits and information sharing around the re-integration of victims/survivors of violence, a topic that is central to many of the members.  Proactive work to ensure that minority ethnic, and other marginalised groups, are given a chance to have their voices heard in the midst of conflict is also important, with Slavica Stojanovic describing the work of the Reconstruction Women’s Fund in Serbia.

The long-term nature of addressing the complex, and often sensitive, issues of peacebuilding was reflected in the final message emerging from the network deliberations; that of the importance of sustainability, which entails local buy-in to philanthropy. Although it was accepted that this will inevitably take time, the fact that community philanthropy was placed on the agenda was itself a powerful message. If good politics is cited as “the art of the possible”, then effective community philanthropy in societies emerging from conflict might well be described as the creative art of the impossible, where vision and values combine to take local ownership of making society better. But then as the Foundations for Peace members know all too well, the concept of the impossible is the last refuge of the unimaginative.

For further information on Foundations for Peace Network (including publications) please visit www.foundationsforpeace.org.

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