Donors commit to the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy

We are delighted to announce that the Ford Foundation has joined the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy. In addition to providing general support to the core programmes of the GFCF, Ford will join other GACP members in a five-year programme aimed at strengthening the evidence base for community philanthropy as a strategy for enhancing sustainable development outcomes and raising its profile among a broader constituency of donors and policy makers.

The GFCF has also signed a five year grant agreement for US $550,000 with the Aga Khan Foundation (US) which combines AKF and USAID support for the GACP.

 

Growing philanthropy in Mongolia: Q & A with MONES, the Mongolian Women’s Fund

The GFCF spoke to Bolor Legjeem, a board member of MONES, the Mongolian Women’s Fund, and asked her about their efforts to build a culture of organized giving for social causes.

GFCF: Could you tell us a bit more about the Philanthropy Day you organized in November?

Mongolian Women’s Fund (MONES), since its establishment in 2000, has celebrated Philanthropy Day every year on November 15th. For many years, our main goal was the promotion of the concept of philanthropy, with a focus on women’s rights and social justice, and raising funds was a secondary goal. Gradually, after we’d tried different ways of celebrating, from a week-long media campaign, to a big conference of non-profits, and then to a series of public lectures by prominent Mongolians, we came to realize that encouraging and supporting giving is actually the best way to talk about philanthropy.

Bolor Legjeem

In fact, the Mongolian language does not have a direct translation of the word “philanthropy.” The word we use, “buyan”, is closer to the English word “charity”, which is not what we do. So we decided to use the word “philanthropy,” which sounds a bit alien. Actually, the “fundraising for social causes” part of our work sounds alien too. Until 1990, under the socialist state, the communist party was the sole caretaker of social issues. This means that even today the majority of giving by people is channeled through and to personal networks. So you can see that giving for social causes is still novel in Mongolia.

This year, for the first time, MONES decided to extend the usual 1-2 weeks of  our Philanthropy celebration to an entire month of a fundraising campaign. And, this year, we tried for the first time a new way of raising funds, a “100 Leaders Relay Campaign”, which we learnt about from our sister fund, the Korean Foundation for Women. The main purpose of this 1-month campaign was to extend the network of our individual donors by recruiting leaders. Each leader, besides making a donation herself, was to raise money from another 3-5 people from her network on behalf of MONES. In past campaigns, the donors who made donations to MONES were our end goal. This year, we made an effort to mobilize the donors and turn them into fundraisers.

On November 30th, we closed the 100 Leaders Relay campaign and on December 3rd we held a press conference and announced the results of our campaign to public. When we look at the actual results of our campaign, we know that we did not reach our goal of our campaign, as we were able to recruit only 80 leaders, not 100. But, when we look at the bigger picture we see that, although we may not have reached our goal of recruiting 100 leaders, but we were able to encourage our 80 Leaders to bring in additional 300 individual donors. If we’d organized this campaign our traditional way, we would’ve raised money from 80 donors only. By turning our 80 donors into MONES spokespeople and fundraisers we were able to reach out to 300 new donors who, otherwise, would not have been reached. Just to give something to compare, in 2013, the total number of our individual donors for the entire year was a little less than 300. And, with this campaign, we raised money from 380 people in one month. We are grateful and inspired.

GFCF: You say that your fundraising efforts are not solely concerned with raising money. What do you mean?

The fundraiser in me wants to talk extensively about how much more money we were able to raise, how many more dollars these additional 300 donors gave to MONES. As a feminist philanthropist, however, I recognize that we now have 300 more people who are willing to learn more about women’s rights and 300 more potential supporters who will raise their voices for women and girls. From our extensive experience, we’ve learnt that raising money in Mongolia is very closely linked to raising concern. Once you give your hard-earned money to something, you give your support. And, vice versa, if you do not support the issue, you wouldn’t give your money. Every dollar we raise is explicitly connected to the concept of empowerment of women and girls. So, every person who donates money to MONES has an understanding what his or her donation will go to. Extending our donor base is equal to increasing the support to women’s rights and equality.

GFCF: The Mongolian Women’s Fund has been involved in local fundraising for the last 15 years. What advice would you offer community philanthropy peers in terms of effective fundraising strategies – and what would you advise against?

We’ve come to realize that every person is a potential donor. People tend to give, but it is important for people to trust the person they give to.  This is because in the traditional way of giving in Mongolia people usually know the person they extended their help to. So, going beyond the personal network is important, but it is more effective when they know and trust the person who represents the cause. The person could be their family member, their friend, or a public persona they respect and love. So, our big lesson is to build on the existing culture of giving, to extend it and improve it. It took us years to learn this lesson as we thought we could create something new in Mongolia, by bringing something that works in USA or Germany or Nepal and plant it in Mongolia. But, it works most effectively – or at least it has worked for us -when we take the existing culture of giving and lead it to a new direction.

GFCF: You recently attended a conference on women and climate change organized by the International Network of Women’s Funds and Global Greengrants. Why is it important to bring these two issues together?

Mongolia is a country with nomadic pastoralism, where herding families move several times a year in a search of water and pastures. This lifestyle has been preserved for, at least, a thousand years and, today, almost half of the population of 3 million people in Mongolia live in rural areas off their livestock by herding cows, horses, camels, goats, sheep for dairy products, meat, wool and cashmere. This lifestyle is extremely dependent on weather, which has been undergoing noticeable changes due to climate change. Dry summers followed by harsh winters cause the loss of livestock and force nomadic families into poverty, migration. In addition, the boom in mining industry in Mongolia has severely affected many areas as it has encroached on pasturelands.

Women in Mongolia are actively involved in pastoralist lifestyle and they are community.

Grassroots women and women’s groups in rural Mongolia are active and they often more vocal and better organized, their concern often goes beyond their immediate needs and they tend to propose solutions that are locally suitable and can make difference. MONES has supported women’s political participation for the past 7-8 years with a particular focus on rural areas. As a result of its efforts women’s activism in the 5 selected provinces has noticeably increased and women’s representation in decision-making bodies has increased, too. As a result of the increased activism of women and their influence over local-level decision-making has strengthened. One of the major interventions women-leaders undertook was the monitoring of local polices and budgets that affect environment, address migration, employment, etc. and following up on the results. One of the issues that grassroots women’s groups bring up more and more are environmental issues.

GFCF: What would you say are the main opportunities and challenges facing the Fund moving forward?

There is currently no legal legislation in Mongolia that supports or promotes philanthropy. This was the major challenge for MONES, one of the very few national organizations that raises funds from local sources on a regular basis. But, it also helped us to work in a more creative ways to ensure we raise support and money that come from the heart. However, we are happy to share that Ministry of Justice of Mongolia is initiating a bill on charity. And we are proud to share that MONES was invited to participate in this work due to our extensive experience in promoting the culture of philanthropy in Mongolia. As we see it, this bill, when it is approved, will help us to appreciate our donors and recognize their contribution to the society. More importantly, this bill will encourage more people to contribute to the wellbeing of other people who are less advantaged.

Bolor Legjeem is a board member of MONES, the Mongolian Women’s Fund

Community foundations from around the world shine in Cleveland

In 1914, Frederick Goff came up with the idea of an institutional mechanism for pooling local philanthropic resources under a single institutional framework which could be deployed to address a range of community needs in perpetuity: and so the first US community foundation was born. It was entirely appropriate, therefore that the 2014 Council on Foundations opted to celebrate this centennial by holding its Fall Community Foundation Conference in the place where it all began. And so it was that 1,400 delegates – including a sizeable international delegation from countries as far afield as Nepal, Brazil, Kenya and Hungary – gathered in Cleveland on 20th – 22nd October,

Today, there are more than 1,800 community foundations around the world. Much of the current growth of the field is taking place in developing and emerging markets contexts of Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia. At the conference, the recent growth of the community philanthropy field as a truly global phenomenon really hit home when the Community Foundation Atlas was formally launched. Leslie Dunford (Cleveland Foundation) and Nick Deychakiwsky (Charles Stewart Mott Foundation) unveiled this new online portal to the conference, showing how it the identities, locations, assets, roles and achievements of community foundations across the world, and which will constantly be changing as individual organization update and edit their information.

For community foundation practitioners coming to the Fall Conference for the first time from other parts of the world, the experience can be overwhelming and even alienating: the financial size of some U.S. community foundations puts them on a different scale altogether, as though they are a different breed of organization altogether. And so it was refreshing – indeed, inspiring – to listen to Ambassador James Joseph’s opening speech. Money was barely mentioned. Instead, he emphasized the need for strong local institutions that could build strong, equitable and cohesive communities. James Joseph was appointed as U.S. ambassador to South Africa in 1995, just after the county’s first free and democratic elections and, interestingly, at a time when the community foundation concept was being explored as a potential new model for community building in a multi-racial South Africa. His remarks to the Cleveland audience appeared to be shaped more by the influence of traditions of solidarity and reciprocity that exist across Africa, the concept of Ubuntu, and ideals of equity and inclusion than anything to do with business models or endowment-building. Indeed, he reminded the audience that “Charity is good, but justice is better,” challenging community foundations to be the authors of a new narrative of social justice.

There were a number of opportunities for international participants to share their work and experiences.  In a session “Assets, Capacities, Trust: Why Community Philanthropy Matters from Austin to Zagreb,” speakers from Kenya, Nepal (Tewa) and the United States (Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo), reflected on how community philanthropy, in all its diversity, can drive positive and lasting social change in very different contexts. Irungu Houghton, Chair of the Kilimani Project Foundation in Nairobi, Kenya enthusiastically warned his audience that his mind was overflowing with new ideas from the conference: he subsequently prepared a paper, “Six lessons on building community assets, capacities and trust over 2014.”

“You bet they are!” Avila on stage in ClevelandPerhaps the highlight of the week for the GFCF was the plenary on the final morning that focused on the global evolution of the community foundation field. Practitioners from Brazil, Canada, Latvia, Northern Ireland, Kenya and Slovakia each told their story, speaking to slides that showed the range and extent of their work. Avila Kilmurray, formerly with the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland and now with the GFCF, and speaking in her own inimitable (and slightly provocative) way offered examples from different parts of the world – including from northeast India and a Bedouin community in Egypt among others. She asked – rhetorically, it turned out – whether these were community philanthropy, answering her own question with a resounding “You bet they are!” Beata Hirt, from Healthy City Community Foundation in Slovakia, expressed her gratitude for the “Superheroes” from various US and Canadian community foundations that had helped her navigate the process of establishing the first community foundation in continent Europe 20 years ago. And Janet Mawiyoo, from the Kenya Community Development Foundation, brought home quite how different local contexts can be when she explained that the reason that a Masaai community had decided to raise local resources to build a local school was because their children were being attacked by lions on their way to a further school. The plenary in its entirety can be viewed online.

Check out the Twitter highlights from the conference.

The Community Foundation Atlas is here! Add, edit or update your profile!

The Community Foundation Atlas is now live!

As part of its contribution to the 100th anniversary of the community foundation movement in the United States, and with the generous support of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Cleveland Foundation, in collaboration with the GFCF, the Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support (WINGS) and the Foundation Center have created a free, online Atlas — the first of its kind — that will detail the locations, resources, roles and measurable achievements of the world’s community foundations and community philanthropy organizations. As Atlas partners start to explore options for future development and expansion of the project, community foundations and community philanthropy organizations are encouraged to go online and edit, update or even add their profiles. By doing so, you will contribute to a global data set that updates every time new information is added.

1. How do I update our organization’s profile?

Go to the Atlas website, click on your profile and then on “Suggest an update.” After you have made the changes, save them. An email will then automatically be sent to the email address of the contact listed on the Atlas and to the Atlas moderators. The listed contact (or the moderators) can then approve those changes and they will go live.

2. Our contact person has changed. How do I update the contact email address?

Send an email to the Atlas moderators requesting that they change update the contact details. Once this has been done, you will be able to make any further changes yourself.

3. Our organization is not called a community foundation but we would see it very much as a community philanthropy organization. Can we be added to the Atlas?

The Atlas partners have sought to be as inclusive as possible, sensitive to the fact that not all local place-based philanthropies call themselves community foundations. The precise wording that was developed to deal with this question is as follows:

“Although we are aware that the nuances between the different names are important, for the sake of simplicity in this report we will refer to the population as “community foundations”, though we are aware that a minority would not use this terminology. At the same time, we are conscious that, in the past, the field has sometimes tied itself up in knots in a fruitless debate about what names to use and who is “in” or “out.” The premise for the current study was to reach out to relevant local placed based philanthropies using criteria of inclusion developed during a consultation by the Aga Khan Foundation (USA) and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. This relies on a definition by characteristics rather than a definition by essence.”

If you are still unsure about whether your organization would qualify, either email the Atlas moderators or try completing the survey and see whether the questions asked are relevant to your organization.

Board changes at the GFCF: Rita Thapa leaves, Hope Chigudu joins

Rita Thapa, who joined the GFCF’s founding board in 2009, has announced her resignation as board member. Founder of Tewa, the Nepal Women’s Fund, Rita has played a key role in the GFCF board for the past five years, bringing her hands-on experience of establishing a community philanthropy organization in the Global South (she transitioned out of Tewa in 2001) as well as a strong sense of social and gender justice to board discussions. The GFCF would like to thank Rita for her support – moral and intellectual – and wishes her all the best in her future endeavours.

Rita Thapa on a recent GFCF visit to Northeast India

We are delighted to announce that Hope Chigudu, will be joining the GFCF board. A sociologist by training, Hope holds an MA in Development Studies with a focus on women’s studies. After a start in the corporate world, feminism opened Hope’s eyes and she joined the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Zimbabwe “a changed woman.” Later, recognizing the need for women’s autonomous spaces, she became a founding member of the Zimbabwe Women’s Resource Centre and Network. Her experience includes periods working with European funders and the UN, before she set up her own consulting organization.

Hope Chigudu

As a renowned gender equality activist and consultant, and an organizational development expert and strategist, she has supported a great many African and international justice groups, working in most African countries from Ghana to South Africa and serving on the boards of the Global Fund for Women and Urgent Action and on the working committee of the African Feminist Forum. She is also a board member of the new Oxfam South Afria. (Bio courtesy of the Just Associates website, for whom Hope is a regional advisor).

Hope will join the GFCF board at its next meeting in May 2015.

Monitor Institute’s ‘What’s Next for Community Philanthropy?’ releases new essay ‘Think Global: Lessons from community philanthropy around the world’

For a time, emerging and developing community foundations looked north to their North American and Western European brothers and sisters to learn about how to develop their organizations. Today, 20 years after the first community foundation was established in continental Europe (the Healthy City Community Foundation in Slovakia), 18 years since Tewa, the Nepal Women’s Fund, first got going and 17 years since Africa’s largest community foundation, the Kenya Community Development Foundation, was created, the direction of those learning flows is starting to change and examples of best practice can be found all over the globe.

A new essay from the Monitor Institute’s What’s Next for Community Philanthropy? initiative, invites its audience, to learn about what community philanthropy organizations around the globe are doing. Drawing examples from community-based funders around the world (countries include Romania, Vietnam, Egypt, Mozambique, Russia, to name a few) the essay details a number of practices, approaches, and ideas that that community philanthropy practitioners anywhere could import into their own work. As the essay points out, “International community foundations now outnumber those in the U.S., and have often developed without many of the usual constraints and assumptions found in the U.S. and Canada.”

Read the essay

Mott Foundation launches new community foundation microsite, sharing lessons and insights from 35 years of funding

To mark the centennial celebrations of the first community foundation established in the US, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation has launched a new microsite, Cf100.mott.org, to share what they have learned over their more than 35 years supporting the field. The site offers key insights and highlights the foundation’s legacy of partnering with community foundations.

The Mott Foundation has bene a stalwart supporter of the field since the 1970’s, focusing its work around providing direct support to individual institutions, training global leaders, and developing a global network. Building local philanthropy has been a central part of the foundation’s strategy since its founding and the community foundation form continues to spread around the world as it helps ordinary citizens exercise their charitable impulse and, as Mott Foundation President and CEO William S. White notes in the site’s introductory video, the field keeps growing simply because “it makes so much sense.”

Visit the new Mott Foundation microsite

Rules to Give By: A global campaign for a culture of philanthropy

“Rules to Give By: A Global Philanthropy Legal Environment Index” is the world’s first study on government support for philanthropy in all 193 United Nations Member States. It offers an index of countries’ performance based on the regulatory and tax conditions associated with philanthropy, and investigates the relationship between the presence of such infrastructure and the percentage of people donating money to charity according to the 2013 World Giving Index. The study is an initiative of the Nexus Global Youth Summit. 

Visit the online Index

A field moves together, while ships pass in the night: Nepal convening explores the intersections between community philanthropy and the environment

Food gardens in a Western Cape township, tended by school children and their families, under the watchful eye of an experienced gardener and grandfather. An informal grassroots group-turned NGO in China’s industrial heartland in the Pearl River Delta that helps bring about a tightening up of laws on recycling. Fishermen in Mexico, concerned about depleted fish stocks, restore the local reef thus replenishing their waters and renewing their livelihoods. A rural community foundation in Romania organizes a bike-a-thon to promote a healthy lifestyle among local residents, while taking a stand against plans for a giant wood processing plant in one of the richest forestlands in Europe.  

It was a diverse group of community philanthropy practitioners and grassroots grantmakers that came together recently in Lalitpur, Nepal, for a two-day meeting of GFCF partners that set out to explore the intersections between community philanthropy and the environment. Back in May 2014, the GFCF awarded grants to community foundations in 11 countries. It was part of a new programme focused on the environment, and it was this group of grantees that travelled to Nepal for their first face-to-face meeting. We were joined by a handful of others too from Kenya, China, Bangladesh, as well as a representative of the Nepal office of the GEP Small Grants Programme (UNDP). Our host was Tewa, the Nepal Women’s Fund – and also a grantee under the environment programme. Tewa’s physical location (its meeting and residential facilities), on the edge of Kathmandu, overlooking rice and vegetable fields provideda tranquil and inspiring setting for our conversations (we met and slept in buildings that were built in part through community philanthropy). But the construction sites – new apartments and housing complexes – that have encroached across farmland directly in front of Tewa in recent years were also a stark reminder both of Nepal’s rapid urbanization and of the tensions that frequently arise between environmental protection and preservation versus the drivers of economic development.

The Tewa Centre, Kathmandu

For two days our group worked together, sharing stories and experiences: for some, this was the first time that they had really start to consciously engage around the environment while others were old hands. For example, in Mexico FASOL has made small grants to grassroots groups on environmental issues to hundreds of organizations. For the majority of those present, however, the environment was one of a number of issues around which they were active. It perhaps comes as no surprise then, that our conversations were peppered with words like “holistic” and “integrated”, the sense that social problems rarely stand alone from each other and that there are always connections and knock-on effects that can get lost in an issue-specific or siloed approach to development. The idea of “assets” (meaning money as well as non-financial assets but also natural assets such as forests, minerals, waters) came up too, in terms of mobilization of local (often invisible) assets as well as the idea of stewardship of financial as well as natural assets for future generations. And there was also much agreement around “the power of the grassroots”, the idea that it local communities that are closest to the issues and that mobilized and organized communities can challenge power and create lasting change.

In 2015, the GFCF plans to continue and further develop this programme. The energy of the meeting, the various “A-ha!” moments and the sense that, collectively, the group possessed between them the basis of what could be described as “emergent practice” that set them apart from other parts of the non-profit and philanthropy sector. Indeed, by unlocking local assets, by strengthening local groups through grants and other supports and by building long-term and trusting across a range of constituents, we remain more convinced than ever that community foundations are positioned to act as a buffer and a resource as well play a community leadership or brokering role when it comes to complex and often potentially divisive environmental issues at a community level.

Kenyan, Chinese, Egyptian and Russian community philanthropy practitioners discuss

Over time we expect to produce more detailed reports and studies that establish a baseline for a larger body of work on community philanthropy and the environment. In the meantime, however, here are some of my takeaways from the meeting.

At the level of some of the individual organizations represented:

  • The observation that where community foundations have an established track record in a community, they are well-positioned to initiate community-level discussion and support local action around the environment. In Perm, Russia, for example, the community foundation Sodeistvie had observed that the environment was very low down on the list of local priorities in rural communities where they were active. In one particular community, in which the foundation built up long-term relationships through their grantmaking and other programmes, they felt as though they were well positioned to raise the issue of the environment and engage community members in a series of activities, particularly around recycling (which community members knew virtually nothing about). They now plan to roll out the programme in other rural communities.
  • The observation that community foundations are able to bring together different parts of the community around a particular problem around which no others were engaged. The Tuzla Community Foundation’s grant from the GFCF, for example, was aimed at addressing the problem of the large numbers of stray dogs in the town. Through a series of consultations with NGOs, local government and members of the public organized by the foundation, a multi-pronged programme has emerged to deal with the issue. As a result of this success, the foundation has since found itself invited to take part in other, wider, conversations with local government and other stakeholders about environmental issues in their community.
  • The confirmation that where community foundations have an established base and trusted relationships with a range of stakeholders, they can mobilize quickly and appropriately in the face of an emergency. Again, in Tuzla, following the severe flooding of May 2014, the community foundation was quick to mobilize, providing boots and shovels for the clean-up operation, emergency grants of €200 and larger, €2,000 grants, for bigger initiatives. At a recent GFCF board meeting, the director of the community foundation observed that 74 grants were made to long-term partners in the aftermath of the floods, the kind of rapid response that international NGOs arriving somewhere for the first time would be pushed to achieve.
  • The observation that the environment is not a stand-alone issue but rather cuts across every aspect of community life. Some of the examples that emerged at the meeting included:

– Environment and social justice (exploitation of trafficked children): the Foundation for Social Transformation in Guwahati, India, for example, used its grant to conduct a mapping exercise of grassroots groups working on environmental issues in the region and found that much of the environmental degradation that is taking place in one of the world’s environmental “hotspots” in terms of its rich biodiversity is associated with coal mining and, in particular, the practice of “rat-hole” mining which involves thousands of (normally trafficked) children being sent down narrow tunnels to dig for coal.

– Environment and gender: when Tewa convened its partners (mainly grassroots women’s groups) to discuss the impact of climate change on their lives, it became clear that the environment was not only a poor people’s issue but that the largest impacts were being felt by women, still a highly marginalized segment of the Nepali population.

There was agreement within the group too about two things:

  • Ordinary people often do not see themselves as having a stake in the environment, even though they are the ones that are being impacted (and each organization had a story to share about poor air quality, contaminated water sources, food security etc.). It seems specialist and remote, the terrain of global advocacy groups, governments and policy-makers. On their part, many community foundations – who are also often not specialists – find themselves responding to the symptoms of climate change but that they are also challenged to engage with root causes, particularly when they are confronted with trade-offs between economic development and environmental stewardship.
  • At the same time, community foundations constitute a growing network of local organizations on that are on the ground which are building trust, working holistically, are high in local ownership, are responsive to local needs and able to connect across their community. And yet every organization in the room felt financially vulnerable and expressed a frustration that they often struggled to be understood within their own communities (the idea of local philanthropy is still very new in many emerging markets and developing contexts and grantmaking is also not well-established as a way of working).

The community philanthropy sector has also long been overlooked by international donors (with a handful of exceptions that provide the basis of the GFCF’s own funding) as they too look for answers in the debates around sustainability and resilience.  In 2011 a report, Defining Disaster Resilience, produced by the UK’s Department for International Development noted that:

“Sensitivity and adaptive capacity are determined by the pool of assets and resources that can be mobilised in the face of shocks and stresses. Assets and resources can be social, human, technological, physical, economic, financial, environmental, natural, and political.”

Are we not talking about the same things – community philanthropy and resilience? Are we in fact ships passing each other in the night, singing the same song but in different languages? Isn’t there some linking up to be done here?

Jenny Hodgson is Executive Director of the GFCF

Some thoughts on place-based organizing in Kilimani, Kenya

Irũngũ Houghton is Chairperson of the Kilimani Project Foundation. The following was written on the occasion of the 2014 Council on Foundations (COF) fall community foundation conference.

“We are slowly thinking of leaving Kilimani for other suburbs. Yet, we forget Kilimani is a little Kenya. What we don’t like about Kilimani is showing up in all parts of Nairobi. The line stops here. If we can’t transform this ward, what makes us confident that we will not have to keep running forever?”

Kilimani, Nairobi and Kenya

Kilimani is one of the very few Nairobi neighborhoods in which 43,000 Kenyans can work, school, live, shop and be entertained. Very few neighborhoods have this. Neither higher end Karen, Runda or Loresho can boast this. Kilimani has a very wide selection of restaurants. Lenana road offers one of the best row of restaurants available. It is also a melting pot for several nationalities and ethnic communities ranging from the French to the Chinese, francophone West Africans to the Ethiopians. Kilimani is also a place of innovation, culture, activism and the arts. Kuona Trust Art Gallery, PAWA254, the Nest, i-hub, 3 mice, University of Nairobi, Daystar University and several other places of innovation are all located here. It is home to the President and State House, famous Kenyan musicians Maia von Lekow, Atemi Oyungu, Chris Bitok, Suzanna Owiyo, Justaband as well as photographers Emmanuel Jambo, Nadia Moussani and Rafique among others.

While Kilimani is rapidly becoming a high-density suburb, a melting pot for brand companies and a place of innovation, culture, arts and leadership, it is not yet an integrated neighbourhood. What’s missing? Choice, community empowerment and liveability. Utilities are in danger of being overstrained but there is little dialogue between County planners, developers and residents. Residents remain uninformed on their rights and responsibilities. There is private security everywhere yet we perceive ourselves as insecure. There are regular electricity and water outages and no integrated public information system. As Kilimani grows, the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are increasingly being displaced. There are no skills building or market support for informal or small entrepreneurs and market access remains limited despite growing potential markets. While diverse, we are also a divided community. Most of us are walking complaints and our experience of community is shrinking to our very homes.

While distinctively urban, largely middle income and in Nairobi, Kilimani reflects a predictable future for Kenya. A future where rapid private investment remains unmatched by public investment. High rise families constrained within their flats or calbro compounds behind tall fences and gates. The other Kilimani, hidden communities of domestic workers, security guards, gardeners, taxis and boda boda transporters, are neither properly serviced or integrated in future planning.[i] There are few opportunities left for converting pavement and concrete into green recreational spaces. More significantly, communities don’t get to choose and powerfully create inclusive public spaces around their homes.

An alternative vision for Kilimani

We continue to be inspired by a commUnity where: ‘Karibu Kilimani’ greets people passing through and those to take root, guests and those who work or live here; A bustling public library and theatre, where children ride bikes and families enjoy recreation facilities; Informal service-providers are integrated and inform planning processes; safety and security is an owned responsibility of everyone in partnership with the public and private authorities.  The community is known for its creativity, aliveness, tenacity and neighborliness. People find affordable, accessible and adequate housing and business diversity thrives in Kilimani. And the area rarely experiences violence, crime or a sense of isolation. It is, simply, the community of choice.

Irungu presenting at the 2014 COF conference

Six lessons on building community assets, capacities and trust over 2014

Lesson 1: Residency is not a given, has to be claimed: Despite a 115 year old history, many Nairobians do not see themselves as primary residents of Nairobi.[i] Originally a coffee estate, Kilimani was developed as a white residential area first in the late 1950s and only desegregated in the early 60s. Here anti-colonialist and women’s rights leader Muthoni Likimani would settle and buy a house. 50 years later in 2014 this house is home to The Kuona Trust, the area art gallery and 20 or so Kenyan artists.

From the mama mboga (market vendor) on the corner of Chaka avenue and Argwings Kodhek road to the single bungalow owners on Denis Pritt road, most Kilimanians see themselves as transient occupants. During elections, they will go to ancestral homes country to vote for leaders that cannot ultimately, serve their interests. They will invest their pensions in upcountry homes to retire to.

Nairobi politicians understand this game. They pay residents Kshs 300 (roughly $3) from neighboring low-income, high density communities like Kibra and Kawangware and bus them into this middle income, low density community to vote for them. During the run up to the 2013 elections, the Foundation invited ward, county and parliamentary aspirants to engage and covenant with residents. We also questioned why their posters never had any telephone or email contacts. We challenged them to commit to their aspirations whether we voted for them or not. Few have remained engaged around their covenant. Without the experience of residency, local issues and causes that matter to people cannot be the platform to build the active citizenship envisaged in the constitution of Kenya.

Lesson 2: Appreciative enquiry holds great communal power: Today, Kilimani is home to a mix of Kenyans, expatriates and refugee communities. It is also bordered by Kibra and Kawangware, two large low income areas. From francophone West Africans, Somalis, South Sudanese, Ethiopians to the latest and growing Chinese population, Kilimani is home to many national embassies as well.

Most of the public schools serve children from Kibra and Kawangware. Middle class children have long left the congested Kilimani based public schools for out-of-area private schools. Yet, they and their parents long for convenient green and recreational spaces. Spaces, the public schools have in abundance. Kilimani Primary School Headmaster Gideon Wasike puts it best, “We are both located and displaced in Kilimani”. Kilimani is less a community than multiplicities of communities.

Over 2012-2014, the Foundation has consistently convened the community to map what matters to them and what they would like to create. Some of these “kililogues” have included taking photos of the good, bad and ugly in Kilimani, holding six  breakfast meetings for 55 corporate, not-for-profit and diplomatic leaders and school hall meetings to discuss the Nairobi Urban Masterplan, Solid Waste Management, public safety and community policing. Glimmers of a sense of relatedness, connection and new friendships and contacts demonstrate the power of appreciative enquiry.[ii]

Lesson 3: Trust and solidarity is an online and face to face conversation: Like other urban Kenyans, most Kilimanians do not have a sense of relatedness to the community as a whole. Powerful conversations with the Officer in Charge of the Police Division, our Member of County Assembly, local businesses like Chandarana Supermarkets, Dawda Group of companies, Black Butterfly and Willlart Production Inc and the Management of local malls like Prestige Plaza and Yaya center have unlocked resources for the wider community.

Online we can reliably now reach 1,300 by twitter and 1,000 by direct email. Our twitter account is invariably challenged to take action on a variety of issues from noise pollution from the local bar, potholes, car-jacking and failing streetlights. Our experience demonstrates most citizens are not apathetic. They do want to contribute and make a difference in the community they live and work. What’s missing is the opportunity and platform to meet and act with like-minded people. This is probably the biggest asset the Foundation has. Still largely untapped, the Foundation has to continue expanding and deepening its strategies for enabling relationships of trust and solidarity not only between the Foundation and the community but between the community as well.

Lesson 4: Resident’s action is not only fixing utilities: Caught within a model of private solutions for public problems, most residents remain constrained by the vision of community foundations and residents associations as an alternative to effective County Government. This is both liberating and disempowering. It facilitates civic agency to own and take up the challenge of making communities work on one hand. On the other, it releases County Government from any obligation to provide value for money services in return for taxes and rates collected. It also contributes to the privatization of core services and “user pays” system managed by private companies. Lastly, it feeds a perception that personal choices rather than public policy choices matter.[iii]

Foundations and associations can only be complimentary to local Government. Local Government could work smarter with foundations and associations around citizens’ forums, budget hearings and development priority setting.  Resident Associations and Community Foundations could provide the Nairobi County Government with the much needed intermediary to speak with organized citizens. In so doing, perhaps we can raise the national statistic bar of only 5.7% of Kenyans currently participating in the citizens based forums.

Key to this, as resident Dr Kahare Miano would say, “…will be shifting perceptions of Kilimani residents’ relationship to streets as places’ not just non-places on the way to places.” Fixing public utilities is one thing, but creating new intersections between actors, places and interests could transform the inequalities and divisions between citizens. The community could, one day, say to the Nairobi Governor, “this is what we need done, thanks.”

Lesson 5: Leadership requires imagination, openness, this is a road not well travelled: In a capitalist society like Kenya, critics have mistaken the President’s call for the public to form neighborhood committees as a call to spy on each other. This is consistent with a worldview that keeps us isolated as individuals. It is consistent with the pattern of building cities that exclude each other like in Europe or North America. It is this that reinforces our appreciation of community only as far as our family, compound or ethnic community. The Foundation completely rejects this worldview and embraces the African community spirit of “we are our brother and sisters’ keeper”.

The other challenge the Foundation has faced is the perception that community organizing is essentially for communities living in poverty and marginalization. Middle income neighborhoods don’t need a community foundation so the argument goes. It is precisely the absence of an inclusive and caring community that robs the middle class of the opportunity to provide leadership, share excess assets and influence the world around them.

With 5-6% growth and a growing middle class with disposable income, this robs the country of an important resource. As leading Kenyan musician Muthoni Ndonga noted, “I went to school with the children of the who’s who and the woman who sold vegetables to my mother. The richer parents contributed to ensuring that the school had all the facilities of the private schools. Nowadays, the rich spend a fortune on expensive schools for 1 or 2 children, when they could be impacting on 1,000 children.” The consequence is two Kilimanis and two Kenyas.

Lesson 6: Place based focus yields tangible results: Since November 2012, the Foundation has organized over twenty community events with over fifty partners and scores of residents. The community has responded very well to some events, not well to others. In October 2012, we invited the community to take photos of the community as they went about their daily activities in what we called “picha sauti”.[iv] We got very few submissions but instead requests for us to organize collective photo walk-abouts. These were more successful and we got over 200 photos.

We have learned that it is easier to think in activities rather than new ways of being in the same spaces. Yet, activities are insufficient to transform the community’s relationship to itself in the absence of an iconic victory in an area that is important to residents. Cultivating a common interest and agenda around public spaces is where tangible change can be found. Encouraging agencies to renovate the swimming pool, canteen and library at the Kilimani Primary School provides the best example of the Foundation’s tangible impact over the last year.

Four challenges on building a community and foundation for 2024

If we were building a 100 year old endowed foundation that is be rooted in the Kilimani area, capable of providing community grants and is nationally recognized and influential, what could we do next? Learning from the Google business model, a strategic portfolio would focus 70% on our core business, 20% on programmes adjacent to core and the remaining 10% on radical new ideas.

We could identify one to two programmes that have the possibility of an iconic victory in an area that matters to the community. Earlier in 2014, the Foundation participated in a Master Planning exercise.[v] Possible options include redesigning the Kilimani square near Yaya to ease traffic congestion and support the small business enterprises, finding an alternative to the matatu terminus at the corner of Wood avenue and Argwings Kodhek avenue, securing a more permanent space for the Denis Pritt road and Prestige Plaza markets, ensuring safety for children walking to and from school and lastly, neighbors actions to reclaim the streets outside their homes.

We need to expand and strengthen the Board, staff and volunteers to take leadership in enabling community self-discovery, confidence and action. We also need to create pathways for large and small individual and corporate members and sponsors to give regularly to the programmes we run. This will allow us to take the baby steps towards an endowment and a permanent resource-base for the Foundation. These four steps must occupy the immediate focus of the leadership both in the Foundation and in the community.

Kilimani Project Foundation

The Kilimani Project Foundation started as a garden conversation of residents, educationalists, businesspeople and artists and urban planners in 2012. Critical for its formation was a sense that the physical environment was changing rapidly and this was happening without the vision and voice of the community. Public investment in utilities, facilities and services lagged behind the rapid sprouting of privately developed apartment skyscrapers. Key communities were being physically displaced from the public spaces they had operated from – the street garages, food courts, markets, taxi ranks – at a time when ironically, business opportunities boomed.

Over the last two years, the foundation has supported local NGOs, businesses, associations, artists, doctors, the police service to hold an appreciative photo exhibition, community festival and play, renovate the Kilimani Primary School canteen, library and pool, organize cleanups along Argwings Kodhek road and Milimani Primary School, organize a free public medical camp and an open day at the Kilimani Police Station among other activities.


[i] Many residents still behave as temporal migrants http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Nairobi

[ii] In many ways, left uninterrupted, urban middle income Nairobi development will predictably mirror the current realities seen in North America and Europe where 30-50% of the population don’t know their neighbors well enough to ask for help, interact or pick them out of a police lineup. http://www.macleans.ca/society/the-end-of-neighbours/ There are models of integrated planning we can learn from. See http://pubs.iied.org/17189IIED.html and http://www.huduser.org/portal/pdredge/pdr_edge_hudpartrpt_032213.html

[iii] For more on the future of gated world by 2050 see Joseph S. Nye’s http://forumblog.org/2014/01/2050-can-avoid-gated-world/

[iv] In English, photo voice exercise

[v] See some of the issues generated http://ow.ly/D9riY

[vi] Many of the public eateries where these communities eat together are on road reserves or plots waiting to be developed. There are only toilets at Yaya Centre and Prestige Plaza with the latter recording 14,000 flushes every day. The Prestige Plaza owners speak to this service as one of their biggest corporate contributions to the wider society.