Help us to help Tewa, the Nepal Women’s Fund – and here’s why…

This piece was originally posted on the GrantCraft blog on 4th May 2015. For an update on Tewa’s activities since, please scroll down. The GFCF’s JustGiving campaign in support of Tewa can be found here

You could have heard a pin drop. It was September 2011, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Rita Thapa, who founded Tewa, the Nepal Women’s Fund back in 1996, had just described to a room of NGO and development practitioners how Tewa had a network of over 3000 individual Nepali donors – “ordinary” people – whose combined contributions have formed the backbone of Tewa’s small grants to women’s groups and organizations across the country for almost twenty years. After the silence, the marvel…“If you told me you were talking about the Netherlands,” said one man, “then I would believe it…But you are talking about Nepal! If this is possible in Nepal, then it must also be possible in Bangladesh!”

That is what is so remarkable about Tewa, whose bus drives through the streets of Kathmandu and its outskirts, with the words “Philanthropy for Social Justice” painted in English on its side. For twenty years, this organization has been living its values in a profound, and also rather humble, way. Tewa is a women’s fund, shaped by the politics of feminism. Women continue to constitute a highly marginalized majority in Nepal, where common practice dictates that women must seclude themselves during menstruation and levels of domestic violence remain high.

Tewa is also a community philanthropy organization that has walked its talk, embracing the values of local ownership and local agency in the way it does its work. Tewa’s small grants to local women’s groups have always been sourced from local donors (that “3000-in-Nepal-not-the-Netherlands” mentioned above), a principle that seeks to reinforce the importance of local participation in development and that there are resources in even the poorest countries. In the same manner, community organizations that receive these grants are often encouraged to “give back” (no matter how small their contribution) as a way of flattening power dynamics that often prevail between “donor” and “recipient” and fostering a sense of shared and equal ownership of the Fund.

And the vision of Tewa has always been long-term: external funding has helped support operational costs but they have also been leveraged to enable the construction of the Tewa Centre, a complex of offices and, most recently, a residential centre that perch on a hill on the edge of Kathmandu and overlooks rice fields. It was just in November last year that Tewa hosted a meeting of GFCF grantees who came from all over the world: everyone – whether they came from China, Russia, Zimbabwe or Mexico – was blown away by Centre which is a testament, in bricks and mortar, to the power of community philanthropy. The name of each donor is carved into the wall, with foreign donors listed alongside local ones.

Tewa staff assist in earthquake relief, May 2015

In recent months, we at the GFCF have been exploring an area of work around the role that community philanthropy can play in disasters and emergencies. We believe that, while there are clearly crucial roles to be played by specialized internal and external actors in the immediate aftermath of a disaster (helicopters to deliver food, heavy lifting of rubble and debris, the establishment of emergency / temporary medical facilities), community philanthropy organizations – who are known and trusted in their communities, have a huge role to play. Five years after the earthquake in Haiti, a Haiti Community Foundation is on the verge of being registered, after an extensive process of community consultations.

We believe that communities will turn to organizations that they know and trust and that these organizations possess unique insights into and knowledge of their local communities and they are perfectly positioned to play an important role in making sure that community voices are heard as talks turn to reconstruction. In 2005 in the United States, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, community foundations played an instrumental role in physically bringing community members from the most marginalized communities who had been displaced by the hurricane – often hundreds of miles away.

Today, Tewa – like so many in Nepal – has found itself in a situation it had probably never envisaged for itself, at the heart of a national emergency on a huge scale. Tewa staff are relocating from their offices on the edge of town to a café in downtown Kathmandu. In the short term, they plan to mobilize their network of volunteers to distribute essential supplies to neighbourhoods on the edge of the city, and will also prioritize pregnant and post-natal women in some of the makeshift camps to ensure that they have access to medical care. In addition to these and other priority areas that they have identified, Tewa is working with a range of different impromptu networks that have emerged.

In the short to medium term, Tewa will be assessing the situation of its grant partners in more remote areas of Nepal with a view to both immediate relief and rehabilitation. In the long term, Tewa will continue to be there too. That is why the GFCF has launched a campaign in support of Tewa, the Nepal Women’s Fund. It’s amazing how quickly one’s world can be thrown up in the air. Tewa is there and ready to work: let’s help them.

Jenny Hodgson

GFCF Executive Director 

Tewa staff visiting rural areas, May 2015


Update on Tewa


  • In the weeks following the earthquake, Tewa and its partner organization Nagarik Aawaz, have concentrated on providing relief to communities that they know and have worked with before, delivering relief and prioritising maternal and child health. In the words of Rita Thapa, a founder of Tewa and former GFCF board member: “We are realizing that one of the fundamentally important things is not to underestimate the enormity of this disaster, but also not to allow anyone to blow it out of proportion. We need to carefully examine who tells our story/ies and with what intentions. There are many tragic or sad tales, but there are also stories of fortitude and strength, of compassion and kindness. The entire Nepali people, it feels like, are working as one and for each other.” You can read regular updates on Tewa’s relief efforts on their Facebook page.
  • The GFCF’s fundraising campaign for Tewa has so far raised over US $18,500 from more than 100 individual donors.


EFC Conference 2015: What role for community philanthropy in disasters and emergencies?

This piece originally appeared on the Alliance Magazine website.

By: Caroline Hartnell, Editor, Alliance Magazine

Tewa, a women’s fund in Nepal, found itself on the front line when the recent massive earthquakes hit the country, said Jenny Hodgson, GFCF Executive Director. Her main point: that community philanthropy has a key role to play in disasters and emergencies. The occasion: a session called ‘Community resilience in the context of emergencies: The role of community philanthropy’ at the 26th European Foundation Centre (EFC) annual conference, held in Milan from 20th – 22nd May.

So what is this key role? Session participants were invited to think this through in an interactive exercise facilitated by GFCF adviser Barry Knight. A dam has burst in China, he told us, covering a huge and inaccessible area of land; already 175,000 people are dead. Each table was given some Monopoly money for grantmaking and asked to make decisions about how to spend it in the immediate aftermath of the disaster and later, when the first relief efforts were over. While most tables chose to give most of their money to international NGOs or local governments in the immediate aftermath – although even at this stage people recognized that community foundations might be able to help connect them with small local groups that might otherwise be missed by the relief efforts – when it came to spending for the long term, most allocated a substantial proportion of their funds to community foundations. Our table chose to keep most of our money back for the reconstruction phase, giving just 20 per cent to community foundations for the immediate relief phase.

The two speakers, Vesna Bajšanski-Agić of the Mozaik Foundation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albert Ruesga of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, gave us a vivid illustration of what community foundations can offer in an emergency. They know where the good work is, said Ruesga, which the good organizations are, who the good leaders are. They can come up with the best ideas for sustaining efforts; they bring a knowledge of local politics; they are sensitive to mental health needs, particularly the psychological effects of trauma on children – something that the humanitarian system tends to be very bad at dealing with. As local organizations, they have a big stake in the success of their efforts. Also, the donor’s money actually goes to the community affected by the disaster. If you give to a big NGO, Ruesga told us, typically only 20 per cent goes to the local community; the rest goes to the national HQ.

Image courtesy of the Mozaik Foundation, May 2014

Vesna Bajšanski-Agić talked movingly about last year’s floods in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which coincided with the 2014 EFC conference, held in Sarajevo. The Mozaik Foundation was not set up to respond to disasters, she told us. But it turned out that in the worst affected states members of Youth Bank, which is supported by Mozaik, were at the forefront of relief efforts. Community knowledge and links can be activated immediately, said Bajšanski-Agić. People know who needs help and how to get to them. A bridge that had been built through community philanthropy to enable children to get to school more easily was washed away by the river, she told us. It wasn’t on the map so couldn’t be rebuilt with UNDP money, so Mozaik raised the money, of which 30 per cent came from the flooded communities themselves.

Community foundations can undoubtedly play a valuable role after a disaster, but more than one session participant reminded us that investment in disaster prevention is much more cost-effective as well as more effective in reducing human misery – and again disaster risk reduction can be done through community foundations.

Despite the enthusiasm about community philanthropy shown by all at this session, there is at present scant evidence about the potential role of community philanthropy in times of crisis, said Avila Kilmurray, GFCF Director of Policy and Strategy. What the GFCF wants to do is to capture stories and lessons from people who have been through disaster situations and to develop something useful both to donors and to community philanthropy organizations (CPOs) – including practice notes and policy points. If donors were generally as convinced of the value of community philanthropy in disasters as session participants seemed to be, CPOs would be taking their place as central actors in disasters and emergencies the world over.

Community philanthropy in the spotlight at UNDP Small Grants Programme regional convenings

Over spring 2015, representatives of four community philanthropy organizations were invited to speak at UNDP Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme regional convenings – one held in Thailand and the other in the Dominican Republic – to inject a community philanthropy perspective into discussions, and to begin to explore how these development actors, seemingly so different, could finds ways of working with each other. Upon their return to their individual organizations, the GFCF followed up with these four individuals – all current GFCF grantees – to gather their thoughts on the following:

Community philanthropy works from the bottom up, quite different to how the UN, an enormous global organization, approaches its work. “Small grants” can also mean vastly different amounts depending on whether you are speaking with a local community philanthropy organization, or with a representative of the UNDP Small Grants Programme. Given these significant differences in approach and scale, after your time at the UNDP regional convening, did you observe any overlaps in terms of practice, values, principles, etc.? What were some of the more obvious differences? Beyond partnerships at the local level, what do you see as some of the opportunities for community philanthropy to connect with the UNDP Small Grants Programme?


Susana Aguilar Romero, Operations Coordinator

Fondo Acción Solidaria A.C. (FASOL) (Mexico) 

It was surprising to learn about all of the similarities between the UNDP Small Grants Programme and FASOL’s own small grants programme, particularly in terms of philosophy, values, and the operational side of the programmes themselves. One aspect that was especially interesting is the UNDP’s plan to incorporate a “services” programme to complement its grants, which sounds a lot like Grantmaker+ and which is very similar to a capacity-building program that FASOL is currently developing. However, because of its organizational structure, the UNDP Small Grants Programme is more rigid in terms of the scope of its grantmaking and the size of grants it offers.

FASOL works more with grassroots organizations, and thanks to a network of volunteer mentors who recommend our grants and offer ongoing support to our grantees, FASOL seems to have more flexibility. Trust is a key value in the work we do with grassroots groups. For FASOL, emerging from our participation in the regional convening is the chance to strengthen our work with different networks organized around common themes, such as indigenous peoples, climate change, and REDD (a UN collaborative initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in developing countries). 

Another point that featured prominently in the regional convening was the need to improve evaluation and assessment around social action. We share this observation because, often, the indicators that are used fail to capture very important results, such as increased understanding and agreement about natural resource conservation, or the strengthening of community capacity. It might be a good idea to implement a pilot programme in a limited set of countries to evaluate not only the direct outcomes of an environmental project, but also changes and growth in terms of network and group capacity.


Vuong Thao Vy, Grants Coordinator

LIN Center for Community Development (Vietnam)

The regional convening showed not only differences between the two approaches but also possible synergies between the UNDP and community foundations. In fact, it seemed the UNDP was interested in what it could learn from our sector in order to improve its own programmes.

The UNDP has the advantages of experience and reputation, robust procedures and documentation, and close connections with local governments. The UNDP “sets the rules” for its grantmaking process: potential grantees need to be qualified to implement projects that carry with them significant funding. Many of the UNDP’s projects and initiatives would be considered as large grants instead of small grants in the eyes of community foundations. Meanwhile, community philanthropy organizations are working from the bottom up. By engaging their stakeholders in grantmaking, community foundations are better able to: listen to their stakeholders’ needs; inspire them to change or improve their approach to philanthropy; and, nurture their desire to develop their capacity and to contribute to community sustainably.

In its new operational phase, the UNDP is committed to being a “Grantmaker+” which is certainly a guiding principle of most community foundations. Based on this common objective and each side’s strength, the UNDP could perhaps help to bridge the distance between local governments and community foundations, and to bring more visibility to grassroots work. At the same time, community foundations can help to equal out the traditional donor/beneficiary relationship by acting as a bridge between larger development actors and initiatives on the ground. Additionally, while the UNDP is better at mobilizing funds from governments and civil society, community philanthropy organizations pride themselves on leveraging different local kinds of resources (money, time, expertise, skills, networks, etc.). The two sides can certainly learn from each other in this regard, in order to better achieve their programme objectives, while ensuring the best use of resources and capacity.


Justin Welch, Executive Director

Monteverde Community Fund (Costa Rica) 

Although we work at different scales, and the processes for defining strategic priorities are much different, I saw a strong overlap between the practice, values and principles of the UNDP Small Grants Programme and ours at the Monteverde Community Fund. The UNDP Small Grants Programme in Costa Rica has been instrumental in grassroots development projects, especially those within the context of the National Biological Corridor Program. 

Community foundations should certainly be in contact with their UNDP Country Representative as they will be looking to develop partnerships in terms of resource matching and leveraging, as well as the strengthening of civil society capacities. The latter, I feel, being a forte of community foundations because of their ability to cultivate personal relationships over time and their flexibility to address the evolving needs of community groups along their individual path of development. Community foundations interested in exploring partnerships with the UNDP Small Grants Programme in their respective country should be aware of the intersection between the following thematic and strategic foci, which are important determining factors for funding decisions:

Thematic Foci:

  • Environmental: International waters, biodiversity, climate change, persistent chemicals and waste management
  • Social: Governance, civil sector capacity-building
  • Economic: Sustainable livelihoods, energy access

Strategic Aims:

  • Sustainable cities
  • Intelligent agriculture for climate change adaptation/agro-ecology
  • Grantmaker+
  • CBO-Government platforms
  • Social inclusion

Other Important Concepts:

  • Managing information in order to demonstrate donor impact, sharing new knowledge and learning, and improve institutional practices/operations
  • Thinking about replication, upscaling and mainstreaming
  • UNDP Small Grants Programme support for your area could come in the form of separate donations to a number of individual projects, or larger “strategic projects” that could include a number of smaller projects under an umbrella initiative


Sadhana Shrestha, Executive Director

Tewa (Nepal) 

My first day at the regional convening was somewhat overwhelming – trying to wrap my head around the massive differences in scale between community philanthropy and the UNDP “Small” Grants Programme, not to mention trying to keep up with the acronyms laced casually throughout the various presentations. But I eventually overcame my initial shock, and even began to enjoy the convening. As much as we had been invited so that UNDP staff could garner a better understanding of work happening on the ground, in the community philanthropy space, I took advantage of the opportunity to hear what was happening at the other end of the development spectrum from where I find myself.

And it was good to hear of a UNDP initiative that focuses on grants to communities, that seems to have done great work in many countries. Interestingly, there seemed to be quite a bit of buzz in the room about the potential contribution of community philanthropy to this work particularly in terms of: access to existing networks on the ground to overcome staff capacity constraints, knowledge sharing, and best practice in community engagement. The role and function of Grantmaker+ was also a hot topic. So while there did certainly seem to be synergies, my only concern was in this enthusiasm in the room being translated back into UNDP programmes and systems in an effective way. How can one idea or approach be adopted and understood across such a huge organization?

Despite this, it was particularly useful to meet the Nepal UNDP Country Director, who I’m sure Tewa will have contact with in the future.

The little development engine that could

This piece originally appeared on the Devex website

By: Diana Ohlbaum, Independent Consultant and former Deputy Director of USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives 

It’s not big. It’s not shiny. But there is a promising train of sustainable funding for local priorities, and it has been largely missing from discussions of country ownership and financing for development. What is this overlooked and underappreciated engine of growth? Community philanthropy.

Community philanthropy refers to foundations and other social enterprises that are funded and controlled by members of the communities they serve. They raise significant amounts of money locally from individuals and businesses, spend money locally through small grants for worthy projects, and are held accountable by local communities. You can’t get any more “locally owned” than that.

As an example, a women’s fund in Nepal, known as Tewa, has mobilized contributions from 3,000 Nepalese donors to invest in local grass-roots institutions. Its model of emphasizing small philanthropic gifts has taught women how to be responsible donors as well as grantees, and given them the tools to overcome dependency and powerlessness.

Likewise, Kenya’s Makutano Community Development Association undertook a long-term commitment to building community capacity, resulting in the construction of a road, nine dams, 17 wells, 162 pit latrines and a secondary school, as well as putting 10,000 acres of land to productive use.

While international donors, including the U.S. Agency for International Development, routinely look for local organizations that can distribute and administer “umbrella grants,” community philanthropy is something different. These foundations are not the fiscal and programmatic agents of foreign funders, nor are they simply service providers. They are grantors in their own right…

To read the full article, please visit the Devex website. 

But, will anybody be interested…?

By: Tamás Scsaurszki, Community Foundation Support Programme 

This is the question put by my colleague Ivan at our staff retreat in July 2014 – reflecting the uncertainty that he, and all of us, felt about our chances of finding local people motivated to start community foundations…in Hungary…now.

Our first step was to put together a team. After reviewing good practices from around Central and Eastern Europe, we knew that we had to get the right people together, who could design and run a national programme to support the development of community foundations across the country. The team formed in early 2013, and at the end of 2013 we launched the national programme, KözösALAPON or CommonGROUND. Though in English we generally still use the longer “Community Foundation Support Programme“, the Hungarian name aims to recognise that we need to find common ground with many actors different people in order to succeed. Most importantly we had to find able and enthusiastic local leaders without whom community foundations are just unimaginable. But first let’s look at where and when it all happens.

Community Foundation Support Programme team

The context: Hungary today

“Context is everything” – bearing this oft repeated wisdom in mind, we spent many hours debating our country. By the end of the discussions we agreed that maybe this will work, and maybe we really had a chance to create a community of community foundations in Hungary. Beyond the deeply divided public opinion about whether the current direction of the country is good or not[1], there are four key issues which affect our work directly:

  • Widespread disillusionment and perplexity regarding how to engage with politics and public policy, which has undermined people’s belief in expressing and taking action on important issues concerning them;
  • The sudden and regular major shifts in central government policy have heightened a strong feeling of unpredictability at all levels of society and in all sectors. This has prompted uncertainty about the usefulness of working for social change through long-term development projects based on joint action;
  • The rapid and comprehensive centralisation coupled with the message from government that a strong state will solve your problems, removes options and weakens a sense of responsibility among people for their own lives, especially at the local level; and
  • The government’s targeted actions to constrain civil society and NGOs (including harassing and attacking them) making the work of NGO activists difficult and worrisome, while also weakening the credibility of civic action in the eyes of the general public.

There are a number of other positive trends in society which are equally important to our work. First, the growing popularity of volunteering among all strata of society. Community service, a form of volunteering, has even made it into the national curriculum as a requirement for youth aged 16 – 18. This has had an impact on the non-profit sector: between 2000 and 2012 the number of volunteer hours worked for NGOs rose by 50%. Second, philanthropy is now an accepted social norm which people and companies increasingly practice. Almost in parallel to the growing poverty, it is apparent that many people have disposable wealth and/or high income. Interestingly, it tends to be internal personal motivation that drives them, and not so much external social pressure to give.

Yet, the country and society is a lot more complex than the overly simplistic categorization found in the above two paragraphs of negative and positive issues – and there is not space in this article to untangle all of the beautiful and complex connections and contradictions.

However, we felt unambiguous that the establishment and the development of the Ferencváros Community Foundation, the first such organization in the country, would influence our work positively. It was started and progressed during a time of economic hardship, in a doubtful environment, and it provides a model that works in Hungary (with special emphasis on working with local sources and strong involvement of board and volunteers). In our profession, working with invisible forces and connections, it has at times been crucial to see, feel and touch the “object” of our desire.

“Cultivating” community foundations is a long-term project: what it needs most is perspective and belief in the future. To paraphrase the late Czech president Václav Havel, the seed has to be sown, watered with appreciation, humility and compassion and given the time and patience needed for growth. Perhaps perspective and belief in the future are the hardest to find in Hungary nowadays, when tens of thousands are leaving the country each year for a better life abroad, most businesses focus on surviving in the short-term, and the non-profit sector’s ambitions (or the lack of them) are shaped by largely piecemeal, short-term, inflexible funding.

Embarking on our journey

Despite the mixed outlook we were brave (or perhaps foolish and naïve) enough to set goals for 2018, with a broad understanding of how we could reach them. Most importantly, we agreed we would like to see five or six registered community foundations in Hungary with the potential to develop into key community actors committed to improving the quality of life for all in their communities. As for the journey, we expected slow progress, perhaps with major changes in our work as responses to developments in the external contexts and/or our experiences en route. We regarded the 2014 – 2016 period as especially experimental and investigative while we were hoping that by the end of 2016 we would have clearer ideas about the way forward.

We understood that our most ambitious, and therefore most intriguing, task was simply to find people who would be interested in community foundations. We decided to adopt a traditional Hungarian approach and use informal networks and word of mouth. We selected seven major cities where we asked people we knew to recommend people to talk about their communities, the issues they were concerned with and the concept of community foundations. We made repeated visits to these cities and paid special attention to meeting with a diverse group of people from the media, business, NGOs, academia, art, and local government. We started this work in April 2014 and it remained our most important task for the rest of the year. As well as this very personal approach, we also used digital communications – and Facebook adverts proved to be effective in attracting the kind of people we were looking for.[2]

As a result of these efforts we met about 150 people, many of them more than once. We were quietly optimistic about the conversations, but we were still uncertain whether anybody would bother to start a community foundation.

The local response – can we do it now?

As we were talking with more and more people, intriguing worlds were unfolding: unique local universes shaped by both similar national trends and different local forces, which we were seeing through the eyes of a diversity of people.

We did not fully realize, sitting at our desks in the capital, how immediate some of the national trends were: for instance, one city we visited lost close to 10% of its population within 14 months, as young people left to find opportunities for themselves elsewhere. Equally shocking data and stories emerged about growing poverty and inequality, the over-politicization of public life and so on. On the other hand, the most promising experience was that local issues were important to people we met: despite all obstacles, people were willing to address them and engage with others – this rise in localism is a huge change compared to ten years ago.

We soon understood that good discussions and a general interest in community foundations were not enough. When the person we talked to waved good-bye saying “Let me know if something happens”, we knew nothing would happen. A local person embedded in the given community, ready to call people, organize meetings, send out papers and ask for feedback was a must. Interestingly (or not?) such people normally had a community development or NGO background.

At the same time, we noted that the basic attitude to community foundations in Hungary had shifted significantly. While ten years ago people would say that “it was probably a good idea, but it would not work in Hungary, and definitely not in our community”, in 2014 they would be positive that it was a good and achievable idea in their community. The question today is more whether “they personally and as a group could devote enough time and energy to do it now.“

In February 2015, we received 28 letters of intention responding to our call for proposals. Both the quantity and the quality of the letters exceeded our dreams. Therefore, as opposed to the planned four or five, we selected seven organising groups of three to seven individuals, each working in a different community, to support until the end of 2016. To show the journey of organising groups from the very beginning to the establishment of the community foundation, we had an infographic made.

A quick glance at the selected communities will reveal that there are four big cities (Nyíregyháza, Debrecen, Miskolc, Pécs), two smaller cities and their vicinities (Gödöllő and Dunaújváros) and one community from the Danube bend, which is a beautiful and affluent area north of Budapest without a clear central conurbation. The organising teams all provide a good starting point to establish strong boards representing the diversity of the selected communities.

The local response – the institution

Community foundations can be described as a specific form of institutionalised philanthropy. One of the challenges, according to our take on it, is that it takes a lot of nurturing and time to build strong and enduring organisations.

As a way of providing guidance and assistance to people, as well as starting a dialogue around building community foundations, we published a brochure describing the most important features of the type of community foundations we wanted to support. A thorough read of the selected proposals, along with our personal meetings with the seven organizing teams, gave us a good sense of the first response of the “field.”

We saw clear and strong motivations for such a complex and long-term task. Almost all organizing groups talked about “doing something for their communities“ – either because members of the organising groups were committed to stay (while many others had already left) and wanted to spend the remaining years of their lives in a better place, to stop the further deterioration of their cities, or simply because they had the energy, skills, time to do so and they loved the place. People also talked about creating “an institution that is different” – independent of the local government and beyond party politics, transparent, credible, built on voluntary contributions of the community. They wanted community foundations to “bring in new ideas”: be it a new culture of giving based on relations (as opposed to transactions) both for local wealthy people and those who left the community/country, learning best practices in connecting local business development and philanthropy, or promoting values that need (re-)introduction such as local self-determination, responsibility and subsidiarity. Finally many organising groups wanted to “belong to a bigger/national structure” to learn from others doing similar work, to share and be supported and feel the strength of people joining forces.

We were less clear to what degree the institution described by the organizing groups could be interpreted as clear-cut community foundations. We are wondering whether all organising groups understood that local fundraising will be part of the new institution’s work for ever (and not just a few visible and well-designed campaigns) in a way that it connects donors with their communities and mobilises so far untapped resources? We are unsure about the groups’ commitment to grantmaking as an effective (and very absent in Hungary) tool to connect and empower people. Last, but not least, we have question marks about whether the groups see the real value of a diverse board reflecting their communities as the single most essential resource that a community foundation has from birth (or even before)?

We do not mind these question marks, as the pictures emerging from our first dialogues with the local organizing groups are heartwarming and promising. We met a strong drive to create something that is more than just another nonprofit, that is a kind of flagship local civic institution representing a different Hungary. It sounds like a dream, perhaps a little idealistic, but dreams are important – especially in a country where they are so little on view.

The ball is back with us – will anybody be interested?

We are ready to engage with the dreams of the selected local organizing groups.  In fact this is the dream we had! Two and a half years after we first imagined supporting community foundations across Hungary, we now know the answer to our original and often repeated question: yes, local people are interested in setting up community foundations.

The Central and Eastern European experience suggests[3] that for local leaders to be successful in organising, starting and running community foundations, the support from the national level is crucial. To be able to provide the necessary perspective, nurturing and professional and financial support to local groups, a national community foundation support programme needs multi-year, large-scale support of big donors. We are in the second year of our five year plan. So far the NGO Fund of the EEA/Norway Grants was adventurous enough to support the first two years of our work, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation just approved a grant to cover some of the costs for the next 12 months.

Although we can demonstrate good progress and results since we started our work, the original question has not gone away. But it has become even more important, as our team is joined by 35 local leaders, all with dreams for their communities and for Hungary. So, who is interested in supporting community foundation across Hungary…???

And the team grows…


[1] For instance while the country’s macro economic figures (such as GDP, employment, private consumptions) continue to improve, people keep mentioning the difficulties and the lack of perspectives (see later in the article).

[2] For those interested in a more comprehensive description of what we have actually done, please get in touch at

[3] For instance, see: Vera Dakova: Philanthropic infrastructure in Central and Eastern Europe – A true champion for the field. In: Effect. Vol. 2, Issues 7., Autumn 2013.

Accountability is based on respect

The members of the Sanour Village Decides group gathered around a table in a semi-renovated house on the outskirts of the village. The plastic sheeting flapped in the wind in place of glass; bags of plaster were stocked in the corner. When completed this building is to accommodate the local Farmers’ Cooperative whose members were well represented. One man carefully extracted a laminated piece of paper from his wallet. It was handed round and showed signs of having been well handled before. It was an ad for the sale of a tractor that had been inserted in the local newspaper. There is a story behind it that is shared with pride.

Sanour is one of the hilltop “throne villages” that dominate the Palestinian heartland between Nablus and Jenin. The rocky fastness of Al Jarrar Castle is still home to local families that trace their sense of place to the era of the late Roman and Byzantine ceramics that are regularly uncovered.  Local people speak of the underground tunnels that still lead from the castle to the lower reaches of the village. They describe how the fortifications hindered the spread of the Ottoman Sultanate in the region. It is a village surrounded by vineyards, almond trees and the gnarled grey of olive plantations, although flooded farmland speaks of environmental challenges and the importance of prized livestock. Sanour is a village that knows the value of a tractor, even one that was once consigned to the scrapheap.

When the Dalia Association selected Sanour as one of the villages to be included in its Village Decides programme it came with the princely grantmaking sum of $12,000. The Dalia Association itself had been registered as a legal entity in 2007, after an extensive period of local consultations. Named for the vine, it also came with a clear vision: that of mobilizing and using resources to empower a vibrant, independent and accountable civil society in Palestine. It believes in the power of networking and building on organic local development. Established by members of the Palestinian community from the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza Strip, Israel and the diaspora, Dalia was acutely aware of the long-term impact of development aid in Palestine. It was determined to do things differently. It was convinced that when approached with respect and trust, local communities could manage their own grantmaking in a transparent, accountable and responsible manner. This was the genesis of the Village Decides approach.

Initial research undertaken by Dalia showed that Sanour was a village that had an existing infrastructure of community-based organizations. They were not staffed by professionals, but had credibility locally and active volunteer support. They included women’s organizations, farmers’ cooperatives and a group with a focus on childcare. They got on with their work despite lack of funding from the local municipal council, which itself had experienced major internal difficulties over an unresolved row concerning the position of chairperson. However, the village was not without other problems. When the Executive Director of Dalia took the bus from Ramallah to Sanour, her fellow passengers warned her “Turn back, they will never agree to work with each other in Sanour”; this despite the fact that 80% of the 5500 population are members of the one large extended family. Saaeda ignored the warning, she was on a mission.

After agreeing the inclusion of Sanour in the Village Decides programme, Dalia rented a local hall for a meeting and invited residents and the community-based groups to come along to discuss community priorities. There wasn’t a whisper of the grant money on offer, so attendance was a sign of interest and commitment. When the doors were closed representatives of the local groups were invited to outline the work of their organizations. Provision was made for women to speak from the body of the hall to prevent any accusations that they were putting themselves forward in an unacceptable manner. Meeting participants were then invited to vote for the four organizations that they felt were best placed to undertake programmes of activity. The four organizations receiving the highest number of votes were prioritized for funding. Notwithstanding some male reservations expressed about women speaking in public, the Sanour Women’s Club was one of the successful four.

A second round of voting decided the level of grant allocated to each of the four selected organizations. Each local participant decided the allocation of their “share” of the $12,000 that was available. One of those involved commented that the process was “More transparent than any other election…people really felt the ownership of the money, they sub-divided it down to half a dollar.” The results of the count were recorded on a board in front of the gathering. In the event the main winner of the evening was the Women’s Club, who were quietly satisfied with their allocation of over half of the money available.

Support was provided by the Dalia Association to help the successful groups to refine their project plans. The Women’s Club initially considered opening a shop in the village to sell household goods, but after some research changed their plan to purchasing and raising sheep that would then be made available to a number of poorer families in the area.  Reflecting on the planning process, they praised it as the “first of its kind that we were involved with all this process; (it) made us more confident.” The Club also raised an additional 25% of funds to contribute to the overall cost of the project. With the new confidence they now have their sights firmly set on cows, and no longer fear speaking to a public meeting from the front of people.

The Farmers’ Cooperative, which had also been selected as one of the four beneficiary groups, had problems of its own. It had been declared bankrupt due to debts resulting from a previous unsuccessful project. The Dalia Association agreed to be both flexible and patient. Local people had voted for the cooperative as a credible organization despite its current difficulties; Dalia worked with it to get the bankruptcy lifted. Then it was a question of what to do with the money allocated. The cooperative owned an ancient tractor that was valued at $700 for scrap metal. It was decided to renovate it for sale. The tractor eventually sold for over $2500 to the net benefit of the group. Discussion is still ongoing as to how this money will be invested – but chicken breeding is one the agenda.

Members of the cooperative speak about the importance of investing in local resources rather than always looking for the gloss of something new. Investing in the tractor was a case of “investing in our resources”, explained one; as important, however, was the vote of confidence that Dalia had shown in standing by the group despite external perceptions. The successful conclusion of the tractor saga gave the members of the cooperative back a sense of standing that was much more valuable than the money that was on the table. However there was another important learning point – the importance of accountability and transparency. Alongside voting for the four organizations, local people also elected the members of a Village Monitoring Committee to keep an eye on how the allocated grants were spent. Needless to say the Committee members could not be involved with the beneficiary organizations, explained one local man: a first lesson in conflict of interest procedures. The Monitoring Committee also ensured that transparent processes were in place for the selection of successful tenders for the purchase of both livestock and services.  In fact all tender bids had to be opened in front of them so that the process could be signed off to the satisfaction of all. Similarly with the eventual sale of the renovated tractor; an advertisement was placed in the newspaper and all was clearly above board. Little wonder that the ad was so reverently preserved; it is testimony to local accountability and transparency.

The roads leading to Sanour are embellished with the branding of many international aid agencies. In latter day Roman style, the crucial investment in water and roadways seems the preserve of the American people, through the agency of USAID. However, the representative of the Sanour Women’s Club summed up local feelings when she pointed out: “We have many projects, with tens of thousands of dollars, but we learned best from this project with a very small amount of money.” Development aid and community philanthropy need not stand in opposition to one another, but there is a need for the learning from the local to be both heard and taken on board. Like the vine that Dalia is named for, the roots of longer-term sustainable development must find purchase in local soil. The confidence-building and emphasis on transparency and accountability offered by Dalia, feeds these roots. And as the members of the Sanour Village Decides group confirmed, the community activists are now “Discussing things with each other that we didn’t before…learning and interaction changed.” As for Dalia itself, think what it could do if it had the resources to work with more than two villages at a time, and to invest in on-going networking of villages across the fraught terrain of Palestine?

Avila Kilmurray

GFCF Director, Policy & Strategy 

Philanthropia and Developmen(t) – an uneasy marriage?

This piece originally appeared on the Alliance Magazine website.

Some call it the “clash of civilizations.” Others, the marriage doomed to failure. And others still the wedding party where one of the guests is expected to buy an expensive gift but then not invited into the party. I would like to propose the title of a new (yet-to-be-written) book: “Developmen(t) is from Mars, Philanthropia is from Venus.” A European Foundation Centre (EFC) Annual General Assembly and Conference pre-conference session on strengthening philanthropy’s engagement with the post-2015 development agenda, was the latest in a number of recent discussions that I have attended about how philanthropy and development might work better together and how, if they tried just a little harder, they might find that have more in common than they had thought. The analogy of marriage and differences “between species” have popped up time and time again, the apparently plentiful – but one-off – examples of successful collaborations, set against the larger backdrop of fundamental differences and underlying bafflement.

And yet, despite all odds and as evidenced by the large show of hands in yesterday’s packed room, efforts to be made for this marriage to work still continue. So, some of the headlines from the conversation:

  • The majority of foundations don’t have any interest or share any affinity with the SDG project and yet data collected (in a slightly surreptitious kind of a way) by the Foundation Center suggests that there is already a significant overlap in terms of philanthropic funding and the 17 Sustainable Development Goal (and watch for the launch of in September 2015 which will map these synergies in terms of monetary amounts);
  • Foundations still need to preserve their independence from government agendas so that they can provide essential support to dissenting civil society voices: in the words of Rien van Gendt, they must “maintain their own DNA”;
  • For the SDGs to succeed, foundations – as flexible, risk-taking actors – have an essential role to play.

So, we have Philanthropia and Developmen(t), finding their way to a long-term relationship. Imagine them as a couple, both coming from similar, well-off backgrounds, educated to the same level, hanging out in different cliques as students perhaps and maybe in need of a little counselling at key points in their relationship but basically just a few acronyms and philosophical inspirations apart.

But…and here’s where the analogy starts to run out of steam, there is a real issue about how local voices and perspectives be included in the SDG process. It can seem elite, exclusive, impenetrable – and even irrelevant – to civil society and community groups, framed around high-level goals and aspirations, but which can prove much trickier when it comes to implementation. How, asked Avila Kilmurray, my colleague at the GFCF, can we overcome the current disconnect between lofty statements and roll-out, and is there a role that community philanthropy – community foundations, women’s funds and other community level grantmakers – can play in bridging it?

Jenny Hodgson

GFCF Executive Director 

Funder based in the clouds supports on-the-ground community work

This piece originally appeared on the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation website.

It seems incongruous to work in the community philanthropy field when your head is in the clouds, yet that is what Justin Welch does. Costa Rica’s cloud forests drew him to Monteverde, but what keeps him there is the opportunity to address challenges facing the region’s residents and the environment.

Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa RicaLocated in northwest Costa Rica, Monteverde appeared on the international radar screen after grassroots efforts succeeded in protecting what is now the Arenal Monteverde Protected Area. It’s the largest private reserve complex in Central America and is known worldwide for its vast biodiversity. “It seems like everybody knows about us even if they haven’t been here,” said Welch, Executive Director of the Monteverde Community Fund (MCF). “We are way up in the back woods, where it’s small and isolated, but are notably famous worldwide.”

Still, many eco-tourists make the trek to hear croaking frogs along streams, watch hummingbirds pollinate flowers and feel the trade winds while enveloped in mist. About 150,000 visitors annually outnumber the 6,000 residents, says Welch, an environmental science and policy specialist. He studied at the University of Georgia before moving to Costa Rica in 2006. Initially, Welch led the Water Resources Program and later the Community Programs Department at the Monteverde Institute, a nonprofit organization that supports on-site education, research and local extension programs.

MCF was a logical outgrowth of the Institute, he said, because there was a need for an organization to pool resources from and for the region to address its challenges. Created in 2012, the small philanthropic institution unites funders and community members. Its leaders work to engage and empower residents and organizations to work together in a democratic way to define their region’s development and conservation goals, Welch said. Among its services and programs, MCF offers the following:

  • The Monteverde Travelers’ Philanthropy Program, which partners with the tourism industry and its customers to secure financial donations and volunteers’ time to improve the community’s well-being;
  • The Small Grants Program, which awards mini-grants, typically $4,000 each, to local groups and organizations to fund projects in areas such as environment, social and cultural development, environmental educationand economic diversification;
  • The Technical Assistance Program, which provides hands-on staff assistance and advising for local community-based organizations about ways to create, develop and finance community and environmental projects; and
  • Workshops and courses for staff and volunteers of nonprofits on topics such as project management, community organizing and grant writing to strengthen their organizations overall.

MCF raises the money needed for operational support and an annual grantmaking budget of approximately $22,000 through the Travelers’ Philanthropy Program, as well as donors’ circles, which are composed of individuals with shared funding interests who combine their giving for greater impact. The institution’s organizational structure also is rooted in the community foundation concept — pooling local resources to meet local needs.

In fact, the GFCF, a Mott grantee, was an early supporter of MCF. So was the Inter-American Foundation, an independent U.S. government agency, that provides direct development assistance to non-profit organizations working in Latin America and the Caribbean. The GFCF provided an initial grant in 2012 to help fund a staff visit to South Africa as a learning opportunity with community-based philanthropy organizations from Vietnam, Romania and elsewhere. That first grant also supported development of the Travelers’ Philanthropy Program and printed materials for the field. MCF is a current grantee under GFCF’s newer Community Philanthropy and the Environment Programme, which is a Mott-funded project, said Jenny Hodgson, GFCF executive director.

According to Hodgson, MCF was created from a unique set of circumstances to become a community philanthropy institution that takes a broad view of “assets.” For example, MCF counts the region’s physical beauty and diversity of flora and fauna as one of its greatest assets. Consequently, MCF intentionally works to steward and preserve these assets in much the same way as cash-based endowment funds are managed and stewarded. Additionally, Hodgson said, MCF defines “community” broadly to include both permanent residents and visitors. That way, all who benefit from the region’s assets can be encouraged to donate to its sustainability. “The Monteverde Community Fund is a great example of a new kind of hybrid institution in a country that is neither super rich nor extremely poor. It is looking to bridge the sometimes competing interests of economic growth, social development and environmental conservation,” Hodgson said.

Throughout its work, MCF emphasizes the value of tangible impact. For example, a grant made from its Environmental Fund supported engineers to work with parents, staff and students at a public high school to improve the way wastewater is treated at the school’s dairy and pig farm, and to generate methane gas as a fuel source for the school’s food services program, Welch said. However, as the local economy shifts away from its primary dependence upon agriculture to a more tourism-based economy, its community leaders want to ensure the new economy contains enough diversity to be sustainable, he said. In response, the “Smart Economy Fund” was created within MCF’s Small Grants Program to support projects focused on linking, strengthening and diversifying local trades, among other areas.

“We’ve seen a lot of creative ideas come and go here, but I’d love for the Monteverde Community Fund to be a permanent fixture in the region,” Welch said. “Because we pool resources, some people think we’re competing with local groups for the same funds, but that’s not so. We are purposely generating new resources to benefit the greater good over the long term.”

CUNY 2015 Emerging Leaders International Fellows Program: Call for applications

The Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society’s Emerging Leaders International Fellows Program provides leadership training through seminars with Third-sector practitioners, research based on best practices, and the application of a comparative framework. Fellows are based at The Graduate Center of The City University of New York (CUNY), where they design and pursue an individualized research project. In addition, they attend weekly seminars, explore work of key agencies and foundations, meet with non-profit leaders and study US and international community foundation models.

The program is geared to young scholar-practitioners interested in strengthening community philanthropy and building capacity in local Third-sector institutions. Emerging leaders at community foundations and similar place-based grantmaking organizations are especially encouraged to apply. This year’s Fellows will be selected from abroad and also from communities of color under-represented in the U.S. grantmaking sector.

For more information, including how to apply and deadlines for applying, please visit the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society’s website.

The Case for Community Philanthropy – now available in Albanian, Mandarin and Serbian!

The Case for Community Philanthropy: How the Practice Builds Local Assets, Capacity, and Trust – and Why It Matters, is now available in Albanian, Mandarin and Serbian. 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 18 different languages!