Amitabh Behar of the National Foundation for India joins GFCF board

We are delighted to announce that Amitabh Behar joined the GFCF board as of 1st September 2015. Amitabh is currently the Executive Director of the National Foundation for India. His areas of interest are governance and civil society. Over the years he has worked on issues promoting governance accountability and social action. He is one of the leading experts of people centered advocacy and was the Executive Director of the National Centre of Advocacy Studies.

Amitabh is the Co-chair of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty, the Convener of National Social Watch Coalition and earlier the Convener of the Wada Na Todo Abhiyaan (Don’t Break Your Promises Campaign) in India. He sits on several other organizational boards including the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability, Navsarjan and mobile creche and is the President of Yuva.

Learning first-hand about community philanthropy: Volunteering with Tewa

James Morrison-Knight volunteered at Tewa in Kathmandu from November 2014 – March 2015: he left just a month before the massive earthquake that hit the country in April. The GFCF asked James, who is currently an intern at the European Foundation Centre (EFC), about his impressions of Tewa and their work with women’s groups across Nepal.

 

GFCF: What were your main responsibilities at Tewa?

James Morrison-Knight: I mainly assisted with various writing tasks: this was a good way for me to be of use to the organization, while also learning a lot about their history, activities, plans, approaches, culture and beliefs. I started my internship by helping to write Tewa’s Annual Report, a task I found quite daunting to begin with. Yet the more I learned, the more motivated I became.

I was given a lot of freedom and encouragement to be creative, so I tried to think of what would be useful for Tewa. I adore photography, so I decided to take many pictures of the centre, the staff and collected existing pictures, which I then pooled together in various albums and created a resource, for them to build and draw from in future.James Morrison-Knight (2nd right) and Tewa staff

While I was there, Tewa completed its land and building project – the Sampanna Campaign – which has seen it constructed a training centre, theatre. It was a historic moment for them, as Tewa now has a permanent home. It was exciting to see their vision realized. They also built a monument dedicated to their supporters, with every name carved onto the stones. Another one of my tasks was to create personalized letters to those who donated to the campaign, each including an image of the stone marking their contribution.

 

GFCF: What did a typical day at Tewa look like for you?

JMK: In the morning the Tewa bus would weave its way through the dusty streets of Kathmandu, picking up staff members. We would drive down the bumpy roads to the calmer area of Dhapakel in the city of Patan, home to the Tewa Centre. Entering the grounds is like stumbling upon an oasis in a desert; a beautiful gem in the surrounding chaotic city. Entering the office, we would be greeted by smiling staff members and hot, sweet cups of chiya (tea). Tewa has a lovely working environment: the staff take their work seriously, yet have fun at the same time.

One of my favourite points in the day was lunch. Everyone would go to the cafeteria, where there would be a small feast lovingly prepared. The food was always incredible, mostly it would be dal bhat, the national dish. I loved the food, and the chef loved my appetite! We would then all sit together outside on the grass. What I enjoyed most was that everyone would be there eating, talking and laughing. It was a totally natural occurrence. They all cared for one another. It’s one of the many examples of the non-hierarchal spirit that is characteristic of Tewa’s work.

As an outsider in an all Nepali organization, initially I was daunted by the language barrier and struggled to fit in. Yet as I adjusted to the cultural difference I realized how fortunate I was to be working in an environment with such wonderful people. The staff are more than colleagues, they are family.

 

GFCF: How is Tewa working with the communities it aims to serve?

JMK: I see Tewa as a tree. It began from a seed in the mind of the founder, Rita Thapa. Over the past twenty years, through nurturing and care, it has flourished into a tall, beautiful tree. The tree provides seeds for others to grow their own organization. In many cases these seeds that have been cast far and wide have even gone on to produce more seeds.

Although Tewa is a grantmaking organization, their work goes much further than providing funding to grassroots women’s groups. My impression is that philanthropy runs the risk of being impersonal; larger institutions may only know what they are funding through the application forms they receive. For Tewa, it is not simply a grant, it is the forging of a long-standing relationship. Many of those that Tewa have supported have in turn become donors to Tewa. This participatory approach means all involved are invested in the work and Tewa’s roots are the communities they aim to serve.

Over the years Tewa has trained hundreds of volunteers who work on the ground, in communities. They create deep bonds and connections with these communities, spreading the message of Tewa. If Tewa is a tree, the volunteers are the branches and leaves: reaching out, spreading, and helping the organization to flourish. Through these branches and leaves Tewa is subtly creating a movement that is engaging more and more Nepali’s to drive change. Without imposing their beliefs on anyone or seeking attention, but rather acting humbly, with empathy and compassion, they are pursuing their goals with quiet conviction.

 

GFCF: What, in your opinion, sets Tewa apart from other organizations working in Nepal?

JMK: Nepal was a country congested with foreign aid, and this has only increased since the terrible earthquakes that struck this spring. The most scathing critiques of this aid are that it can tend to overlook citizens on the ground and grassroots work, and creates a culture of dependency within those organizations that do manage to receive the aid. Tewa’s principles seek to counter this.

To date, Tewa has over 3000 donors within Nepal, many of whom are local volunteers. Whilst they do accept funding from external organisations, they do not rely on it: this is quite unique. Many of these local funders also contributed to the construction of the Tewa Centre. What these women have achieved in Nepal, a deeply patriarchal society, is truly incredible.

But what really sets Tewa apart is their grantmaking. They give their grantees room to breathe and make their own decisions. They don’t impose strict guidelines, rules, or demanding financial reports. Grants target the most marginalized women in remote areas, where opportunity is scarce. Although the grants are small, the impact they can have on communities can be great.

 

GFCF: What do you think may be Tewa’s unique contribution to earthquake relief and reconstruction in Nepal?

JMK: The situation that has been thrust upon Tewa has forced them into a position they could never have anticipated. In the wake of the earthquake people have looked to them for guidance and direction, for solidarity. They have stepped up to the challenge without hesitation.

In times of humanitarian crises there are often gaps that are overlooked in the rescue and relief; Albert Ruesga of the Greater New Orleans Foundation explained this in a session on community philanthropy and disaster response during the EFC’s AGA & Conference. Tewa has decided to specifically focus on where it saw such a gap, and on what it already knows: supporting pregnant and post-natal women, ensuring they have access to medical supplies and care. In its twenty years of operations, Tewa has built extensive networks and developed strong bonds across the country. Through these connections and links they have been able, post-earthquake, to establish what is needed in different communities, mobilizing and moving resources effectively and efficiently, using staff and volunteers.

As the emergency workers begin to leave, and the Nepal earthquakes drop out of the headlines, what happens? Tewa was there before the disaster and will be there long after. This is what makes them unique.

Tewa’s outreach to women’s group following the April 2015 earthquakes

GFCF: What is something you learned at Tewa that you think you will stick with you for the rest of your career?

JMK: Shortly after arriving I was told a phrase by Tewa’s founder, Rita: “ke garne?” Literally translated this means “what to do?” It is a question that does not require an answer. It is a philosophy in Nepal, a way of being.

When presented with a difficult situation of any nature: “ke garne?” It’s a simple thing, in essence it means accepting and surrendering to whatever you are faced with and just getting on with it, trying to do your best with what you have. I hope I never forget that.

Community philanthropy in the spotlight in 2015 State of Civil Society report

2014 saw serious threats to civic freedoms in at least 96 countries around the world. This shrinkage of civil society space, notes the CIVICUS 2015 State of Civil Society report “is no longer something that can be dismissed as a coincidence, or the province of a small group of aberrant states.” As international funding flows for civil society come under increased scrutiny and restrictions, the importance of mobilizing domestic resources and building local constituencies to amplify citizen voice, protect and advocate for social and economic rights becomes more important than ever. At the same time, where international development funding is still playing a significant role, there remains much to be done to flatten power dynamics and to facilitate the kinds of development approaches that are locally owned and locally driven.

In the context of both of these trends, the role of community philanthropy as a strategy for mobilizing both local resources and local voice and as a way of changing the power balance between institutional funders and local civil society organizations, becomes more important than ever. This year’s report includes essays by the GFCF and two of its long-term partners. They are:

 

How can grantmaking begin to repair damage to the social fabric in Palestine, the result of decades of occupation and aid dependence? This essay describes Dalia’s unique approach to funding: “Starting from the premise that Palestinians have the right to control their own resources, Dalia Association stopped focusing on how communities use grants and focused instead on the processes they use to make decisions.” Lessons learned and challenges ahead are also outlined.

 

In her contribution, Ambika Satkunanathan makes the case that in the context of diminishing resources for civil society, the role of indigenous grantmakers is becoming increasingly relevant. This is particularly true in cases where work on human rights and social justice is being supported – the type of sensitive funding that corporate foundations seem to be increasingly distancing themselves from.

 

Avila Kilmurray and Barry Knight’s essay challenges the pattern of support for larger, more formalized civil society organizations, as opposed to community-based organizations. They make the case for revising current aid architecture in a way that would be more beneficial to all involved: “Bringing together aid agencies with community foundations would mean that both would gain. While aid agencies can bring resources and technical expertise to the table, local donors grasp the layers of complexity that only local people can understand.”

Can African grantmakers transcend past development strategies?

In 2014, the outbreak of Ebola in the West African countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone sent a chill around the world. The disease claimed over 11,000 lives, the majority in those three countries. However, it was the handful of cases that were reported in Europe and the United States that really fuelled the headlines. Suddenly the world’s attention was on “Africa” and a continent made up of 54 countries and over a billion people, which shrank dramatically in the popular imagination to a rather tiny corner of West Africa.

One of the effects of this global panic was that the Third African Grantmakers Network Conference that had been due to take place in Ghana – in West Africa yes, but not affected by Ebola – in November 2014 was cancelled. Cancelled, that is, until the Foundation for Civil Society in Tanzania stepped in and proposed Arusha, Tanzania as an alternate venue, for a July 2015 date.

It was highly appropriate, therefore, that a topic for discussion at the conference was that of African philanthropy’s role in disaster response.

“How can we challenge the perception that Africa is always ‘saved’ by outsiders?” asked Theo Sowa of the African Women’s Development Fund, “When, in fact, the people who ‘saved’ Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, were from those countries, not from International NGOs.” In the case of Ebola, it was a small grant from the Urgent Action Fund-Africa that had sent a Ugandan doctor to West Africa to raise early warnings about the outbreak of the disease. And further south, the Southern Africa Trust organized its own response: although far from the epicentre of the crisis, the organization was quick to see the knock-on effects that Ebola was having across the continent.

Theo Sowa (2nd from R) & panelists discuss disaster response at the 2015 AGNIncreasingly, observed Kepta Obati, local African institutions – because they have strong local networks and an ear to the ground – are being called upon to respond to emergency situations, whether or not it is their area of expertise. Certainly, that has been the experience within the GFCF network, where local partners have found themselves at the epicentres of floods, hurricanes and earthquakes: they respond whether this moves them “off-mission” or not.

Conference participants heard many powerful stories of the local, often “below the radar” responses of different kinds of African philanthropic institutions, responding creatively to extraordinary situations on the ground. They are developing new business models that build communities’ capacities and assets as an alternative to the “projectization” of traditional development aid. An underlying theme throughout the conference was the idea that “African philanthropy” is nothing new and that practices and cultures of solidarity and support are stronger and more established across this continent than other regions of the world. They may even be a defining feature of African communities. While speakers emphasised the implicit strengths and potential of African philanthropy, however, a number of questions and dilemmas emerged, both explicitly and by implication:

  • Being a local philanthropic institution in Africa can certainly offer all manner of advantages and benefits when it comes to fostering local development: a long-term view and institutional memory, proximity to the ground, an appreciation of the complexity of context. However, none of it means anything if an African grantmaker simply adopts all the behaviours – so hotly criticized in Arusha – of external donors, with their upward accountability and power dynamics.
  • Reconciling the philanthropy of the wealthy with the philanthropy of the poor. Organized African philanthropy is rapidly growing and much of is it associated with the assets of the extremely wealthy. At the same time the established narrative of African philanthropy tends to emphasise giving and solidarity systems – the survival strategies, if you like – of the poor. How to bridge the two? What is the role of multi-donor institutions that can unlock assets across different demographic groups, including the middle class, who still have few organized giving options at their disposal?
  • Encouraging organized systems of giving is one thing, but how do we ensure they address and do not reinforce long-term structural issues of inequality and marginalization? The “Kenyans for Kenya” campaign, for example, raised more than US $7 million for drought and famine relief in the north part of the country, but did it result in long-term changes for poor communities there?
  • Learning from the experience of decades of “bad” development practices. More than any other region of the world, Africa’s civil society sector and its communities have been on the receiving end of poorly formulated, costly and often ineffective development programmes. How can its emerging local foundation sector learn from those mistakes and resolve to do things differently?

These complex questions need to be addressed if the African philanthropic sector is to start to define its role, its values and its way of working. A good job for a regional network perhaps? With a new name, the Africa Philanthropy Network, new director, Karen Sai, and a new board, let’s hope this home-grown network is up to the job.

 

By: Jenny Hodgson, GFCF Executive Director

This piece originally appeared on the Alliance Magazine website.

 

 

Brazil, and the growth of community philanthropy

Community foundations and funds are increasing in number in Brazil, but are still just the tip of the philanthropic iceberg in this sprawling country of over 203 million people. They are working in a nation of contrasts, with the 2014 Forbes Annual Report listing 65 Brazilian billionaires, while 21.4% of the population live below the World Bank poverty line (2012) and 16% exist in conditions of abject poverty. It is also striking that only three in ten of the poorest 20% of the population are white, but they comprise seven in ten of the richest 20%. This context frames the development of both place-based and issue-focused local philanthropy, as does the legacy of experience and attitudes.

 

The Olympic city

Rio de Janeiro is playing host to the 2016 Olympic Games that will take place in the very area of the city prioritized by Instituto Rio (IR) for its work – the populous West Zone. As the first community foundation in Brazil, IR was established in 2000 and began its grantmaking in 2003. Since that time it has supported 222 projects in 80 community-based organizations. The grants are relatively modest ($2500 – $4000 USD) but they come with an impressive added-value programme of shared learning delivered through the imaginative Community University of the West Zone (Universidade Comunitária da Zona Oeste). The virtual university recognizes the expertise garnered by local activists and creates networks for peer exchange. IR Chief Executive, Graciela Hopstein is the first to acknowledge that local fund development is still a challenge, but given its location it would be a shame if the 2016 Olympics comes to Rio, and leaves again, without directly benefiting both IR and the communities that it is supporting.

Graciela Hopstein (L) and Avila Kilmurray (2nd L) in RioAcross the city, just a stone’s throw away from the linha vermelha, a main route into the city centre, Eliana Sousa Silva has a gleam in her eye as she talks about establishing a community foundation in Bairro Maré. Bairro Maré has a population of 140,000 in a favela that consists of a warren of streets stretching across sixteen distinct neighbourhoods. Eliana is a founder member of the Redes de Desenvolvimento da Maré and has been active over eighteen years in supporting community action in an area that was not even mapped by the municipal authorities. In partnership with the Observatόrio de Favelas local activists in the Bairro took matters into their own hands, carrying out a local census, giving the streets names and the houses numbers, and convincing the authorities to “make visible a population that was invisible.” Other community initiatives focus on education, health, development through the arts and public safety. A community newspaper is delivered door to door, with a circulation of 40,000 copies, on a monthly basis. The challenge for Eliana and her colleagues is how to both keep the community momentum going and how to plan for the long term. The Redes feels that part of the answer may be found in setting up a community foundation that could enable local people to become decision-makers in their own right. “Usually people are waiting – spectators of their environment”, explains Eliana, a local community foundation could be a mechanism to help shift the power paradigm in the longer term. What Eliana now needs is information, ideas and support in taking the next step.

 

An integrated model of community support

Working in Maranhão, one of the poorest states in Brazil, the Baixada Institute was established in 2008 by community leaders in the area. Regina Cabral, an Ashoka Fellow (2010) was a founder member of the Instituto Formaҫāo which was a formative influence in the development of the Baixada Institute. The focus of both the Baixada Institute, as the local community foundation, and the Instituto Formaҫāo, as a development agency, is to work with local communities in the rural areas of Baixada Maranhense that are clustered in the north-east corner of Brazil. The area has a population of some 250,000 and has a history of labour migration and violent conflict over land rights. Regina speaks about the importance of investing in young people, raising their aspirations through education, sport, the arts and skills training. An important area of development has been in agri-ecology, where a combination of technical assistance, seeding grants and encouragement has resulted in pilot income generation horticultural projects, many carried out with black and quilombola (ex-slave) communities. Work over the years has resulted in the opening of fourteen Information Technology centres, with adjoining youth support centres, in rural towns and villages across the region. The idea of the community foundation (Fundaҫão Comunitária na Baixada Maranhense) came out of consultation with both young activists and community-based organizations. The community foundation continues to place a high priority on local consultation.

The Instituto Baixada operates from its own premises and was set up with initial financial support from the Kellogg Foundation. Among its goals is the support of community initiatives that empower local organizations and foster regional development. Fund development is also on the agenda and a donor network (Embaixadeiros Doadores) works to secure local donations. Regina explains that there is still a need for external support particularly given the developmental focus of the work which is seen by some as being at odds with traditional charitable giving. The work of the foundation is underpinned by a network of volunteers, which is found to be as beneficial as donations – although both are welcome.

With its concentration on Baixada Maranhense, Instituto Baixada draws on the networks and community insights built by Institute Formaҫāo, and other voluntary sector organizations, over the years. This allows strong lines of communication between the community foundation and local activists. It also ensures that there is transparency and a sense of mutual accountability in how Instituto Baixada delivers on its objectives. As to the next priority – the Institute Formaҫāo is working with communities in selected rural towns to open seven libraries, located in a range of venues. The Instituto Baixada plans to support this venture by allocating some $42,000 USD to purchase books. A seeding grant awarded to a group of young people involved in developing a community library last year already acted as a demonstration project.

 

Florianopolis – the southern Silicon Valley

ICom was established in 2005 as the second community foundation in Brazil. Working in Florianopolis, the second largest city in the southern state of Santa Catarina, this foundation emphasizes the importance of development support and capacity-building for local community and voluntary organizations. In order to counter public scepticism about the NGO sector it developed a transparency portal which holds detailed information on local organizations. ICom also facilitates training and professional development courses in order to promote institutional growth within organizations. Alongside its developmental objective of strengthening non-profit organizations,  ICom also prioritizes knowledge production and community mobilization that it achieves through its Vital Signs research (adapted from the Community Foundations of Canada model); working with donors and social innovation.

The work with donors is long-term and time consuming, not helped by the complexities of Brazilian tax and fiscal regulations, however, ICom Executive Director, Anderson Giovani da Silva is celebrating a major gift received recently from an individual donor who has been involved with ICom over a number of years. Anderson rules out direct fundraising activities and events as he does not want to be in competition with the local organizations that ICom is supporting. It is the area of social innovation where ICom has made a specific contribution, opening its offices as a Centre for Social Innovation and sharing them with social entrepreneurs. A new start-up 3 D design company currently operates from the space, with Anderson also being involved in raising funding for investment in a high quality movie – featuring four stories of young people using technology for social change purposes. A grant from the Inter-American Foundation is currently supporting the development of this centre. Anderson’s belief in the power of innovative design thinking to progress social change and bring a new dimension to the philanthropy of the future can be seen in ICom’s partnership with the Institute of Volunteering in taking a stake in Social Good Brazil.

The ICom office, operating as a Centre for Social InnovationThis has now spun off as an independent entity but re-invests a donor advised fund with ICom. Both ICom and Social Good Brazil are partners in an annual call for design ideas for products that can address social issues in an imaginative way. Piloted in 2013, fifty social entrepreneurs were invited to participate and receive mentoring through a Social Design Lab; they also benefited from $250 USD seed funding that ICom managed. One example of work supported was an app for use in the case of domestic violence. Participants were initially drawn from Florianopolis, but the popularity of the programme has resulted in it being extended to São Paulo. This may not be community philanthropy as it is commonly understood, but it seems to be a model that is working in Florianopolis, a city that prides itself as a technology hub.

 

New community funds emerging

Two recent developments have seen the emergence of a community fund and a community foundation in the East Zone of São Paulo and southern Bahia respectively, two very different contexts. With a population of ten million, São Paulo is the world’s third largest city, but the Fundaҫão Tide Setubal – a family foundation – concentrated its energies in the São Miguel district of the East Zone. The foundation became particularly known for its programmes of work with young people and investment in family support. Adopting a new approach the foundation decided to establish the Fundo Zona Leste Sustentável as a five year pilot exercise which was inspired by a discussion about community foundations involving a number of local stakeholders. An Oversight Board for the initiative was set up and a Monitoring and Evaluation Board, drawing on expertise from a local university. The Fund itself is focusing on business start-ups and technical support, funding 31 projects to date. Amongst those benefiting is a garbage collectors’ cooperative. One of the three staff members employed by the Fund emphasizes that it is still a community fund rather than a foundation – the jury is still out as to whether it will develop into a community foundation.

Roberto Vilela, working with the recently established community foundation in southern Bahia, is celebrating the fact that a recent grant call attracted 65 applications. The Tabôa Fortalecimento Comunitário was set up in 2013 with initial funding being put in place by Instituto Arapyaū, the World Bank and a foundation established by documentary filmmaker, Joāo Moreira Salles. Tabôa operates in the Uruҫuca region of Bahia which faces challenges of degradation of natural resources, economic inequality and under attainment in education. Consequently the new community foundation is prioritizing the strengthening of grassroots development associations and supporting community tourism projects that benefit local people. As a good grantmaker, Roberto is already thinking about how to respond to those grant applicants that may not be successful in being funded under the current round. He wants the application process to be empowering and is keen to build capacity and learning for local organizations. Decision-making in the community foundation is already participative, with the board currently made up of five representatives from the donors and five people from the local community.

 

A comparative approach to community foundation development

Representatives from the four Brazilian community foundations, as well as from the Fondo Zona Leste Sustentável and Redes de Desenvolvimento da Maré all attended a two-day conference on philanthropy for social justice organized in July by the Brazilian Network of Independent Funds for Social Justice. Joining with a number of other issue-focused funders the gathering recognized the need to create a narrative capable of motivating people to address issues of structural inequality and implicit racism. A follow-on seminar on the specific role of community philanthropy highlighted the important dimension of local engagement that community foundations can offer, although concerns were expressed at continuing difficulties in attracting a mix of donors to invest in this work.

Brazilian Network of Independent Funds for Social Justice, July 2015What became apparent over the course of the seminar is that Brazil offers a fascinating insight into how community foundations can emerge and be incubated through a variety of approaches. The origins of both Instituto Rio and ICom were influenced by the North American model of community foundations, fostered through international contacts and support. Tabôa Fortalecimento Comunitário has developed as an initiative of Instituto Arapyaū with a similar progression route to the Fundo Zona Leste Sustentável, should it decide to pursue this course further; whilst Instituto Baixada shares a sense of rooted local development that also characterizes the plans of Redes des Desenvolvimente da Maré. This latter phenomenon of community foundations, or funds, developing as mechanisms of sustainability for locality-based or regional community development is emerging in other country contexts as well. The comparative nature of the incubation and growth of community foundations in Brazil offers an important opportunity to track both opportunities and challenges presented by these different development paths and to welcome the diversity that is a response to local context.

 

By: Avila Kilmurray, GFCF Director of Policy & Strategy

Community foundations offer disaster recovery lessons: Is anyone listening?

When the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy focused on the role of community foundations in disaster and emergency relief in July 2014, they had in mind the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the city of New Orleans. Albert Ruesga, president and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, asserted that “Katrina’s landfall in August 2005 was a wake-up call for the city leadership. Clearly whatever the foundation had done to serve New Orleans and the region before Katrina needed to be re-imagined.”

Less than a year on, the Kathmandhu-based Tewa women’s fund is helping local women to rebuild their shattered lives in rural villages across Nepal. Tewa, working in partnership with the peace-building organization Nagarik Aawaz, formed an Earthquake Relief Fund Committee in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. Recovery will require “long-term rehabilitation work, where trust and respect is imperative in order to work as partners”, observes Rita Thapa, Tewa’s founder. No one is better situated to make this long-term commitment than community foundations, but they are often left out of international relief efforts.

Rita Thapa (L) in the days following the first Nepal earthquake, April 2015

Positioning community philanthropy to play its part

Rita’s comments reflect findings of the San Diego Foundation, which pointed out that disaster recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. The foundation invested five years of work following a series of destructive wildfires in 2007. It supported community recovery teams to provide local people with a hub to coordinate their work and created an insurance advocacy scheme to help fire-affected residents claim entitlements. After devastating tornadoes in Joplin Missouri in 2011, Louise Knauer, of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, identified the role of the community foundation “as a community anchor – the ‘boots on the ground’ that will be here for needs that linger long afterwards, often when other funding and attention has waned.”

 

A focus on preparedness
An emphasis on the long-term commitment of community-based philanthropy to address issues of reconstruction is currently being matched with a focus on preparedness. The Greater New Orleans Foundation now has a continuity of operations plan in place, and the foundation funds Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOADS), providing up-to-date contact lists for VOADS and their staff.  The importance of preparedness has increasingly been recognized by the UK Community Foundations network, where a number of local community foundations have worked to alleviate hardship during both natural and rural disasters over recent years.

Of course, in Asia, which accounted for 90 per cent of people affected by global natural disasters in 2013, preparedness is particularly crucial. Yet in that region, community philanthropy organizations have limited access to resources.

 

A conversation with people who cannot hear?
Given that community philanthropy organizations show a commitment to the well-being and resilience of their communities, the apparent lack of awareness of their contributions among development and humanitarian relief agencies and bilateral aid organizations is disappointing.

When the Balkans experienced extensive flooding in May 2014, the community foundations Mozaik, Tuzla and Trag didn’t wait to be coordinated by international organizations.  Mozaik’s Executive Director, Vesna Bajsanski-Agic, said that when you get over your disbelief in, and shock about, a disaster, you just have to react. In Bosnia, Mozaik mobilized people it trusted, established points of local contact, and distributed help quickly and effectively, with 30 per cent of the funding being raised locally. Few external agencies even thought to get in touch with the local foundations.

Participating in a recent GFCF discussion, Suranjana Gupta, coordinator of the Global Campaign for Community Resilience of the Huairou Commission, emphasized the importance of flexible resources and local knowledge in building community resilience to disasters. The priorities of local organizations are often quite different from the priorities of national-level programmes, she said.  Rita Thapa agrees.  She describes people in Nepal as survivors, not victims. Tewa is providing direct support in communities, but, as Rita explains: “We have already requested families we give cash relief to, to make a tiny contribution so that these monies can go to places that are even more in need, or come back to these communities in the form of a revolving fund. So far the response has been 100 per cent.”

If this isn’t turning the paradigm of aid and relief on its head, then what is?

Local people are not just survivors, but they are empowered to be donors. When speaking about disaster relief and preparedness at a GFCF seminar in London in May, long-term relief expert Bobby Lambert suggested that we could effectively address community resilience when development agencies think in terms of risk, and humanitarian agencies think in terms of power. Perhaps the story of what is happening at village level in Nepal will encourage both sets of agencies to listen to local people as well.

 

By: Avila Kilmurray, GFCF Director of Policy & Strategy

This piece originally appeared on the Alliance Magazine website.

A different kind of funder? Grassroots grantmaking for radical change: Q & A with the Edge Fund

The Edge Fund is a grantmaking body that supports efforts to achieve social, economic and environmental justice and to end imbalances in wealth and power – and give those it aims to help a say in where the funding goes. The GFCF spoke with the Fund about what makes it different, and how it aims to create social change at the community level.  

 

GFCF: What motivated the donors involved in Edge Fund to come together and how do they decide their priorities?

Edge Fund (EF): Edge Fund started out with a meeting back in April 2012 attended by 17 people. Only four of them were donors, the rest being activists working on a range of issues. From the beginning, the priorities for Edge have been decided by all members, whether they are able to give money or not.

The motivation for donors came from a belief that change must come from the bottom up, and therefore that people who are protected from the effects of inequality by their wealth and other privileges should allow others to share in the decision-making on how donations are used. Many of the donors feel uncomfortable about their wealth and have been almost relieved to share the responsibility of deciding on how to use it. It’s also about attempting to put our values into practice.

As with all decisions in Edge, priorities for funding are made through a collective process. Through a series of meetings we discussed our values and aims and came up with our original funding criteria, which has recently been revised.

 

GFCF: Edge Fund has a very participative ethos in terms of decision-making – how does this work in practice?

EF: Our recent review process is a good example of how we work. We have a Facilitating Group, which works behind the scenes to keep things moving and to keep an eye on what needs doing. For our latest review, the Facilitating Group drafted some proposals based on feedback from members and any problems that arose from the last funding round. These proposals were then discussed during two meetings, in London and Manchester. Members were also invited to give feedback via email or phone.

With the feedback of the Facilitating Group, we revised the proposals concerning how we fund, and asked members to complete a survey to express their views on each of them. We aimed to have 50% of the membership complete the survey (which is about 50 people). With some proposals all members agreed with them, with others there was a majority who agreed and others who still had concerns. We worked with each of those members to address their concerns within the current proposals until everyone was happy.

It helps that we have a philosophy of constantly reviewing, learning and evolving so members can feel assured that if a new proposal doesn’t work, there will be an opportunity to put it right in future. Nothing is set in stone!

It probably seems like a long and complicated process, but it means that we get a lot of input, and from people who have applied for funds themselves (so they know from experience what works best). It makes for better decisions. More than that, it hopefully means members have more of a sense of ownership of the organization.

The process for deciding on which groups get funded is again a combination of methods. We have several groups set up which are the first to look at particular applications, for example our Race and Ethnicity Committee will look at applications on this topic and remove those they feel don’t meet basic criteria or are problematic in some way. With guidance from the Committees, members then score a random selection of applications out of ten and an average is used to determine the short-list. The short-listed applicants are asked to provide more information and then come to a meeting to discuss their projects with members and other applicants.

Finally, all those who are able to attend the final funding meeting (including applicants) vote to decide how the funds are shared out, with the highest scoring receiving £3,000 and the rest £1,500. Having a process that is informed by many voices, including real life experiences, seems to work very well. Our members are soon to spot groups that haven’t been entirely truthful in their applications as often they know the groups on some level.

As James Surowiecki says in his book, The Wisdom of Crowds, a group of people with a diversity of opinion, independent voices and local knowledge are smarter than a small group of “experts.” Sadly in grantmaking, often the “experts” who make the decisions have little in the way of lived experience or real connections to the groups they fund. There are always challenges, particularly around enabling everyone to be able to participate when the group is diverse and people have very different needs, but it’s worth it.Members & grant applicants use chickpeas to vote on proposals

 

GFCF: What scale of grantmaking has Edge Fund found that makes a difference in effecting social change?

EF: We fund very small groups; the average annual income of the groups we support is around £2,500. Many have got by for some time just using their own money (including people whose only form of income is their benefits). For groups of this size a few hundred pounds can make a big difference. What is most useful, for most groups, is longer-term support. We hope to be developing a new funding plan that funds a set of groups over three years, bringing them together every six months to share with each other what has been happening in their community, the work they’ve been doing and what they’re learned.

There is often a strong focus in the philanthropic world on impact. Of course, we all want to know if the funds we give out are useful but there is a balance needed. Too strong a focus on impact and outcomes could be blamed for the lack of funding for longer-term social change work that is hard to measure.

Bringing oppressive systems to an end is a long and hard struggle, and measuring social change is extremely difficult as it’s not tangible like more traditional charitable work. A campaign that fails can sometimes be a powerful trigger in mobilizing people to take action. Also, when you’re looking at a whole range of groups using different approaches it’s impossible to say which had the most impact.

We could put more resources into attempting to measure impact but we prefer to put as much money as we can into getting funds to the right groups. And for Edge, it could well be that the thing we do that has most impact is bringing different groups together to learn about each other’s struggles or perhaps the learning our members go through by reading applications, making funding decisions, meeting groups and engaging in discussions about systemic change, power and privilege. It’s a steep learning curve for some.

 

GFCF: Are there particular types of grants that you have found to be particularly effective?

EF: All of our grants are unrestricted, which means groups have full power to choose what they do with the funds and to adapt and react to what’s going on around them, without being tied down or having to ask permission. We are particularly happy when a group we’ve funded shares their learnings and experiences with other groups (and our members) during our Forum for Radical Sharing. A range of groups come together, working on issues such as immigration, disability rights, or climate change, and often surprising connections and collaborations arise. It’s fantastic when groups we fund begin to support each other in ways that are completely independent of us, bar the initial introduction.

 

GFCF: How does Edge Fund learn from its grantmaking – and how does it take forward this learning in terms of policy/practice change?

EF: We ask our grant recipients to report back on how they’ve been getting on since they received the funds, in whichever format they prefer, but this is not mandatory. We prefer instead to encourage them to attend our Forum for Radical Sharing, where funded groups, members and others come together for a day to look at what groups have been doing, the challenges they are facing, and who in the room can help them to overcome them. Since many of our members are from the groups we fund, much of the learning comes through them as we review and revise our policies and procedures.

 

GFCF: What other grantmakers/donors does Edge Fund work with?

EF: We often get enquiries about our model from other funders and are happy to share information about what we do, what works and doesn’t. For example, one of our members recently took part in a panel during the Engaged Donors for Global Equity (EDGE) Funders Alliance conference in the US, followed up by a presentation at Heinz Endowments, which distributes $60 million a year.

There seems to be a real interest in more democratic and accountable models of grantmaking. We’ve been involved with the European EDGE Funders Alliance too.

We have not as yet worked with other funders, mostly because most others are bound by charitable laws and are unable to fund the kind of groups that we do, or they find them a little too radical. However, we’d love to consider options for foundations who approach us wanting to fund some of the groups we work with; for example, perhaps they may be able to fund some of our Sharing Forums.

 

GFCF: What is the advice that Edge Fund would give to community foundations and other locally based funders, drawn from its experience?

  • Let go! Let the community decide. It works! Plus it can be a tool for bringing groups together to help build solidarity between movements, share tactics, and learn from each other.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment, if you’re genuinely led by those affected by your decisions you won’t go too far wrong.
  • Keep asking for feedback, keep reviewing, keep evolving!