Sri Lanka to South Africa: Reflections on my community philanthropy study visit

I joined the Neelan Tiruchelvam Trust (NTT) in February 2015 as I was keen to work with grassroots initiatives in Sri Lanka. After working with the Trust for four months, I was offered this spectacular opportunity to meet with organizations and activists in South Africa that do similar types of work as NTT. The visit was organized by the GFCF and though I am not new to the subject of community development, community philanthropy is a new area for me. This is a subject that did not cross my path in my academic or career experience before. I equipped myself for this study visit with background reading about South Africa and some studies/research done on the subject of community philanthropy. Despite this groundwork, it was a surprising experience to see how “real” community philanthropy can be!

I was able to understand more about community philanthropy with every conversation I had. I heard many powerful stories of community philanthropy initiatives from the GFCF and learned about its support for such initiatives. In fact it surprised me when I understood how broad community philanthropy can be and how practical it is when I met with the Community Development Foundation Western Cape. They have creatively used seed funding from the GFCF to inspire community contributions for a small-scale environmental project, thus community “giving” is extensively defined. Witnessing and understanding the well-established systems in place for community philanthropy initiatives such as YouthBank and other community projects at the West Coast Community Foundation was equally impressive and inspiring. Meetings with other individuals broadened my definition of community philanthropy, as I heard about relevant academic research, and heard numerous simple and practical examples of the field in action.  Gayathri Gamage (C) with Beulah Fredericks of CDF Western Cape (L)

Inspired to be an advocator for community philanthropy, I plan (in fact have already started) to prepare the findings of this study visit as a paper, along with a step-by-step practical plan, that can be used by NTT and other grassroots initiatives in Sri Lanka, looking to add a community philanthropy lens to their work. This will not only help to contextualize my learning from this study visit, but will also allow us to introduce a new, strategic approach to development that empowers communities to make decisions about their own future. The importance of such a community-driven approach will also be examined through building an evidence-base around the work, which will be achieved through surveying our partners on the ground. I plan to continue updating this paper like a journal, adding the findings and good (replicable) practices of community philanthropy as I grow in this area of work. I found the materials developed by GFCF for community philanthropic organizations to be very helpful and believe they can be contextualized for replication in preparing the above plan.

I think that opportunities like this study visit broaden horizons and make us reflect. It helps one to understand the bigger picture, and to put into perspective what they do in their small communities / or in their countries. Engaging in discussions with colleagues doing similar types of work has helped me gain more confidence in my own work, and how I can best contribute to society. Hearing success and failure stories has especially motivated me to look for more innovative approaches to implement in my country. We should all take these opportunities to learn, share and reflect on our work: it is like this, I believe, that the case will really be made for community philanthropy, and the sector will continue to grow.

By: Gayathri Gamage, Programme Officer, Neelan Tiruchelvam Trust

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