A field comes of age! Announcing the Global Summit on Community Philanthropy, Johannesburg, 1 – 2 December 2016

A lot can change in a decade. In December 2004, a gathering in chilly Berlin marked an important moment for the global community foundation movement. 162 people – practitioners, funders, researchers – from over 30 countries came together for the first global meeting on the state of the field. The Community Foundation Symposium was organized by WINGS, with support from the Ford Foundation and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

It will be exactly twelve years since Berlin that a follow-up meeting – similarly global in nature – will be held. Back in 2004, Central and Eastern Europe represented a hot-bed of community foundation development following the dramatic political, social and economic changes that followed the demise of the Soviet Union. There were community foundations in other parts of the world, yes, but in far fewer numbers. It is perhaps fitting therefore, that the Global Summit on Community Philanthropy – to be held 1 – 2 December 2016 – will be taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa, signifying an important and more recent shift in the growth of community philanthropy to include many more countries in the Global South. WINGS, the Mott Foundation and the Ford Foundation are all still engaged in the community foundation field but new actors, networks and supporters have also emerged as part of this expanded landscape. So this time, the hosts of the meeting will include the Global Fund for Community Foundation, the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy and the Southern Africa Trust.

Photo courtesy of Kenya Community Development Foundation

There have been many other developments in the last decade too, both in terms of how and where the field has developed and the backdrop against which these developments are taking place:

  • Increased numbers: Numbers alone aren’t everything, but it is worth noting that the grand total of community foundations noted in 2004 was 1,175. The number listed today on the Community Foundation Atlas is 1,838 and that is probably a rather conservative estimate. (Oh and there is another good example of the evolving landscape for community philanthropy: the Community Foundation Atlas, which was launched in 2014, is an enormously rich source of data provided by individual organizations on both the quantitative and qualitative dimensions of the field).

 

  • Evolving definitions – community foundations / community philanthropy: The “community foundation” identity is well-established in certain parts of the world, where civil society is more developed and organized – and where specific groups mean a more targeted set of supports around shared issues. However, in recent years there has been an important shift from a narrower definitional understanding of what defines a “community foundation”, to a broader, more inclusive and perhaps slightly messier idea of a “community philanthropy field.” This “field” is highly diverse, and includes community foundations, grassroots grantmakers, women’s funds, environmental funds etc. all of which share certain characteristics (that include building assets, capacities and trust, to put it very succinctly) and all of which are distinct from both private donor institutions and regular, service delivery or issue-focused types of NGOs.
  • Emerging practice: Community philanthropy – with its emphasis on strengthening communities through grants and technical support on the one hand, and on harnessing and building different kinds of local assets on the other – offers both a new conceptual space as well as new models of practice. These include tools like community-level decision-making around the allocation of grant resources, promoting and valuing local giving and other kinds of local assets, and innovative financing models such as community or affiliated funds.
  • New actors, new networks: In the past community philanthropy – as a field and as a practice – has not traditionally been part of mainstream development. The creation of the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy, which includes a range of private and public sector donors (including, for the first time, USAID) marks an important moment for the field. Also important is the more recent emergence of “Emerging Markets Philanthropy” and the particular relevance of community philanthropy as a strategy for oiling the machinery of effective local NGO sectors and for new approaches to local giving in low-trust environments.
  • Safeguarding spaces for civil society while rethinking aid: The 2015 CIVICUS State of Civil Society Report highlights concerns regarding the recent assaults on civil society – and in particular, the regulatory spaces in which it operates – in a growing number of countries. These have resulted in reductions in foreign funding, or access to foreign funding for civil society activity, in countries such as India and Russia. The report also notes that, despite efforts to reform how development aid is disbursed, it is still the case that little development aid reaches civil society organizations in target countries, the majority still being channelled through Northern counterparts. Concerns around the closing space for civil society have also been raised by funder networks, such as ARIADNE and the International Human Rights Funders Group, as well as by individual Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy members. There is also an urgent need to address the external Northern bias in disbursement and decision-making around development aid. This has started to move up various multilateral and bilateral aid agendas, providing new opportunities to argue for the role of locally rooted grantmakers / community philanthropy organizations in devolving resources and decision-making to actors that closer to the ground.
  • New conversations, new issues and linking to other sectors: In recent years, new sets of relationships and partnerships have emerged between community philanthropy and other parts of the development landscape, including international and national development programmes, other parts of civil society, INGOs, local philanthropic sectors, and corporations, to name but a few. Whether it is around community philanthropy in the context of disaster response, as a strategy for facilitating multi-stakeholder development around the benefits derived from mining, new models for sustainability that can support the people-focused programmes of INGOs or strengthening the practice of grassroots grantmaking, the Summit will offer a unique and important opportunity to bring some of these emerging conversations to a broader audience.

 

Your ideas…your participation

As the planning process gets underway, we welcome ideas for topics, formats, speakers for the Summit. Whether it is climate change, social justice, community development or more of the nuts and bolts of the practical side work, whether you want to participate in sessions in other languages apart from English (Spanish, French, Russian, for example?) or to bring examples of new partnerships with other actors (INGOs, diaspora, extractive industries)… let us know!

We will be sending more formal requests for session proposals and other ideas in the coming weeks. But for now, if you have a burning idea, please don’t wait but send it to us at info@cpsummit.ngo!

 

Visit the Summit website

From tinkering to transformation: why Africa needs a strong community philanthropy sector

The familiarity of the scene was both startling and sobering. A couple of months ago, I joined a field visit to a village in eastern Uganda, a stunningly green and mountainous part of the country, rich in coffee and banana trees. The experience transported me back twenty years to my first proper experience of Africa.

Back in 1992, fresh from university, I had spent a year in a village in the far southwestern tip of Uganda, teaching English (one text-book per ten students) and Health Science (which depended too much, unfortunately, on my rather inadequate chalkboard drawings). I learned how to crochet (and spent many an hour producing intricate seat covers in white and dazzling pink and discussing the relative merits of Uganda village life versus that in large British city with my crochet friends, the school’s secretary and the librarian), attended several weddings in far flung corners of Kabale’s surrounding hills, and wondered why tins of World Food Programme fish were being sold at our local shop. And all against the backdrop of booms of gunfire, that were the sounds of a civil war being fought over the border in Rwanda.

At school, each term a nurse would come to school to check if any of the girls were pregnant. If yes, they were promptly expelled. And, too often, bright students would disappear for weeks on end to return, after a severe bout of malaria, with less of a sparkle in their eyes and less ability in their schoolwork. I also got to see how various government policies played out at village level. Uganda’s World Bank-supported Structural Adjustment Programme was then in full flow: in the village this meant that the school closed and all teaching was halted as “ghost” teachers were weeded out from the pay roll. It was a mystifying process to all of us. In terms of elections, years of brutal civil war and a complete break-down in trust, had led the government to introduce a new, fully transparent system that dispensed with ballot boxes and involved voters actually lining up behind their chosen candidate so that there was no doubt as to the result (and on voting days, there also seemed to be more beer in circulation than usual). Most people seemed to feel it was a more credible process than closed, and often stuffed, ballots boxes.

But what I learnt more than anything during that year was how different the world looks from a position of poverty. Obviously I was a comparatively wealthy foreigner, but as the months went by, I got to understand and appreciate the forces – so often random and unstoppable – that shook and shaped the community: heavy rains wiping out a field or a home, cerebral malaria or AIDS taking away a breadwinner. The effect was to limit people’s expectations, and to foster a sense of passive fatalism, powerlessness, and ultimately acceptance. And beyond that, I learnt how the community saw the forces of “development” – as something wholly external, something “done to” a village, a project or initiative that might seem bewildering to those on the receiving end, but which would be accepted dutifully with the conclusion that “someone up there” must know what they are meant to be doing. 

And here we were two decades later, in a very similar looking village in Uganda. Although the overall story we were there to hear was a positive one (a small grant had helped the community to organize itself through a goat farming project, people who had never really spoken to each other were now working side by side and the women “had found their voice”), it was hard not to feel a sense of disappointment, and by extension, of something close to guilt. There was the deep curtsey of the woman who greeted us, eyes cast down, hand extended in the formal elbow-hold African handshake that is sign of respect although, sometimes, feels like supplication – that the outsiders must automatically be better or superior; the hint of gender dynamics that dictated that the woman stoop so low but not the men; the village school – that looked exactly like the one in which I had taught my more memorable classes on water-borne diseases – more suited to housing cattle than learning, and with a metal roof that would be the cause of an almighty and deafen clatter whenever it rained; stories told of children still being sent home from school because although primary education is free, there are still various hidden fees needing to be paid and parents still failing to manage this.

Don’t get me wrong, the overall trajectory of social development indicators in Uganda is generally positive. Under-five mortality rates are down from 178 per 1,000 to around 60, and there has been a significant reduction of mother to child transmission of HIV. What was striking, however, was how the overall conversation in the village had remained the same: the goat story was a bright spot in a broader scene of stagnation, poverty, and isolation. No one we spoke to could think of anyone from the village who had actually ever left to get work in the nearby town, let alone Kampala.

The term “brief-case NGO” is a well-used shorthand across Africa for the dodgier parts of a civil society sector that is not particularly well trusted. And indeed, in the village, the stereotype rang only too true: its only previous experience of an NGO had left a bad taste – promises had been made, but this was followed either by a change of heart or downright dishonesty on the part of the NGO which was never seen again.

Standing there, watching and listening, I felt a sense of sadness and shame. How could it be this way? I have spent the last twenty years studying, learning about, working in philanthropy and development – a fast-changing field where new ideas, approaches, the next “silver bullet” pop up with an astonishing frequency. Structural adjustment had come and gone. Then there were the Millennium Development Goals and, coming soon, the Sustainable Development Goals. In philanthropy we’ve seen grantmaking and non-grantmaking approaches, the emergence of “strategic” philanthropy, venture philanthropy, impact investing…  And yet, here in this one village, it struck me that fundamentally very little had really changed for people; that an isolated community had never been aware of – let alone been involved in – the lively and dynamic conversation that the rest of us in development have been having.

Of course, critiques of aid are not new and there are some particularly good and urgent ones around at the moment. In fact, it was a meeting to explore ways to demonstrate and advocate for more community-driven approaches to development that had brought me back to Uganda this year (the goats project was the result of a highly engaged grant made by the meeting organizers, Spark Microgrants). For two days, against the stunning backdrop of Mount Elgon, a group of NGOs and a couple of donors had mulled over the contradictions and complexities of development aid, all united in the belief that there had to be better ways to work and that each of the organizations present possessed some component of that “better way”.

I note, with no small sense of irony, that too many meetings in hotel conference rooms can only reinforce the sense of displacement I’ve already described. What is the alternative? (Ideas please! There’s a comments section below). But I am afraid I am going to have to take you to one more conference room before I finish here.

A few weeks’ before the Uganda visit, the GFCF had brought together a group of community philanthropy partners from across Africa in Arusha, Tanzania, to meet and learn from each other and to also to work together to better articulate a development approach that can be more reflective of the interests and abilities of the people it’s meant to serve. So we were joined by people from Egypt, Congo, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Ethiopia, who each represent the various scattered and multi-lingual outposts of this emerging conversation about community philanthropy as an alternative development approach.GFCF Partners convening in Arusha, June 2015

One of the main topics of discussion was around a piece of research that the GFCF has been working on with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund in South Africa. We were interested in testing the hypothesis – often aired but harder to demonstrate – that local grantmakers and foundations bring something distinct to the table; that, beyond money, local foundations can play all sorts of other roles, as mentors, connectors and long-term sources of support; that they can support and help build local organizations which can indeed bring in local people and not just leave the business of development to “experts” (I lost track of how many people had joined savings or self-help groups and contributed to village funds on our site visits to Limpopo for the research, but it was a phenomenal number); that when such local foundations are themselves fundraisers trying to address issues of their own long-term sustainability, such preoccupations get – consciously or unconsciously – passed on to their grantees; and that issues around decision-making and governance – and therefore power – become more important than ever. The kinds of things that might move a community from being passive recipients of development to engaged participants.

We wondered whether we could identify, together, some of that “magic mixture” and if so, whether we would be better able to say why, for example, local African foundations are better than external donors at doing things like reaching deep into communities in meaningful ways, in listening to local people (without the same complications that can often arise from visits from “outsider”) and in building trust. If that village in Uganda had had a ten-year relationship with a local grantmaking foundation (as in the case of the Makutano Development Association in Kenya) would the situation have looked any different?

It is clear that there has to be a fundamental shift in how development is done and it needs to offer a framework that connects people to people, ideas to ideas, concepts to concepts, vertically from communities to big donor institutions and, as importantly, horizontally across communities in all their diversity. Tinkering at the edges of development is fine but what is needed is big change.

We were fortunate to be joined at our meeting by the redoubtable Joyce Malombe, author of the first report commissioned by the World Bank back in 2000 to examine the potential role for community foundations to play in fostering community-driven development, and someone who can be relied upon to bring a conversation down to brass tacks. We asked Joyce to reflect on the current state and relevance of the African community philanthropy field. Here are some thoughts that stayed with me:

 

  • There is nothing more powerful than when people / communities know what it is they want, and can be supported in voicing those aspirations, and building the institutions that can deliver them.
  • That’s the magic so often missing from “development.” If communities are left behind, or out of the mix, development will never get anywhere
  • If we, as practitioners, believe the above, then we have no choice but to make it happen: we need to get better at talking about what we mean with clarity and confidence and at demonstrating what successful community development can look like.

 

Jenny Hodgson, GFCF Executive Director

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.

 

 

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.

 

From bad to just right: Why is it so hard for bilaterals to support community philanthropy?

In a few weeks’ time, the GFCF will be inviting UK-based NGOs and development agencies to join a discussion in London about community philanthropy. We will be exploring two questions in particular: “How can community philanthropy contribute to development?” and “What can development do to support community philanthropy?”

The fact is that the notion of “community philanthropy” is not well established – or even well-known – within the mainstream development discourse. For the most part, it has been private foundations such as the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and the Ford Foundation, among others, that have supported the development of local foundations, often in the context of larger programmes focused on strengthening the infrastructure for local philanthropy and civil society. Beyond this small cluster of private foundations, the idea of strengthening community philanthropy as a strategy for building local assets, capacities and trust, or for enhancing transparency, accountability and good governance has limited currency.

But is change on the cards? In recent years, the mutterings of dissent against the international aid system – particularly the role of bilateral and multilateral aid agencies – have grown to become an increasingly audible rumble. And what is particularly interesting is that these critiques of current aid conventions, while they come from very different places, are often saying the same thing. Take these two comments:

“Projects composed of short-term injections of money for too specific a cause have proven to rarely lead to maintainable opportunities for the supposed beneficiaries….Instead of targeting isolated problems for specific time periods, a more holistic approach must become an ambition.”

“[The] projectized approach to capacity building, and to aid in general, rarely leads to sustainable outcomes in part because it treats partners as “implementers” and skews local resources toward donor-identified priorities…As a result….[an] organization itself may be actually weakened in its ability to respond to local needs and distracted or diverted from its core activities.”

The first is from a speech given by Sibongile Mkhabela, CEO of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund in South Africa, a strong advocate for the importance of a robust African philanthropy sector. The second is from an excellent set of articles published recently on Devex by Diana Ohlbaum which offer a critique of USAID in particular, as well as some thoughts on how it could do business differently. Ohlbaum is an independent consultant, and previously was a senior professional staff member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and a deputy director of USAID‘s Office of Transition Initiatives. Two voices from very different parts of the development space but their messages are strikingly similar.

When it comes to how big donor agencies engage with community philanthropy, whose proponents see as offering solutions and strategies for overcoming the short-term nature of development aid and in strengthening civil society so that it more locally owned, the experiences are varied. What is clear is that the term “community philanthropy” barely features in the discourse of large donor institutions. (Perhaps, at some level, it is a matter of language. Also the fact that the term philanthropy – and the “baggage” it sometimes brings of charitable acts by the wealthy that reinforce the status quo – has never really sat comfortably within the language of mainstream development. An important conversation for another day!)

In recent weeks, through different meetings in the course of my day-to-day work as well as conversations with partners on the specific issue of support from bilateral and multilateral aid agencies, I have arrived at the conclusion that the experiences where community philanthropy and development meet fall into three main categories.

 

1. Missing the picture altogether: Undermining community philanthropy

First, the worst experience. (Names and organizations withheld here to save on awkwardness all round). Here, an international donor institution was delighted to find a local organization that knew its community, had great connections (largely established through an intensive and sensitively crafted grassroots grantmaking programme) and that could even complete their complicated application forms in English.

The short version of this failed adventure goes something like this:

  • The donor (let’s call it B) had strong programme interests and wasn’t interested in the work of the local organization (A). Instead, B wanted A to adapt to its own agenda once the grant was awarded, which pushed A far beyond its own focus and areas of expertise – not to mention comfort zone.
  • Then there was the issue of “capacity building.” Rather than this being an overall interest in the long-term well-being of A, this was really capacity building so that A could complete B’s very complicated reporting forms.
  • The funding itself didn’t arrive when it was expected so A was left with staff hired and ready to work but with no money to pay them, a very stressful situation for an organization with no reserves to tide them over. (Something for which the professed sympathy from B’s staff – who were meanwhile receiving their salaries as usual – fell a bit flat with A).
  • A faced enormous constraints in implementing the programme because every activity and outcome had needed to be determined well in advance. This left very little wiggle room for A to be able to take its usual responsive and flexible approach, essential in the complex and unpredictable environment in which it was operating.

The list goes on. But perhaps the most important point here is that B had no interest in what A brought to the table in terms of its previous work – the level of trust, the efforts to which it was going to start a conversation about local resources and local agency, etc. In short, B was not interested in A’s strengths as a community philanthropy organization. All it saw was a “project implementer” and, in taking such a short-sighted view, it pushed A into an impossible situation which left it highly vulnerable – both in terms of basic cash flow but also in terms of its reputation with the local community.

 

2. The half-view: Supporting certain aspects of community philanthropy

If you were to ask a donor such as DFID (The Department for International Development of the UK Government) whether they support community philanthropy, the answer would most likely be a “No.” However, if you were to ask DFID if they had ever been involved in establishing a foundation then the answer might be a “Yes.” And if you were to ask them if they had ever been involved in supporting the creation of a YouthBank – something of a signature piece of the global community philanthropy field then, you might also be surprised to hear another resounding “Yes.” That is currently the case in Mozambique, where DFID funding has supported the MICAIA Foundation to establish the first youth-led grassroots grantmaking programme in the Chimoio District. Also, part of MICAIA’s plans from the start has been the idea of establishing a long-term community fund for youth development which can draw on local as well as external resources. The feasibility study for this has also been part of the project that DFID is supporting.

MICAIA’S YouthBank participants

Pulling together these pieces, it sounds as though DFID is in fact supporting community philanthropy: perhaps it is just a matter of different organizations using different language and terminology. Almost, but not quite. It is indeed a positive thing that MICAIA’s complex and ambitious work in Mozambique, targeting young people who have often felt excluded from their own development, is being supported by DFID. But, as anyone who has ever set up a community grantmaking programme of the kind that targets small amounts of money to groups that have never encountered anything of the kind before, this is often labour-intensive, unpredictable work. It takes time to build trust and to create the conditions for local groups to be ready to receive and deploy resources in the most effective way and a “cushion” of flexible funding can be a godsend.

Of course, bilateral donors can’t usually behave like private foundations: they don’t have the same degree of flexibility and can face multiple internal constraints in terms of accountability, programme and funding structures. Looking forward, then perhaps the key is leverage, with more funding partnerships between different kinds of donors where each can play to their relative strengths. But for that to happen there needs to be much more conversation and exchange about how different funding organizations see the world and their role (and its limits) in bringing about change. Let’s hope our meeting in May can be one place to advance this conversation.

 

3. Seeing the full picture: Proactively supporting community philanthropy

Finally, there are the instances where bilateral donors have been able to embrace what might be seen to be a broader community philanthropy development agenda (even if that is not the particular terminology that is applied). Last week, I joined a roundtable discussion on community philanthropy in Ho Chi Minh City, hosted by the LIN Center for Community Development. The GFCF has partnered with LIN over a number of years, providing small grants aimed at stimulating local giving (matching funding), for research, peer exchange visits and overall institutional development. In turn, LIN has been an important and generous source of learning and sharing for other community philanthropy organizations. At the meeting was a representative of Irish Aid. And guess what? Irish Aid has also been providing small grants (including matching funding), as well as opportunities to learn and share more broadly within the region (in fact, a group from Laos was just coming to the end of a week’s study tour, funded by Irish Aid). Like the GFCF, it has also regarded strengthening LIN as a key priority, above and beyond its ability just to deliver programmes.

March 2015 Roundtable at LIN Center, Vietnam

So it’s not all bad news, but there is definitely something that needs to be done about better communication between different kinds of donors, a more intentional “laying out of wares” when it comes to what each can offer, and a more rigorous deconstruction of language so that where there are synergies, they can be arrived at more easily. Platforms such as the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy, which brings together a set of different kinds of donors (including, interestingly enough, USAID), offers an excellent starting point for this kind of thoughtful interaction.

I wanted to share a final thought that came out of one of the conversations that resulted in this blog. We were discussing the aid industry’s preoccupation with the “end user”, to the extent that virtually everything between the cheque leaving their account and the end user is just a link in a production chain, a cost that needs to be accounted for. If community philanthropy organizations can be repositories and stewards of social and financial capital, of trust across and between communities, models of good governance and horizontal accountability, then how about rethinking a category of “end user” which includes such institutions as a good in themselves – not a conduit or a mechanism but something that local people care about, own, give to and turn to in times of need?

 

Jenny Hodgson

GFCF Executive Director 

Acknowledge the power imbalances and act!

 

This piece, written by Jenny Hodgson, GFCF Executive Director, originally appeared on the European Foundation Centre website.

 

As the United Nations prepares to release a new set of Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, which will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), it is perhaps a good time to reflect on the current architecture of the international development sector. The good news is that, according to United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, the MDGs have reduced extreme poverty by half although the benefits have not always been evenly spread geographically and there has been less success on key goals relating to women and children.

However, in the pursuit of poverty alleviation and other global development objectives over the last few decades, the donor community has at the same time contributed to the creation of a global development “industry”. This has turned many NGOs (global and local) into highly skilled proposal writers, budget-jugglers and masters of development jargon, who compete with each other to serve the needs and requirements of external funders.

The impact of international funding has also distorted our sense of time (a five-year development project can be considered long-term) and created lines of “accountability” (a slippery, multi-directional word much bandied about in development discourse) which drive upwards and outwards, and result in hefty reports landing on desks in London, Brussels or Washington, far away from the very people that the development sector is meant to be serving.

 

Community philanthropy: Offering an alternative model of development

It was this frustration that, 17 years ago, led to the creation of the Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF), Kenya’s first public foundation. KCDF was established by local civil society leaders who were exasperated by what they saw as years of international development programmes in Kenya undermining rather than fostering local agency, in which people were relegated to the role of “beneficiaries” with “needs”, rather than as citizens with assets who could play an active role in their own development. They also saw how Kenya’s rich systems of mutual giving, as well as its growing middle and wealthy classes, were never part of the local development equation and wanted to create a local institution that could both build up the capacities of local organisations and at the same time, harness local assets and resources in new and strategic ways. It is the same frustration that is today fuelling the creation of the Haiti Community Foundation, a project inspired by the perception that despite the millions of dollars in aid being channelled into the country (particularly following the January 2010 earthquake), most of it was going to international organisations, with little investment in building Haitian institutions that could serve people over the long-term.

These are just two examples of a new breed of locally-driven and locally-shaped community philanthropies and indigenous foundations that are emerging around the world. Although this “family” of institutions – which includes community foundations, national foundations, issue-based funds and other grassroots grantmakers – may differ in terms of context and origins, they are all seeking to model new types of philanthropic behaviour and practice by harnessing local resources and traditions of giving, blending them with new institutional forms. They do this in a number of ways:

  • By using small grants to support initiatives and build the capacities of grassroots groups, which tend to slip under the radar of most international donors. Small grants are also highly effective when it comes to building up a local donor base in places where public trust in institutions is low: they can be easily and transparently tracked rather than disappearing into institutional costs (nothing symbolises the “mystery” of development and puts local donors off more than the four-wheel drive car!), and they are also proof of the fact that development doesn’t always require big money but instead sustained and targeted support that can catalyse local action.
  • By building up a local support base. This is not just a funding strategy (although it certainly changes the power dynamics with external donors when an organisation can bring its own locally-sourced resources to the table) but also derives from the belief that development outcomes are more lasting when people invest their own resources.
  • By playing this double role as both a hub for local asset development and a developmental grantmaker, these organisations are able to act as a bridge between different sections of a community, linking resources and needs, as well as goodwill and good ideas. This unique, horizontal “linking” role is one that most other NGOs are rarely positioned – or encouraged – to play, so entrenched are they in issue-based silos (another distorting effect of mainstream development, whereby everyone is a specialist and generalist organisations are seen as “lacking in focus”).
  • Finally, these organizations are often rich in social capital. When a community philanthropy organisation in Romania or Nepal has a support base of thousands of local donors, no matter how small the individual gifts, that surely says something about how embedded they are in their community, and how much the organisation is seen as part of that community rather than a construct introduced from above. Although the budgets of these institutions might be small, this aspect of local trust and buy-in is often something that gets overlooked, with international aid directing large amounts of money to competent NGOs on the basis of administrative / proposal-writing / English language capacities.

 

A changing landscape for aid: What role for donors and civil society?

The emergence of these new types of community philanthropy institutions is happening at a time when issues around ownership, flows and governance of resources are being seen as more critical than ever. As the established architecture for international aid is changing, so is the landscape in which it has traditionally operated. For traditional international donors, whose influence is already starting to diminish with the arrival of new forms of South-South cooperation (which often requires much less in terms of compliance), I would suggest that it is time to do some real soul-searching about the kind of legacy or footprint that they want to leave behind in developing contexts where they have already been active for decades. Some food for thought:

  • Think long-term and think holistically (even if just a little!). Of course, numbers matter particularly given the growing preoccupation with metrics in development, but there is also something short-sighted about only concentrating on the tangible, the countable, and the “bang for your buck.” Often, development projects seem to me like someone deciding to decorate just one room in a house, self-contained and beautiful, with all mod cons, but forgetting to check whether the plumbing works, the foundations are intact etc. How about investing in partner organisations so that they can plan for their future as a longer-term social good and so that when you leave, you leave them in good shape.
  • Local people-centred institutions matter. International development needs local NGOs but when they are shaped too much by external funding they might not be the kinds of NGOs that local people really want. Local civil society organisations can play an important role in negotiating with other institutional players (state, corporate etc.) but their ability to do also depends on some degree of legitimacy / local buy-in.
  • Acknowledge the power imbalances and act! I have lost count of the number of times that I have heard of a staff member in a community foundation who has moved on to an international NGO, where they will no doubt earn a bigger salary and greater prestige. There is something wrong with an aid system where international organisations end up poaching the best local talent and where local organisations are perceived as less “valuable” than international ones.

As the international aid community and its civil society partners reflect on the MDGs and look forward to the next round of development goals, it seems a good time to engage in some critical introspection, as well as some creative thinking. Civicus recently convened a conversation of activists aimed at exploring the extent to which civil society is “fit for purpose” in the context of current global challenges and the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy, which got going last year, brings together a range of public and private donors interested in better understanding how more horizontal forms of asset development can foster more sustainable development and what role international donors can play. These kinds of conversations are both timely and essential if international development is going to engage constructively around real issues of power and ownership.

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

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

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

The Tewa Centre, Kathmandu

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

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

Kenyan, Chinese, Egyptian and Russian community philanthropy practitioners discuss

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

At the level of some of the individual organizations represented:

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

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

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

There was agreement within the group too about two things:

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

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

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

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

Jenny Hodgson is Executive Director of the GFCF

Some thoughts on place-based organizing in Kilimani, Kenya

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

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

Kilimani, Nairobi and Kenya

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

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

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

An alternative vision for Kilimani

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

Irungu presenting at the 2014 COF conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four challenges on building a community and foundation for 2024

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

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

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

Kilimani Project Foundation

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

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


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

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

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

[iv] In English, photo voice exercise

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

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

Swimming against the tide: Building local philanthropy in Northeast India

Drishana is celebrating; in fact she is ecstatic. As September draws to a close she has reached her fund development target: USD $5,000 from a range of individual donors by means of Global Giving.  The money will open the doors, and meet the running costs for a year, of a Safe House in Aizawl, to provide for women and children that are victims of domestic violence. The project is run by a woman who herself is a survivor. Working across the seven regions that comprise the Northeast of India (Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh) the Foundation for Social Transformation (FST) highlights essential community-based work and engages in an active programme of fund development. But more than this, they are planning for the long-term, recognizing that community philanthropy brings an important new dimension to social action – the ability to mobilize local resources for positive change. This has been the first time that Drishana has been involved directly in fund development. Judging from her smile and sense of achievement it won’t be the last.

Avila, Jenny and Rita meet with FST staff and board

As the crow flies, Guwahati, where FST has its office, is closer to Hanoi than to New Delhi. When we visited it in September 2014 the city was suffering from late monsoon flooding that closed local primary schools and ruffled the coconut trees up into a bad hair day. For areas across this far flung region the unremitting rain brought a number of deaths and considerable disruption through flooding and landslides. This didn’t prevent Gayatri Buragohain (CEO of FST) from bringing us out to meet social activists in Kokrajhar, an area under the control of the Bodoland Territorial Council. Gayatri used the lengthy travel time to explain the importance of the work of the foundation given the complexities of the Northeast region. The related aspects of grantmaking and fund development lie at the heart of her mission, but there is also a strong value base of social and gender justice alongside a society free from want, fear and discrimination.

Building Trust Through Solidarity

In the political and demographic complexity that is the Northeast, there is always a danger that donors fund where it is easy rather than where it is most needed, as Gayatri explains. Sporadic, and multiple, guerrilla movements have long been agitating around demands for autonomy and/or sovereignty based on sub-national identities, bringing them into violent conflict with the Indian state forces as well as other communities, such as migrants from Bangladesh. Some 90% of the border areas are both international and porous, edging up against Bhutan and Myanmar, as well as Bangladesh. Members of the Bodo community spoke angrily about how its language, script and culture were in danger of disappearing. One of their demands is for the building of universities and colleges in their area – this is now happening.

Monisha Behal, Chair of FST, and Avila Kilmurray

Not surprisingly the ongoing violence brings its own challenges. Relations have to be nuanced with a wide range of social organizations that may have very different ethnic and political aspirations. Resources allocated by FST are carefully judged and must be seen to be allocated in an inclusive and even handed manner. The next fund development target, entitled Northeast Rising, is to provide 14 Youth Fellowships on Peacebuilding (two for each of the seven regions) and seven organizational grants to women’s initiatives (one for each region). Inter-regional convenings can then draw out shared issues while leaving space for the examination of difference. The FST Chairperson, veteran women’s rights campaigner, Monisha Behal, recognizes how discussion can build an understanding of difference, if not necessarily achieving agreement. A previous FST partner, Nonibala Narengbam from Manipur, spoke about how “working with FST for one year gave me incredible experience of working with women who lost their loved ones (husbands) in the armed conflict. I also feel that the coming together of these women itself is a process of healing from their traumas. I witnessed women changing from the first time I met and saw them.” This is trust-building, in the most difficult circumstances, from the bottom-up. Sitting on plastic chairs in the mud of a camp for a Muslim community that had been displaced from their homes due to internal area violence the plea was the same: “Who will listen to us?”

Challenges amidst Beauty

From the stately Brahmaputra River to the vibrancy of sub-tropical forests this is a region of environmental beauty. On the basis of a recent bio-diversity mapping, FST Programme Officer, Rashmi, introduced us to the startling fact that the Northeast, which comprises almost 8% of the area of India, has 80,000 species of flowering plants; 836 bird types; multiple forest animals; and 51 forest species. Little wonder that it has been declared one of the 34 environmental “hot spots” in the world. She also charted the adverse impact of pollution, illegal mining and the depletion of both cultural resources and indigenous rights. A creative approach to women’s empowerment through the funding of traditional therapies and medicines is a current priority for FST. There is also an appreciation of the need to fund win-win solutions to the conflict between rural communities and elephants set on following traditional routes. Evidence is being gathered of those approaches that work. Rashmi shares her knowledge of locally based environmental partners that FST can support.

Kangkana, on the other hand, puts her energies into working with young people. Youth development is a key theme that FST has identified and Kangkana works to support a gathering of young men and women that are bubbling with ideas. Drawing from the Assam custom of Husori some of the young participants are already practicing Bihu folk songs and dances. During Bohag Bihu, one of the biggest festivals in Assam, the Husori teams visit homes to perform their dances and bring blessings. In return the household offers gifts and whatever they can afford. This is to be the new fundraising approach that will hopefully bring in resources for the establishment of a YouthBank within FST.

Rita and Gayatri in conversation with members of FST’s Youth Collective

The aspirations and rights of young people are also on the agenda of the activists that we met in Kokrajhar. Youth caught at the sharp edge of political conflict can be the first to suffer. There is talk about holding a conference on children’s rights. This could look at the recruitment of young people as informants by the security forces; it could also focus on the execution of a 16 year old local girl by guerrilla fighters due to accusations that she was an informer. This was all caught and circulated on social media as a stark message to others. Youth and peacebuilding remains an ongoing priority for FST – not just in fund development terms, but also in supporting community-based organizations to challenge and share new ideas locally. An impressive Meghalaya local partner, Prince Thangkhiew, is working to organize regular meetings of a Children’s Dorbar (traditional gathering) to encourage children, and especially girls, to become community leaders in identifying issues of importance.

There for the Long Haul

If navigating the virtual road from Kokrajhar to Guwahati was difficult given cows, goats, geese and the descending dark, equally Gayatri and her FST board members are under no illusion about the difficulties of putting FST on a secure long-term footing. The organization was initially incubated in 2005 and gained the support of the Ford Foundation. Since 2008 it has become registered as a community foundation and has struggled to put in place a fund development strategy. There is a clear recognition that its effectiveness is linked with the mobilization of funds that can support social change organisations and initiatives. Alongside the fundraising campaigns highlighted on its website (www.fstindia.org) there have been fundraising events and increasing contacts with potential donors, local, national and international. Anju, the Finance Administrator, takes a firm line on transparency and accountability to donors. Gayatri acknowledges that such accountability is particularly important in a situation where NGOs may be regarded with a degree of scepticism. She is determined that FST can model its principles of effective social change in such a way that it will make sense to local people. If we were looking for a metaphor we saw it within an hour of landing at the regional airport. A solitary elephant trundled its way down the white line at the centre of the nearby road as a departing jet airliner roared overhead – the traditional and the modern in one frame: FST as a model of community philanthropy in practice able to draw from both the local and the global.

Avila Kilmurray travelled to Guwahati to meet the Foundation for Social Transformation with Jenny Hodgson (GFCF) and Rita Thapa (Tewa, Nepal and GFCF board member) in September 2014.

What can community philanthropy do? Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy highlights shared themes around the world

Check out the storify from Jennifer Lentfer, Oxfam / How Matters, who live tweeted the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy’s public lunch event at the World Bank on 9th July 2014.  

When communities pull together to solve problems, it rarely makes headlines (especially in developing countries) but this month such an example did draw media attention, along with an international event spotlighting the practice known as community philanthropy.

Earlier in July a story of a Kenyan community’s success managing a water crisis with local assets was featured on America Abroad (“Kenyan communities succeed in managing scarce water, where aid projects once foundered”). The program heard on National Public Radio (NPR) captures how local ownership created a long-term solution; that in turn bloomed into other improvements, with road access and education. As David Clatsworthy of the International Rescue Committee notes, “It’s obviously much better when the community starts out with that sense of ownership…So it would be great if this was a model that spread virally.”

That type of exponential spread is what the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy, established last year, is working to achieve. On July 9th 2014 the Aga Khan Foundation U.S.A. (AKF USA) joined with its partners in the Global Alliance, including the C.S. Mott Foundation, U.S. Agency for International Development and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, at a lunchtime talk that showcased a wide range of community philanthropy experiences from around the world.

Lunch participants at the World Bank, 9th July 2014Held at the World Bank’s Washington, DC offices, the panel discussion, “Community philanthropy’s role in sustaining development: Development’s role in supporting community philanthropy,” featured experiences from Northern Ireland, Haiti, and across the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). The stories described examples of community-led initiatives that were strengthened by select international support, in some cases going back more than 30 years.

“How can community-driven development play a role in enhancing the development outcomes of big international donor aid?” asked Jenny Hodgson, Executive Director of the GFCF, which serves as the secretariat for the Global Alliance. In response, three main themes emerged from the panel.

First, there’s a need for local voices and there must be space for local actors to play a role in development planning and decisions. Dr. Mirza Jahani, CEO of AKF USA, noted how AKDN’s first rural support programs are rooted in this community-driven approach, empowering communities to make decisions about their own development in remote areas of Pakistan and India. When you build on local assets and local traditions of self-help, he added, “you have a much stronger chance for sustainability.” The practice of community philanthropy is not new around the world, and “has been there throughout history.”

Second, there’s a role for international donors as long as they allow local voices to decide what is needed. Avila Kilmurray, former Director of the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland (CFNI) and now GFCF Director of Policy & Strategy, described how in 1994 CFNI received funding from the European Union to support the peace process in Northern Ireland, especially in areas most affected by the conflict, which were also the poorest. Over half of the European Union grant went through CFNI in sub-grants of under $10,000 each. Small grants were essential, Kilmurray said, in order to include small and marginalized groups in the process. “Big grants…would have destroyed the volunteer base of many community-based organizations.”

A third theme running through the discussion was a need to listen for the range of local voices present.Marie-Rose Romain Murphy of the HCFI Kilmurray explained how crucial that was to CFNI’s effectiveness, which had board members on both sides of the sectarian divide during “the Troubles” starting in the 1970s. Marie-Rose Romain Murphy, who leads the Haiti Community Foundation Initiative (HCFI), also expressed the urgency that Haitians had to build a wide-reaching community foundation to regain control of their development, which HCFI is working on.

Additional success stories noted by Hodgson included the Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF), established in the 1990s with the Aga Khan Foundation and Ford Foundation support. KCDF was noted in the NPR story as a model of a national body with a spectrum of partners. (Click here for a post about KCDF’s origins and lessons.)

When looking at community philanthropy as an approach to development, the question often remains: How can international actors best support developing countries to mobilize local assets and build the culture of self-directed development, without squashing local initiatives? Rather than any one answer, the event pointed to many local responses built on empowering communities to come together, determine shared priorities, and mobilize resources, instead of being driven by external donor priorities.

Natalie Ross is Program Officer for Civil Society at the Aga Khan Foundation U.S.A. This blog was originally posted by the AGA Khan Foundation U.S.A. on their “Stories from the Field” blog.