“Business as urgent”: Reflections on COP21 Funders Initiative

Catherine Brown, CEO of the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation in Melbourne, attended the recent UN Climate Change Conference, or COP21, in Paris. Below, she offers her reflections, including what she is taking back with her to Australia. 

Having attended many briefings, presentations and conferences over the last seven days, I have gained a deeper understanding of the climate change challenge. Philanthropy has an important role to play in supporting communities as we transition to a low carbon future.

Following the negotiations in the COP21 Blue Zone from a distance, with extra input from presenters and regular email updates from the Australian delegation, has been an education in itself! The art of diplomacy requires such persistence and the ability to think clearly about the potential meaning of one word in the draft Agreement, and all while being sleep deprived. Hats off to all those who worked to ensure that the Agreement between 196 countries is a watershed moment. The agreed international goal of keeping global warming to well below 2 degrees, and even below 1.5 degrees, will mean that the Agreement is a huge milestone in taking a joint international proactive approach to the climate change challenge.

The importance of monitoring and reviewing each country’s greenhouse gas emissions reductions after COP21 and clarifying the financing arrangements for both mitigation and adaptation measures, especially for developing countries, will require a continued shared commitment. There is a lot of work to do.

The most moving presentations this week have been from developing countries, including the Pacific Islands (increasing cyclones and rising sea levels), African countries (dealing with drought and air pollution), Bangladesh (dealing with flooding), India (dealing with air pollution) and the organisations representing farmers who are dealing with rapidly changing agricultural conditions. The concept of a “just transition” has resonated with me. The transition to a low carbon economy must not ignore human rights and vulnerable communities. The knowledge of both Indigenous communities and local farmers is extremely valuable to adaptation.

National governments can set goals but there are many other groups who will make the transition to a low carbon future actually happen. Cities and states (subnational governments) are responsible for many aspects of greenhouse gas emissions. It has been inspiring to see the work of the world’s cities here in Paris. On 4 December 2015, hundreds of mayors from all over the world met at the Paris Town Hall for as part of the largest ever global gathering of mayors, governors and local leaders focused on climate change.  I personally heard several Mayors (of Boulder, Vancouver and Marin County) speak at the Green Zone at COP21 on projects related to renewable energy, disaster preparedness, waste management and green transport.

Philanthropy has a very important role to play in supporting community education and resilience and supporting organisations to reduce their carbon footprint. Food security is a critical issue which crosses sectors – without nutritious food, there is no health; there is a need for sustainable food systems. I would like to hear the voices of the health profession more in Australia. There is an important story to be told about managing disasters and the health impacts of climate change, especially around food security and asthma from air pollution.

There was a powerful panel presentation on coal divestment led by the UK’s Sainsbury family, whose foundations have or are in the process of divesting from investments in coal related companies. European foundations also spoke in support of this.

As a community foundation CEO, I have come to understand the importance of bringing everyone along as the world transitions to a low carbon future. I am heartened by the possibility of India and some African counties leapfrogging their development plans to bring people out of poverty using renewable energy. There are also opportunities across the world to grow green jobs for our young people.

Christina Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN COP21, said to philanthropy at the beginning of the second week of COP21 that it could not be “business as usual” if we are to reduce global warming to below 2 degrees – and preferably 1.5 degrees . We needed to move to “business as urgent.” That is still the over-riding message that I am bringing home with me.

Catherine Brown

CEO, Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation

WINGS Webinar to focus on mobilizing resources for women’s rights

Photo courtesy of Lin Center for Community Development, VietnamThis upcoming WINGS webinar will present new research by the International Network of Women’s Funds, in collaboration with the International Human Rights Funders Group and Mama Cash, and will explore the role of resource mobilization in expanding local support for women’s rights and strengthening local cultures of philanthropy in the Global South and East.

The webinar will provide additional insight into how women’s funds are utilizing local resource mobilization as one tool to shirt internalized beliefs and attitudes, social and cultural norms, formal policies, and access to resources for women’s movements.

The webinar will be held on 2 December, 4pm UTC. For more information, including how to register, please click here

Community philanthropy chimes with SDGs

SDG 6: Indian women use micro-loans to support herbal medicine practiceThe Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have arrived after years of dialogue. Where the earlier Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were formulated in United Nations offices – one was even added as policymakers crossed the road – the long, global consultation process for developing the SDGs has raised expectations for community participation across the world.

The so-called SDG “Road to Dignity” now faces its real test – the potholes of universal implementation in an increasingly unsettled world. CIVICUS Secretary General, Danny Sriskandarajah, recognized the challenges ahead in his introduction to the 2015 State of Civil Society report. He said: “As the world debates the post-2015 agenda the SDGs are the next big test of the international system. The international community needs to show commitment to tackling inequality, and create space for civil society, as a co-owner of the goals, rather than a delivery mechanism for elite priorities.”

In short, effective implementation of the goals needs local hands to transform aspiration into reality. People-centred development matters if the goals are to have any purchase in the favelas of Latin America or the rural hamlets of Nepal. The Global Fund for Community Foundations has gathered case studies from all over the world to show how communities, pooling resources and talent, can implement the goals. The case studies also demonstrate lessons for foundations seeking to contribute meaningfully to the SDGs. These include:

  • Social change needs to incorporate local voice, particularly of affected populations, to inform policy.
  • Change is a slow process leading to an outcome rather than a short-term project delivering outputs.
  • Community philanthropy organizations can act as support and knowledge hubs to invest in and share learning from activities related to SDGs.

Read the full article, with examples of how the work of community philanthropy organizations around the world fit with five of the SDGs.

Alina Porumb focuses on values underpinning community philanthropy in Olga Alexeeva Prize Lecture

 

The 2015 Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize was awarded to Alina Porumb, Strategic Philanthropy Programme Director of Romania’s Association for Community Relations (ARC). On the occasion of the Emerging Markets Philanthropy Forum, hosted by the China Foundation Center and held in Beijing from 23 – 24 November 2015, Alina Porumb delivered the Olga Alexeeva Prize Lecture, focusing on the values underpinning community philanthropy in Romania: 

“The Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize is a great honour and a deeply meaningful recognition of my contribution to philanthropy.

Firstly, due to its connection to the memory of Olga: I remember her courageous, clear and strong voice at the international conferences that I attended. She was an advocate for philanthropy, but also for reflecting critically on our work and doing philanthropy well. Olga stands in my memory as a person of high integrity and high standards, as someone for whom half measures are not enough, who is great at identifying the next step and seeing the potential of each situation. I am grateful for the community of philanthropy professionals around the world who took on the responsibility of managing the Award. Though this, they are bringing to surface inspirational leaders and great work in the field of philanthropy globally, expanding the reach of these practices. Thank you for keeping Olga’s voice strong. Thank you for carrying her legacy. Thank you for taking the next step for a community of sharing, learning and appreciation between peers working to expand philanthropy in contexts in which it is not yet mainstream.

Secondly, this prize is meaningful because it can be celebrated among peers. I know that all of you in this room and all those nominated for the award understand clearly the challenges in emerging societies: lack of trust, defensiveness, inequality, poor governance and poor institutional capacity to tackle complex social issues.  But all of you being here are also aware of the great potential that our societies hold in terms of growing resources and talents as well as a genuine willingness and joy to give, be engaged and contribute. All of you here are the optimists in our societies who were willing to see the potential, the process of the glass filling, even when it was not yet half full. But you are also the realists who have to deal with the daily obstacles towards achieving this potential. It takes courage, it takes determination and most of all it takes persistence. Many of my fellow nominees have been engaged in this work for at least 10 years and sometimes longer. I am honored to be part of a community of philanthropy practitioners in emerging societies, one that understands, values and appreciates the complexity as well as creativity of this work.

Thirdly, it is very meaningful to me that this nomination came from the Romanian community foundations, a field that I have helped build and expand. This feedback from the field and the genuine appreciation beyond divides of institutional politics, in a context in which we’re better at criticizing than supporting those who take leadership, was deeply moving to me. Genuine appreciation, like philanthropy, is truly a gift. It cannot be demanded, it can only be offered. Genuine appreciation, like philanthropy, helps build communities and heals the wounds of division and isolation that we feel in our work. It also helps foster and expand the talents inside that community.

The Romanian community foundations movement has grown in the last ten years, from an idea to 15 foundations (and still counting). More than 40% of the Romanian population has now access to a community foundation, and newer ones can base their work on the experiences of other communities.

The success for the community foundations in Romania is not the result of my work. It is the result of many talented and inspiring leaders – both from community foundations, but also from partners, donors and support organizations in Romania and internationally. My role was rather in building and safeguarding a space where all these talents and resources could come together and strengthen each other; a long term perspective that offered inspiration and guidance; and a fierce belief that through steady work, obstacles will gradually dissolve, that even if we don’t yet know how, we will learn to make it through.

I have brought to this work the values of my generation and my cultural space. I was 13 when Romania has changed a long-term totalitarian regime and started with high hopes, but fragile steps, to build itself as a democratic society, learning from the experience of other countries and reconnecting with its own past. But even before this change, signs of freedom were growing stronger in society. I remember vividly my Romanian language teacher and class master who even before the change encouraged us strongly to think for ourselves, when the mode of operation was to learn by heart what other people were thinking. English gave me access to a world of experience in the field of civil society and philanthropy. I was 19 when I translated a workshop on advocacy, 21 when I started a local branch of a democracy NGO, 25 when I led a research on the grantmakers support for NGOs in Romania.

Being a part of the international philanthropic community, I have learned about community foundations being centers of hope, about the need to invest trust and look for leaders who will be there ten years onward, carrying their work with passion. C.S. Mott Foundation, WINGS, Global Fund for Community Foundations, The Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society at CUNY, Center for Philanthropy Slovakia, UK, Canada and US (community) foundations networks have provided opportunities for learning for me and my Romanian colleagues and we are deeply grateful for this support. I listened to professionals around the world, but more importantly I have observed them in action and been inspired by their work and leadership. This way, I could create my own understanding of what good philanthropy practice is. Then I tried it out and learned from what was working and what was failing. Having received all this knowledge and support, there was no choice but to pass it forward, to encourage leaders of communities to find their inspiration and then refine their own understanding through action and reflection. I have recently heard the story of a donor who felt morally obliged to donate for a scholarship because his grandfather had been supported as well to get higher education more than 50 years ago. We know from our experience that generosity multiplies. Each gift we make will motivate others to give as well and each courageous act we take will inspire others too. So please keep doing this good work.

Some highlights of community foundations work in Romania:

  • Over 1.5 million US$ were invested in local communities through more than 1000 grants and 500 scholarships.
  • Over 10,000 donors contributed only in the last year through sport-based fundraising events.
  • Romanians have a strong interest in supporting children and youth and the future leaders, with about one forth of the grants and all scholarship going towards education. Health, social needs, community spaces, culture and environment are the next supported fields.
  • Many community foundations support giving circles and youth-led philanthropy.

All this work comes with a high level of energy and creativity, a drive to see opportunities and find ways to deal with challenges. It also comes with a strong amplifying effect, creating a movement of generous and active people and communities across Romania. Also, beyond these more immediate results, the key success of the program lays in the creation of a sustainable local infrastructure for philanthropy and civil society engagement that continues to expand and diversify its work.

I would venture to say that the success of community foundations is a combination of broad trends in Romanian society and good timing. But the driving force is the quality of the leadership, with generous and committed individuals supporting this work, each in its role, from local to international levels. In the Romanian context, this came through the emergence of a layer of young professionals, educated after the transition to democracy and connected to what was happening internationally through travel, work or Internet. Together with an active choice to stay in their community, to build a family and invest in the future of their children, they have become more aware of the resources they had as well as the need to look for community based (rather than individual) solutions.

My exciting job was to find and support these motivated leaders and offer, through a network of engaged partners and supporters, access to knowledge and flexible financial support, that allowed for local decision-making on priorities. Study trips, workshops and conferences were helpful in knowing local and international practices, but also in building a ‘community of community foundations’.

What is next? While community foundations managed to reach out to mobile and active parts of the communities and engage them in taking leadership to support local needs, there are still many complex issues facing more vulnerable and excluded groups. There are already successful examples of community foundations supporting inter-generational projects, reaching out to rural areas and acting against discrimination of roma, but all these are areas that call for further engagement. There is a need to stimulate communities to look beyond what they know and are familiar with, towards spaces and groups that they don’t yet know so well, to help them bridge their inner divides, build trust and practice the values of generosity and solidarity. Or in the words of Bucharest community foundation, to support all the inhabitants of their community to feel at home.

Why is it important to continue to build philanthropy based on these values? Latest events, many violent and traumatic, have placed a mirror for our societies to help us define how we want to go about building our future. As of last week, Romania has a new government, with the previous one resigning after massive protests sparked by a fire with tragic consequences at a rock concert in a club with the symbolic name of Colectiv (collective) two weeks ago. Over 50 people lost their lives and over 150 were injured.

The fire had such strong consequences due to poor design and implementation of fire safety regulations. After the event, lots of similar places, but also schools, kindergartens, concerts or sport arenas were revealed to be missing the ‘stamp’ of the from fire department, pointing to a systemic problem. The public accused the corruption, but also lack of care from politicians to issues of public safety. Good debates were carried, but there was also lots of anger and collective blaming.

Romania called for better leaders and competent managers, but also for reflection on how each of us contributes to maintaining a public system that under performs. Clarifying the space of society in the act of governance became a central piece of the debate. While Romanian society is no longer patient, these are exactly the type of changes that cannot happen from one day to the other, the type of changes that require long term vision, collective talent and gradual built up that community foundations can aspire to contribute to. There is a need for a long-term, systemic and ‘quiet and long term revolution’ as my colleague from Sibiu community foundation calls our work.

Colectiv fire and the collective wake-up call that it has sparked came in a wider context of tragic violence cause by terrorism and extremism internationally. Within just two weeks, a Russian plane was crashed, a suicide bombing took place in Beirut and a series of killings with automatic guns took place in Paris. Romania had not recovered yet from the emotions of the Colectiv tragedy, but has been horrified to learn about the events in Paris. Some, but much less, found out about the events in Beirut as well. And reactions of solidarity and shock, of fear and defensiveness as well as of prejudgment and discrimination continued as they did in other places in the world as well.

A poignant sign posted in the Romanian debates was showing that ‘we want change, but we don’t want to be the ones to change’. It carries a strong message that more people are ready to stop the blame game and take responsibility. Even if what happens to our world is so far from us that we cannot fully understand or relate to. Even if we feel overwhelmed with the size and complexity of the issues. Even there is not a balanced reflection in the international media of all these events or particularly when these events are reflected differently through the lenses of geography, ethnicity, race or religion. We see how violence and fear lead to more violence, but also to more fear, stereotyping, and closing in. What happens globally is strongly linked with the local and national realities. From all the corners of the world we need to step in to care for the whole world. It is our world too.

Individually and collectively, we need to take responsibility beyond our immediate environment. To practice generosity, solidarity and compassion, the values connected to the understanding of philanthropy as ‘love for humankind’. And practice less acceptance of intolerance. We need to step up our game and really reflect if our philanthropy practice is truly based on all these values. Also to think what we can do to further promote them further, proactively engaging faith based and secular communities, media and IT, businesses and government, friends, families and organizations in making sure that our societies are really based on the philanthropic values of solidarity and compassion. And the more resources we have – access to knowledge, networks, money, time or talent – the more these also come with a responsibility for the whole, be it a community or the world.

In light of these challenges, let me finish with a few questions for each of us individually and for us as a philanthropic community around the world: are our responsibilities and actions at the level of our resources and potential? Or can we do more?  Can we learn more from the practices of others and the reality checks we receive? Can we change to reflect the future challenges rather than repeat what we have successfully been doing before? Can fully activate the generosity, solidarity and compassion of our constituencies? Can we give more consideration to those ‘unsolvable’ issues, the ones that we don’t know how to approach, because they are big and interconnected?

Even if we don’t yet know how, together we can learn to make it through.”

Joining the global conversation towards the UN’s World Humanitarian Summit: Positioning community philanthropy and the resilience agenda

Volunteers from Tewa, in Kathmandu, respond to April 2015 earthquakeHow can different actors – governments, humanitarian organizations, people affected by humanitarian crises and new partners including the private sector – work together to address humanitarian effectiveness and serve the needs of people in conflict? These are some of the questions to be addressed at the first World Humanitarian Summit, an initiative of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which will be held in Istanbul in May 2016.

As part of the learning and evidence building agenda of the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy, the GFCF has been engaged in an ongoing research and consultation process on the potential and importance of local level foundations’ role in disaster response. In July 2015, Avila Kilmurray presented a paper on this theme at a Humanitarian Innovation Conference at Oxford University, one of a number of preparatory events to lay the basis for the World Humanitarian Summit.

Recent years have seen the emergence of community philanthropy organizations in Central and Eastern Europe and the Global South. Many of these new kinds of institutions find areas that have experienced natural disasters/emergencies, the impact of violent political conflict, or indeed, the complexities where both circumstances overlap. There is, however, a growing body of evidence to suggest that locally based community philanthropy organizations have considerable potential to complement humanitarian efforts and interests through:

 

  • Supporting the voice and participation of affected peoples and communities;
  • Promoting programmes of disaster/emergency preparedness;
  • Managing funding programmes that can contribute to long term community reconstruction and resilience;
  • Managing funding programmes that can underpin efforts for peacebuilding and conflict transformation; and,
  • Contributing towards the building of relations through networking and policy convening on issues of importance in fragmented communities.

 

Download the GFCF’s paper

Browse all submissions to the Summit

Philanthropy needs to step up its game, fight intolerance, live its values: 3rd Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize winner, Alina Porumb, tells Beijing conference

Alina Porumb, strategic philanthropy programme director of Romania’s Association for Community Relations (ARC), accepted the 2015 Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize at the Second Emerging Markets Philanthropy Forum in Beijing on 23 November.

The core of Alina Porumb’s work in the last ten years has been helping to create an active community foundations movement in Romania. There are now 15 community foundations in Romania, and 10,000 Romanians gave to sports-focused public fundraising events in the last year. “In addition to the numbers,” wrote one judge, “she has been successful at helping people break through the psychological barrier of authoritarianism and having individuals collaborate to work on community problems.”

Each year, the prize winner is invited to give a speech. Before an audience of philanthropy practitioners and supporters in Beijing, Alina recounted how she had been 13 when Romania underwent the transition from totalitarian regime to young democracy. Even before then, she said, “I remember vividly my Romanian language teacher and class master who even before the change encouraged us strongly to think for ourselves, when the mode of operation was to learn by heart what other people were thinking. English gave me access to a world of experience in the field of civil society and philanthropy.”

To her fellow nominees and the rest of the audience, Alina acknowledged that none of this work to nurture and grow new cultures and practices of effective, accountable and transparent philanthropy is easy: “I know that all of you in this room and all those nominated for the award understand clearly the challenges in emerging societies: lack of trust, defensiveness, inequality, poor governance and poor institutional capacity to tackle complex social issues.  But all of you being here are also aware of the great potential that our societies hold in terms of growing resources and talents as well as a genuine willingness and joy to give, be engaged and contribute. All of you here are the optimists in our societies who were willing to see the potential, the process of the glass filling, even when it was not yet half full. But you are also the realists who have to deal with the daily obstacles towards achieving this potential. It takes courage, it takes determination and most of all it takes persistence.”

Fellow nominees and organizers join Alina Porumb on stage in Beijing

In closing, Alina reflected that now, more than ever and at a time when communities are coming under pressure and insecurities are easily exploited phlanthropy need to stand firm in defence of such values as generosity, solidarity, compassion and act against intolerance.

“Let me finish with a few questions for each of us individually and for us as a philanthropic community around the world: are our responsibilities and actions at the level of our resources and potential? Or can we do more?  Can we learn more from the practices of others and the reality checks we receive? Can we change to reflect the future challenges rather than repeat what we have successfully been doing before? Can fully activate the generosity, solidarity and compassion of our constituencies? Can we give more consideration to those ‘unsolvable’ issues, the ones that we don’t know how to approach, because they are big and interconnected?”

The other finalists were:

Read the full speech

Find out more about the Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize

UK Community Foundations conference focuses on leadership

A peace wall visited during the UKCF Belfast conference, © J. DuckworthLeadership that has the potential to transform vision into reality was the theme of the UK Community Foundations (UKCF) conference held in Belfast in September. Over 250 delegates workshopped, master-classed and shook a foot or two at the traditional ceilidh sessions to ground their respective realities. Voices from across the Atlantic, in the form of Paul Schmitz of Leading Inside Out and Rahul Bhardwaj of the Toronto Foundation explored leadership from the community up. The mandatory tour of the ironically named Belfast “peace walls”, in contrast took many of the UK delegates by surprise. How can one translate this stark reality into a vision in this still physically divided society – many asked. “But I thought it was all over”, said another delegate in a startled tone. Well yes – but!

 

Forging European solidarity

A pre-conference session on “Exploring community foundations: Their roles and prospects across Europe” brought together representatives from a range of community foundations in Central and Eastern Europe to discuss an update on the state of philanthropy in Europe. In addition to the growing numbers of community foundations (much assisted by the consistent investment by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation) a number of transformative trends were identified that, while context specific, were seen as expanding the role of community philanthropy. Nurturing participation and building social capital were both high on the list shared by Professor Haralan Alexandrov of the New Bulgarian University. He argued the importance of the sometimes intangible contribution of community foundations, such as offering a responsive, caring approach to community needs as compared to the more rigid bureaucratic practices. He also noted the work of community philanthropy in the area of cultural and community identity, a particularly sensitive topic in many parts of Europe at present. Community foundations are managing to strike a delicate balance between protecting local cultural artefacts and symbols while, at the same time, introducing new concepts and ideas. They are a core factor in empowering communities to “re-invent themselves” in the face of globalization.

Specific examples of current challenges were shared by Johanna Von Hammerstein, CEO of the BὒrgerStiftung Hamburg and by Jasna Jasarevic, Executive Director of the Tuzla Community Foundation. Jasna described the intensive programme of work with 20 different communities that are supported to work together in an inclusive manner; while Johanna reflected on the power of arts and culture to encourage participation. The issue of inclusion was taken up in a sharing of experiences and challenges around the inclusion of members of the Roma community across Europe. Beata Hirt of the Healthy City Community Foundation reflected on her experience in Slovakia over the past two decades, where initially developmental programmes had to be put in place to ensure Roma participation. But while this approach was no longer needed, there are still societal challenges where people fear difference. The recent advent of refugees in Europe was also felt to increase the risk of a popular politics that is exclusionary in nature, although Irene Armbruster, CEO of the BὒrgerStiftung Stuttgart, commented on the number of new volunteers that were getting in touch in order to offer support to the refugee families that are arriving in Germany.

Modelling community foundation support and exchange across Europe, Hans Fleisch, Secretary General Association of the Bundesverband Deutscher Stiftungen (Association of German Foundations) outlined the main pillars of a new European Community Foundation Initiative that will focus on fostering leadership by peer learning and exchanges, as well as raising the profile of community philanthropy in Europe through studies, donor education and advocacy. The initial five year programme of work is being taken forward by the Association of German Foundations, Center for Philanthropy in Slovakia and UKCF, around a six point strategic plan due to be rolled out in 2016.  One aspect of the work will see the design of a European conference for community foundations, to raise greater awareness and support networking across Europe.

UKCF Delegates convene at Belfast’s Assembly Hall, © J. Duckworth

 

Has community philanthropy a role in supporting refugees?

This was the question that was asked at a GFCF Breakfast meeting during the UKCF gathering. Some 20 representatives of community foundations from Romania, Slovakia, Germany, Hungary, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and the UK agreed that there was a contribution to be made, although to be effective it needed to be context sensitive and coordinated with more general civil society responses. Tamas Sasaurszki of the Ferencvaros Community Foundation outlined the current situation in Hungary, which is caught between official political reaction and the practical response of many local volunteers in helping the refugees passing through their country. The fact that the people coming forward to volunteer are often from outside the traditional NGO sector was noted as a potential opportunity for greater participation in the future, but also a phenomenon that community foundations need to be able to respond to. The community foundations in Milton Keynes and Kent, in the south-east of England, described the immediate pressures, including the position of unaccompanied children arriving in their communities.

It was agreed that follow up consultation would be useful in order to share more detailed information and to provide a platform for linking with other philanthropic initiatives. The GFCF has also launched a survey in this regard, in order to map the various community foundations reacting to the refugee crisis across Europe. Indeed, many community foundation activists in Eastern Europe already have direct experience of living through, and organizing, in the face of societal change. This offers a real opportunity to bring vision and reality together through the principle of solidarity.

Avila Kilmurray, GFCF Director – Policy & Strategy 

What can community philanthropy offer a Europe of refugees?

Parc Maximilien, Brussels, Sept. 2015, (Licensed Under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)At a meeting of community foundation representatives from across Europe, Jasna Jasarevic, from the Tuzla Community Foundation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, reminded us that although her country was not a transit area for refugees, Bosnians were experienced in responding to emergencies. “We can identify all available buildings for shelter”, she assured us. The needs of those forced from their home as a result of conflict is still a vibrant memory in many parts of Europe. Indeed, for those of a historical bent of mind, Europe is not all that far removed from generating refugee “crises” itself in decades past. All the more reason that it should adopt a “can do” approach in responding to current needs.

The more immediate question for the community philanthropy field is whether there is a specific contribution that community foundations can make. As place-based foundations they are on the ground in many parts of Europe – including those countries that are dubbed “entry” or “transit” regions for refugees, and other countries that are pivotal points of “destination.” It is true that the financial resources available to these foundations are often limited, yet notwithstanding this, the added value that they bring includes their experience as grantmakers; their transparent procedures and accountability to both their local communities and their donors; their accessible and visible organizational infrastructure; and their “ear to the ground”, picking up local sensitivities and opportunities. Community foundations are generalist facilitators in circumstances where existing civil society organizations may be over-stretched and where there is a need to communicate with a multiplicity of stakeholders.

 

A rabbit in the headlights?

There is, of course, always the danger that the scale and rapidity of the current movement of refugees into Europe can cause caring organizations to throw up their hands in despair of being able to make a difference. Yet the reality is that a number of community foundations in Germany, Croatia and Hungary speak of thousands of new volunteers emerging to ask what they can do to help. This is a real opportunity for civic activism but needs to be responded to in a timely manner. In response to a survey conducted by the GFCF over October 2015 one respondent made the point: “We are too small to make a real difference in financial support for refugee-related initiatives, but we play quite an important role in sensibilization and communication (and add some nuance to the debate) around the subject on a local level, as well as playing a facilitating and motivating role to support local volunteers and/or local support initiatives.” Similarly, a community foundation in Croatia is working closely with the volunteer centre in their community, who in turn organize local volunteers and arrange daily transport to distribute humanitarian aid to the refugees there. The foundation Director makes the plea for more resources to support this work: “Funds for transportation of volunteers is necessary as they can no longer organize transport by their own vehicles or for large groups of volunteers.” A German community foundation describes itself as one of the many players responding to the needs of the refugees that are arriving in the city at the rate of 4000 – 5000 each day.

Community foundation activists are clearly concerned about the very human needs of people who are mothers, fathers, sons and daughters – and not just “refugees.” A number of the GFCF respondents expressed fears about the “lack of empathy” among their local population with regard to the images seen on television screens or the trudge of people through their fields and streets. Negative attitudes are ascribed to a lack of information about the crisis in Syria, but also to a fear of the unknown that can be politically exploited. Certainly there is a recognition of the need to respond to immediate refugee relief, but as organizations with an eye to the long-term it is not surprising that community foundations are thinking through the longer term implications of the current situation. There was equal agreement from GFCF survey responses that while community foundations need to be seen to be taking action through funding and support for refugees now, they also need to focus on the medium to longer term needs of building inclusive communities.

 

Taking the pulse of long-term implications

A community foundation representative in one of the main transit countries for refugees spoke of the “growing split of views, heightened emotions and polarization which prevents rational discussion” in her country.  She called for a “strengthening of the quality of public discourse, argumentation and critical thinking at all levels.” This proposition is supported by comments received from Romania, Hungary and Serbia. There is also a recognition that the task of maintaining community cohesion, and a sense of solidarity, in the destination countries is of particular importance in the medium to longer term. This is an area in which community foundations are uniquely placed to work with local NGOs and community-based groups to make a real difference. There are at least two levels of intervention – on the one hand the macro level discussion of European values; on the other, the lived realities and relationships in those neighbourhoods that refugee families are likely to settle. A UK community foundation, that has previous experience of funding local NGOs working directly with refugees and asylum seekers, makes the point that there is a need for a shared narrative which would allow a much wider dialogue with donors and others who might be wondering what they can do to help.

In addressing these critical long term issues there is also a need for support for those community foundations that are working in particularly difficult political circumstances. One such foundation described itself as feeling “between a rock and a hard place: an openly hostile government that is ready to attack anyone who seems to ‘like’ refugees and our own conscience that says we have to speak up.” Consequently there was overwhelming support for the suggestion that community foundations that are interested/concerned with the refugee issue would benefit from being linked into other European philanthropy platforms and that community foundations would benefit from networking and sharing information on current challenges and opportunities. As such, the GFCF will be hosting a convening on the topic at Philanthropy House in Brussels from 26 – 27 January 2015. 

Avila Kilmurray, GFCF Director – Policy & Strategy

How community funds help “push power out of the door:” find out more about our recent webinar

Our role isn’t to say “Do A, B and C.” We know a fair amount of how to do what we’re doing and we’ve got a fair amount of experience, but ultimately, if we believe that the only people that can build and sustain a community are the people that live and work there, I’m not convinced that what matters is what I tell people to do. What ultimately matters is what people decide is in their best interest. In many cases we’re helping to facilitate that conversation, share information, or community leaders from a neighbouring community may go and share their experience. Jeff Yost, Nebraska Community Foundation, United States

“We believe that everybody is involved in a community, every child, every grown-up is a donor and we believe that every small contribution can become big. And therefore we say that we enable our community members to talk to each other.” Johanna Hendricks, West Coast Community Foundation, South Africa

Our recent webinar looked at how two community foundations – one in South Africa and the other in the United States – are using community (affiliated) funds to build grassroots philanthropy as a development tool and to stay local. Or, as put by Jeff Yost of the Nebraska Community Foundation, how community funds help “push power out the door.”

Missed it? See below for links to the webinar itself, a full transcript, presentations and a set of additional tools and resources.

Watch the webinar

Read a transcript of the webinar

 

Presentations:

Johanna Hendriks, CEO, West Coast Community Foundation

Jeff Yost, President and CEO, Nebraska Community Foundation

 

Additional materials:

“A different vision of rural philanthropy” by Jeff Yost

Nebraska Community Foundation 2014 Annual Report

Nebraska Community Foundation “Turn up your dream switch” video

West Coast Community Foundation “Hands of hope” video

 

Join our next webinar on Community Funds – a strategy for building philanthropy from the grassroots

Hear how two community foundations – one in South Africa and the other in the United States –are using community (affiliated) funds to build grassroots philanthropy as a development tool and to stay local.

The last two decades have seen a dramatic growth in the number of community foundation around the world, particularly in low and middle-income countries. A key feature of many community foundations is that of an endowment fund, which can provide both a buffer to communities in the case of sudden shocks, and a long-term resource which allows communities to plan for their futures. However, building an endowment is not an easy process: in low-trust environments it can be hard to convince people to give in perpetuity to a general “pot” of funds. And when you are trying to demonstrate the importance of local assets and local action in building vibrant and connected communities, it becomes very important to engage people where they are.

In recent years, local level funds have become an increasingly attractive and effective strategy for bringing community philanthropy “to the people” and for engaging communities in local level decision-making and asset development. In the United States, such funds are often called affiliate funds. The Nebraska Community Foundation uses the affiliated funds model as a way of building grassroots philanthropy as a tool for economic development. Elsewhere, the Kenya Community Development Foundation has supported the creation of a number of “community funds” for over a decade, in Russia, very local level “rural funds” have become a key feature of rural community foundations and the Haiti Community Foundation Initiative is also exploring the idea. And in South Africa, the West Coast Community Foundation has just launched its very first community fund.

 

Date / time

Monday 19th October at 3:30pm (British Summer Time, corresponding to 4:30pm in South Africa and 9:30am in Nebraska).

 

Speakers

Johanna Hendriks, CEO, West Coast Community Foundation (South Africa)

Jeff Yost, President and CEO, Nebraska Community Foundation (US)

 

Registration

Please register at the following link:

https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/7550245561925480450

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar. For any technical difficulties, please contact Wendy Richardson (wendy@globalfundcf.org).