13 December 2013, AsianNGO
It has always been a weakness for many small non-government organisations that donors tend to ‘own’ them and their programmes in the communities where they work. But a new model in development—community philanthropy—is emerging through forms of community foundations shaped by local context.
It could be the new driving force for local communities to more actively and effectively manage their programmes given their sharper sense of ownership, a stronger trust among each other based on common culture and thus, a more personal sense of accountability. “Community philanthropy organisations are organic, rooted in local culture and thus, do not necessarily adhere to the standards of someone else’s notion,” says Halima Mohamed of TrustAfrica.
Although booming only in the last two years, community philanthropy is not exactly a new concept. Between 2000 and 2010 alone, community foundations grew by a staggering 86 per cent, averaging with 70 new institutions born annually. But apart from the traditional values of NGO activities—organised structure, self-direction, an openness of its strategies of engagement and being a civil society institution—community philanthropy takes on enabling local groups to use their own assets and building an inclusive and equitable society guided by local context.
This makes for a reciprocity based on a principle of solidarity, providing for wider public benefits as opposed to that contained or limited to certain privileged groups in the community—whether internally in a community or externally. These benefits transcend traditional tangible results; they also yield trust, community leadership, social capital, sustainability and reduction of the attitude of dependency—factors typically regarded as important yet very hard to measure.
The rise of community philanthropy, mostly through local community foundations, have also been vital in democracy-building, such as the case of Egypt’s Waqfeyat al Maadi Community Foundation; and in changing people’s mindsets, as in the success of the Dalia Association in Palestine demonstrates.
With civil society in Egypt deeply rooted in its history of conflicts and political turmoil, Waqfeyat al Maadi seeks to revive and modernise the concept of endowment to encourage sustainable non-governmental financing and development in the country. To kick-start and support development efforts, the organisation has been working since 2007, a bit before the Arab spring, to close the gap between the rich and the poor in Al-Maadi and improve the residents’ standard of living through social endowment.
Palestine’s Dalia, meanwhile, organised an art competition called ‘Momentum for Philanthropy’ that called for poetry, short stories, videos and photographs from youth entrants from Palestinians across the world. The competition showcased examples of Palestinian philanthropy to change the concept that [Palestinians] receive help but do not give any.
Despite these organisations being small, local people are both taking the lead in the works and are contributing their own resources. At its core, community philanthropy thus harnesses the passions and dedication of local communities to enable their members to help each other even at a personal level—which is very well a natural group dynamic in any society.
In India, the Prayatna Foundation has brought together over 5,000 residents across 50 villages, mobilising Dalit and Muslims to contribute their time, resources and knowledge to work together on addressing housing and unemployment issues, protecting their human rights and pushing for government accountability and social justice. With a history of religious divide between Hindus and Muslims, both groups have now forged connections together to develop the skills of local leaders in bringing real development in their community.
In Nepal, the Tewa Foundation has rallied over 3,000 local donors. Giving has become intimately connected with identity, being an important their culture. It has been a powerful means of bridging the varying interests and patching gaps of differing opinions; but still offering a sense of hope for sustainable interventions that transform their community away from dependency from external aid. The people’s use of their own money to carry out their programmes has thus affirmed the legitimacy of the organisations’ legitimacy.
The alternative model that Tewa presents is grounded in local realities. Despite a troubled history and a deeply conflicted contemporary cultural landscape, Tewa has done away with many of the established hierarchies of gender divide, social classes and the caste system, ethnic divisions and even geography. This shows an empowered civil society with an all-inclusive structure that can be transparent and accountable; as well as trusting and respectful. And global foundations are certainly not one to ignore this new emerging value system.
“Community philanthropy leads to better results for development works. If people feel like they’re co-investors in their own development, bring their own assets to the table and are enabled to govern the works, then they care more of the outcomes and are more accountable in ways that build social capital. The power dynamics are more equal in a partnership setting, not the traditional donor-beneficiary relationship,” says Jenny Hodgson of the Global Fund for Community Foundations.
The Aga Khan Foundation, together with the Mott Foundation, The Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Global Fund for Community Foundations, has rallied partners across the globe—donors and NGO recipients alike—to pursue community philanthropy in their respective scopes of work. They all agree that having local people involved as donors is a game-changer in efforts to build civil society and enhances prospects for sustainability of (external) funding even when the programme has been completed.
“We have worked on civil society for a long time. When people do things for themselves, those programmes have been the most sustainable. Leadership, financial resources and voluntary support are all sustained,” says Aga Khan Foundation CEO Mirza Jahani.
If community-level collaboration has the power to transform societies from within, using local resources and talent, then it’s about time that corporate philanthropy becomes a mainstream development strategy not only for local NGOs and civil society groups. Rather, it is an engagement policy that multi-lateral donor agencies can integrate into their collaborations with NGOs and CSOs, particularly in developing countries. And that programmes should develop the capacities of local organisations’ community philanthropy, making them more effective partners with foundations and development agencies.
The collective and inclusive picture of community philanthropy—as a new model for development and civil society engagement—sends a powerful message for the ‘within group’ and ‘between group’ dynamics in a society. Such a process holds high potentials to resolve, if not avert conflicts—armed or political; builds harmony and frames an equitable point of reference for real development to take place: one that empowers each member of every level of the community. (With reports from the Aga Khan Foundation and the Mott Foundation; image from the Mott Foundation.)
This article was first published on 13 December 2013 in AsianNGO