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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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org!
How 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.
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.
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
James Morrison-Knight volunteered at Tewa in Kathmandu from November 2014 – March 2015: he left just a month before the massive earthquake that hit the country in April. The GFCF asked James, who is currently an intern at the European Foundation Centre (EFC), about his impressions of Tewa and their work with women’s groups across Nepal.
GFCF: What were your main responsibilities at Tewa?
James Morrison-Knight: I mainly assisted with various writing tasks: this was a good way for me to be of use to the organization, while also learning a lot about their history, activities, plans, approaches, culture and beliefs. I started my internship by helping to write Tewa’s Annual Report, a task I found quite daunting to begin with. Yet the more I learned, the more motivated I became.
I was given a lot of freedom and encouragement to be creative, so I tried to think of what would be useful for Tewa. I adore photography, so I decided to take many pictures of the centre, the staff and collected existing pictures, which I then pooled together in various albums and created a resource, for them to build and draw from in future.
While I was there, Tewa completed its land and building project – the Sampanna Campaign – which has seen it constructed a training centre, theatre. It was a historic moment for them, as Tewa now has a permanent home. It was exciting to see their vision realized. They also built a monument dedicated to their supporters, with every name carved onto the stones. Another one of my tasks was to create personalized letters to those who donated to the campaign, each including an image of the stone marking their contribution.
GFCF: What did a typical day at Tewa look like for you?
JMK: In the morning the Tewa bus would weave its way through the dusty streets of Kathmandu, picking up staff members. We would drive down the bumpy roads to the calmer area of Dhapakel in the city of Patan, home to the Tewa Centre. Entering the grounds is like stumbling upon an oasis in a desert; a beautiful gem in the surrounding chaotic city. Entering the office, we would be greeted by smiling staff members and hot, sweet cups of chiya (tea). Tewa has a lovely working environment: the staff take their work seriously, yet have fun at the same time.
One of my favourite points in the day was lunch. Everyone would go to the cafeteria, where there would be a small feast lovingly prepared. The food was always incredible, mostly it would be dal bhat, the national dish. I loved the food, and the chef loved my appetite! We would then all sit together outside on the grass. What I enjoyed most was that everyone would be there eating, talking and laughing. It was a totally natural occurrence. They all cared for one another. It’s one of the many examples of the non-hierarchal spirit that is characteristic of Tewa’s work.
As an outsider in an all Nepali organization, initially I was daunted by the language barrier and struggled to fit in. Yet as I adjusted to the cultural difference I realized how fortunate I was to be working in an environment with such wonderful people. The staff are more than colleagues, they are family.
GFCF: How is Tewa working with the communities it aims to serve?
JMK: I see Tewa as a tree. It began from a seed in the mind of the founder, Rita Thapa. Over the past twenty years, through nurturing and care, it has flourished into a tall, beautiful tree. The tree provides seeds for others to grow their own organization. In many cases these seeds that have been cast far and wide have even gone on to produce more seeds.
Although Tewa is a grantmaking organization, their work goes much further than providing funding to grassroots women’s groups. My impression is that philanthropy runs the risk of being impersonal; larger institutions may only know what they are funding through the application forms they receive. For Tewa, it is not simply a grant, it is the forging of a long-standing relationship. Many of those that Tewa have supported have in turn become donors to Tewa. This participatory approach means all involved are invested in the work and Tewa’s roots are the communities they aim to serve.
Over the years Tewa has trained hundreds of volunteers who work on the ground, in communities. They create deep bonds and connections with these communities, spreading the message of Tewa. If Tewa is a tree, the volunteers are the branches and leaves: reaching out, spreading, and helping the organization to flourish. Through these branches and leaves Tewa is subtly creating a movement that is engaging more and more Nepali’s to drive change. Without imposing their beliefs on anyone or seeking attention, but rather acting humbly, with empathy and compassion, they are pursuing their goals with quiet conviction.
GFCF: What, in your opinion, sets Tewa apart from other organizations working in Nepal?
JMK: Nepal was a country congested with foreign aid, and this has only increased since the terrible earthquakes that struck this spring. The most scathing critiques of this aid are that it can tend to overlook citizens on the ground and grassroots work, and creates a culture of dependency within those organizations that do manage to receive the aid. Tewa’s principles seek to counter this.
To date, Tewa has over 3000 donors within Nepal, many of whom are local volunteers. Whilst they do accept funding from external organisations, they do not rely on it: this is quite unique. Many of these local funders also contributed to the construction of the Tewa Centre. What these women have achieved in Nepal, a deeply patriarchal society, is truly incredible.
But what really sets Tewa apart is their grantmaking. They give their grantees room to breathe and make their own decisions. They don’t impose strict guidelines, rules, or demanding financial reports. Grants target the most marginalized women in remote areas, where opportunity is scarce. Although the grants are small, the impact they can have on communities can be great.
GFCF: What do you think may be Tewa’s unique contribution to earthquake relief and reconstruction in Nepal?
JMK: The situation that has been thrust upon Tewa has forced them into a position they could never have anticipated. In the wake of the earthquake people have looked to them for guidance and direction, for solidarity. They have stepped up to the challenge without hesitation.
In times of humanitarian crises there are often gaps that are overlooked in the rescue and relief; Albert Ruesga of the Greater New Orleans Foundation explained this in a session on community philanthropy and disaster response during the EFC’s AGA & Conference. Tewa has decided to specifically focus on where it saw such a gap, and on what it already knows: supporting pregnant and post-natal women, ensuring they have access to medical supplies and care. In its twenty years of operations, Tewa has built extensive networks and developed strong bonds across the country. Through these connections and links they have been able, post-earthquake, to establish what is needed in different communities, mobilizing and moving resources effectively and efficiently, using staff and volunteers.
As the emergency workers begin to leave, and the Nepal earthquakes drop out of the headlines, what happens? Tewa was there before the disaster and will be there long after. This is what makes them unique.
GFCF: What is something you learned at Tewa that you think you will stick with you for the rest of your career?
JMK: Shortly after arriving I was told a phrase by Tewa’s founder, Rita: “ke garne?” Literally translated this means “what to do?” It is a question that does not require an answer. It is a philosophy in Nepal, a way of being.
When presented with a difficult situation of any nature: “ke garne?” It’s a simple thing, in essence it means accepting and surrendering to whatever you are faced with and just getting on with it, trying to do your best with what you have. I hope I never forget that.
When the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy focused on the role of community foundations in disaster and emergency relief in July 2014, they had in mind the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the city of New Orleans. Albert Ruesga, president and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, asserted that “Katrina’s landfall in August 2005 was a wake-up call for the city leadership. Clearly whatever the foundation had done to serve New Orleans and the region before Katrina needed to be re-imagined.”
Less than a year on, the Kathmandhu-based Tewa women’s fund is helping local women to rebuild their shattered lives in rural villages across Nepal. Tewa, working in partnership with the peace-building organization Nagarik Aawaz, formed an Earthquake Relief Fund Committee in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. Recovery will require “long-term rehabilitation work, where trust and respect is imperative in order to work as partners”, observes Rita Thapa, Tewa’s founder. No one is better situated to make this long-term commitment than community foundations, but they are often left out of international relief efforts.
Positioning community philanthropy to play its part
Rita’s comments reflect findings of the San Diego Foundation, which pointed out that disaster recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. The foundation invested five years of work following a series of destructive wildfires in 2007. It supported community recovery teams to provide local people with a hub to coordinate their work and created an insurance advocacy scheme to help fire-affected residents claim entitlements. After devastating tornadoes in Joplin Missouri in 2011, Louise Knauer, of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, identified the role of the community foundation “as a community anchor – the ‘boots on the ground’ that will be here for needs that linger long afterwards, often when other funding and attention has waned.”
A focus on preparedness
An emphasis on the long-term commitment of community-based philanthropy to address issues of reconstruction is currently being matched with a focus on preparedness. The Greater New Orleans Foundation now has a continuity of operations plan in place, and the foundation funds Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOADS), providing up-to-date contact lists for VOADS and their staff. The importance of preparedness has increasingly been recognized by the UK Community Foundations network, where a number of local community foundations have worked to alleviate hardship during both natural and rural disasters over recent years.
Of course, in Asia, which accounted for 90 per cent of people affected by global natural disasters in 2013, preparedness is particularly crucial. Yet in that region, community philanthropy organizations have limited access to resources.
A conversation with people who cannot hear?
Given that community philanthropy organizations show a commitment to the well-being and resilience of their communities, the apparent lack of awareness of their contributions among development and humanitarian relief agencies and bilateral aid organizations is disappointing.
When the Balkans experienced extensive flooding in May 2014, the community foundations Mozaik, Tuzla and Trag didn’t wait to be coordinated by international organizations. Mozaik’s Executive Director, Vesna Bajsanski-Agic, said that when you get over your disbelief in, and shock about, a disaster, you just have to react. In Bosnia, Mozaik mobilized people it trusted, established points of local contact, and distributed help quickly and effectively, with 30 per cent of the funding being raised locally. Few external agencies even thought to get in touch with the local foundations.
Participating in a recent GFCF discussion, Suranjana Gupta, coordinator of the Global Campaign for Community Resilience of the Huairou Commission, emphasized the importance of flexible resources and local knowledge in building community resilience to disasters. The priorities of local organizations are often quite different from the priorities of national-level programmes, she said. Rita Thapa agrees. She describes people in Nepal as survivors, not victims. Tewa is providing direct support in communities, but, as Rita explains: “We have already requested families we give cash relief to, to make a tiny contribution so that these monies can go to places that are even more in need, or come back to these communities in the form of a revolving fund. So far the response has been 100 per cent.”
If this isn’t turning the paradigm of aid and relief on its head, then what is?
Local people are not just survivors, but they are empowered to be donors. When speaking about disaster relief and preparedness at a GFCF seminar in London in May, long-term relief expert Bobby Lambert suggested that we could effectively address community resilience when development agencies think in terms of risk, and humanitarian agencies think in terms of power. Perhaps the story of what is happening at village level in Nepal will encourage both sets of agencies to listen to local people as well.
By: Avila Kilmurray, GFCF Director of Policy & Strategy
This piece originally appeared on the Alliance Magazine website.
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.
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.
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?
GFCF Executive Director
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.
We recently reported on a conference, International Development Cooperation: Trends and Emerging Opportunities – Perspectives of the New Actors, held in Istanbul and organized by Tika, the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency, and UNDP. Here is a quick update on the latest developments and related conversations:
Watch with interest: Community foundations are on the map!
- The 20 Key Messages paper from the Istanbul conference cite “a growing web of community foundations” as a suitable entry point for private philanthropy to realize its potential as a powerful force in “catalysing private action, civil society involvement and championing innovative solutions for development, especially at the local level…”
- The paper also suggests that multinational organizations “should routinely involve philanthropists and community foundations as partners on the ground and in planning and implementation of the Post-2015 development agenda.”
Philanthropy as an Emerging Contributor to Development Cooperation – paper now published
Heather Grady’s background paper for the conference has been finalized and published. The paper (which can be downloaded here) lays out the following case:
- The world is at a pivotal moment for global development cooperation. While many stakeholders are brought increasingly into international development processes, philanthropy stands apart, despite the scale, ambition and potential of philanthropy’s contributions to international development.
- A range of issues and recommendations are raised in the report, commissioned by the United Nations Development Program. Philanthropy’s contributions to international development should be better measured, and there is a need for a stronger emphasis on better data overall in terms of both measuring progress, and enabling a better understanding of the range of potential grantees working on development themes.
Blog: Philanthropy, the post-2015 agenda and diffuse collaboration
In a separate blog for the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Heather reflects some of the structural issues that emerge when foundations think about collaboration, with particular reference to the Post-2015 Partnership Platform for Philanthropy.
- “Our assumption is if we [cooperate] at the national and global levels vis-à-vis the Post-2015 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals, we will have a more positive impact on development outcomes. Moreover, the convergence of action around shared vision, mission, and objectives can leverage our individual and collective resources and benefits. But there is no immediate return on investment, and the growing emphasis by foundations on attribution (to the funder), rather than contribution, sometimes has the perverse effect of separating, rather than converging, development efforts.”
- “If you want to try new approaches to collaboration on the Sustainable Development Goals and put diffuse reciprocity in action by putting some skin in the game, get in touch as our circle widens.”
Join the discussion! WINGS and UNDP to host a webinar on Philanthropy’s Role in International Development Cooperation
- When? August 12th 2014
- Who? Speakers include:
Heather Grady, Senior Fellow, Global Philanthropy, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors
Karolina Mzyk, Program Specialist and Foundations Coordinator, UNDP
Naila Farouky, Executive Director, Arab Foundations Forum
Helena Monteiro, Executive Director, WINGS
- How to register? Register here
The Dutch development sector is (modestly) celebrating its 65th anniversary this year. Is it time to retire, or should it continue? And, if so, in what way? With shrinking development budgets on one side of the spectrum and a globally rising middle class on the other, domestic resource mobilisation and claim-making are presented as the future of international development. But what exactly does this approach entail? What are the challenges and opportunities concerned with it? How do we make International development relevant in the years to come? How to Change the Game?
For the next four weeks, Vice Versa, a Dutch journal on international development and the Wild Geese Foundation will be exploring this topic by conducting research, interviews with Dutch and international experts and professionals in the field. In the opening article, Jenny Hodgson, Executive Director of the GFCF, argues that domestic resource mobilisation and claim-making is about more than diversifying an organisation’s donor base in favour of a radically different approach to international development. “In the end, it is about devolving power. The willingness to give up power to local groups”, claims Hodgson. Does this reorientation mean we (INGOs) should completely stop our involvement? “No, absolutely not”, she says. “Especially at this point it is important to invest, both in the capacity to mobilise resources domestically and in the strength of the lobby and advocacy skills of local partners.”
Follow the debate and join the discussion!