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

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

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

The Tewa Centre, Kathmandu

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

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

Kenyan, Chinese, Egyptian and Russian community philanthropy practitioners discuss

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

At the level of some of the individual organizations represented:

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

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

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

There was agreement within the group too about two things:

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

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

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

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

Jenny Hodgson is Executive Director of the GFCF

A Snapshot of the Global Community Philanthropy Field: new GFCF report brings together data from its grantmaking and from the Community Foundation Atlas to highlight how community foundations are building assets, capacities, trust

Together, assets, capacities and trust form the backbone of strong, effective community philanthropy organizations and it is these three features that distinguish them from other parts of civil society. So says a new report launched recently by the GFCF. The report draws on data to the Community Foundation Atlas (unveiled in Cleveland at the Council on Foundations Fall Community Foundation Conference in October) from 110 community foundations in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Central and Eastern Europe, as well as insights accrued from the GFCF’s own grantmaking to community philanthropy organizations in over 50 countries.

In three separate sections, the report shows how community foundations are building Assets, Capacities and Trust in their communities and what that looks like in a variety of different contexts, short case studies from Russia, China, Vietnam, Costa Rica and Kenya among others. This framework emerged out of a series of consultations conducted by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and the Aga Khan Foundation, in conjunction with the GFCF, as part of the planning process for the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy, as well as from indicators used by the GFCF in its grantmaking.

The report provides a first foray into the substantial data set accumulated through the Atlas project and the GFCF looks forward to engaging in additional studies – whether on specific geographic regions or on particular issues – drawing from the Atlas and other data sources.

Read the report

Latin America and the Caribbean: New report on philanthropy for social justice and peace

Read the report here

US peacebuilding theorist John Paul Lederach talks about achieving “critical yeast” in difficult circumstances, with this arguably being of greater importance than “critical mass.” If the recently circulated report on philanthropy for social justice and peace in Latin America and the Caribbean is to be believed that is exactly what exists: critical yeast. The 32 foundations located and working in the region that participated in this study are mainly public or community foundations. They display a depth of experience that ranges from a focus on women to an expertise in human rights and social activism. A shared concern is shown about the extent of inequalities, lamented by one participant as the “big gap between the haves and have nots”, across the continent. These are foundations that are themselves activist, participative and mission-driven in nature.

The Mobilization of Assets

The importance of mobilizing assets and resources for both grantmaking and organizational sustainability in order to achieve a critical mass of philanthropy is clearly recognized as essential. For most, however, talk of foundation endowments might be the ideal but is often seen as a utopian step too far. The pervasive influence of giving for charitable purposes through the Catholic Church continues to frame the general public understanding of philanthropy. The vogue for corporate social responsibility (CSR) has paralleled this more traditional giving through a proliferation of corporate foundations that promote “private social investment.” Neither of these philanthropic models are felt to address entrenched systemic and structural issues, although the work of community foundations in Mexico and Brazil to influence private sector and individual donors is noted. This work is described as being particularly important given the marked decline in both philanthropic and development aid resources from the Global North.

Efforts to design effective fund development strategies in order to mobilise resources that can support aspects of civil society that promote progressive social change in the region has resulted in some collaborative platforms and alliances. One such is Conmujeres, which involves the Women’s Funds working in Brazil, Chile, Nicaragua, Colombia, Argentina and Bolivia. However the challenge of fund development is still formidable.

“Part of a Process”

What is striking about many of the quotes from locally-based funders contained in the report is a certain sense of humility. There are no grandiose claims about being at the “cutting edge” of development (although many of the survey respondents are) or to assert strategic impact. Instead the emphasis is placed on collective impact between funders and their grantees, with the latter encouraged to be co-designers and protagonists of their own change. Working to ensure that individuals and groups have the power to have a say on issues that affect them is central to what funders for social justice are all about. This was explained by a women’s fund respondent: “We respect the decision of women and their organizations and empower them to define their priorities and use their resources accordingly.” This entails listening and responding to people rather than making them jump through hoops (however strategically crafted) by the foundations themselves.  Another foundation offered the view: “Our partners are a reflection of us: if there is a weakness in their political or external persona that affects us.” For this reason an emphasis is placed on building mutual trust and good communication between funders and their grantees, as well as encouraging peer learning amongst the grantees themselves.

Translating relationship building into effective organizational alliances is reported as being a harder ask. It often requires “paso a paso” (step by step), that can be particularly fraught when the local foundations themselves are struggling to achieve even medium-term sustainability.

“There is a Tremendous Need for Help”

The report, which was issued by the Working Group on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace, concludes with the warning that the relative scale of the community philanthropy institutions involved appears miniscule when measured against the issues that they are seeking to address.  There is the challenge of fund development but also the uneven spread of mission-driven funders across the region. Faced with the problem of diminishing external funding and a local philanthropic culture that tends to shy away from addressing social justice issues, foundations that are committed to social justice and peace have a major task in shifting the accustomed approaches. It is accepted by the study participants that there is an urgent need to hone their messages. As one foundation staff member argued: “Much of the time we are assessing what we do, but not necessarily communicating it, or creating narratives that would convey what we do.” This is an honest critique that may apply to other areas of the globe in addition to Latin American and the Caribbean. It is clear, however, that when the appropriate narrative is crafted – and work on this is ongoing – it will continue to assert the importance of activism and social participation. Community-based philanthropy for social justice and peace in Latin America and the Caribbean may well have its weaknesses, but equally it has the benefit of impressive programmatic experience and commitment that can usefully be shared with others.

For more information on the Working Group on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace, please visit their website at: www.p-sj.org.

Community philanthropy: A new model of development

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

New report makes the Case for Community Philanthropy!

Community philanthropy can be a powerful force for strengthening civil society and building on local initiative, according to a new brief released jointly by the Aga Khan Foundation U.S.A. (AKF USA), the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Global Fund for Community Foundations, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. The publication, entitled The Case for Community Philanthropy: How the Practice Builds Local Assets, Capacity, and Trust – and Why It Matters, makes the case that increasing local ownership and local accountability leads to stronger communities and should be a main focus of development aid practitioners.

The community philanthropy approach works at the grassroots level by looking at local assets – financial and otherwise – and by building capacity and trust for addressing community needs and priorities.

The case statement crystallizes an understanding gathered in recent years. Last year AKF USA and the Mott Foundation released a report, based on a series of collaborative consultations in North America, Africa and Asia, that explored how community philanthropy has worked around the world to help build local capacity. Amid increasing public interest, those foundations, along with the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have supported development of a Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy.

The new publication synthesizes trends (one form of community philanthropy organization – community foundations – grew by a remarkable 86 percent from 2000 to 2010), the rationale, and views from experts. It addresses the role that donors can play in a community-driven practice. “It’s a challenge for outside funders investing a lot of money to expect programs to be sustained,” notes Shannon Lawder of the C.S. Mott Foundation. “From our experience, the work does continue when you’ve supported community philanthropy. It works.”

 

Woods, trees and the rise of African philanthropy

In the early 1990s, I spent a year living and working in Uganda. One day I was with some friends driving back from a trip to one of Uganda’s beautiful game parks. It was late afternoon and not long before darkness would set in. We decided to pitch our tents by the side of the long and sparsely populated road rather than drive on to the nearest town. As we started to unpack tents, stoves, pots and pans, a small group of people emerged, apparently out of nowhere. They watched us, intrigued and probably rather baffled by all our camping gear: we exchanged greetings and one of them told us that they had been sent by the village elders to find out who we were and what we were doing. We were, it turned out, camping on land belonging to their community and so their interest was only natural. On our part, we were somewhat embarrassed by our assumption that our camp site was an empty spot in the middle of nowhere, when in fact it turned out that we pitching our tents in the middle of a community, with its own members, leaders, systems and dynamics. Just because all of this wasn’t immediately visible to us in terms of name signs and bill boards, didn’t mean it wasn’t there.


I have often been reminded of that experience over the last 15 or so years I have spent working to build the field of building local philanthropy in different parts of the world, and nowhere more so than in Africa. I am occasionally asked, “How many community foundations are there in the Africa?” Well, if you count the institutions that call themselves ‘community foundations’ there are about 12, and if you applied the precise definition used by the U.S. Council on Foundations (“tax-exempt public charities serving thousands of people who share a common interest—improving the quality of life in their area. Individuals, families, businesses, and organizations create permanent charitable funds that help their region meet local challenges”) then you’d probably come up with fewer than that. On a continent made up of 54 countries, these figures can start to look rather insignificant, the map rather empty.

But if you ask some different questions – about the organized systems of grassroots giving and solidarity in Africa that have existed for generations, for example, or about the emergence of new and different institutionalized philanthropic forms over recent years, including women’s funds, local multi-stakeholder-type foundations, regional and national grantmakers as well as community foundations and community development foundations – the landscape suddenly looks quite different. Suddenly those 12 community foundations no longer look so isolated and inconsequential. Instead they can be seen as some of the more visible structures in an environment which is much richer and more complex.

While taxonomies in philanthropy are certainly important in helping to define and bring clarity to some of the different “families” of institutions and practice that make up the field – and in contexts like the United States and the United Kingdom, these definitions can have serious legal and tax implications which cannot be ignored – one can’t help wondering whether sometimes they also prevent us from seeing what is right in front of our eyes.  By being overly simplistic in our search for clarity, do we in fact end up being unable to see the woods for the trees and become blind to whatever doesn’t fit into our neat definitional categories?

In our new report, A Different Kind of Wealth: a baseline of African community foundations, Barry Knight and I have attempted to lay a baseline for the African community foundation field (in all its diversity) and to contribute towards a new African narrative which derives from both within and outside the continent. So yes, the U.S. community foundation story, whose origins date back to 1914 and the creation of the Cleveland Foundation, is one part of this narrative, but so is the role of international development aid. And within Africa, the continent’s rich traditions of giving and mutual support are also important but so are the failures of governance, and particularly of governments.

We have sought to begin to tell an important story about a new generation of local philanthropic institutions which is emerging in Africa, some seeded with money from outside the continent, others entirely home‑grown – and all seeking to draw on local resources and tap into different forms of wealth, which include cash and property but also include other, less tangible, forms of social capital such as trust and credibility.

Although the cluster may not be uniform in terms of the labels different organizations use to describe themselves (it includes those that might call themselves community grantmakers, community development foundations, women’s funds before they call themselves community foundations) they all share a commonality of “essence” around the importance of assets, agency and trust in driving a form of development which is “people-led”. It is in this context – where a strong community is one in which there are high levels of trust, which has access to resources and assets and where there are strong local capacities for organizing  – that the term “community foundation” really comes into its own as a force for transformation in the African context. Its connotations of local ownership of assets (both for and of the community) and of permanence (so not just another NGO running another 3-year project) go far beyond any legalistic definition.

Many of the issues we raise in our report – around the nature and potential of African philanthropy – were up for discussion at the recent  conference of the African Grantmakers Network in Johannesburg, South Africa which was an inspiring and energising event and evidence of a vibrant and expanding African philanthropic sector on the move. One of the highlights of the event (and there were many) was the appearance of Graҫa Machel, a leading African stateswoman, the wife of Nelson Mandela and the founder of the Community Development Foundation in Mozambique (another one of those institutions that doesn’t quite fit into a neat category). Mrs Machel, who is in her late sixties, had just arrived back in Johannesburg off an overnight flight and came straight to the conference. She spoke forcefully and without notes about her vision of African philanthropy, emphasising the need for a new African narrative, highlighting the distinct nature of African philanthropy which goes beyond money to encompass solidarity and empathy, and emphasising its potential significance in driving the continent’s development.  Relying on external resources can only ever take one so far: after all, she warned the conference in closing, “Your neighbour’s granary will never fill your stomach.”

Jenny Hodgson is the executive director of the Global Fund for Community Foundations: a version of this blog first appeared on RE:Philanthropy, the Council on Foundations’ blog page.

 

Guest blog: The Old and the New

I’m feeling “old.”  Not as opposed to “young” but as opposed to “new.”  I think it’s all this talk in our sector lately about innovation. Whatever happened to “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?”  And it’s just oh so sexy and attention-grabbing to label something as “new” even when it’s not.

OK, so I’m sounding like a stuffy old curmudgeon pining away for some mythical good ole days.  But I still do have serious questions about how “new” some hot trendy things in philanthropy really are (e.g. venture philanthropy, collective impact, scaling, even community leadership) or whether it’s just things people have been doing for quite a while but were calling them something else, or not calling them anything at all but still doing.  The proverbial “old wine in new bottles.”

Anyway, in thinking about a session at the upcoming fall conference on some new (there I go – as guilty as the rest!) and exciting things going on at community foundations around the world as well as in the U.S., Jenny Hodgson and I almost went with “old wine in new bottles” for (a feeble attempt at) a catchy title for the session.  But then we realized – although there’s certainly some of that in what we’d like people to learn and think about – there’s more of the reverse going on.  If the bottle is the value base and purpose of community foundations, then the wine is what they actually do day-to-day to make a difference in their communities.

A recent report (published by the Global Fund for Community Foundations and the Coady International Institute) called The New Generation of Community Foundations talks about how this “new generation … blurs the boundaries between mutual aid and philanthropy by placing a particular emphasis on the role and value of local assets and resources [ed. – don’t see nuthin’ new here – yet], which may include money as well as different forms of social capital, such as trust and volunteerism or mutual help and support [ed. – there it is!].”

Waqfeyat al Maadi Community Foundation, Egypt: a “new generation community foundation”?

Whether or not you think that’s really new, I would say that it’s different than most of the last few decades in the U.S. community foundation field.  Or, at the least, it represents a shift in emphasis between the various components of the value proposition of community foundations.  And it’s beyond just the by-now-slightly-tiring and somewhat false dichotomy between asset development/endowment building/donor service on the one hand and community change/social justice/lasting impact on the other.

Especially in  some places around the world facing huge challenges, there seems to be a new (different?) way of considering what community assets really are (certainly beyond endowments or even money), by whom and for whom and how they are unleashed and applied, and what role community foundations play in all this.

In many cases this “new generation of community foundations stretches the concept of what a community foundation is.  So – are we talking about new bottles as well?  Is it really new wine?  Or is it all just same-old same-old, but using different terms?

Please join the conversation by reading the report and posting a comment to this blog and/or at the session (at the Council on Foundations Fall Community Foundation conference in New Orleans) called A new generation of community foundations: New wine in old bottles? on Tuesday September 11, from 4 to 5 p.m.

Nick Deychakiwsky is Program Officer at the CS Mott Foundation. This blog was originally published on the US Council on Foundations RE: Philanthropy blog.

New grants to Naseej and South Asia Women’s Fund; grants to provide ongoing support in Vietnam, India, Mexico

The GFCF is pleased to announce five new grants under its Youth Civic Engagement (YCE) and Asia Programmes.  Naseej is a young regional foundation – based in Jordan and working across the Arab region – which works with youth and uses an asset-based approach. The GFCF grant will support a strategic planning process for the foundation. Grant supplements have also been awarded to Fundación Comunitaria de la Frontera Norte (Mexico) and the Foundation for Social Transformation (India) to provide ongoing support to both organizations’ youth philanthropy and development programmes.

A speed networking event in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, hosted by LIN Center

Under the Asia programme, a grant to the South Asia Women’s Fund (SAWF) will support SAWF’s efforts to build a local donor constituency for social justice grantmaking. And in Vietnam, the GFCF grant will support the LIN Center for Community Development community grantmaking and local philanthropy development work. Read more about grants made by the GFCF in 2011 and 2012

Mott Foundation profiles the global community foundation field

The Mott Foundation, a long-term supporter to the global community foundation field and an important funder to the GFCF, has published two articles as part of an occasional series about the community foundation field and the Foundation’s role in supporting and strengthening it. The series reports on what is occurring in Mott’s major geographic focus areas — Central/Eastern Europe and Russia, South Africa, and the U.S. — as well as providing information about how the field is expanding globally. Mott’s goal is to inform the public about the latest trends in the community foundation field in advance of its 100th anniversary year in 2014.

Community foundation = community leaders at home and abroad

Community foundation circling the globe

Guest blog: The Great Untapped – revolutionizing development through community-based organizations

It was a risky venture from the start: a group of colleagues from south and north, jungle and city, Spanish and English and Kichwa-speaking backgrounds coming together to do something that to our knowledge had not been done in the Ecuadorian Amazonian province of Napo: ask communities what projects they wanted to implement themselves, give them a little bit of money and a lot of practical training to bring the projects into existence, and invite them to help make the process better the next time around.

Learning to graft cacao in community of Canambo

That was the simple premise of Amazon Partnerships Foundation (Fundación Tarpuna Causay), which Ecuadorian and North American colleagues and I founded in late 2008. Going from premise to program was not simple, however, and the lessons we learned revealed not only the source of rampant dissatisfaction and disappointment in development work, but glimmers of opportunity for community-based organizations (CBOs) to bring about a fundamental shift in the nature of aid.

Our experience, as one example among many, suggests that effective development is not simply about pouring more money into CBOs. It’s about flattening the power structure so that community-based organizations come to the table as equal negotiating partners on all aspects of projects, from design to outcome measurements to funding. This shift could help international funders realize the long-elusive increased return on investment, and more importantly, unleash the immense power of communities to change their lives.

Changing the Power Dynamic: A Compelling Reason

From the beginning, we saw no point in joining the overcrowded field of non-profit organizations working in international conservation unless we had a compelling reason to do so. Having worked for years in Latin America, I had seen the same problems we all see in development: lack of services and support reaching communities, lack of community participation, lack of commitment to the projects (both from the community and outside the organization), little or no use of projects, disunity, and community infighting. Beneath the evidence of failed projects, a sense of apathy or sometimes disgust prevailed. Despite the fact that many people in communities would claim they wanted “projects”, those who were not leaders looking for self-aggrandizement or personal gain were often tired of the routine that built up their expectations but left them disillusioned in the end.

Meanwhile, plenty of good organizations were genuinely committed to saving the Amazon rainforest, but many lacked the agility, the access, the time, or communication skills to get to know local populations and figure out where the organization’s and community’s agendas intersected. This lack of understanding contributed greatly to raised and dashed hopes. It also diminished the likelihood that all stakeholders could evaluate the situation from a different angle, to identify the strengths or assets that communities brought to the table and determine how these could be used to meet the communities’ priorities.

Like others who promote asset-based community development, we believed a major problem was that communities were not the drivers in their own development. Organizations that support them, while staying true to their own mission, should collaborate as truly equal partners, which meant changing the power relationships so that above all else, communities determined their priorities and would take responsibility for their own development. Based on that premise, communities would have greater agency in seeking support from NGOs, government institutions, and foundations. Our desire to try to change the power dynamic, to experiment with supporting communities on their timetable according to their self-defined priorities, compelled us to dive in.

Practicing the Community Self-Development Methodology

Through trial and error, the Amazon Partnerships Foundation (AFP) team and our community partners created the Community Self-Development Methodology, which yielded highly positive results. Our intention was to work with fewer communities in greater depth. We established relationships of mutual trust and accountability that would enable us to respond to changes, allow time for the community’s learning curve, and provide a natural give-and-take that helped us understand how to improve our support. Our reach was not extensive; our focus on relationships, training, and learning, however, was intensive.

With a volunteer board, just two staff members, and a small budget, we funded seven projects ranging from rainwater catchment systems to reforestation to organic agriculture practices. We conducted more than 100 workshops on project management for eleven communities, and positively impacted 1300 women, men, and children in three years. More than half of the communities we worked with achieved outcomes based primarily on their own benchmarks that qualified them to submit a follow-on proposal, all of which were approved.  Even more encouraging was that communities were practicing the values our methodology intends to promote: creative problem-solving, greater transparency, and understanding and accountability instead of punishment and finger-pointing.

For example, the community of Campana Cocha, which installed more than 50 rainwater catchment systems and planted 135 trees, has been inspired by their own success to come up with other creative ideas. Before their APF project, most believed that expanding a costly and ineffective piped water system was necessary to meet community water needs; now they want to expand the use of rainwater catchment systems. On land that had been cleared to build government houses, they now want to replant trees and pursue conservation projects that will help transform Campana Cocha into an “eco-community.”

Project Coordinator Patricia Grefa reviewing a community report in Campana Cocha

An example from the community of San Pedro de Chimbiyacu shows how the group explored the implications of transparency in their rainwater catchment project. In a meeting in which community-elected inspectors shared results of monthly visits to determine how well families were maintaining their systems, two women disputed their scores. The inspector explained what she saw on inspection day and that she had a responsibility to record true information. After a spirited conversation about why data collection and verification are important, the entire group concluded that the inspector’s data would stand for calculating the overall maintenance scores for the project. The inspector agreed to do a follow up visit for the two households in question, submitting that data in a separate report.

Resolving conflict through accountability was an important part of the project in the community of Canambo. At a meeting we held with the project committee (elected by the project participants) everyone acknowledged that the outcomes of their organic cacao production project weren’t sufficient to qualify for follow-on support.

We discussed how APF could have helped the community better understand the budget process, and how the committee leaders could have been more transparent with incidental spending so participants would have been more willing to cover unexpected costs. The community president said he wanted to use the project management skills acquired through working with APF to submit a proposal to a different funder, and he requested our technical assistance. Working through problems together, we all left the meeting with a clear understanding of what we could do differently next time, and the relationship between APF and the community was stronger as a result.

The Great Funding Disconnect

While communities were starting to discover their power to meet basic needs and confront climate change, other organizations started to recognize that APF’s relationships with communities could help them find groups to work with. On the one hand, we found this encouraging: communities that had worked with us gained skills, confidence, and clarity about how they wanted to continue improving their lives, so they had greater capacity to make the most of projects with other groups. On the other hand, we were concerned that some of these organizations, which did have a mission of promoting well-being and environmental protection, were circumventing the process of building trust and accountability with communities so that they could meet “community participation” requirements from their funders and guarantee their operational budgets.

The question of how to build genuine partnerships for better results also came up as we worked with international aid agencies, for example, the German Development Cooperation (GIZ)[1]. GIZ in its various iterations has partnered with the Ecuadorian environment ministry for years, helping to secure UNESCO Biosphere Reserve designation for the Sumaco-Galeras national park. The agency recognized the importance not just of gaining international protected status for the park but of supporting communities’ livelihoods through agro-forestry and forest management programs. With the goal of building natural resource management and policy-making capacity so programs can be managed locally and permit the eventual withdrawal of outside support, GIZ has a strategic interest in working with local partners to help execute its outreach and education initiatives. Its budget is structured around these training and technical assistance objectives.

Without question, GIZ has provided valuable financial assistance for some local organizations, including Amazon Partnerships Foundation. GIZ contributed a portion of the budget for our locally filmed documentary on climate change and for the creation of an implementation handbook for the Community Self-Development Methodology. GIZ also helped fund local staff. This financial support aligned with our larger strategic goals: to promote climate change awareness, local leadership, and grassroots capacity to bring about change, and to build a strong local team that could act as role models both for community members and professionals in the local non-profit sector.

While this funding was indisputably beneficial, unfortunately we weren’t able to leverage it in ways that could make the biggest impact. What we experienced with GIZ was similar to what we experienced with other institutional supporters, namely funding parameters that were too restrictive, time-elongated, or reactive to serve the goal of building an organization, not simply executing a project. Despite maintaining a positive and productive relationship with GIZ staff who visited project sites, shared our materials for education and outreach, promoted our projects among regional government agencies, and turned to us to help build liaisons with communities, GIZ did not have a budget mechanism for making a significant investment in our organizational development.

This was a missed opportunity for us, of course, because the difficulty in raising money eventually caused us to scale back our on-the-ground operations and look for other ways to continue implementing our methodology. We believe GIZ also missed an important strategic opportunity not just with Amazon Partnerships, but with the sector in general. With even just a fraction of its resources as an international development agency, it could have invested in cultivating a cohort of qualified, local organizations that foster genuine community-powered development. A network of communities with the capacity to give meaningful feedback on natural resource planning and to meet some of their own basic needs would have helped GIZ accomplish its long-term conservation goals. Those communities would have bought in to GIZ’s vision because they could have taken some ownership of it. CBOs, as the logical and most effective liaison with individual communities, could have played a key role in that process.

Our critique is not intended as a criticism of GIZ or any other institution. International funders (whether private or government) and NGOs must juggle numerous and competing agendas that complicate even the best efforts to build grassroots capacity. But our story suggests that exploring how we can create a culture of partnership between funders (and NGO intermediaries) and CBOs could result in much greater success for everyone.

Real Change, Big Rewards

Community-based organizations are generally characterized by the fact that they work locally, maintain on-going relationships with local people, are led or managed by local representatives, and use local assets, whether monetary, in-kind, or otherwise. Geographically and culturally closest to the people they represent, CBOs have the most insight, most influence, and most agility to incubate, catalyze, or nurture projects. They are at the fulcrum of real change.

The question is: how can we unleash the power of these organizations? Based on APF’s experience, we believe that CBOs:

  • Need the freedom to develop their organizational identity and professional processes. They need the financial flexibility to develop missions that reflect their constituents’ priorities and promote projects that people want.
  • Can benefit from administrative support and training. Larger organizations can share ideas for how to streamline processes, collect useful quantitative and qualitative data, and communicate the grassroots agenda to stakeholders that are farther removed from it. The key is for outside organizations to listen to CBOs regarding what is feasible for local circumstances.
  • Need platforms for exchanging information with other CBOs. These platforms give people the encouragement to turn good ideas into concrete initiatives, which can feed into the development strategy that they have helped create along with institutional or large-scale players.

This doesn’t mean writing a blank check–it means getting to know CBOs and allowing CBOs to know funders, letting go of some of the gatekeeping, and establishing real dialog. It is in everyone’s best interest to ask questions that cannot necessarily be answered with a checklist: What’s really going on on the ground? What are people saying? What are the good ideas? What are the biggest challenges? Where do the communities’ priorities fit within those of the funder?

Just as we witnessed applying a similar philosophy with communities, a relationship-based approach between CBOs and bigger funders helps promote more mutual transparency, better opportunities for qualitative evaluation and impact measurement, and more agility in responding to actual grassroots needs. Organizations like Global Fund for Community Foundations, which has taken this funding approach with Amazon Partnerships Foundation and dozens of others, has ample evidence proving that nurturing the CBO sector in the Global South results in meaningful change in communities–everything from better access to services to increased problem-solving capacity and creativity.

Of course, relationship building takes time and may require a funder to make some structural changes. For large organizations, this may seem like an all-but insurmountable challenge, but testing a relationship-based funding approach in one department, working group, or funding area could help determine how and whether it has organization-wide application.

With so much promise to cultivate bottom-up–top-down development, we should seize the moment to reassess the power dynamic between CBOs and funders. The stakes are simply too high for not re-evaluating business-as-usual strategies, and the benefits could be gamechangers.

Mary Fifield is Executive Director of the Amazon Partnerships Foundation. She is also the author of a blog called Earth in Here 

 

 

 


[1] GIZ is the product of a recent merger of several separate German government agencies, among them DED and GTZ, which were Amazon Partnerships closest local allies.