Over spring 2015, representatives of four community philanthropy organizations were invited to speak at UNDP Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme regional convenings – one held in Thailand and the other in the Dominican Republic – to inject a community philanthropy perspective into discussions, and to begin to explore how these development actors, seemingly so different, could finds ways of working with each other. Upon their return to their individual organizations, the GFCF followed up with these four individuals – all current GFCF grantees – to gather their thoughts on the following:
Community philanthropy works from the bottom up, quite different to how the UN, an enormous global organization, approaches its work. “Small grants” can also mean vastly different amounts depending on whether you are speaking with a local community philanthropy organization, or with a representative of the UNDP Small Grants Programme. Given these significant differences in approach and scale, after your time at the UNDP regional convening, did you observe any overlaps in terms of practice, values, principles, etc.? What were some of the more obvious differences? Beyond partnerships at the local level, what do you see as some of the opportunities for community philanthropy to connect with the UNDP Small Grants Programme?
Susana Aguilar Romero, Operations Coordinator
Fondo Acción Solidaria A.C. (FASOL) (Mexico)
It was surprising to learn about all of the similarities between the UNDP Small Grants Programme and FASOL’s own small grants programme, particularly in terms of philosophy, values, and the operational side of the programmes themselves. One aspect that was especially interesting is the UNDP’s plan to incorporate a “services” programme to complement its grants, which sounds a lot like Grantmaker+ and which is very similar to a capacity-building program that FASOL is currently developing. However, because of its organizational structure, the UNDP Small Grants Programme is more rigid in terms of the scope of its grantmaking and the size of grants it offers.
FASOL works more with grassroots organizations, and thanks to a network of volunteer mentors who recommend our grants and offer ongoing support to our grantees, FASOL seems to have more flexibility. Trust is a key value in the work we do with grassroots groups. For FASOL, emerging from our participation in the regional convening is the chance to strengthen our work with different networks organized around common themes, such as indigenous peoples, climate change, and REDD (a UN collaborative initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in developing countries).
Another point that featured prominently in the regional convening was the need to improve evaluation and assessment around social action. We share this observation because, often, the indicators that are used fail to capture very important results, such as increased understanding and agreement about natural resource conservation, or the strengthening of community capacity. It might be a good idea to implement a pilot programme in a limited set of countries to evaluate not only the direct outcomes of an environmental project, but also changes and growth in terms of network and group capacity.
Vuong Thao Vy, Grants Coordinator
LIN Center for Community Development (Vietnam)
The regional convening showed not only differences between the two approaches but also possible synergies between the UNDP and community foundations. In fact, it seemed the UNDP was interested in what it could learn from our sector in order to improve its own programmes.
The UNDP has the advantages of experience and reputation, robust procedures and documentation, and close connections with local governments. The UNDP “sets the rules” for its grantmaking process: potential grantees need to be qualified to implement projects that carry with them significant funding. Many of the UNDP’s projects and initiatives would be considered as large grants instead of small grants in the eyes of community foundations. Meanwhile, community philanthropy organizations are working from the bottom up. By engaging their stakeholders in grantmaking, community foundations are better able to: listen to their stakeholders’ needs; inspire them to change or improve their approach to philanthropy; and, nurture their desire to develop their capacity and to contribute to community sustainably.
In its new operational phase, the UNDP is committed to being a “Grantmaker+” which is certainly a guiding principle of most community foundations. Based on this common objective and each side’s strength, the UNDP could perhaps help to bridge the distance between local governments and community foundations, and to bring more visibility to grassroots work. At the same time, community foundations can help to equal out the traditional donor/beneficiary relationship by acting as a bridge between larger development actors and initiatives on the ground. Additionally, while the UNDP is better at mobilizing funds from governments and civil society, community philanthropy organizations pride themselves on leveraging different local kinds of resources (money, time, expertise, skills, networks, etc.). The two sides can certainly learn from each other in this regard, in order to better achieve their programme objectives, while ensuring the best use of resources and capacity.
Justin Welch, Executive Director
Monteverde Community Fund (Costa Rica)
Although we work at different scales, and the processes for defining strategic priorities are much different, I saw a strong overlap between the practice, values and principles of the UNDP Small Grants Programme and ours at the Monteverde Community Fund. The UNDP Small Grants Programme in Costa Rica has been instrumental in grassroots development projects, especially those within the context of the National Biological Corridor Program.
Community foundations should certainly be in contact with their UNDP Country Representative as they will be looking to develop partnerships in terms of resource matching and leveraging, as well as the strengthening of civil society capacities. The latter, I feel, being a forte of community foundations because of their ability to cultivate personal relationships over time and their flexibility to address the evolving needs of community groups along their individual path of development. Community foundations interested in exploring partnerships with the UNDP Small Grants Programme in their respective country should be aware of the intersection between the following thematic and strategic foci, which are important determining factors for funding decisions:
- Environmental: International waters, biodiversity, climate change, persistent chemicals and waste management
- Social: Governance, civil sector capacity-building
- Economic: Sustainable livelihoods, energy access
- Sustainable cities
- Intelligent agriculture for climate change adaptation/agro-ecology
- CBO-Government platforms
- Social inclusion
Other Important Concepts:
- Managing information in order to demonstrate donor impact, sharing new knowledge and learning, and improve institutional practices/operations
- Thinking about replication, upscaling and mainstreaming
- UNDP Small Grants Programme support for your area could come in the form of separate donations to a number of individual projects, or larger “strategic projects” that could include a number of smaller projects under an umbrella initiative
Sadhana Shrestha, Executive Director
My first day at the regional convening was somewhat overwhelming – trying to wrap my head around the massive differences in scale between community philanthropy and the UNDP “Small” Grants Programme, not to mention trying to keep up with the acronyms laced casually throughout the various presentations. But I eventually overcame my initial shock, and even began to enjoy the convening. As much as we had been invited so that UNDP staff could garner a better understanding of work happening on the ground, in the community philanthropy space, I took advantage of the opportunity to hear what was happening at the other end of the development spectrum from where I find myself.
And it was good to hear of a UNDP initiative that focuses on grants to communities, that seems to have done great work in many countries. Interestingly, there seemed to be quite a bit of buzz in the room about the potential contribution of community philanthropy to this work particularly in terms of: access to existing networks on the ground to overcome staff capacity constraints, knowledge sharing, and best practice in community engagement. The role and function of Grantmaker+ was also a hot topic. So while there did certainly seem to be synergies, my only concern was in this enthusiasm in the room being translated back into UNDP programmes and systems in an effective way. How can one idea or approach be adopted and understood across such a huge organization?
Despite this, it was particularly useful to meet the Nepal UNDP Country Director, who I’m sure Tewa will have contact with in the future.