Danger, opportunity, and a new path for community asset management

Contrary to popular belief, the Mandarin character for “crisis” is not composed of the characters meaning “danger” and “opportunity.” Yet, in the crises many local and global communities face right now, danger and opportunity are gliding within a razor’s edge of each other.

“The razor’s edge between danger and opportunity” is an apt way to describe what the GFCF team has discovered researching community management of large-scale assets. Although most Indigenous and rural communities are surrounded by valuable natural resources (from minerals to rivers to old growth forests), these assets are usually managed by corporations and/or governments, and many communities don’t see long-term or commensurate economic benefit when the resources are used.

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Confronting philanthropy’s image problem: does participatory giving offer a way forward?

She couldn’t have put it more clearly:

“Philanthropy means people helping other people…Philanthropy also means corruption: the rich hiding their ill-gotten wealth in foundations and using them to exert political influence.”

The setting was an overheated university classroom at the university in Bogota, the start of an afternoon session on the topic of “Rethinking resourcing of civil society.” I had asked the room, whose audience was made up of a diverse mix of people from NGOs, donors, foundations, and social social movements to take a minute to discuss with their neighbour what associations the word “philanthropy” inspired in them.

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Community philanthropy in the spotlight in 2015 State of Civil Society report

2014 saw serious threats to civic freedoms in at least 96 countries around the world. This shrinkage of civil society space, notes the CIVICUS 2015 State of Civil Society report “is no longer something that can be dismissed as a coincidence, or the province of a small group of aberrant states.” As international funding flows for civil society come under increased scrutiny and restrictions, the importance of mobilizing domestic resources and building local constituencies to amplify citizen voice, protect and advocate for social and economic rights becomes more important than ever. At the same time, where international development funding is still playing a significant role, there remains much to be done to flatten power dynamics and to facilitate the kinds of development approaches that are locally owned and locally driven.

In the context of both of these trends, the role of community philanthropy as a strategy for mobilizing both local resources and local voice and as a way of changing the power balance between institutional funders and local civil society organizations, becomes more important than ever. This year’s report includes essays by the GFCF and two of its long-term partners. They are:


How can grantmaking begin to repair damage to the social fabric in Palestine, the result of decades of occupation and aid dependence? This essay describes Dalia’s unique approach to funding: “Starting from the premise that Palestinians have the right to control their own resources, Dalia Association stopped focusing on how communities use grants and focused instead on the processes they use to make decisions.” Lessons learned and challenges ahead are also outlined.


In her contribution, Ambika Satkunanathan makes the case that in the context of diminishing resources for civil society, the role of indigenous grantmakers is becoming increasingly relevant. This is particularly true in cases where work on human rights and social justice is being supported – the type of sensitive funding that corporate foundations seem to be increasingly distancing themselves from.


Avila Kilmurray and Barry Knight’s essay challenges the pattern of support for larger, more formalized civil society organizations, as opposed to community-based organizations. They make the case for revising current aid architecture in a way that would be more beneficial to all involved: “Bringing together aid agencies with community foundations would mean that both would gain. While aid agencies can bring resources and technical expertise to the table, local donors grasp the layers of complexity that only local people can understand.”

Working for civil society sustainability in Kenya

The Aga Khan Foundation, US, working in partnership with USAID, has announced an exciting new $6 million, four year programme, to support the long-term sustainability of key civil society organizations in Kenya. Named the Yetu Initiative – “yetu” meaning “ours” in Kiswahili – the aim of the programme is to encourage local ownership of civil society activities. This will involve a platform of support for community philanthropy which is best illustrated by the work of the Kenya Community Development Foundation.

Drawing on their joint partnership within the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy, both the Aga Khan Foundation and USAID believe in the power of community philanthropy to mobilize assets, build organizational capacity and contribute to the mutual trust-building that is social capital in action. An emphasis will be placed on helping to connect key civil society organizations with the private sector throughout Kenya in order to reduce dependence on external funding sources. The Alliance is well placed to augment the impact of the initiative by sharing ideas and learning drawn from other parts of the world, alongside charting the lessons that this new initiative will highlight. Peer exchanges between community philanthropy practitioners have already proved their worth on numerous occasions given the common aspiration of local activists to make development outcomes “ours” – “yetu”!

Call for papers: Inequality, inclusion and social innovation in Latin America and the Caribbean

The International Society for Third Sector Research (ISTR) is issuing a call for papers in advance of its 10th Annual ISTR Regional Conference for Latin America and the Caribbean, to be held in San Juan and Ponce, Puerto Rico from 5th – 7th August 2015. The preceding nine ISTR Regional Conferences addressed issues including: participation and representation; growth and consolidation of civil society; sector cooperation; and civil society self-identity and its responsibility for the development process. This 10th edition will continue to put challenges of imbalance at the forefront by focusing on inequality, inclusion and social innovation, and papers addressing the following themes are currently being solicited:

– Relationship among social inequality, citizen participation, inclusion efforts and sustainability promotion.

– Social innovation for sustainable development with social inclusion.

– Social enterprises, sustainability and new business forms.

– Civil society / third sector institutionalization, training and fortification.

– Democracy, the struggle against corruption, promoting accountability and civil society.

– A changing democracy: linkages between the state, civil society and business for social inclusion and sustainability.

Founded in 1992, the ISTR is an association of researchers and academic centres with associates located around throughout the world. ISTR promotes research and education on civil society and the non-profit sector internationally. The Latin America and the Caribbean Network of ISTR was established in 1996.

The deadline for papers is 28th February 2015. Read more details on the call in English and Spanish.

When the trouble came to our house: How one Ukrainian community philanthropy organization is responding

Inna Starchikova The last six months have shocked the Ukraine. Unexpectedly, the state met problems with its integrity under the influence of our neighbour, Russia; citizens sought to stop the creation of an authoritarian regime and are trying to restore democracy. And finally, as the world is aware, we have a war in our east territory, leaving the rest of the country to try to solve all of these problems that have accumulated. It sounds like a lot of challenges for the Ukrainian state and citizens because it is. But, interestingly enough, this period of time has also yielded quite a bit of new information about philanthropy – examples and useful models – that can perhaps be used to define the main trends and risks affecting the sector for the next three to five years. Qualitative analysis of all of this information is still waiting to be explored more deeply, but I can already share some early observations:

1. Most NGOs and foundations lost “urgent charity” to social media. During this crisis, the main flows of charitable help from citizens went into bank accounts of individuals (via online donations), largely outside of the foundation sphere and without official records (money-boxes). This was especially highlighted at the local level, where calls for help from within informal networks evoked the greatest trust, and therefore response. People didn’t care at all about the tax implications of such donations. This was the situation we experienced in our city (Odessa), though it was common across the Ukraine.

2. There have been attempted raids on charitable foundations located away from the military zone. Some years ago we tried to discuss this problem, as well as possible mechanisms to counter it, with our colleagues at a national conference, but without success. There have already been several attacks this year aimed at different foundations. One of these raids received wide publicity (not to mention millions of Hryvnia, our currency, for the families of those killed at Maidan) and became a scandal, with members of the Ukrainian Philanthropists Forum getting involved with a team of lawyers.

3. Odd crowdfunding companies for government institutions have emerged. For example, the Ukraine has been left with a very weakened army. Citizens continue to pay taxes to maintain it, despite the lack of investigation or punishment to identify who was responsible for its destruction in the first place. Furthermore, instead of reporting what is happening with the millions of public funds being devoted to the army’s budget, there has been an enormous campaign in the mass media for charity donations to the army using modern mobile channels. In the end, it is likely that the same army generals who were involved in the first plundering have raised millions from patriotic citizens. These kinds of donations carry huge commissions in the Ukraine (more than 30% to business providers), but authorities never seem to mention this in their reports. Such “transparency” raises further concerns regarding possible abuses. There are additional risks associated with charity in the Ukraine, which means there is a need to reconsider conventional ways of providing international assistance as well as domestic help. We have preferred to deal with existing regional partners during this period, who have already proved their competences and capabilities.

On 2nd May there was a tragedy in Odessa, where we live and work, which garnered the world’s attention. Numerous citizens were killed. It was impossible for us to believe that dozens of inhabitants could be killed in this European city; the city was blanketed with confusion and depression. Our foundation provided different support after that, but I think that the greatest help was our psychological support: we returned faith to the people and to the community of thousands of residents by delivering messages and support through social media during the first evening and all night after tragedy. More information on the events in Odessa can be found in the “Report on the Human Rights Situation in Ukraine” published by Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights  on 15th June 2014. It has a large section entitled “Investigations into Human Rights Violations Related to the Violence in Odesa on 2nd May.”

I’d like to offer a few words and some comments which you cannot find in this report. We were also interested in determining the causes of the tragedy with a view to preventing such incidences in the future. However, our goal was not to punish the perpetrators or official groups involved, but rather to check the “state of health” of the whole community. We asked members of the community two closed-ended questions, with the possibility to add comments, as well as their own answers. Below, the findings:

Causes of the tragedy: What did you personally do wrong, which allowed the tragedy to happen on 2nd May in Odessa?
I failed to stop a friend who went to earn money for their participation in the meeting 0
I was not on the front lines to prevent conflict 7.41
I previously did not take action around the accountability of authorities 18.52
I did not support the earlier actions that could have prevented the tragedy 22.22
My actions, as well as inaction, could not have led to the tragedy of 2nd May 51.85
Further prevention: What steps will you take to reduce the risk of recurrence of such tragedies in Odessa? 
I will avoid participating in paid rallies and will discourage my friends from doing the same 38.57
I will avoid any mass gatherings 12.86
I’ll be sure to respond to the unscrupulous actions of the authorities 37.14
I will maintain regular contact with authorities 2.86
I will participate in manifestations against the abuse of authority 8.57
I will support activities reputable for me, including financially 0
I do not plan to do anything to prevent the tragedy in the future 0


We often try to use such quick instruments in order to accelerate our own internal reflections (and sometimes for proactive engagement). Our foundation developed its own direct “digital channels” to the community with the help and support of the GFCF. This table contains important information for better understanding the current, complex situation, as well as specific roles for community philanthropy organizations (CPO) in the future.

In my opinion, the main role of CPOs is the same as anywhere: to support community development based on a community’s needs and resources. At the same time, situations such as the one unfolding in Ukraine, set specific (not to mention challenging) tasks for CPOs. It is very important for us to understand what can be implemented without our involvement, and what has a high demand but little chance to be realized without our participation. A time of turmoil and change requires crisis management, when we should be focusing our efforts on the changes that the community really needs. We’ve already started supporting the design of a more modern system to encourage better self-government based on IT, mobile technologies, and the concept of direct democracy. This can enforce people’s participation in decision-making at the local level and can also provide new opportunities for monitoring local authorities as well as preventing conflicts. We are going to implement it first with civil society organizations, with an eye to further developing this infrastructure by the time of the 2015 local elections in the Ukraine. At the same time, our region still is at risk of falling back into conflict. We as an organization will therefore be focusing on building our capacity to work with larger humanitarian aid bodies, as well as to deliver conflict resolution services.

We didn’t imagine that the trouble would come to our house. Sometimes it’s scary and sometimes it’s deeply frustrating. However, many people living in Odessa greatly appreciate the place, and with this great, common love we move forward together, inspired to look for solutions even in the most dire of situations.

Inna Starchikova is Executive Director of the Charity Fund “Moloda Gromada” (“Young Community’) in Odessa, Ukraine

Building the future you want to see: What role for community foundations in China?

“Are there community foundations in China?” Over the last few years, as China’s home-grown philanthropy sector has grown dramatically, I have heard a variety of answers to this question. They have ranged from a simple “No”, to “one” to “at least 30”.

Community foundation “head-counts” are obviously helpful when it comes to mapping the growth of the global field. But what is perhaps more interesting is to look beyond the numbers and explore what role local philanthropic foundations might be able to play in China in fostering community initiatives, promoting cross-sectoral collaborations and mobilizing local resources and assets, particularly at a time when China’s rapid urbanisation means that the state is struggling to provide everything for its citizens and when it is also apparently beginning to realise that there may be a role for NGOs (long-suspected by the state), at least in the delivery of social services.

These were some of the questions that were on the table at the first “Local Community Foundations Development Forum” held in Guangzhou on May 29th 2014, and organized by the Guandong Harmony (Community) Foundation (GHF) and Sun Yat-Sen University School of Philanthropy. There was standing-room only at the day-long meeting, which was the first of its kind, and which brought together the leaders of various government charitable federations, independent and community foundations as well as government representatives and students from the university’s civil society and philanthropy departments. En route to the meeting, via Singapore and Beijing, I had been reliably informed a number of times that Guangzhou – which is the centre of China’s huge industrial heartland – has long held a reputation for independent thinking and liberal ideas, “a cradle for reforms and revolutions”. So it was perhaps no surprise that this forum – which provided a first opportunity for foundation leaders and board members to discuss some of the “nuts and bolts” of philanthropic practice such as grantmaking etc., – also touched on global philanthropic trends, namely community foundations and how this flexible form had been adapted and adopted in other parts of the world.

Since 2004, when new regulations on foundations were introduced, Chinese philanthropy has certainly seen a rapid growth. In 2013, the China Foundation Center recorded that were 3,608 foundations in China, with total giving amounting to RMB 29 billion (about US $4.6 billion). When you look at the numbers more closely, however, the picture becomes more complex and perhaps less rosy. There are only 1,400 independent foundations (the rest are so-called “GONGOs” or government-operated non-governmental organizations). And of these 1,400, 400 were established by companies and another 900 by celebrities and academics. This means that although, according to the Economist, China had 358 billionaires at the end of 2013, very few of these rich individuals and their families are setting up foundations. In fact, in terms of charitable giving, China ranks among the world’s worst. According to the World Giving Index 2013, an annual survey by the Charities Aid FoundationChina ranked 115 among 135 countries for donating money and last for volunteering.

So what are some of the barriers to building a culture of philanthropy in China? In a recent interview with Alliance magazine, He Daofeng, executive president of the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation (a GONGO, turned independent foundation), Chair of the China Foundation Center and winner of this year’s Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize for Emerging Markets Philanthropy, shared his views. These included, “selfishness and ideology, driven by market economic mechanisms”, “lack of religious faith and shared values”, the bad reputation of GONGOs and a lack of trusted and independent NGOs.

The legal framework for philanthropy in China has also made fundraising from the public (and therefore fostering a culture of community philanthropy) very difficult. Although groups might be allowed to receive public donations, few are allowed to engage in actual public fundraising without going through a GONGO. And while China has over half a million registered NGOs, according to the Economist, many of these are “quasi-official or mere shell entities attempting to get government money.” Furthermore, although another 1.5 million NGOs are estimated to exist, these are all unregistered, moving them off the radar of most local donors.

My task at the meeting in Guangzhou was to provide a snapshot of how the global community philanthropy field has evolved, from the Cleveland Foundation, and its founder, Frederick Gough, and his bold vision to pool the charitable resources of Cleveland’s philanthropists, living and dead, into a single permanent endowment for the betterment of the city (now valued at US $1.8 billion), to Russia, to Brazil, to Zimbabwe. The Russian experience of community foundation development was of particular interest. Although the two countries have taken different routes in terms of economic and political liberalization, a number of parallels can be drawn when it comes to the development of civil society / philanthropic sector, low levels of public trust and the need to tread sensitively around a suspicious state. While the US is often taken as a main reference point for many things in China, when it comes to community foundation development Russia would seem to be a more relevant comparison at present. Not only are there now over 50 community foundations and community foundation-like organizations in Russia, but the role of bridge-building philanthropy support organizations and membership associations such as CAF Russia, the various community foundation networks and the Russia Donors Forum, in contributing to the growth of the philanthropic sector is clear. In China, such organizations are still thin on the ground.

Jiangang Zhu (centre) with philanthropy colleagues, at Sun-Yat-sen University

Looking forward – fostering an ecosystem for philanthropy

In his comments, one of the meeting hosts, the dynamic, visionary and multi-talented Jiangang Zhu, professor of the School of Sociology and Anthropology at Sun Yat-sen University, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy, director of the Institute for Civil Society and a board member of the Guangdong Harmony Foundation, observed that the community foundation concept represented a “higher level task” for Chinese philanthropy because, unlike private foundations, its multi-stakeholder governance structure required that different “forces” or groups needed to overcome their differences and come together. This in itself has the potential to be quite transformational in China. In addition, he said, it would be important to foster broader networks and support structures for philanthropy so that an “ecosystem” could begin to develop.


Guandong Harmony (Community) Foundation: very much a dot on the community foundation map

A “village within the city”, where many migrant workers liveThe day after the conference, a smaller group of us had the opportunity to visit some of the migrant worker groups supported by GHF, which is one of the very few grantmaking foundations in China, making it a “precious” resource, according to one of its board members.  GHF personnel are the first to admit that there is work to be done in terms of strengthening staff capacity, ensuring more community participation in the governance structures and expanding the funding base. But meeting grantees of the foundation, local groups run by migrant workers providing childcare and advice on rights etc, and hearing about how the foundation had provided not just grants but also technical support and advice, had linked them to other groups and brought their issues to the attention of local authorities (all potentially tricky stuff in China), I had no doubt that this is a foundation that aspires to be for the community and of the community in its very essence, which in the end is what community philanthropy is all about.

It will be interesting to see whether emerging organization in the community philanthropy field (the Yangjing Community Foundation in Shanghai is another interesting example) will be able to thrive in the space currently given to them by the authorities and to what extent that space is allowed to expand if government authorities can come to regard community foundations as more of a benefit than of a threat.

Jenny Hodgson

Executive Director, GFCF

Philanthropy in Pakistan: Private energy for public good

Philanthropy is “private energy for public good” and it is particularly effective as a “fuel” for civil society which can drive socio-economic development. So said Dr. Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, Chairman of the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy, speaking in Washington DC in April 2014 and sharing his thoughts with audiences at both the Global Donors’ Forum and at a discussion held at the Hudson Institute. He was joined at the latter by Dr. Carol Adelman, Director of the Center for Global Prosperity, Hudson Institue, and by Dr. Mirza Jahani, CEO of the Aga Khan Foundation, USA.

He also referred to the role of civil society and active citizenship in helping to think through the mantra of democracy and models of governance. However, in stepping up to these critical roles civil society needs to be supported – one area that requires further examination is the interface between civil society and the private sector, which Dr. Kassim-Lakha depicted as “a magic in that space that we haven’t quite captured.”

Commenting on the growth of philanthropy in Pakistan, the point was made that when a comparison is made between indigenous giving and foreign grants, Pakistanis give Rs 20 billion in money, which represents some five times the amount that Pakistan receives in outright grants by way of foreign aid.  Equally it was noted that 28% of all giving in Pakistan is made by people that are earning less than US$2 per day – a model of the generosity of the poor. This ethos of giving was traced to a long established ethos of giving in Muslim countries, although the challenge remains as to how to turn this impulse of generosity into more strategic philanthropy. An important contextual framing for this challenge is the development of an enabling legal and fiscal environment for philanthropy which the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy is currently working on.

In a country where two-thirds of the population are below the age of 20 years, the potential linkages between philanthropy, civil society and active citizenship are clearly critical, with the need to harness the impulse of generosity and translate it into the development of sustainable social assets.  Dr. Jahani emphasized the importance of indigenous philanthropic organisations and developments in this context, making reference to the fact that the recent Spring Meeting of the World Bank linked strategic development to citizen engagement. Mechanisms to facilitate communities to bond together around locally identified needs were recognised as central building blocks in any future partnerships between strategic philanthropic investment and grounded civil society initiatives.

Climbing the ladder: GFCF referenced in New Statesman article

“If civil society is to play a role in combating poverty, we need a vibrant, independent voluntary and community sector”, argues Barry Knight, Executive Director of CENTRIS and adviser to the GFCF, in a recent article in the New Statesman. Climbing the Ladder is the lead article in a special supplement on Civil Society and Poverty.

“Much of the voluntary sector contributes little to civil society because it is highly professionalised, possessing few connections to local people other than through the delivery of services” says Knight. “Resources should instead go to organisa­tions such as London Citizens, which is composed of citizens themselves and en­ables them to build their own power. We can also learn from international organisations like the Global Fund for Commu­nity Foundations, which helps citizens’ groups to build their own asset base so they can be free from the persistent ‘pro­jects’ demanded by official aid agencies.”

Read the full article

He Daofeng wins second Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize!

The finalists came from India, Russia (2), Latvia, Brazil and Turkey (2) but it was He Daofeng who was announced the winner of the second Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize on 27th March 2014 at the WINGSForum in Istanbul. The £5,000 prize is awarded annually to an individual “who has demonstrated remarkable leadership, creativity and results in developing philanthropy for progressive social change in an emerging market country or countries.” Last year’s prize winners were Jane Weru and Kingsley Mucheke for their work to build assets among landless slum dwellers in in Kenya.

He Daofeng, this year’s prize-winnerHe Daofeng is Executive President of the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation (CFPA) the first GONGO to become a fully independent foundation and Chair of the China Foundation Center. In his work there and at the China Foundation Center, Mr He has pioneered the use of open and businesslike management methods in China’s philanthropic sector. His work with high net worth individuals as well as more modest givers has helped both to encourage the practice of philanthropy, and to stress the importance of accountability.

In a recent interview with Alliance magazine, Mr He discussed his personal motivation to join the field: “I was a farmer for many years, so I understood the plight of poor farmers. I was also a researcher looking at China’s rural reform in the 1980s and I saw that social reform was needed to underpin economic reform. After Tiananmen Square I thought it would be useless to push for political reform. Rather, we should promote philanthropy and cultivate social self-governance, the civil society spirit and citizen obligation. So social change was the industry sector I chose at the time.”

The “Olga” prize commemorates the memory of Olga Alexeeva, a Russian-born but global citizen who had been a pioneer in the world of emerging markets philanthropy and whose sudden death in July 2011 marked an enormous loss to the global philanthropy field.