Philanthropy needs to step up its game, fight intolerance, live its values: 3rd Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize winner, Alina Porumb, tells Beijing conference

Alina Porumb, strategic philanthropy programme director of Romania’s Association for Community Relations (ARC), accepted the 2015 Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize at the Second Emerging Markets Philanthropy Forum in Beijing on 23 November.

The core of Alina Porumb’s work in the last ten years has been helping to create an active community foundations movement in Romania. There are now 15 community foundations in Romania, and 10,000 Romanians gave to sports-focused public fundraising events in the last year. “In addition to the numbers,” wrote one judge, “she has been successful at helping people break through the psychological barrier of authoritarianism and having individuals collaborate to work on community problems.”

Each year, the prize winner is invited to give a speech. Before an audience of philanthropy practitioners and supporters in Beijing, Alina recounted how she had been 13 when Romania underwent the transition from totalitarian regime to young democracy. Even before then, she said, “I remember vividly my Romanian language teacher and class master who even before the change encouraged us strongly to think for ourselves, when the mode of operation was to learn by heart what other people were thinking. English gave me access to a world of experience in the field of civil society and philanthropy.”

To her fellow nominees and the rest of the audience, Alina acknowledged that none of this work to nurture and grow new cultures and practices of effective, accountable and transparent philanthropy is easy: “I know that all of you in this room and all those nominated for the award understand clearly the challenges in emerging societies: lack of trust, defensiveness, inequality, poor governance and poor institutional capacity to tackle complex social issues.  But all of you being here are also aware of the great potential that our societies hold in terms of growing resources and talents as well as a genuine willingness and joy to give, be engaged and contribute. All of you here are the optimists in our societies who were willing to see the potential, the process of the glass filling, even when it was not yet half full. But you are also the realists who have to deal with the daily obstacles towards achieving this potential. It takes courage, it takes determination and most of all it takes persistence.”

Fellow nominees and organizers join Alina Porumb on stage in Beijing

In closing, Alina reflected that now, more than ever and at a time when communities are coming under pressure and insecurities are easily exploited phlanthropy need to stand firm in defence of such values as generosity, solidarity, compassion and act against intolerance.

“Let me finish with a few questions for each of us individually and for us as a philanthropic community around the world: are our responsibilities and actions at the level of our resources and potential? Or can we do more?  Can we learn more from the practices of others and the reality checks we receive? Can we change to reflect the future challenges rather than repeat what we have successfully been doing before? Can fully activate the generosity, solidarity and compassion of our constituencies? Can we give more consideration to those ‘unsolvable’ issues, the ones that we don’t know how to approach, because they are big and interconnected?”

The other finalists were:

Read the full speech

Find out more about the Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize

Join our next webinar on Community Funds – a strategy for building philanthropy from the grassroots

Hear how two community foundations – one in South Africa and the other in the United States –are using community (affiliated) funds to build grassroots philanthropy as a development tool and to stay local.

The last two decades have seen a dramatic growth in the number of community foundation around the world, particularly in low and middle-income countries. A key feature of many community foundations is that of an endowment fund, which can provide both a buffer to communities in the case of sudden shocks, and a long-term resource which allows communities to plan for their futures. However, building an endowment is not an easy process: in low-trust environments it can be hard to convince people to give in perpetuity to a general “pot” of funds. And when you are trying to demonstrate the importance of local assets and local action in building vibrant and connected communities, it becomes very important to engage people where they are.

In recent years, local level funds have become an increasingly attractive and effective strategy for bringing community philanthropy “to the people” and for engaging communities in local level decision-making and asset development. In the United States, such funds are often called affiliate funds. The Nebraska Community Foundation uses the affiliated funds model as a way of building grassroots philanthropy as a tool for economic development. Elsewhere, the Kenya Community Development Foundation has supported the creation of a number of “community funds” for over a decade, in Russia, very local level “rural funds” have become a key feature of rural community foundations and the Haiti Community Foundation Initiative is also exploring the idea. And in South Africa, the West Coast Community Foundation has just launched its very first community fund.

 

Date / time

Monday 19th October at 3:30pm (British Summer Time, corresponding to 4:30pm in South Africa and 9:30am in Nebraska).

 

Speakers

Johanna Hendriks, CEO, West Coast Community Foundation (South Africa)

Jeff Yost, President and CEO, Nebraska Community Foundation (US)

 

Registration

Please register at the following link:

https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/7550245561925480450

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar. For any technical difficulties, please contact Wendy Richardson (wendy@globalfundcf.org).

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.”

Adapting YouthBank to South Africa’s West Coast

YouthBank has a huge potential in South Africa, says Jeremy Maarman, Grants Manager at West Coast Community Foundation. He tells the GFCF about the last two years of WCCF’s YouthBank programme, about its experiences so far, and where he sees this heading.

 

GFCF: WCCF completed its first year of YouthBank activities in 2013 – how did this differ from WCCF’s past activities with youth? What about YouthBank is different/interesting?

Jeremy Maarman: In the past WCCF focused mainly on funding youth projects through our Grants Program. This meant that the engagement with young people was really limited seeing that we did not interface directly with the youth. With YouthBank, the foundation was able to have a more hands-on approach to young people and also the relationship was more as equal partners. This was the biggest difference between our past activities with young people and the functioning of YouthBank. YouthBank is different because young people are not only the recipients of the development interventions but the YouthBank projects puts them in the position of active players in community development.

 

GFCF: Who were the youth that WCCF involved and what do you think they gained from their experience?

JM: The youth we identified were all from the Bergrivier Municipal area and we recruited them by engaging with the local municipality as well as the local high schools. The young people involved in YouthBank gained immense knowledge on community development and how they themselves can play a role in their communities. As part of the YouthBank project young people also gained knowledge about active citizenship and that the strength of a democracy lies in the responsibility that citizens take to not only keep public representatives accountable but also to themselves take ownership of development.

 

GFCF: Was it difficult to introduce the concept of philanthropy, particularly to young people? How has the broader community reacted?

JM: Philanthropy is a word that is not used in everyday vocabulary on the West Coast. Therefore WCCF introduced youth philanthropy by explaining what it “does” and not what the definition “is.” We realized that bringing development “words” (like youth philanthropy) to the communities is further alienating people from realizing that in actual fact African communities have been sharing their talents, skills and treasure with each other without ever using words like philanthropy to define their actions. The broader community are starting to see young people as real assets for development and are also beginning to realize that young people do become enthusiastic about and involved in projects if they are given the power to decide what they “can” and “want” to do.

 

GFCF: What were the lessons learned for WCCF during this first year? As WCCF expands YouthBank activities into two additional communities in 2014, will the programme be adapted at all?

JM: We learned a very critical lesson: trying to replicate projects as blueprints from other countries (like Westernized countries) is not the best strategy. We also decided to engage with school-age young people, similar to YouthBank projects in Europe, however we quickly found out that the South African education department are not very open to having non-profit organizations engaging with children via the school. The reason for that was that schools were just more focused on getting through the curriculum, and didn’t necessarily want to be seen as adding extra activities to the burden on students. We also found it very challenging to move the grants from YouthBank during that latter part of the year due to the school examination period – it became very difficult to get hold of the YouthBank members.  

The biggest adaptation of the YouthBank project in 2014 lies in the fact that our recruitment strategy is now focused on out-of-school youth who are unemployed. We are hopeful that this strategy will allow for more active participation by members. This is a very significant adaptation as it is also very different from how YouthBank is implemented in other parts of the world. We however believe that we need to be conscious of the local conditions and what works best for us in South Africa.

 

GFCF: How important has it been for WCCF to be connected, through Youth Bank International, to other community foundations running their own YouthBank programmes? How important has it been that it is a community foundation that has led this work?

JM: Connection with other community foundations running YouthBank in other parts of the world gave WCCF a frame of reference for what works and what does not. YouthBank International also makes WCCF part of a community of actors in youth philanthropy. The importance of having YouthBank implemented by a community foundation gives the community foundation another avenue through which we can make grants and also to explore how best to bring young people into philanthropy. This, I believe, is groundbreaking work for a community foundation as youth philanthropy still needs to be defined in a way that is understandable and applicable to different conditions and this can be a really exciting niche for community foundations.

 

GFCF: What do you think it is about YouthBank which resonates across communities in all regions of the world? Do you think the concept has the potential to spread in Southern Africa?

JM: The notion of young people as active players in community development resonates with all people in all cultures and countries because it is a globally held truth that youth are the leaders of the future; in order to sustain development it is important to bring young people into the fold as soon as possible. The transfer of leadership skills to young people is also a very important issue that is gaining recognition. Finally, the point is that organizations too often lose contact with young people because they don’t deal with them as equal partners, but merely as recipients/beneficiaries of development interventions. Such an approach leaves young people feeling apathetic and uninterested all over the world. I absolutely think that YouthBank has the potential to spread in Southern Africa as it is a project that puts young people in a position of power.

What can community philanthropy do? Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy highlights shared themes around the world

Check out the storify from Jennifer Lentfer, Oxfam / How Matters, who live tweeted the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy’s public lunch event at the World Bank on 9th July 2014.  

When communities pull together to solve problems, it rarely makes headlines (especially in developing countries) but this month such an example did draw media attention, along with an international event spotlighting the practice known as community philanthropy.

Earlier in July a story of a Kenyan community’s success managing a water crisis with local assets was featured on America Abroad (“Kenyan communities succeed in managing scarce water, where aid projects once foundered”). The program heard on National Public Radio (NPR) captures how local ownership created a long-term solution; that in turn bloomed into other improvements, with road access and education. As David Clatsworthy of the International Rescue Committee notes, “It’s obviously much better when the community starts out with that sense of ownership…So it would be great if this was a model that spread virally.”

That type of exponential spread is what the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy, established last year, is working to achieve. On July 9th 2014 the Aga Khan Foundation U.S.A. (AKF USA) joined with its partners in the Global Alliance, including the C.S. Mott Foundation, U.S. Agency for International Development and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, at a lunchtime talk that showcased a wide range of community philanthropy experiences from around the world.

Lunch participants at the World Bank, 9th July 2014Held at the World Bank’s Washington, DC offices, the panel discussion, “Community philanthropy’s role in sustaining development: Development’s role in supporting community philanthropy,” featured experiences from Northern Ireland, Haiti, and across the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). The stories described examples of community-led initiatives that were strengthened by select international support, in some cases going back more than 30 years.

“How can community-driven development play a role in enhancing the development outcomes of big international donor aid?” asked Jenny Hodgson, Executive Director of the GFCF, which serves as the secretariat for the Global Alliance. In response, three main themes emerged from the panel.

First, there’s a need for local voices and there must be space for local actors to play a role in development planning and decisions. Dr. Mirza Jahani, CEO of AKF USA, noted how AKDN’s first rural support programs are rooted in this community-driven approach, empowering communities to make decisions about their own development in remote areas of Pakistan and India. When you build on local assets and local traditions of self-help, he added, “you have a much stronger chance for sustainability.” The practice of community philanthropy is not new around the world, and “has been there throughout history.”

Second, there’s a role for international donors as long as they allow local voices to decide what is needed. Avila Kilmurray, former Director of the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland (CFNI) and now GFCF Director of Policy & Strategy, described how in 1994 CFNI received funding from the European Union to support the peace process in Northern Ireland, especially in areas most affected by the conflict, which were also the poorest. Over half of the European Union grant went through CFNI in sub-grants of under $10,000 each. Small grants were essential, Kilmurray said, in order to include small and marginalized groups in the process. “Big grants…would have destroyed the volunteer base of many community-based organizations.”

A third theme running through the discussion was a need to listen for the range of local voices present.Marie-Rose Romain Murphy of the HCFI Kilmurray explained how crucial that was to CFNI’s effectiveness, which had board members on both sides of the sectarian divide during “the Troubles” starting in the 1970s. Marie-Rose Romain Murphy, who leads the Haiti Community Foundation Initiative (HCFI), also expressed the urgency that Haitians had to build a wide-reaching community foundation to regain control of their development, which HCFI is working on.

Additional success stories noted by Hodgson included the Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF), established in the 1990s with the Aga Khan Foundation and Ford Foundation support. KCDF was noted in the NPR story as a model of a national body with a spectrum of partners. (Click here for a post about KCDF’s origins and lessons.)

When looking at community philanthropy as an approach to development, the question often remains: How can international actors best support developing countries to mobilize local assets and build the culture of self-directed development, without squashing local initiatives? Rather than any one answer, the event pointed to many local responses built on empowering communities to come together, determine shared priorities, and mobilize resources, instead of being driven by external donor priorities.

Natalie Ross is Program Officer for Civil Society at the Aga Khan Foundation U.S.A. This blog was originally posted by the AGA Khan Foundation U.S.A. on their “Stories from the Field” blog.

Alliance magazine editorial: Bringing grantmaking in from the cold

Increasingly, the practice of grantmaking as a tool for bringing about social change has fallen out of favour, replaced by newer, snappier-sounding forms of philanthropy. In laying out their wares, venture philanthropy, strategic philanthropy, philanthrocapitalism and, most recently, ‘catalytic philanthropy’ have all made claims for greater effectiveness. 

Barry Knight & Jenny Hodgson

This change has been largely driven by outsiders, for example by business people entering the sector or by consultants. However, there has also been introspection within established grantmaking platforms and networks about the significance and purpose of grantmaking. For example, a keynote speaker at the 2013 conference of the African Grantmakers Network worried that grantmaking – or giving away money – understated what African philanthropies were really about. Globally, WINGS (Worldwide Initiatives for GrantmakerSupport) has been reflecting on whether its emphasis on grantmaking as a development tool is still relevant.

Is ‘traditional’ philanthropy, with its emphasis on grantmaking, being left out in the cold?

Complex solutions for complex problems
The complexities of bringing about social change require complex solutions and multiple strategies – of that there is no doubt. This special feature does not make claims that grantmaking is the strategy, the truth. Rather, it seeks to reinstate grantmaking as a highly strategic development tool – an art, even – which can play a central role in the pursuit of social change, not least because in the end good grantmaking means letting go, devolving power and putting resources in the hands of people and institutions to make their own decisions and shape their own futures.

It is clear, however, that in recent years the tide has been turning against grantmaking as more and more foundations adopt the top-down strategies of strategic and catalytic philanthropy and philanthrocapitalism. As an illustration of this, a 2013 report on catalytic philanthropy by Danish foundation Realdania draws heavily on a three-part hierarchy devised by FSG. In the table, the common metaphor of fishing is used, with traditional philanthropy and grantmaking equivalent to giving a hungry man a fish, strategic philanthropy equivalent to teaching a man to fish, and catalytic philanthropy equivalent to reforming the whole fishing industry and improving the lives of poor people as a result.

The unsurprising conclusion from the FSG table is that traditional philanthropy and grantmaking won’t achieve social change. In effect, ‘grantmaking’ has been equated with scattergun charity with no interest in long-term results.

Tables of this kind oversimplify the real world. Sharp divisions tend to produce false dichotomies. We do not wish to simply defend traditional grantmaking or to trash other models of philanthropy. Instead, what we want to do is to examine what grantmaking has to offer in the context of a range of other strategies.

Grantmaking as a strategic tool
We see grantmaking as a philosophy, a creative and strategic tool, a mechanism for building voice, agency and trust that in turn deliver social change. The articles in this special feature describe grantmaking for social change in all its diversity – big grants, small grants, long-term and short-term. Despite their differences and nuances, what they all have in common is the basic fact that at some point money moves from one organization to another – a grant is made.

At its most literal, grantmaking means ‘the practice of giving money’, ‘non-repayable funds disbursed by one party to a recipient’, or ‘the discretionary awarding of funds’.

However, the simple catch-all category of ‘grantmaking’ is perhaps reductionist and unhelpful. There are many different types of grants. For example, we need to distinguish between reactive grants where applicants bid into open programmes;responsive grants where funder and funded develop a programme together based on the ideas of the grant recipient; proactive grants where the funder takes the lead and finds the grantee to implement its ideas; and contracts – beyond the scope of this special feature – where the funder tenders for organizations to fulfil specified work.

Moreover, we have to take account of context. One type of intervention is not going to work across the entire world. In developing and emerging markets, where the field of organized philanthropy is often new, levels of public trust are low (particularly towards non-profits), and civil society is weak, grantmaking can play an essential role in building trust and demonstrating transparency and good governance. There is a similar need for a highly local and culturally sensitive type of grantmaking in marginalized and excluded communities in the Global North.

A changing context for philanthropy
Why are models like philanthrocapitalism and strategic or catalytic philanthropy gaining the upper hand? The answer lies partly in the rapidly changing context of the past quarter of a century. We live in a world where constant technological innovation has become the norm, so that what is new is always better than what has gone before. The world of spin and instant media means that people put enormous effort into communications to get their message across to global audiences. At the same time, there have been dramatic changes in the balance of economic power. We have seen the rise of multinational corporations, a reduced role for the state in many places, and increased use of private/public partnerships, along with raised expectations of philanthropy. The philanthropic context is changing too, with the emergence of a new class of mega-rich individuals who establish enormous foundations shaped by the type of business model that made them wealthy in the first place.

However, intractable problems remain. We face a world where inequality is rising nearly everywhere, environmental degradation and climate change threaten our planet, and whole areas of the globe are locked in seemingly endless violent conflict. Despite our best efforts and considerable investments of money, both through official development assistance and philanthropy, deep-seated problems seem entrenched.

Does philanthropy need to raise its game?
This calls for new models and a sense that philanthropy needs to raise its game. Such a perspective has resulted in a variety of initiatives from the philanthropic sector designed to deepen the effectiveness of philanthropy. In 2000, the four-year International Network on Strategic Philanthropy was set up through the Bertelsmann Foundation. Since then, we have seen the rise of ‘philanthrocapitalism’, designed to use business methods to achieve social ends. This has been followed by other approaches, each with slightly different names, but with similar ‘strategic’ approaches, including ‘venture philanthropy’, philanthrocapitalism, ‘collective impact’ and ‘catalytic philanthropy’.

What all of these approaches share – and their similarities outweigh their differences – is the top-down, planned use of resources from a variety of actors being brought to bear on a serious problem with the goal of bringing about large-scale social change that can be measured. Paul Brest, recently retired from the Hewlett Foundation, defines strategic philanthropy as:

‘… the setting of clear goals, developing sound evidence-based strategies for achieving them, measuring progress along the way to achieving them, and determining whether you were actually successful in reaching the goals.’ [1]

The leitmotif here is to use business methods to control the change and to measure the outcome. The role of non-profit organizations or wider civil society is downplayed and treated at best as one of the means of delivering change, but not as a source of the ideas behind the change. At the root of this is the belief that philanthropy knows best.

Pablo Eisenberg has called this ‘a dangerous shift of the balance of power in the non-profit world’,[2] noting that 60 per cent of US foundations will not receive unsolicited proposals. This will enable donors to ‘call all the shots and exclude non-profits with great new ideas’.

It is not just outsiders to philanthropy like Pablo Eisenberg that are making this point. Peter Buffett, son of Warren Buffett, has noted that ‘philanthropy has become the “it” vehicle to level the playing field’, but the main effect of this is ‘to enable the rich to sleep better at night’. He suggests that the answer lies in listening to those who have the answers and might create the conditions for the changes we need. The role of philanthropy should be to produce the risk capital for those ideas.[3]

Voices from the field
Other voices – from the grassroots – echo these concerns. The articles in this special feature display opinions from a range of grantees and foundation and community foundation leaders who stress the importance of grantmaking and disavow the well-resourced messages of ‘strategic’ and ‘catalytic’ philanthropy.

The lesson of history would appear to support them. Much of the really important social change in the past century has been driven not by philanthropy but by grassroots organizing at the local level. Think of civil rights or feminism. In the webinar discussion, Kathleen Cravero, president of the Oak Foundation, believes that social change comes from ‘strong, community-based civil society organizations’. In the same discussion, Rana Kotan, from the Sabanci Foundation, points out that advocacy to change public policy to address child marriage in Turkey resulted from a grant application from a local women’s group.

Moreover, failure to engage with the grassroots may cause failure. A 2013 report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy argues that elite-driven, top-down approaches adopted by funders in the battle against climate change in the US, for example, have not achieved their goals because of a failure to involve grassroots communities directly affected by environmental harms which had the energy and resolve to take up the issues.[4]

Contributors to this special feature also emphasize the importance of grants as a flexible and powerful tool that can play a pivotal role in bringing about social change by allowing funders to engage with and spread risks across a range of ‘untested’ groups to take the lead on those issues that affect them the most, such as the case of grassroots activism around mining land rights supported by the Fund for Global Human Rights in Guatemala.

Clearly, the current shift by more and more large foundations away from the ‘front lines’ of more traditional, open-ended styles of grantmaking, often in favour of ‘big bet’ grants to a smaller number of larger, more established organizations, has implications for grassroots organizations. It cuts them out of the loop.

Grantmaking in emerging contexts
In developing and emerging contexts, dismissing grantmaking has even more significant implications. Here, philanthropic sectors are still young or emerging, and grantmaking is new or not well established. It is in these contexts that grantmaking has the greatest potential to play a role in bringing about real change that goes far beyond the transactional nature of cheque-writing. In Russia, for example, grantmaking, although now well established thanks to the efforts of philanthropy infrastructure organizations like the Russian Donors Forum and CAF Russia, dates back only 20 years. In Sub-Saharan Africa, too, the cohort of social justice grantmakers, such as the African Women’s Development Fund and TrustAfrica, are at an early stage in their existence. While the East Africa Association of Grantmakers can claim a decade of existence, its continent-wide sister, the African Grantmakers Network, was established only in 2009. Further north, the Arab Foundations Forum is a mere seven years old.

Why does grantmaking matter so much in these contexts? In the Global North, where functioning legal systems and a level of public awareness of the role of non-profits can be assumed, the role of grants might be less significant. But in contexts where trust is low, where people simply don’t believe in institutions, grants play an enormously significant role in building trust and modelling transparency and democratic good governance. As Filiz Bikmen observes, in Turkey grantmaking is so much more than the transfer of funds; it is all about increasing the capacities of civil society, fostering connections between different groups – an investment in democratization. Similarly in Africa, for so long dependent on donor aid and only just now beginning to experience the reality of a developed and indigenous African philanthropy sector, grantmaking becomes an essential tool in fostering new and more horizontal and transparent forms of mutual accountability between donors and recipients; it constitutes part of a paradigm shift towards a form of development that is driven and resourced by Africans.

The ‘retreat’ from traditional grantmaking in parts of the world where it never got established in the first place is a particular concern in terms of its effects on strengthening democratic culture and fostering social innovation, as argued by Andre Degenszajn, discussing the situation in Brazil. It also represents a harsh blow to those who have sought to introduce grantmaking – in doing so, choosing the road less followed – a task which can be fraught with challenges.
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For emerging public philanthropic institutions such as community foundations, which are both fund seekers and grantmakers, it can be an uphill task to convince potential donors to support their grantmaking programmes when their instincts are to want the community foundations to deliver programmes themselves rather than to grant funds on. Donor education becomes essential to demonstrate how giving to and through local grantmakers can offer a way for donors to spread their philanthropic resources across a broader cross-section of grassroots groups and civil society organizations and, by doing so, to spread their risks too. Giving to local grantmakers can also play an important role in creating strong, well-managed local groups and serve as a way to build important bridges between donors and beneficiaries.

Where grantmaking is so new, its easy rejection is of great concern if it encourages corporate or business-oriented donors, impressed by management school wisdom, to believe that operating their own programmes is a preferable option to partnering with civil society organizations. It serves to justify their resistance to working with non-profits, and allows them to look no further than themselves, rather than seeking to build partnerships with, and harness the expertise and experience of, others engaged in social development.

Beware all models

So far in this article, we have argued that thoughtful grantmaking can create positive social change. This view is reinforced by stories of successful grants made by grantmakers in different countries covering diverse issues ranging from same-sex partnerships in Ireland through to drones in the war zones of the Middle East, education in Brazil, micro-micro lending in America and many more.

These examples seem to counter the idea that strategic or catalytic philanthropy or philanthrocapitalism is superior to traditional philanthropy.

Does this imply that we should abandon trying to build models in philanthropy? Not necessarily, but it does mean that we need a better understanding of what different models offer. Given that the process of social change is so complex, it is unlikely that the simple three-fold FSG hierarchy will be sufficient.

A more nuanced approach can be obtained by looking at how foundations themselves actually perceive change. We have reanalysed material from a survey of 80 European foundations conducted by Selim Iltus and Barry Knight in preparation for a session at the 2013 European Foundation Centre conference called ‘From Good to Great Philanthropy’.

Questions were based on an extensive literature review on ‘what makes organizations great’ conducted by Bettina Windau from the Bertelsmann Stiftung. Based on her literature review, we identified 28 items that could transform ‘good’ work in a foundation into ‘great’ work. Examples included: ‘a first-class theory of change’, ‘a highly focused programme’, ‘the right grantees’, ‘remaining positive in the face of setbacks’ and ‘good knowledge management’.

Using a statistical technique called factor analysis, we found seven archetypes perceived by foundations as the route to greatness that foundations aspire to.

Seven routes to greatness

Passionate rationalists These foundations use a first-class theory of change. They are dedicated in what they do and always measure their impact. They are also good organizers, valuing collective impact with collaborating agencies. They are good at leveraging resources and, when necessary, find new ways of tackling old problems.

Flexible risk-takers These foundations are always optimistic and hopeful about their results. They like to take risks and have a flexible approach. Valuing learning, if things do not go well, they change course and explore new options.

3. People-centred For these organizations, it is all about people. This means the right leadership, good people in the right positions and the right allies. They also have a strong understanding of the political context.

Short-term pragmatists They value short-term gains. They also aspire to spectacular outcomes. They do not always plan in detail but they always have clear short-term plans for how to proceed and achieve results.

Focused professionals These foundations have highly focused programmes. They concentrate on a few areas and have clear objectives. They clearly define their role from the beginning and stick to it. They also stick with their grantees and make long-term commitments.

Gamblers These foundations believe in luck and not necessarily in careful planning. They also go after simple ideas. They believe any project can turn out to be a success or failure.

Big investors These believe that for foundations to be successful, they need to make big investments. They select their grantees very carefully, because they also think that the right grantee is the key. They tend to avoid social justice investments.

The first type of foundation – the passionate rationalists – looks very like ‘catalytic philanthropy’. However, the model allows for six other types. What is striking is that all of the types use grants as part of the strategy, though the role of grants is different in each case.

These results suggest that there is a variety of ways that foundations aspire to achieve greatness. Moreover, since there is a variety of ways to achieve greatness, there needs to be a variety of forms of evaluation, risk assessment, and other management techniques. These findings relate only to European foundations and it is likely that we would add to the picture if we incorporated foundations from other parts of the world.

This special feature suggests that we should be wary of coming in with a simple slogan or matrix to guide our actions. The world is more complicated than this allows for and multidimensional approaches are called for. Above all, we should run a mile from management books or consultancy advice that promote a single, simple answer – otherwise we will fall prey to unevaluated fashion. Indeed, as Andrew Kingman observes in his excellent article, which seeks to delink the idea of catalytic philanthropy as a breakthrough model from the sound development principles that lie behind it, the interventions of development and philanthropy have often been unambitious in both their framing and their delivery. When it comes to social change, we have to embrace complexity, and that means many different tools, approaches and processes which, as Kingman illustrates in his case study from Mozambique, can be driven by a ‘thoughtful NGO or a good grantmaker’ as much as by an ‘inspired philanthropist’.

Conclusion
The impressive consistency in the views of the range of grantmakers writing in this special feature suggests that grantmaking should advance, not retreat. It is clear from the contributions that follow that practitioners see grantmaking playing a central role in fostering creativity, promoting democratic participation, changing power dynamics and reducing poverty and inequality. Philanthropy has many other important tools besides grantmaking, to be sure, but the evidence suggests that grantmaking is central.

We hope this special feature will bring the debate to a higher level so that we do not all rush to the next simple solution that tells us that there is a ‘right way’, when in fact there are ‘right ways’.

This article was first published in the March 2014 edition of Alliance magazine which had a special feature on Grantmaking for Social Change

1 Paul Brest: www.nonprofitquarterly.org/philanthropy/22745-bill-schambra-s-problem-with-evidence-based-philanthropy.html 

2
 Pablo Eisenberg: http://philanthropy.com/article/Strategic-Philanthropy-/141263  

3
 Peter Buffett: www.nytimes.com/2013/07/27/opinion/the-charitable-industrial-complex.html?_r=0 

Real Results: Why strategic philanthropy is social justice philanthropy, Niki Jagpal and Kevin Laskowski, NCRP, 2013

Jenny Hodgson is executive director of the Global Fund for Community Foundations

Barry Knight is secretary of CENTRIS

Their joint publications include More than the Poor Cousin: The emergence of community foundations as a new development paradigm and A Different Kind of Wealth: Mapping a baseline of African community foundations.

Of Narratives, Networks and New Spaces: new report on Africa’s growing philanthropy support sector!

A new report, Of Narratives, Networks and New Spaces by Halima Mahomed, commissioned by the Rockefeller Foundation, on the state of Africa’s philanthropy support sector notes the significant progress that has been made over the course of the last fifteen years. This progress reflects both the growth of Africa’s own homegrown philanthropic sector as well as the investments of a number international funders such as the Ford Foundation. Both of these have also resulted in the emergence of philanthropic membership networks and associations across the continent.

The report also notes that there is still a long way to go and that there also many obstacles that need to be overcome. Firstly, until now there have been neither any research nor any sector-wide conversations about existing infrastructure: this has meant the absence of a common agenda and of an African “voice” on philanthropy. Although new opportunities exist with the rise of African philanthropies, legal and fiscal frameworks, low visibility of the sector and a need to support existing leaders and grown new leaders all also prevail.

As a global organization, based in South Africa and focused on strengthening philanthropic institutions and their networks, the GFCF welcomes this report and looks foward to seeing how some of the dilemmas, questions and opportunities it raises might be turned into action!

Read the report

‘What will make us different?’ The first five years of the Uluntu Community Foundation

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? 
TS Eliot, ‘The Wasteland’

The pipe-dream of sustainability …

Sustainability is the issue at the heart of most community foundations – and the environmental meaning of the word is as important as its organizational significance, particularly in a country and a continent subject to increasingly unpredictable rainfall and erratic climatic conditions, both of which compound the physical challenges of securing a livelihood from the land. Add to these natural circumstances a set of economic factors that has laid waste whole communities, seen poverty and unemployment reach worrying heights and gross national product nosedive, and sustainability begins to seem something of a pipe-dream. And then top all that with a political state of affairs that has made your country an international pariah, severely reduced any appeal it might have held for international investors, and threatened to damage the social cohesion of communities themselves – and you have a cocktail of difficulties that most people would run away from.

So the fact that the Uluntu Community Foundation, far from doing so, has recently recorded its fifth year of operation (it was registered in 2008) is impressive enough. That it has done so while keeping true to its founding principles and maintaining the same core of volunteer board members is doubly astounding. In this stony ground, Uluntu has laid down roots and caused branches to grow that show every chance of enduring and flourishing. Just read this, about two gardening projects:

The generous donation to the people of Sinkukwe and Zhokwe has enabled these two groups, managed by women, to start up income-generating projects from their nutrition gardens. The projects directly benefit children – particularly orphans – and the elderly by providing healthy and fresh vegetables, as well as crops each farming season. The gardens have become educational platforms and have helped impart survival skills to the women and their families. Through the income realized from the selling of garden produce, the wardens have further managed to purchase other livestock such as cattle, goats and chickens. In appreciation of the support they have received, Ms Jessie Ncube, Chairlady of the Njabulo group, had this to say, ‘We have been equipped and we will not look back but move forward with developing ourselves.’

Nutrition garden supported by Uluntu CF

How did this come about?

If, at first, …

Uluntu is an emerging community foundation based in Bulawayo, in the west of Zimbabwe. Registered in 2008, it aims to foster and support a type of development driven by local people rather than by external agencies. Indeed, this spirit of a people-centred organization is captured in the organization’s name: ‘Uluntu’ means ‘people’ in isiNdebele, the main local language of Western Zimbabwe.

In the context of much of sub-Saharan Africa, where international development aid has often crowded out notions of local philanthropy, the vision of a local philanthropic institution might be seen to be bold. In Zimbabwe, it feels beyond bold.

Economic, political and personal backgrounds

In 2013, Zimbabwe was ranked 172 out of 187 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index.[1] Hyperinflation, the demise of the ‘zim’ dollar, the crashing of the country’s economy, all created extraordinarily difficult trading environments. And the Matabeleland Provinces (North and South) are some of the poorest parts of Zimbabwe, with poverty levels estimated at 80% and unemployment at 90%. In recent years, local industry has all but ground to a halt, and the lack of economic opportunities in the region has resulted in high levels of migration to South Africa, particularly among economically active young women and men. This is where Uluntu has elected to work.

The Uluntu Community Foundation was not, in fact, the first such venture undertaken by its founding member, Inviolatta Moyo. She had previously worked in the Community Foundation for the Western Region of Zimbabwe, but the foundation had faced its own set of challenges and had eventually come to change its focus: ‘Things started too well previously,’ she says and, when economic circumstances changed, she ended up losing ‘the zeal and direction’ and becoming ‘frustrated and sometimes very confused’. Having always been convinced that community foundations were the way forward, however, she was determined not to be discouraged by this but to see it as an object lesson in how to refine the model for the next attempt.

Two things emerged from this earlier experience: her conviction that rapid growth was unlikely to lead to sustainability and her belief that success would depend on her building up a close network of relationships with others who shared her vision.

Relationships – the building blocks of Uluntu

The issue of trust was a crucial factor here: in a country where institutions have too often failed the people they should be serving, Uluntu would prioritize the building of relationships, recognizing that these can’t be built up quickly or easily and that, to many Zimbabweans, trust is an entirely new currency to be dealing in. As the political and economic circumstances in Zimbabwe evolved, the robust network of people and communities that Uluntu would gradually build up would be what set the organization apart, and what would make it a strong, valuable resource for new partners.

In this endeavour, Inviolatta’s co-trustees, the current board members of Uluntu, were first in terms of importance. They were the ones who encouraged her to embark on a new venture. But their composition and their pattern of behaviour also set the benchmark for the foundation as a whole. The board members were drawn from a range of backgrounds, with an equally mixed experience of national and international experience, and a range of skill sets – journalism, education, commerce, broadcasting and civil service – that guaranteed coverage of all the fledgling foundation’s needs and, combined, related perfectly to its mandate. There was also an equal gender mix but, perhaps more significantly even than any of this, the members were unified by a sense of all being in it together: nobody expected any allowance or stipend for their involvement but instead gave freely of their time and of their resources – hosting meetings at their homes, donating furniture, lending cars or petrol, contributing money to get Uluntu’s bank account opened. This was a shared journey they were all on together, and it was one that they were going to undertake patiently and without compromising on any of their principles. The words of Thomas à Becket in TS Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral were almost made for Uluntu:

The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed, for the wrong reason.

Listening to communities

Patience and the refusal to lose sight of their founding principles lie behind everything Uluntu does and are equally at the basis of its relationships with the communities in which it works. Some funding organizations come into communities with a clear idea of the projects they want to develop; inevitably, the communities pick up on the funders’ agenda and identify either the burgeoning project or the need for such a project, in order to secure the funding. The project may represent the community’s most important need but, equally, it may not. Uluntu likes to think it operates differently. Since relationships are at the heart of its activity, what it does first is to establish a relationship with the community, listening to its representatives and members, waiting to hear from them what their most pressing concerns and needs are.

Initially, formal and informal meetings were held with friends, acquaintances and contacts to begin to identify the priorities and concerns of various communities and groups, initially in the Matabeleland South Province. The board and staff travelled to rural areas to gauge the temperatures of the communities there, and to begin to understand where the energy may be. The communities themselves had to be the drivers of any change they wanted to see in their local contexts: the foundation never saw itself as being the leader of this process, but rather a convener, broker or catalyst for community empowerment – an institutional partner that could help translate vision to reality.

So the Uluntu staff and board would call for and facilitate meetings with the communities involved, and then would simply listen as the ideas and brainstorms began to flow. Given the high exodus of working males from the region in search of employment opportunities in neighbouring countries, many of these conversations were held with females and youth groups.

Prioritizing relationship building, Uluntu was careful to ensure that partnerships and overlapping interests were the opening topics of all discussions – not funding or the promise of money. Busani Bafana, Uluntu’s current Chair, who brings with him a journalistic background and fresh perspective to this work, explains: ‘We put our cards on the table and get to know a community. We have seen other organizations try to come in with too many ideas, solutions and funds, and it doesn’t work.’ As a result of this lengthy, community-driven process, which spanned several years, Uluntu narrowed its programmatic focus to several key areas: education, food security and livelihoods, research, social entrepreneurship – and crosscutting topics such as the environment, HIV/AIDS and gender issues.

Busani maintains that it was not difficult to convince these communities that they should in fact be the leaders of the process: ‘Local giving, no matter how small, makes a big difference in the livelihoods of disadvantaged communities. What is locally rooted is guaranteed to last, because the sense of ownership is stronger and yields deeper commitment.’ And the recipe for the foundation’s success in encouraging this grassroots leadership? ‘Trust is our currency.’

Inviolatta pursues this idea:

When you go to the community without answers, automatically the energy is with the community. They are driving the vehicles they want to move forward. When we get there and listen to them, they are already in the driver’s seat. This instills a sense of ownership and trust and they gradually open up. It may take a few meetings, but then they believe in what you are doing.

It was also critical to relate to these communities and individuals on their terms, linking larger issues back to the familiar realities of day-to-day life, and in doing so encouraging the empowerment of households as development change agents themselves. Inviolatta elaborates: ‘Just ask them: “How have you coped before? How do we add to that?” It’s about addressing poverty from the micro level. This is the taking-off point.’

Funders and authorities – the routes into communities

These communities were accessible only if the representatives of Uluntu could get to them, of course. On a practical level, this was a serious issue, as many communities and projects are more than 100 kilometres away from Bulawayo, and the roads are rudimentary. With no funds to support vehicles of its own, Uluntu had, again, to rely on the goodwill of its trustees and founding members, who offered their own means of transport – and occasionally themselves as drivers! But on a political level, the foundation could work with these communities only if they had the approval of the local authorities under whose responsibility they fell – and here again the importance of relationship building came to the fore.

To have authorization to work in the wards they had targeted, Uluntu had to make several trips to five of the seven Rural District Councils operating in the Matabeleland South Province. These meetings eventually led to the issuing of memoranda of understanding – documents required of all organizations by the government – authorizing the activities of Uluntu in the districts. This arrangement, although a practical complication, creates easy access to communities and allows both Uluntu and the local authority to monitor the situation, which is particularly useful in the event of any conflict.

Last in the network of relationships is the relationship with funders. The ultimate objective of Uluntu, of course, is to be self-sustaining and to enable communities to be self-supporting, too. As Inviolatta puts it:

Local money is important because it means you are investing in your own community. After all, charity begins at home and raising local money is essential when it comes to building local trust, and it also means more local ownership and sustainability. For me, local money is for ever: a well that you can always draw from. Like a well, if it is well constructed, it can go on for ever. People are always there, ready to help, but they need someone to provide a platform through which to give … And communities already have their own assets, probably without realizing it. They work in their own small way on a day-to-day basis and manage their own economies in absolutely fascinating ways. What Uluntu does is add value to what already exists.[2]

If the goal of the journey was to get to a point where communities could sustain the projects which Uluntu’s support had enabled them to start, the community foundation had to source funds itself. To do so would not be easy, because just as Uluntu was determined not to impose on communities the projects it thought they should be doing, so too it was adamant that funders should not be able to dictate to it the programmes they thought it should engage in. This was dramatically to limit the pool of potential supporters. Yet, once again, the determination of this approach and the patience with which the foundation was determined to build its system of operation ended up attracting the interest of like-minded funding organizations that were happy to work in the way Uluntu proposed. International funders such as the American Jewish World Service, Global Greengrants Fund, the Global Fund for Community Foundations (GFCF) and the African Women’s Development Fund have all been in sympathy with the process Uluntu is engaged in, and all have been happy to invest in the process rather than to insist on project outcomes overnight. Inviolatta is quick to acknowledge the debt Uluntu owes these organizations:

Each of these external funders has been a huge strength in our ability to be able to leverage other sources of support. It would not have been possible for us to move our dream forward without these funders. The grants have cut down our otherwise long lead-time to start collaborative projects with communities … we have moved a notch higher in fulfilling our vision.

Important though the support of international funders may be, Uluntu was also aware of the dangers of a community foundation operating in isolation and without local or regional support. As a fledgling organization, what it needed was the experience and advice of other organizations operating in a similar field and in the same broad geographical region. To this end, Uluntu deliberately sought out other foundations as partners and has formed invaluable partnerships with the West Coast Community Foundation and the Community Development Foundation for the Western Cape. Within the broader region, it has also made a point of joining larger networks such as the Southern African Community Grant Makers Forum (on which the executive director of Uluntu sits as secretary of the board), the African Grantmakers Network, and the Worldwide Initiative for Grantmaker Support (WINGS). Synergos has also been an important source of support. These combined partnerships have been able to provide Uluntu with vital input in terms of knowledge processes and ideas on development initiatives.

This intricate network of relationships – within the foundation itself, with the communities it supports and works with, with the local authorities, and with regional and international funders and supporters – has already consolidated Uluntu’s position so that, despite the currently difficult economic and political conditions, Inviolatta and her colleagues are quietly confident that they have reached a stage where they can move forward. As Busani puts it: ‘Our slow growth has paid off. I’m glad we didn’t try to expand in 2008: we would not have succeeded but would have collapsed. Development really means raising funds slowly, building relationships and trust and moving ahead slowly.’

Starting points

What Uluntu started with is a set of values and principles, not an idea of the organization’s form or function.

‘What will make us different? It’s because we care’ is how Kingsley Dinga Dube, one of the founding board members of the Uluntu Community Foundation, used to define the work of the organization in the early days of its existence.

Founding principles

The premise on which Uluntu’s original staff (the same as are there today) began the foundation in 2008 was an absolute rootedness in the community and a belief in communities’ power to solve their own problems – a shared vision of a local Zimbabwean philanthropic grantmaking institution which could foster and support a type of development driven by local people rather than by external agencies.[3] Their belief that every person has something to give and that individuals should be put in charge of their own futures was unwavering and was, they felt convinced, the bricks on which independent, self-reliant communities would be built.

Patience and transparency – Uluntu’s early stages

Building the board

Uluntu started with seven citizens from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city, the founding members of the organization. With no office at their disposal, these members met where they could and established a pattern of working that has remained unchanged. Their first significant decision was to take their time, not to jump in at the deep end with solutions at the ready, but to complete a multi-year strategic plan, and carry out thorough baseline surveys to better focus their programming[4] – to move in an informed direction. This notion of patience comes up constantly when speaking with Inviolatta, who compares it with the tight timelines of more-traditional development projects: ‘We know that quick results often don’t last and that process is everything.’ According to her, a good part of the burgeoning institution’s first three years of existence was spent ‘lying low’, populating the board and learning to work together through regular meetings and intensive hands-on workshops.

Board members – drawn, as already stated, from a range of backgrounds (all of them relevant to Uluntu’s work) and featuring an equal mix of men and women – immediately recognized that the shared journey they were on required a different attitude from that of many other boards in NGOs across Africa, where compensation of board members has become standard practice. No member expected a sitting allowance or stipend in return for their time, efforts and personal expenses; on the contrary, the foundation saw its board members as assets rather than overheads. Significantly, the board also followed Inviolatta’s lead when it comes to patience and persistence, and recognized that the proper establishment of a community foundation was not something that happened overnight, or even within a year or two. Here, as elsewhere, the principle of doing things correctly rather than quickly has been the cornerstone of all Uluntu’s activities since its 2008 founding.

One of the extraordinary things about Uluntu – and no doubt a key element in its success – is that the same staff that began with the foundation in 2008 are still there today: its volunteer board members continue to pour themselves (not to mention their own resources) into the organization’s work. That fact alone is proof of an institution that truly values, and is truly valued by, the individuals who are fortunate enough to be involved in it.

Building the governance structure

The board also recognized that at the heart of any future successes there would have to be a robust governance structure, with dedicated individuals at the helm of the foundation’s leadership. Busani speaks about the significance of small indicators – such as conducting an annual external audit of Uluntu’s finances – that send the right message to the foundation’s partners about transparency and accountability: ‘So that when someone decides to invest in the organization, they will not have questions or doubts. They will invest in us because we have gone beyond the basic standards.’ Uluntu has developed key governance instruments and provided a record of them in policy documents for finance, administration, human resources, grant making, and the roles and responsibilities of the Board. These documents, prepared in line with internationally accepted practice, have been reviewed by an independent consultancy firm, which offered this service pro bono.

Moving forward

Uluntu has had to overcome, and continues to grapple with, enormous logistical challenges to go about its work. For the first couple of years, the foundation operated on very modest resources, working out of Internet cafés, and then from a makeshift office in Inviolatta’s house, all the time depending on volunteer labour and the moral and material support of its board. In 2009, a small planning grant from the GFCF helped support some start-up costs, including basic office equipment, board development and strategic planning. More recently, the foundation has become more established; it now has three staff members and operates from a modest two-room office in a Bulawayo suburb. The move to a permanent office has been a milestone, but it is not without its share of headaches – power outages and water shortages continue to be recurring challenges. And, as mentioned earlier, the distances between the Uluntu office and the projects it supports are considerable, and the roads leading there perilously unpredictable!

On top of these physical logistical difficulties, many of the groups and communities that Uluntu works with do not have bank accounts, which means that the staff has to be somewhat creative in how it transfers its support. When working with the women active in the nutrition gardens, for example, Uluntu negotiated reasonable prices for related equipment and materials directly with suppliers, and then purchased these items directly on behalf of the communities. (This is a useful strategy even when working with groups with bank accounts, as high banking transaction costs can significantly reduce the relatively small amounts of money being moved.)

From these early days, and having spent time putting down roots and building trust at the community level through some initial projects in rural communities, Uluntu has more recently been able (with the support of the international grassroots funders named elsewhere) to develop a number of key programmes around youth development, education, food security and livelihoods. In 2011 and 2012, with support from the GFCF, Uluntu staff and board members participated in three joint learning events on youth civic engagement with community foundation peers in South Africa,[5] and a global meeting of GFCF partners in Romania. The GFCF has provided support for Uluntu’s institutional development and its youth programmes to the end of 2013.

Youth civic engagement peer exchange

The Uluntu Community Foundation Annual Report 2012 gives the most up-to-date accounts of Uluntu’s activities in the fields of education, young people, research, and food security and livelihoods. Despite a difficult economic environment of constantly rising costs of living, enlarged budgets and reduced funds, the foundation remains upbeat. As Inviolatta relates in her director’s report:

In spite of all these difficulties, we came out winners, as we were able to reach out to the communities that we needed to get to. For an organization as small as ours, to enable an entire community and their livestock to access safe drinking water was a great accomplishment. This was a year affected by a severe drought that saw thousands of livestock dying in the entire region. The drought threatened human life and wild animals as well. How good, then, to our ears, to hear one villager remarking, ‘What would we have done without this borehole? Both us and our livestock would have all been wiped out.’

The world outside … the world inside

Uluntu is already exploring ways of growing its global network, with a view to enticing well-wishers, friends, and donors to establish a Friends of Uluntu network that can help the organization set up an endowment fund outside Zimbabwe, while the country’s financial situation stabilizes. A similar project is needed inside the country, to grow the elusive local funding from corporates and individuals, particularly aimed at the building of an endowment. Uluntu is not naïve about the difficulties surrounding this and, more widely, about bringing the issue of philanthropy to the attention of the public and potential supporters. Further down the road, this might call for a specific role for the country’s middle class, which was effectively wiped out following Zimbabwe’s currency devaluation in 1997 and political events since 2000. In the meantime, Uluntu stretches the modest resources at its disposal to achieve maximum impact. In 2012, the foundation granted $7,500 US dollars, but naturally hopes this figure will increase as the organization builds non-restricted funds.

A model for the future?

After its first five years, Uluntu is cautiously optimistic about what lies in store for the institution, as well as the future of Zimbabwe. Part of the organizational strategic plan is to develop the foundation further, but Busani is quick to note that Uluntu is wary about the speed and scope of organizational growth, and he recognizes the importance of maintaining Uluntu’s core values and ideals: ‘We are willing to wait for things to happen. We are in this for the long haul.’ Inviolatta agrees: ‘We aren’t thinking of a community foundation with hundreds of staff, many offices, or with a large international budget. Everything should remain low-cost and should add value to what is already being done. The last thing we want is for the community to feel that we are inaccessible because we have become this huge corporate.’

Consolidating funding and building an endowment is an ambitious goal for the foundation, but as Inviolatta cautions: ‘This should be grown internally in Zimbabwe and should not be entirely from the outside. We have to make our own people believe and act on philanthropy.’ Uluntu is firmly committed to this goal, because local philanthropy is a powerful catalyst for development change. But it is equally determined to bring together local and global philanthropists so that they may learn from each other, identify shared areas of interest and develop partnerships (these partnerships might also include government departments and agencies, and other organizations engaged in community development). ‘It is only when we work together,’ Busani says, ‘that we can win the war on poverty.’

As the foundation looks forward, it remains committed to building up local philanthropic support within the community: even in such difficult economic times, the foundation has received small donations from its board members as well as volunteers and in-kind support. And the plan is to increase grant making to local groups, normally a key function of a community foundation, and to strive as much as possible to devolve decision-making and leadership to its partners.

Beyond the initial hurdle of encouraging community ownership of initiatives, Uluntu will also continue to strive to unlock local resources and assets to address the issues it works on, rather than leaving communities entirely dependent on external sources of assistance. These local assets are about much more than just traditional currency, though, as Inviolatta explains:

Money is in short supply and people in Zimbabwe know how to give, but they also need to know that giving doesn’t have to be financial. Volunteering, helping in the community, and contributing ideas – what if you were able to give in a different way? Borrowing from the words of John Paul II, ‘No one is so poor that he has nothing to give, and nobody is so rich that he has nothing to receive.’

No one is too poor to give and no one too rich to receive – this is what is different about Uluntu’s inclusive and accessible recipe for development, and what moves it away from the survival strategies of the past. As Busani proudly explains: ‘Whatever we have started can be sustained by the communities themselves. Nothing is better than that.’ This is the vision of how independent, self-reliant communities will be built – and, in Zimbabwe, this is the answer that the Uluntu Community Foundation has provided to the question with which it started: ‘What will make us different?’

 


[1] United Nations (2013) Human Development Report 2013: The Rise of the South – Human Progress in a Diverse World, New York: United Nations Development Programme.

[2] An inspiring example of this is the foundation’s successful partnership with women-led groups in Gwanda North and South (referred to in the quotation on page 1). The community in Gwanda North is currently engaged in agricultural projects that include nutrition gardens. These not only provide nourishment to families but also have become income-generating projects in their own right. By selling extra vegetables, the women have been able to raise enough money to buy animals, which in turn can be even greater sources of income. Tracts of the garden have also been sold off to purchase exercise books and pens for children. Inviolatta notes: ‘These women have themselves received, but they have also passed it on. They felt the need to engage in philanthropy themselves and this is beyond the usual sharing they typically do.’ This multiplier effect has had positive benefits for all involved in the community; all Uluntu had to do was provide some initial resources and materials such as fencing, and to arrange for a borehole to be drilled for and equipped.

[3] It is this that led Uluntu to call itself a ‘community foundation’, rather than to opt for another label. As the Global Fund for Community Foundation’s 2012 report on community foundations in Africa, A Different Kind of Wealth, states, by calling itself a community foundation Uluntu has joined a small yet potent handful of organizations across the continent which draw inspiration from multiple sources and blend local cultures, lessons of historical experiences, and analysis of the role and limitations of external development aid as they go about their work. Remember, too, that ‘uluntu’ means ‘people’ in isiNdebele, one of the local languages spoken in Zimbabwe

[4] One such survey, to identify specific problems facing young people and to come up with strategies and action plans to solve these problems, was the Robert Sinyoka case study, which features in Uluntu’s 2012 annual report.

[5] West Coast Community Foundation and the Community Development Foundation of Western Cape.

Would it be possible ….? Here and now, together locally – in Hungary! Reflections on building a community foundation in Hungary

Tamás Scsaurszki reflects on the process of establishing the Ferencváros Community Foundation, focusing on how the organization was founded and its underlying philosophy as well as some of its current challenges and hopes for the future.

Would it be possible to start a community foundation? That was the question two colleagues and I asked ourselves in early 2009.  We believed that a new organization along the lines of a community foundation might best help to address the greatest need we faced in our daily work i.e. the lack of independent grant money which did not come with strings attached – whether it was local government interference or else corporate interests.  What was really missing from the local picture was independent sources funding, which could support exploratory or unconventional activities or which address ‘uncomfortable’ issues and where decisions are taken by people with experience and knowledge rather than by state bureaucrats or corporate managers.

Tamás Scsaurszki and son

From my previous work as a programme officer at the C. S. Mott Foundation, I knew that a community foundation could potentially address this issue, as well as others, such as developing local philanthropy, strengthening social cohesion and mobilising people to shape their communities and lives through their own actions.

We were also aware that several failed attempts to establish community foundations in Hungary over the last 20 years had cast a negative light on new efforts. ‘It’s a good idea, but it won’t work here,’ we heard from many people.  The foreign aid programmes and private foundations (and most importantly the C. S. Mott Foundation, which played a crucial role in the start-up and development of community foundations in all other countries of the region) have long gone from Hungary.

The start

Having played with the idea for months, we decided to

–           Work in one particular community (and not nationally) and we chose the community where we live, Ferencváros, the 9th district of Budapest;

–           Start without funding so that we would have the freedom to design and implement the work the way we thought was the best. In the course of our work we did find some funds that provided us the necessary flexibility. As a result we raised €32,000 for some of the preparatory work for the period of June 2009 to May 2011;

–           Ask two foreign friends with relevant expertise, Alina Porumb from the Association for Community Relations in Romania and Boris Strečanský from the Center for Philanthropy in Slovakia, to help.

As a first practical step, we conducted about 60 face-to-face interviews with a wide variety of people from the district to find out a) how they felt about our community/district; and b) what they thought about the community foundation concept.  Most people interviewed expressed a great deal of affection and care for our community, but to our disappointment they had almost nothing to say about the community foundation concept.  We produced a very nice, easy-to-understand brochure about community foundations, sent it to people before the interview, and all people commented was that ‘it was a very beautiful publication’.

The cover of our ‘beautiful’, but little-read brochure

On the other hand, we were extremely happy to find that the environment and the community were conducive to a community foundation and, more importantly, our group of 3 was extended by 10 more people, whose main motivation in joining us was to do something for the district’s community (only later did they develop an interest in exactly how the concept would become reality).

In the autumn of 2010 the group agreed to call itself the Organising Group for the Ferencváros Community Foundation.  Members of the group included owners of local SMEs (small and medium enterprises), people working for big companies based in the district, NGO and community activists, an artist and a director of a local government-owned company.  The Organising Group met every other week and its work had two major directions: a) to plan and implement activities promoting the concept and our work in the community (e.g. holding an international conference, organising a football cup for district schools connected with promoting local philanthropy); and b) to prepare the registration and future programmes of the organisation.

As the work became more serious and started to show results, bringing satisfaction and fun for the group, we captured the most important rules of co-operation among members to lay the basis of an enabling organisational culture.  When the Ferencváros Community Foundation (FCF) was registered on the 30th of December 2011, members of the Organising Group became trustees and we felt that we knew each other fairly well and had a good idea of what we wanted to do.

The community and the foundation

Ferencváros is a central district of Budapest.  It is a large and mixed community, located along one side of the Danube.  Historically it has been home to aristocrats, intellectuals, artisans and labourers, and became an attractive place for workers from the countryside to settle. Since the political changes in 1989, some parts of the district have benefited from extensive urban regeneration programmes while other parts have fallen prey to deep poverty.  It is home to the Central Market, the National Theatre, the Palace of Arts, several university buildings, as well as numerous galleries and restaurants which have helped to make parts of the district popular with tourists. The district became the base for a number of international and Hungarian companies, and it also has a thriving SME community.  Currently around 55 thousand people live in the district.  It is a very diverse population, and recent years have seen growing inequality and stresses in terms of education, housing and employment.

When the community foundation started its work we had to find a healthy balance between responding to the needs and expectations of the community and the long-term requirement of building an organisation, a vehicle for present and future work. Due to the lack of outside support we also had to raise funds locally for both programmes and organisational development at the same time.

The community foundation has two sides to its work. The first involves raising funds for grant-making and operational expenses.  FCF raises money only from individuals and companies ‘attached’ to the district and it does not apply for (local) government grants or contracts.  The other side to the foundations work involves a range of goals, including promoting the concept and practice of local philanthropy, raising the self-esteem of the district’s community, highlighting specific issues and last, but not least, increasing the visibility of FCF.  To this end, we created a special fund for a very active informal group so that they can take advantage of the community foundation’s legal entity when raising funds.  In addition, we organised a football cup for the district’s elementary schools combined with raising funds for the schools’ development, as well as run a Christmas campaign in December 2012.

Poster for FCF’s Christmas Campaign In addition, in 2012 the trustees put a lot of work into establishing the basic infrastructure of the community foundation (website, office, etc.) and promoting FCF in the district through events and face-to-face meetings.  Three days have special importance for us: the summer trustee retreat held in late June to discuss issues of strategic importance [picture no. 2.], a year-end meeting with FCF’s friends, supporters, current and potential partners to talk about the passing year’s work and plans for the future, and an informal Christmas gathering only for trustees and their families to close the year’s work.

As for the ‘hard facts’: the foundation’s endowment fund was €700 ($900), put together by the trustees and community foundation activists from neighbouring countries.  In 2012, we raised approximately €4,500 ($5,800) out of which we spent €1,650 ($2,128) on grants, €1,800 ($2,322) on programmatic expenses, and the remaining €1,050 ($1,354) is on our bank account.  About two-thirds of our income came from individuals, the rest from local SMEs.  The local media has featured our work ten times during the year of 2012, including a few longer newspaper and television interviews.

Challenges

If the preceding description felt like an easy journey it is not without reason:  we do approach our challenges with a strong ‘can-do’ attitude and we like to have a good laugh when we are in a difficult or awkward situation. But we do have serious challenges.

Trustees during the summer retreat in June 2012

We started the community foundation during the worst economic crisis since the political changes in 1989. Uncertainty in the financial climate, weakening business activity, rising unemployment, increasing living costs, are all pushing people and companies into ‘survival’ mode and reducing the energy for philanthropy and care for others.

So far FCF has failed to attract major donors and donations. Having a few major donors would have helped its start tremendously: they would have enabled it to make more grants, made it more visible, etc. But we find it difficult to convince any of the major companies to support a new organisation. More importantly, our voice is not strong enough to influence them to look at our district, where their headquarters are based, in a special way. When talking about major donors we also mean wealthy individuals: we are yet to discover and approach them!

Without in-country experts, a support organisation at the national level, and the possibility of participating in most international programmes, FCF often times feels like an isolated organisation compared with its cousins in neighbouring countries. What we miss the most is not money, but a regular and good chat about our work and developments in the field of community foundations with people who understand.

Position in the global community foundation field

It feels useful for others and ourselves to position FCF in relation to some of the most commonly used “landmarks” of the community foundation field, to state what we are and what we are not.

FCF started as a trustee-led organisation and we are committed to continue this way.  In addition to taking all important decisions, which is required by law, it also means that trustees are informed, feel a strong ownership over the organisations and do a significant amount of volunteer work on a regular basis as we do not have any paid employees.  This ensures FCF’s rootedness in the community and resilience vis-à-vis challenges.  The community foundation is meant to be a platform where people from all walks of life feel comfortable to work for a defined common purpose.

We regard the community foundation as a mechanism providing opportunities to people to participate with their own resources in the development of their community: donors with their cash, others with their ideas, time, volunteer work, etc. therefore we expect our partners, even our donors, to be active.  It is very important for us to connect the different groups of people with whom we work (e.g. donors with grantees, businesses with local residents) with each other, since we believe that these personal encounters hold the opportunities to create a more cohesive, stronger community.

The primary tool to attain our goal is the development of local, private (non-state) philanthropy: on one hand, we would like to encourage and enable individuals and businesses to give (so we are not interested in channelling big amounts of foreign or national funds into our community to implement projects) while we wish to inspire others to act as an expression of ‘loving their fellow men’ (therefore we see FCF as an organisation supporting people).  We see practising philanthropy a lot more than a rational exchange of money (or other resources) for clear conscience, fame or media attention.  With philanthropy one can achieve things that cannot be achieved in any other way.

We are not engaged in any of the major issues of social justice, inclusion, participation, etc. affecting our community, but we are hoping to start working on them when our institution becomes strong enough and we find the right point of entry for us.

To find out more about the Ferencváros Community Foundation, please send an email to Tamás Scsaurszki

PhotoSpeak: Photography: a new lens on youth civic engagement?

On 25th April, the GFCF hosted its second webinar focusing on community foundations and their work with young people. The webinar focused on the work of two organizations – one from South Africa and the other from the United States – which have used photography as a platform through which to amplify the voices of young people in the community.

The Community Development Foundation Western Cape, a young but dynamic community foundation based in Cape Town, is now in the third year of its PhotoSpeak programme, which takes a rights-based approach to youth development and engages young people through the medium of photography. Executive Director, Beulah Fredericks, described how the programme had evolved from the pilot phase – in which young people were simply invited to reflect their community through photos – to its current form where the emphasis is on “Governance through the eyes of youth”. Aspiring photographers are now encouraged to capture images of day to day events in their communities that somehow connect with South Africa’s bill of rights (whether by illustration of that right being claimed, or it be denied) and the overall objective is not only to observe, document and lead to greater awareness around political and economic rights but also to use the photographic images as a launching point from which to discuss solutions and actions, as well as individual responsibilities.

In the words of one of the PhotoSpeak participants:

“Through the photos taken others were able to acknowledge and appreciate triumphs, hardships, and other aspects our youth are facing. Success of the project was dependent upon the youth. Because of the vision of The Community Development Foundation PhotoSpeak and linking youth with communities, as well as presenting a positive outlet for teens to express themselves was possible.”

The inspiration for this programme came out of a study visit Beulah made to the United States in the early days of the community foundation which included a site visit to the Golden Gate Community Centre in Phonenix, a grantee of the Arizona Community Foundation. Sarah Gonzalez, current director of the community centre, also joined the webinar as a presenter. She talked about the GGCC’s “Photo Vision” programme and how the centre used it as a mechanism through which to determine what young people thought was important to address in their communities. Like CDFWC, for whom “PhotoSpeak” is part of a larger strategy to encourage young people’s participation in the community as well as a constituency-building effort for the foundation itself, “Photo Vision” is not just a stand-alone project but rather feeds into a larger more integrated development initiative spear-headed by the community centre.

Both presentations from the webinar will soon be available on the GFCF website (presentations from our previous webinar on YouthBank are already available).