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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Alina Porumb focuses on values underpinning community philanthropy in Olga Alexeeva Prize Lecture

 

The 2015 Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize was awarded to Alina Porumb, Strategic Philanthropy Programme Director of Romania’s Association for Community Relations (ARC). On the occasion of the Emerging Markets Philanthropy Forum, hosted by the China Foundation Center and held in Beijing from 23 – 24 November 2015, Alina Porumb delivered the Olga Alexeeva Prize Lecture, focusing on the values underpinning community philanthropy in Romania: 

“The Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize is a great honour and a deeply meaningful recognition of my contribution to philanthropy.

Firstly, due to its connection to the memory of Olga: I remember her courageous, clear and strong voice at the international conferences that I attended. She was an advocate for philanthropy, but also for reflecting critically on our work and doing philanthropy well. Olga stands in my memory as a person of high integrity and high standards, as someone for whom half measures are not enough, who is great at identifying the next step and seeing the potential of each situation. I am grateful for the community of philanthropy professionals around the world who took on the responsibility of managing the Award. Though this, they are bringing to surface inspirational leaders and great work in the field of philanthropy globally, expanding the reach of these practices. Thank you for keeping Olga’s voice strong. Thank you for carrying her legacy. Thank you for taking the next step for a community of sharing, learning and appreciation between peers working to expand philanthropy in contexts in which it is not yet mainstream.

Secondly, this prize is meaningful because it can be celebrated among peers. 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. Many of my fellow nominees have been engaged in this work for at least 10 years and sometimes longer. I am honored to be part of a community of philanthropy practitioners in emerging societies, one that understands, values and appreciates the complexity as well as creativity of this work.

Thirdly, it is very meaningful to me that this nomination came from the Romanian community foundations, a field that I have helped build and expand. This feedback from the field and the genuine appreciation beyond divides of institutional politics, in a context in which we’re better at criticizing than supporting those who take leadership, was deeply moving to me. Genuine appreciation, like philanthropy, is truly a gift. It cannot be demanded, it can only be offered. Genuine appreciation, like philanthropy, helps build communities and heals the wounds of division and isolation that we feel in our work. It also helps foster and expand the talents inside that community.

The Romanian community foundations movement has grown in the last ten years, from an idea to 15 foundations (and still counting). More than 40% of the Romanian population has now access to a community foundation, and newer ones can base their work on the experiences of other communities.

The success for the community foundations in Romania is not the result of my work. It is the result of many talented and inspiring leaders – both from community foundations, but also from partners, donors and support organizations in Romania and internationally. My role was rather in building and safeguarding a space where all these talents and resources could come together and strengthen each other; a long term perspective that offered inspiration and guidance; and a fierce belief that through steady work, obstacles will gradually dissolve, that even if we don’t yet know how, we will learn to make it through.

I have brought to this work the values of my generation and my cultural space. I was 13 when Romania has changed a long-term totalitarian regime and started with high hopes, but fragile steps, to build itself as a democratic society, learning from the experience of other countries and reconnecting with its own past. But even before this change, signs of freedom were growing stronger in society. 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. I was 19 when I translated a workshop on advocacy, 21 when I started a local branch of a democracy NGO, 25 when I led a research on the grantmakers support for NGOs in Romania.

Being a part of the international philanthropic community, I have learned about community foundations being centers of hope, about the need to invest trust and look for leaders who will be there ten years onward, carrying their work with passion. C.S. Mott Foundation, WINGS, Global Fund for Community Foundations, The Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society at CUNY, Center for Philanthropy Slovakia, UK, Canada and US (community) foundations networks have provided opportunities for learning for me and my Romanian colleagues and we are deeply grateful for this support. I listened to professionals around the world, but more importantly I have observed them in action and been inspired by their work and leadership. This way, I could create my own understanding of what good philanthropy practice is. Then I tried it out and learned from what was working and what was failing. Having received all this knowledge and support, there was no choice but to pass it forward, to encourage leaders of communities to find their inspiration and then refine their own understanding through action and reflection. I have recently heard the story of a donor who felt morally obliged to donate for a scholarship because his grandfather had been supported as well to get higher education more than 50 years ago. We know from our experience that generosity multiplies. Each gift we make will motivate others to give as well and each courageous act we take will inspire others too. So please keep doing this good work.

Some highlights of community foundations work in Romania:

  • Over 1.5 million US$ were invested in local communities through more than 1000 grants and 500 scholarships.
  • Over 10,000 donors contributed only in the last year through sport-based fundraising events.
  • Romanians have a strong interest in supporting children and youth and the future leaders, with about one forth of the grants and all scholarship going towards education. Health, social needs, community spaces, culture and environment are the next supported fields.
  • Many community foundations support giving circles and youth-led philanthropy.

All this work comes with a high level of energy and creativity, a drive to see opportunities and find ways to deal with challenges. It also comes with a strong amplifying effect, creating a movement of generous and active people and communities across Romania. Also, beyond these more immediate results, the key success of the program lays in the creation of a sustainable local infrastructure for philanthropy and civil society engagement that continues to expand and diversify its work.

I would venture to say that the success of community foundations is a combination of broad trends in Romanian society and good timing. But the driving force is the quality of the leadership, with generous and committed individuals supporting this work, each in its role, from local to international levels. In the Romanian context, this came through the emergence of a layer of young professionals, educated after the transition to democracy and connected to what was happening internationally through travel, work or Internet. Together with an active choice to stay in their community, to build a family and invest in the future of their children, they have become more aware of the resources they had as well as the need to look for community based (rather than individual) solutions.

My exciting job was to find and support these motivated leaders and offer, through a network of engaged partners and supporters, access to knowledge and flexible financial support, that allowed for local decision-making on priorities. Study trips, workshops and conferences were helpful in knowing local and international practices, but also in building a ‘community of community foundations’.

What is next? While community foundations managed to reach out to mobile and active parts of the communities and engage them in taking leadership to support local needs, there are still many complex issues facing more vulnerable and excluded groups. There are already successful examples of community foundations supporting inter-generational projects, reaching out to rural areas and acting against discrimination of roma, but all these are areas that call for further engagement. There is a need to stimulate communities to look beyond what they know and are familiar with, towards spaces and groups that they don’t yet know so well, to help them bridge their inner divides, build trust and practice the values of generosity and solidarity. Or in the words of Bucharest community foundation, to support all the inhabitants of their community to feel at home.

Why is it important to continue to build philanthropy based on these values? Latest events, many violent and traumatic, have placed a mirror for our societies to help us define how we want to go about building our future. As of last week, Romania has a new government, with the previous one resigning after massive protests sparked by a fire with tragic consequences at a rock concert in a club with the symbolic name of Colectiv (collective) two weeks ago. Over 50 people lost their lives and over 150 were injured.

The fire had such strong consequences due to poor design and implementation of fire safety regulations. After the event, lots of similar places, but also schools, kindergartens, concerts or sport arenas were revealed to be missing the ‘stamp’ of the from fire department, pointing to a systemic problem. The public accused the corruption, but also lack of care from politicians to issues of public safety. Good debates were carried, but there was also lots of anger and collective blaming.

Romania called for better leaders and competent managers, but also for reflection on how each of us contributes to maintaining a public system that under performs. Clarifying the space of society in the act of governance became a central piece of the debate. While Romanian society is no longer patient, these are exactly the type of changes that cannot happen from one day to the other, the type of changes that require long term vision, collective talent and gradual built up that community foundations can aspire to contribute to. There is a need for a long-term, systemic and ‘quiet and long term revolution’ as my colleague from Sibiu community foundation calls our work.

Colectiv fire and the collective wake-up call that it has sparked came in a wider context of tragic violence cause by terrorism and extremism internationally. Within just two weeks, a Russian plane was crashed, a suicide bombing took place in Beirut and a series of killings with automatic guns took place in Paris. Romania had not recovered yet from the emotions of the Colectiv tragedy, but has been horrified to learn about the events in Paris. Some, but much less, found out about the events in Beirut as well. And reactions of solidarity and shock, of fear and defensiveness as well as of prejudgment and discrimination continued as they did in other places in the world as well.

A poignant sign posted in the Romanian debates was showing that ‘we want change, but we don’t want to be the ones to change’. It carries a strong message that more people are ready to stop the blame game and take responsibility. Even if what happens to our world is so far from us that we cannot fully understand or relate to. Even if we feel overwhelmed with the size and complexity of the issues. Even there is not a balanced reflection in the international media of all these events or particularly when these events are reflected differently through the lenses of geography, ethnicity, race or religion. We see how violence and fear lead to more violence, but also to more fear, stereotyping, and closing in. What happens globally is strongly linked with the local and national realities. From all the corners of the world we need to step in to care for the whole world. It is our world too.

Individually and collectively, we need to take responsibility beyond our immediate environment. To practice generosity, solidarity and compassion, the values connected to the understanding of philanthropy as ‘love for humankind’. And practice less acceptance of intolerance. We need to step up our game and really reflect if our philanthropy practice is truly based on all these values. Also to think what we can do to further promote them further, proactively engaging faith based and secular communities, media and IT, businesses and government, friends, families and organizations in making sure that our societies are really based on the philanthropic values of solidarity and compassion. And the more resources we have – access to knowledge, networks, money, time or talent – the more these also come with a responsibility for the whole, be it a community or the world.

In light of these challenges, 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?

Even if we don’t yet know how, together we can learn to make it through.”

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).

Can African grantmakers transcend past development strategies?

In 2014, the outbreak of Ebola in the West African countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone sent a chill around the world. The disease claimed over 11,000 lives, the majority in those three countries. However, it was the handful of cases that were reported in Europe and the United States that really fuelled the headlines. Suddenly the world’s attention was on “Africa” and a continent made up of 54 countries and over a billion people, which shrank dramatically in the popular imagination to a rather tiny corner of West Africa.

One of the effects of this global panic was that the Third African Grantmakers Network Conference that had been due to take place in Ghana – in West Africa yes, but not affected by Ebola – in November 2014 was cancelled. Cancelled, that is, until the Foundation for Civil Society in Tanzania stepped in and proposed Arusha, Tanzania as an alternate venue, for a July 2015 date.

It was highly appropriate, therefore, that a topic for discussion at the conference was that of African philanthropy’s role in disaster response.

“How can we challenge the perception that Africa is always ‘saved’ by outsiders?” asked Theo Sowa of the African Women’s Development Fund, “When, in fact, the people who ‘saved’ Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, were from those countries, not from International NGOs.” In the case of Ebola, it was a small grant from the Urgent Action Fund-Africa that had sent a Ugandan doctor to West Africa to raise early warnings about the outbreak of the disease. And further south, the Southern Africa Trust organized its own response: although far from the epicentre of the crisis, the organization was quick to see the knock-on effects that Ebola was having across the continent.

Theo Sowa (2nd from R) & panelists discuss disaster response at the 2015 AGNIncreasingly, observed Kepta Obati, local African institutions – because they have strong local networks and an ear to the ground – are being called upon to respond to emergency situations, whether or not it is their area of expertise. Certainly, that has been the experience within the GFCF network, where local partners have found themselves at the epicentres of floods, hurricanes and earthquakes: they respond whether this moves them “off-mission” or not.

Conference participants heard many powerful stories of the local, often “below the radar” responses of different kinds of African philanthropic institutions, responding creatively to extraordinary situations on the ground. They are developing new business models that build communities’ capacities and assets as an alternative to the “projectization” of traditional development aid. An underlying theme throughout the conference was the idea that “African philanthropy” is nothing new and that practices and cultures of solidarity and support are stronger and more established across this continent than other regions of the world. They may even be a defining feature of African communities. While speakers emphasised the implicit strengths and potential of African philanthropy, however, a number of questions and dilemmas emerged, both explicitly and by implication:

  • Being a local philanthropic institution in Africa can certainly offer all manner of advantages and benefits when it comes to fostering local development: a long-term view and institutional memory, proximity to the ground, an appreciation of the complexity of context. However, none of it means anything if an African grantmaker simply adopts all the behaviours – so hotly criticized in Arusha – of external donors, with their upward accountability and power dynamics.
  • Reconciling the philanthropy of the wealthy with the philanthropy of the poor. Organized African philanthropy is rapidly growing and much of is it associated with the assets of the extremely wealthy. At the same time the established narrative of African philanthropy tends to emphasise giving and solidarity systems – the survival strategies, if you like – of the poor. How to bridge the two? What is the role of multi-donor institutions that can unlock assets across different demographic groups, including the middle class, who still have few organized giving options at their disposal?
  • Encouraging organized systems of giving is one thing, but how do we ensure they address and do not reinforce long-term structural issues of inequality and marginalization? The “Kenyans for Kenya” campaign, for example, raised more than US $7 million for drought and famine relief in the north part of the country, but did it result in long-term changes for poor communities there?
  • Learning from the experience of decades of “bad” development practices. More than any other region of the world, Africa’s civil society sector and its communities have been on the receiving end of poorly formulated, costly and often ineffective development programmes. How can its emerging local foundation sector learn from those mistakes and resolve to do things differently?

These complex questions need to be addressed if the African philanthropic sector is to start to define its role, its values and its way of working. A good job for a regional network perhaps? With a new name, the Africa Philanthropy Network, new director, Karen Sai, and a new board, let’s hope this home-grown network is up to the job.

 

By: Jenny Hodgson, GFCF Executive Director

This piece originally appeared on the Alliance Magazine website.

 

 

Growing philanthropy in Mongolia: Q & A with MONES, the Mongolian Women’s Fund

The GFCF spoke to Bolor Legjeem, a board member of MONES, the Mongolian Women’s Fund, and asked her about their efforts to build a culture of organized giving for social causes.

GFCF: Could you tell us a bit more about the Philanthropy Day you organized in November?

Mongolian Women’s Fund (MONES), since its establishment in 2000, has celebrated Philanthropy Day every year on November 15th. For many years, our main goal was the promotion of the concept of philanthropy, with a focus on women’s rights and social justice, and raising funds was a secondary goal. Gradually, after we’d tried different ways of celebrating, from a week-long media campaign, to a big conference of non-profits, and then to a series of public lectures by prominent Mongolians, we came to realize that encouraging and supporting giving is actually the best way to talk about philanthropy.

Bolor Legjeem

In fact, the Mongolian language does not have a direct translation of the word “philanthropy.” The word we use, “buyan”, is closer to the English word “charity”, which is not what we do. So we decided to use the word “philanthropy,” which sounds a bit alien. Actually, the “fundraising for social causes” part of our work sounds alien too. Until 1990, under the socialist state, the communist party was the sole caretaker of social issues. This means that even today the majority of giving by people is channeled through and to personal networks. So you can see that giving for social causes is still novel in Mongolia.

This year, for the first time, MONES decided to extend the usual 1-2 weeks of  our Philanthropy celebration to an entire month of a fundraising campaign. And, this year, we tried for the first time a new way of raising funds, a “100 Leaders Relay Campaign”, which we learnt about from our sister fund, the Korean Foundation for Women. The main purpose of this 1-month campaign was to extend the network of our individual donors by recruiting leaders. Each leader, besides making a donation herself, was to raise money from another 3-5 people from her network on behalf of MONES. In past campaigns, the donors who made donations to MONES were our end goal. This year, we made an effort to mobilize the donors and turn them into fundraisers.

On November 30th, we closed the 100 Leaders Relay campaign and on December 3rd we held a press conference and announced the results of our campaign to public. When we look at the actual results of our campaign, we know that we did not reach our goal of our campaign, as we were able to recruit only 80 leaders, not 100. But, when we look at the bigger picture we see that, although we may not have reached our goal of recruiting 100 leaders, but we were able to encourage our 80 Leaders to bring in additional 300 individual donors. If we’d organized this campaign our traditional way, we would’ve raised money from 80 donors only. By turning our 80 donors into MONES spokespeople and fundraisers we were able to reach out to 300 new donors who, otherwise, would not have been reached. Just to give something to compare, in 2013, the total number of our individual donors for the entire year was a little less than 300. And, with this campaign, we raised money from 380 people in one month. We are grateful and inspired.

GFCF: You say that your fundraising efforts are not solely concerned with raising money. What do you mean?

The fundraiser in me wants to talk extensively about how much more money we were able to raise, how many more dollars these additional 300 donors gave to MONES. As a feminist philanthropist, however, I recognize that we now have 300 more people who are willing to learn more about women’s rights and 300 more potential supporters who will raise their voices for women and girls. From our extensive experience, we’ve learnt that raising money in Mongolia is very closely linked to raising concern. Once you give your hard-earned money to something, you give your support. And, vice versa, if you do not support the issue, you wouldn’t give your money. Every dollar we raise is explicitly connected to the concept of empowerment of women and girls. So, every person who donates money to MONES has an understanding what his or her donation will go to. Extending our donor base is equal to increasing the support to women’s rights and equality.

GFCF: The Mongolian Women’s Fund has been involved in local fundraising for the last 15 years. What advice would you offer community philanthropy peers in terms of effective fundraising strategies – and what would you advise against?

We’ve come to realize that every person is a potential donor. People tend to give, but it is important for people to trust the person they give to.  This is because in the traditional way of giving in Mongolia people usually know the person they extended their help to. So, going beyond the personal network is important, but it is more effective when they know and trust the person who represents the cause. The person could be their family member, their friend, or a public persona they respect and love. So, our big lesson is to build on the existing culture of giving, to extend it and improve it. It took us years to learn this lesson as we thought we could create something new in Mongolia, by bringing something that works in USA or Germany or Nepal and plant it in Mongolia. But, it works most effectively – or at least it has worked for us -when we take the existing culture of giving and lead it to a new direction.

GFCF: You recently attended a conference on women and climate change organized by the International Network of Women’s Funds and Global Greengrants. Why is it important to bring these two issues together?

Mongolia is a country with nomadic pastoralism, where herding families move several times a year in a search of water and pastures. This lifestyle has been preserved for, at least, a thousand years and, today, almost half of the population of 3 million people in Mongolia live in rural areas off their livestock by herding cows, horses, camels, goats, sheep for dairy products, meat, wool and cashmere. This lifestyle is extremely dependent on weather, which has been undergoing noticeable changes due to climate change. Dry summers followed by harsh winters cause the loss of livestock and force nomadic families into poverty, migration. In addition, the boom in mining industry in Mongolia has severely affected many areas as it has encroached on pasturelands.

Women in Mongolia are actively involved in pastoralist lifestyle and they are community.

Grassroots women and women’s groups in rural Mongolia are active and they often more vocal and better organized, their concern often goes beyond their immediate needs and they tend to propose solutions that are locally suitable and can make difference. MONES has supported women’s political participation for the past 7-8 years with a particular focus on rural areas. As a result of its efforts women’s activism in the 5 selected provinces has noticeably increased and women’s representation in decision-making bodies has increased, too. As a result of the increased activism of women and their influence over local-level decision-making has strengthened. One of the major interventions women-leaders undertook was the monitoring of local polices and budgets that affect environment, address migration, employment, etc. and following up on the results. One of the issues that grassroots women’s groups bring up more and more are environmental issues.

GFCF: What would you say are the main opportunities and challenges facing the Fund moving forward?

There is currently no legal legislation in Mongolia that supports or promotes philanthropy. This was the major challenge for MONES, one of the very few national organizations that raises funds from local sources on a regular basis. But, it also helped us to work in a more creative ways to ensure we raise support and money that come from the heart. However, we are happy to share that Ministry of Justice of Mongolia is initiating a bill on charity. And we are proud to share that MONES was invited to participate in this work due to our extensive experience in promoting the culture of philanthropy in Mongolia. As we see it, this bill, when it is approved, will help us to appreciate our donors and recognize their contribution to the society. More importantly, this bill will encourage more people to contribute to the wellbeing of other people who are less advantaged.

Bolor Legjeem is a board member of MONES, the Mongolian Women’s Fund

Rules to Give By: A global campaign for a culture of philanthropy

“Rules to Give By: A Global Philanthropy Legal Environment Index” is the world’s first study on government support for philanthropy in all 193 United Nations Member States. It offers an index of countries’ performance based on the regulatory and tax conditions associated with philanthropy, and investigates the relationship between the presence of such infrastructure and the percentage of people donating money to charity according to the 2013 World Giving Index. The study is an initiative of the Nexus Global Youth Summit. 

Visit the online Index

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.

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

The matter of international development cooperation

Over the course of the last year or so, there have been a series of conversations led by various philanthropic networks (including WINGS, the European Foundation Centre and netFWD), foundations (including the Ford Foundation, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation) and the United Nations (UNDP) about the role of philanthropy in global development after 2015, which marks the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). I must confess that, although I had read reports of some of the meetings that have been held to advance this agenda and had also completed surveys on the subject as requested, I had not followed the process very closely. Neither the MDGs nor the “post-2015 agenda” feature very prominently in my everyday work with community foundations and community philanthropy organizations around the world.

So it was with some interest that I travelled to Istanbul a couple of weeks’ ago to participate in a conference, “International Development Cooperation: Trends and Emerging Opportunities – Perspectives of the New Actors”, organized by Tika, the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency, and UNDP. Although, the “new actors” in question were generally those countries that had recently transitioned from being beneficiaries to donors (such as China, Mexico, Russia etc.), there were also two sessions that looked specifically at the role of philanthropy and of the private sector.

 

Our session, on “Global, regional and local philanthropy as an emerging contributor to development cooperation”, was moderated by Ed Cain from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, which has been actively engaged in encouraging greater collaboration between foundations and the UN. Heather Grady (ex-Rockefeller Foundation, who is currently working as a consultant on the Hilton / UN process), presented highlights of her thought-provoking, extremely thorough and very concise paper, “Philanthropy as an Emerging Contributor to Development Cooperation”, which argues that philanthropy should not be seen as a “gap-filler” for Official Development Assistance but rather that:

  • It brings a complementary and beneficial set of new actors, approaches, and types of funding;
  • The value of a philanthropic portfolio is that it enables one institution, even with modest resources, to simultaneously, and over time, test and support disparate organizations and interventions. This is an essential contribution to the immense undertaking of development; and, finally,
  • Given the growing importance and enthusiasm around South-South cooperation and linkages, the burgeoning philanthropy originating in the Global South, which has not been well-documented, is particularly important to explore and analyze.

Five of us – all of whom, in different ways, represented emerging philanthropic sectors in the Global South – were invited to comment on Heather’s paper, as well to reflect upon:

  • The extent to which we, in our work, routinely took into account international goal-setting and multilateral development frameworks and processes (such as the MDGs);
  • What our experiences had been of efforts to build bridges across sectors (a need identified in the background paper); and,
  • What concrete steps could be taken by governments and UN agencies to deepen meaningful engagement with the philanthropy sector.

In discussing these questions, there was general agreement that there was little reference to the MDGs etc. in panellists’ everyday work. Gayatri Divecha, from DASRA, which works with Indian philanthropists and social entrepreneurs, and Naila Farouky (Arab Foundations Forum) agreed that, although their partners and constituents may indeed be working on issues of gender equality, universal primary education etc. (MDGs 2 & 3), the language and framing was very different in that it was much more rooted in the local context than in universal frameworks.

As for efforts to build bridges across sectors, Rana Kotan, noted that the Sabanci Foundation, had partnered with the UNDP on particular programmes and Helena Monteiro of WINGS talked about the Global Philanthropy Data Charter as a concrete example of philanthropy seeking to be more open and proactive in both capturing data and sharing it in ways that might foster great collaboration and co-learning.

For the GFCF, which itself was the product of a partnership between private philanthropy and the World Bank, the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy (GACP) is itself a recent and important example of “bridge-building” across different parts of the philanthropic and development sectors. The GACP brings together a cross-section of different kinds of institutional donors (which currently include the Aga Khan Foundation U.S., the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, C.S. Mott Foundation and USAID), each of which has an interest in how fostering community philanthropy as a specific development strategy can enhance development processes and outcomes. Each partner is investing both resources and staff time towards the pursuit of a joint learning and development agenda over five years, which will be facilitated by the GFCF. If we talk about building bridges between philanthropy and development it is this kind of intentional investment over time that is required, rather than the occasional one-off event where foundation or UN representatives (for examples) cross over into each other’s “foreign turf” to speak at a conference or seminar.

Three final thoughts on the conference:

The matter of language: I am a native English speaker and have been working in philanthropy and development for 20 years and yet, at times, it was a challenge to keep up with all the acronyms and terms bandied about. I felt as though I needed a timeline and / or “cheat-sheet” that captured the basics of different UN agreements summarised into city names – “Paris”, “Busan”… plus all the conferences in between (“before Istanbul”, “since Mexico”). The experience really served to remind me of how easy it is for all of us – despite our best intentions – to fall into the trap of using language, not to build bridges and engage others, but rather to exclude them, leave them out.

The matter of gender: Speaking of leaving people out, the conference was notable for the astonishing lack of women in plenary sessions. Fortunately, the head of UNDP, Helen Clark, is a woman (so she at least moderated the opening plenary), but it was a little dispiriting to see plenary after plenary made up of almost all men. (Interestingly and perhaps rather surprisingly, it was the side session on development and philanthropy that reversed this trend, with no fewer than six women!)

The matter of philanthropy: Finally, I was interested to be reminded of how other parts of the development sector have some degree of latent distrust of philanthropy, both as non-transparent and non-accountable, but also as a symptom of the failure of government wealth distribution mechanisms and of growing income inequalities all over the world, which have created a new class of ultra-rich. Although I would argue strongly that community philanthropy offers a unique platform for modelling good governance and accountability and of acting as a “democratizing force” for philanthropy in general, it was good to be reminded that, again, words – unless they are carefully used and meant – can create barriers and elicit suspicion.

 

Jenny Hodgson

Executive Director, GFCF