Community philanthropy chimes with SDGs

SDG 6: Indian women use micro-loans to support herbal medicine practiceThe Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have arrived after years of dialogue. Where the earlier Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were formulated in United Nations offices – one was even added as policymakers crossed the road – the long, global consultation process for developing the SDGs has raised expectations for community participation across the world.

The so-called SDG “Road to Dignity” now faces its real test – the potholes of universal implementation in an increasingly unsettled world. CIVICUS Secretary General, Danny Sriskandarajah, recognized the challenges ahead in his introduction to the 2015 State of Civil Society report. He said: “As the world debates the post-2015 agenda the SDGs are the next big test of the international system. The international community needs to show commitment to tackling inequality, and create space for civil society, as a co-owner of the goals, rather than a delivery mechanism for elite priorities.”

In short, effective implementation of the goals needs local hands to transform aspiration into reality. People-centred development matters if the goals are to have any purchase in the favelas of Latin America or the rural hamlets of Nepal. The Global Fund for Community Foundations has gathered case studies from all over the world to show how communities, pooling resources and talent, can implement the goals. The case studies also demonstrate lessons for foundations seeking to contribute meaningfully to the SDGs. These include:

  • Social change needs to incorporate local voice, particularly of affected populations, to inform policy.
  • Change is a slow process leading to an outcome rather than a short-term project delivering outputs.
  • Community philanthropy organizations can act as support and knowledge hubs to invest in and share learning from activities related to SDGs.

Read the full article, with examples of how the work of community philanthropy organizations around the world fit with five of the SDGs.

A different kind of funder? Grassroots grantmaking for radical change: Q & A with the Edge Fund

The Edge Fund is a grantmaking body that supports efforts to achieve social, economic and environmental justice and to end imbalances in wealth and power – and give those it aims to help a say in where the funding goes. The GFCF spoke with the Fund about what makes it different, and how it aims to create social change at the community level.  

 

GFCF: What motivated the donors involved in Edge Fund to come together and how do they decide their priorities?

Edge Fund (EF): Edge Fund started out with a meeting back in April 2012 attended by 17 people. Only four of them were donors, the rest being activists working on a range of issues. From the beginning, the priorities for Edge have been decided by all members, whether they are able to give money or not.

The motivation for donors came from a belief that change must come from the bottom up, and therefore that people who are protected from the effects of inequality by their wealth and other privileges should allow others to share in the decision-making on how donations are used. Many of the donors feel uncomfortable about their wealth and have been almost relieved to share the responsibility of deciding on how to use it. It’s also about attempting to put our values into practice.

As with all decisions in Edge, priorities for funding are made through a collective process. Through a series of meetings we discussed our values and aims and came up with our original funding criteria, which has recently been revised.

 

GFCF: Edge Fund has a very participative ethos in terms of decision-making – how does this work in practice?

EF: Our recent review process is a good example of how we work. We have a Facilitating Group, which works behind the scenes to keep things moving and to keep an eye on what needs doing. For our latest review, the Facilitating Group drafted some proposals based on feedback from members and any problems that arose from the last funding round. These proposals were then discussed during two meetings, in London and Manchester. Members were also invited to give feedback via email or phone.

With the feedback of the Facilitating Group, we revised the proposals concerning how we fund, and asked members to complete a survey to express their views on each of them. We aimed to have 50% of the membership complete the survey (which is about 50 people). With some proposals all members agreed with them, with others there was a majority who agreed and others who still had concerns. We worked with each of those members to address their concerns within the current proposals until everyone was happy.

It helps that we have a philosophy of constantly reviewing, learning and evolving so members can feel assured that if a new proposal doesn’t work, there will be an opportunity to put it right in future. Nothing is set in stone!

It probably seems like a long and complicated process, but it means that we get a lot of input, and from people who have applied for funds themselves (so they know from experience what works best). It makes for better decisions. More than that, it hopefully means members have more of a sense of ownership of the organization.

The process for deciding on which groups get funded is again a combination of methods. We have several groups set up which are the first to look at particular applications, for example our Race and Ethnicity Committee will look at applications on this topic and remove those they feel don’t meet basic criteria or are problematic in some way. With guidance from the Committees, members then score a random selection of applications out of ten and an average is used to determine the short-list. The short-listed applicants are asked to provide more information and then come to a meeting to discuss their projects with members and other applicants.

Finally, all those who are able to attend the final funding meeting (including applicants) vote to decide how the funds are shared out, with the highest scoring receiving £3,000 and the rest £1,500. Having a process that is informed by many voices, including real life experiences, seems to work very well. Our members are soon to spot groups that haven’t been entirely truthful in their applications as often they know the groups on some level.

As James Surowiecki says in his book, The Wisdom of Crowds, a group of people with a diversity of opinion, independent voices and local knowledge are smarter than a small group of “experts.” Sadly in grantmaking, often the “experts” who make the decisions have little in the way of lived experience or real connections to the groups they fund. There are always challenges, particularly around enabling everyone to be able to participate when the group is diverse and people have very different needs, but it’s worth it.Members & grant applicants use chickpeas to vote on proposals

 

GFCF: What scale of grantmaking has Edge Fund found that makes a difference in effecting social change?

EF: We fund very small groups; the average annual income of the groups we support is around £2,500. Many have got by for some time just using their own money (including people whose only form of income is their benefits). For groups of this size a few hundred pounds can make a big difference. What is most useful, for most groups, is longer-term support. We hope to be developing a new funding plan that funds a set of groups over three years, bringing them together every six months to share with each other what has been happening in their community, the work they’ve been doing and what they’re learned.

There is often a strong focus in the philanthropic world on impact. Of course, we all want to know if the funds we give out are useful but there is a balance needed. Too strong a focus on impact and outcomes could be blamed for the lack of funding for longer-term social change work that is hard to measure.

Bringing oppressive systems to an end is a long and hard struggle, and measuring social change is extremely difficult as it’s not tangible like more traditional charitable work. A campaign that fails can sometimes be a powerful trigger in mobilizing people to take action. Also, when you’re looking at a whole range of groups using different approaches it’s impossible to say which had the most impact.

We could put more resources into attempting to measure impact but we prefer to put as much money as we can into getting funds to the right groups. And for Edge, it could well be that the thing we do that has most impact is bringing different groups together to learn about each other’s struggles or perhaps the learning our members go through by reading applications, making funding decisions, meeting groups and engaging in discussions about systemic change, power and privilege. It’s a steep learning curve for some.

 

GFCF: Are there particular types of grants that you have found to be particularly effective?

EF: All of our grants are unrestricted, which means groups have full power to choose what they do with the funds and to adapt and react to what’s going on around them, without being tied down or having to ask permission. We are particularly happy when a group we’ve funded shares their learnings and experiences with other groups (and our members) during our Forum for Radical Sharing. A range of groups come together, working on issues such as immigration, disability rights, or climate change, and often surprising connections and collaborations arise. It’s fantastic when groups we fund begin to support each other in ways that are completely independent of us, bar the initial introduction.

 

GFCF: How does Edge Fund learn from its grantmaking – and how does it take forward this learning in terms of policy/practice change?

EF: We ask our grant recipients to report back on how they’ve been getting on since they received the funds, in whichever format they prefer, but this is not mandatory. We prefer instead to encourage them to attend our Forum for Radical Sharing, where funded groups, members and others come together for a day to look at what groups have been doing, the challenges they are facing, and who in the room can help them to overcome them. Since many of our members are from the groups we fund, much of the learning comes through them as we review and revise our policies and procedures.

 

GFCF: What other grantmakers/donors does Edge Fund work with?

EF: We often get enquiries about our model from other funders and are happy to share information about what we do, what works and doesn’t. For example, one of our members recently took part in a panel during the Engaged Donors for Global Equity (EDGE) Funders Alliance conference in the US, followed up by a presentation at Heinz Endowments, which distributes $60 million a year.

There seems to be a real interest in more democratic and accountable models of grantmaking. We’ve been involved with the European EDGE Funders Alliance too.

We have not as yet worked with other funders, mostly because most others are bound by charitable laws and are unable to fund the kind of groups that we do, or they find them a little too radical. However, we’d love to consider options for foundations who approach us wanting to fund some of the groups we work with; for example, perhaps they may be able to fund some of our Sharing Forums.

 

GFCF: What is the advice that Edge Fund would give to community foundations and other locally based funders, drawn from its experience?

  • Let go! Let the community decide. It works! Plus it can be a tool for bringing groups together to help build solidarity between movements, share tactics, and learn from each other.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment, if you’re genuinely led by those affected by your decisions you won’t go too far wrong.
  • Keep asking for feedback, keep reviewing, keep evolving!

EFC Conference 2015: What role for community philanthropy in disasters and emergencies?

This piece originally appeared on the Alliance Magazine website.

By: Caroline Hartnell, Editor, Alliance Magazine

Tewa, a women’s fund in Nepal, found itself on the front line when the recent massive earthquakes hit the country, said Jenny Hodgson, GFCF Executive Director. Her main point: that community philanthropy has a key role to play in disasters and emergencies. The occasion: a session called ‘Community resilience in the context of emergencies: The role of community philanthropy’ at the 26th European Foundation Centre (EFC) annual conference, held in Milan from 20th – 22nd May.

So what is this key role? Session participants were invited to think this through in an interactive exercise facilitated by GFCF adviser Barry Knight. A dam has burst in China, he told us, covering a huge and inaccessible area of land; already 175,000 people are dead. Each table was given some Monopoly money for grantmaking and asked to make decisions about how to spend it in the immediate aftermath of the disaster and later, when the first relief efforts were over. While most tables chose to give most of their money to international NGOs or local governments in the immediate aftermath – although even at this stage people recognized that community foundations might be able to help connect them with small local groups that might otherwise be missed by the relief efforts – when it came to spending for the long term, most allocated a substantial proportion of their funds to community foundations. Our table chose to keep most of our money back for the reconstruction phase, giving just 20 per cent to community foundations for the immediate relief phase.

The two speakers, Vesna Bajšanski-Agić of the Mozaik Foundation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albert Ruesga of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, gave us a vivid illustration of what community foundations can offer in an emergency. They know where the good work is, said Ruesga, which the good organizations are, who the good leaders are. They can come up with the best ideas for sustaining efforts; they bring a knowledge of local politics; they are sensitive to mental health needs, particularly the psychological effects of trauma on children – something that the humanitarian system tends to be very bad at dealing with. As local organizations, they have a big stake in the success of their efforts. Also, the donor’s money actually goes to the community affected by the disaster. If you give to a big NGO, Ruesga told us, typically only 20 per cent goes to the local community; the rest goes to the national HQ.

Image courtesy of the Mozaik Foundation, May 2014

Vesna Bajšanski-Agić talked movingly about last year’s floods in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which coincided with the 2014 EFC conference, held in Sarajevo. The Mozaik Foundation was not set up to respond to disasters, she told us. But it turned out that in the worst affected states members of Youth Bank, which is supported by Mozaik, were at the forefront of relief efforts. Community knowledge and links can be activated immediately, said Bajšanski-Agić. People know who needs help and how to get to them. A bridge that had been built through community philanthropy to enable children to get to school more easily was washed away by the river, she told us. It wasn’t on the map so couldn’t be rebuilt with UNDP money, so Mozaik raised the money, of which 30 per cent came from the flooded communities themselves.

Community foundations can undoubtedly play a valuable role after a disaster, but more than one session participant reminded us that investment in disaster prevention is much more cost-effective as well as more effective in reducing human misery – and again disaster risk reduction can be done through community foundations.

Despite the enthusiasm about community philanthropy shown by all at this session, there is at present scant evidence about the potential role of community philanthropy in times of crisis, said Avila Kilmurray, GFCF Director of Policy and Strategy. What the GFCF wants to do is to capture stories and lessons from people who have been through disaster situations and to develop something useful both to donors and to community philanthropy organizations (CPOs) – including practice notes and policy points. If donors were generally as convinced of the value of community philanthropy in disasters as session participants seemed to be, CPOs would be taking their place as central actors in disasters and emergencies the world over.

The little development engine that could

This piece originally appeared on the Devex website

By: Diana Ohlbaum, Independent Consultant and former Deputy Director of USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives 

It’s not big. It’s not shiny. But there is a promising train of sustainable funding for local priorities, and it has been largely missing from discussions of country ownership and financing for development. What is this overlooked and underappreciated engine of growth? Community philanthropy.

Community philanthropy refers to foundations and other social enterprises that are funded and controlled by members of the communities they serve. They raise significant amounts of money locally from individuals and businesses, spend money locally through small grants for worthy projects, and are held accountable by local communities. You can’t get any more “locally owned” than that.

As an example, a women’s fund in Nepal, known as Tewa, has mobilized contributions from 3,000 Nepalese donors to invest in local grass-roots institutions. Its model of emphasizing small philanthropic gifts has taught women how to be responsible donors as well as grantees, and given them the tools to overcome dependency and powerlessness.

Likewise, Kenya’s Makutano Community Development Association undertook a long-term commitment to building community capacity, resulting in the construction of a road, nine dams, 17 wells, 162 pit latrines and a secondary school, as well as putting 10,000 acres of land to productive use.

While international donors, including the U.S. Agency for International Development, routinely look for local organizations that can distribute and administer “umbrella grants,” community philanthropy is something different. These foundations are not the fiscal and programmatic agents of foreign funders, nor are they simply service providers. They are grantors in their own right…

To read the full article, please visit the Devex website. 

From bad to just right: Why is it so hard for bilaterals to support community philanthropy?

In a few weeks’ time, the GFCF will be inviting UK-based NGOs and development agencies to join a discussion in London about community philanthropy. We will be exploring two questions in particular: “How can community philanthropy contribute to development?” and “What can development do to support community philanthropy?”

The fact is that the notion of “community philanthropy” is not well established – or even well-known – within the mainstream development discourse. For the most part, it has been private foundations such as the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and the Ford Foundation, among others, that have supported the development of local foundations, often in the context of larger programmes focused on strengthening the infrastructure for local philanthropy and civil society. Beyond this small cluster of private foundations, the idea of strengthening community philanthropy as a strategy for building local assets, capacities and trust, or for enhancing transparency, accountability and good governance has limited currency.

But is change on the cards? In recent years, the mutterings of dissent against the international aid system – particularly the role of bilateral and multilateral aid agencies – have grown to become an increasingly audible rumble. And what is particularly interesting is that these critiques of current aid conventions, while they come from very different places, are often saying the same thing. Take these two comments:

“Projects composed of short-term injections of money for too specific a cause have proven to rarely lead to maintainable opportunities for the supposed beneficiaries….Instead of targeting isolated problems for specific time periods, a more holistic approach must become an ambition.”

“[The] projectized approach to capacity building, and to aid in general, rarely leads to sustainable outcomes in part because it treats partners as “implementers” and skews local resources toward donor-identified priorities…As a result….[an] organization itself may be actually weakened in its ability to respond to local needs and distracted or diverted from its core activities.”

The first is from a speech given by Sibongile Mkhabela, CEO of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund in South Africa, a strong advocate for the importance of a robust African philanthropy sector. The second is from an excellent set of articles published recently on Devex by Diana Ohlbaum which offer a critique of USAID in particular, as well as some thoughts on how it could do business differently. Ohlbaum is an independent consultant, and previously was a senior professional staff member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and a deputy director of USAID‘s Office of Transition Initiatives. Two voices from very different parts of the development space but their messages are strikingly similar.

When it comes to how big donor agencies engage with community philanthropy, whose proponents see as offering solutions and strategies for overcoming the short-term nature of development aid and in strengthening civil society so that it more locally owned, the experiences are varied. What is clear is that the term “community philanthropy” barely features in the discourse of large donor institutions. (Perhaps, at some level, it is a matter of language. Also the fact that the term philanthropy – and the “baggage” it sometimes brings of charitable acts by the wealthy that reinforce the status quo – has never really sat comfortably within the language of mainstream development. An important conversation for another day!)

In recent weeks, through different meetings in the course of my day-to-day work as well as conversations with partners on the specific issue of support from bilateral and multilateral aid agencies, I have arrived at the conclusion that the experiences where community philanthropy and development meet fall into three main categories.

 

1. Missing the picture altogether: Undermining community philanthropy

First, the worst experience. (Names and organizations withheld here to save on awkwardness all round). Here, an international donor institution was delighted to find a local organization that knew its community, had great connections (largely established through an intensive and sensitively crafted grassroots grantmaking programme) and that could even complete their complicated application forms in English.

The short version of this failed adventure goes something like this:

  • The donor (let’s call it B) had strong programme interests and wasn’t interested in the work of the local organization (A). Instead, B wanted A to adapt to its own agenda once the grant was awarded, which pushed A far beyond its own focus and areas of expertise – not to mention comfort zone.
  • Then there was the issue of “capacity building.” Rather than this being an overall interest in the long-term well-being of A, this was really capacity building so that A could complete B’s very complicated reporting forms.
  • The funding itself didn’t arrive when it was expected so A was left with staff hired and ready to work but with no money to pay them, a very stressful situation for an organization with no reserves to tide them over. (Something for which the professed sympathy from B’s staff – who were meanwhile receiving their salaries as usual – fell a bit flat with A).
  • A faced enormous constraints in implementing the programme because every activity and outcome had needed to be determined well in advance. This left very little wiggle room for A to be able to take its usual responsive and flexible approach, essential in the complex and unpredictable environment in which it was operating.

The list goes on. But perhaps the most important point here is that B had no interest in what A brought to the table in terms of its previous work – the level of trust, the efforts to which it was going to start a conversation about local resources and local agency, etc. In short, B was not interested in A’s strengths as a community philanthropy organization. All it saw was a “project implementer” and, in taking such a short-sighted view, it pushed A into an impossible situation which left it highly vulnerable – both in terms of basic cash flow but also in terms of its reputation with the local community.

 

2. The half-view: Supporting certain aspects of community philanthropy

If you were to ask a donor such as DFID (The Department for International Development of the UK Government) whether they support community philanthropy, the answer would most likely be a “No.” However, if you were to ask DFID if they had ever been involved in establishing a foundation then the answer might be a “Yes.” And if you were to ask them if they had ever been involved in supporting the creation of a YouthBank – something of a signature piece of the global community philanthropy field then, you might also be surprised to hear another resounding “Yes.” That is currently the case in Mozambique, where DFID funding has supported the MICAIA Foundation to establish the first youth-led grassroots grantmaking programme in the Chimoio District. Also, part of MICAIA’s plans from the start has been the idea of establishing a long-term community fund for youth development which can draw on local as well as external resources. The feasibility study for this has also been part of the project that DFID is supporting.

MICAIA’S YouthBank participants

Pulling together these pieces, it sounds as though DFID is in fact supporting community philanthropy: perhaps it is just a matter of different organizations using different language and terminology. Almost, but not quite. It is indeed a positive thing that MICAIA’s complex and ambitious work in Mozambique, targeting young people who have often felt excluded from their own development, is being supported by DFID. But, as anyone who has ever set up a community grantmaking programme of the kind that targets small amounts of money to groups that have never encountered anything of the kind before, this is often labour-intensive, unpredictable work. It takes time to build trust and to create the conditions for local groups to be ready to receive and deploy resources in the most effective way and a “cushion” of flexible funding can be a godsend.

Of course, bilateral donors can’t usually behave like private foundations: they don’t have the same degree of flexibility and can face multiple internal constraints in terms of accountability, programme and funding structures. Looking forward, then perhaps the key is leverage, with more funding partnerships between different kinds of donors where each can play to their relative strengths. But for that to happen there needs to be much more conversation and exchange about how different funding organizations see the world and their role (and its limits) in bringing about change. Let’s hope our meeting in May can be one place to advance this conversation.

 

3. Seeing the full picture: Proactively supporting community philanthropy

Finally, there are the instances where bilateral donors have been able to embrace what might be seen to be a broader community philanthropy development agenda (even if that is not the particular terminology that is applied). Last week, I joined a roundtable discussion on community philanthropy in Ho Chi Minh City, hosted by the LIN Center for Community Development. The GFCF has partnered with LIN over a number of years, providing small grants aimed at stimulating local giving (matching funding), for research, peer exchange visits and overall institutional development. In turn, LIN has been an important and generous source of learning and sharing for other community philanthropy organizations. At the meeting was a representative of Irish Aid. And guess what? Irish Aid has also been providing small grants (including matching funding), as well as opportunities to learn and share more broadly within the region (in fact, a group from Laos was just coming to the end of a week’s study tour, funded by Irish Aid). Like the GFCF, it has also regarded strengthening LIN as a key priority, above and beyond its ability just to deliver programmes.

March 2015 Roundtable at LIN Center, Vietnam

So it’s not all bad news, but there is definitely something that needs to be done about better communication between different kinds of donors, a more intentional “laying out of wares” when it comes to what each can offer, and a more rigorous deconstruction of language so that where there are synergies, they can be arrived at more easily. Platforms such as the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy, which brings together a set of different kinds of donors (including, interestingly enough, USAID), offers an excellent starting point for this kind of thoughtful interaction.

I wanted to share a final thought that came out of one of the conversations that resulted in this blog. We were discussing the aid industry’s preoccupation with the “end user”, to the extent that virtually everything between the cheque leaving their account and the end user is just a link in a production chain, a cost that needs to be accounted for. If community philanthropy organizations can be repositories and stewards of social and financial capital, of trust across and between communities, models of good governance and horizontal accountability, then how about rethinking a category of “end user” which includes such institutions as a good in themselves – not a conduit or a mechanism but something that local people care about, own, give to and turn to in times of need?

 

Jenny Hodgson

GFCF Executive Director 

Acknowledge the power imbalances and act!

 

This piece, written by Jenny Hodgson, GFCF Executive Director, originally appeared on the European Foundation Centre website.

 

As the United Nations prepares to release a new set of Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, which will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), it is perhaps a good time to reflect on the current architecture of the international development sector. The good news is that, according to United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, the MDGs have reduced extreme poverty by half although the benefits have not always been evenly spread geographically and there has been less success on key goals relating to women and children.

However, in the pursuit of poverty alleviation and other global development objectives over the last few decades, the donor community has at the same time contributed to the creation of a global development “industry”. This has turned many NGOs (global and local) into highly skilled proposal writers, budget-jugglers and masters of development jargon, who compete with each other to serve the needs and requirements of external funders.

The impact of international funding has also distorted our sense of time (a five-year development project can be considered long-term) and created lines of “accountability” (a slippery, multi-directional word much bandied about in development discourse) which drive upwards and outwards, and result in hefty reports landing on desks in London, Brussels or Washington, far away from the very people that the development sector is meant to be serving.

 

Community philanthropy: Offering an alternative model of development

It was this frustration that, 17 years ago, led to the creation of the Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF), Kenya’s first public foundation. KCDF was established by local civil society leaders who were exasperated by what they saw as years of international development programmes in Kenya undermining rather than fostering local agency, in which people were relegated to the role of “beneficiaries” with “needs”, rather than as citizens with assets who could play an active role in their own development. They also saw how Kenya’s rich systems of mutual giving, as well as its growing middle and wealthy classes, were never part of the local development equation and wanted to create a local institution that could both build up the capacities of local organisations and at the same time, harness local assets and resources in new and strategic ways. It is the same frustration that is today fuelling the creation of the Haiti Community Foundation, a project inspired by the perception that despite the millions of dollars in aid being channelled into the country (particularly following the January 2010 earthquake), most of it was going to international organisations, with little investment in building Haitian institutions that could serve people over the long-term.

These are just two examples of a new breed of locally-driven and locally-shaped community philanthropies and indigenous foundations that are emerging around the world. Although this “family” of institutions – which includes community foundations, national foundations, issue-based funds and other grassroots grantmakers – may differ in terms of context and origins, they are all seeking to model new types of philanthropic behaviour and practice by harnessing local resources and traditions of giving, blending them with new institutional forms. They do this in a number of ways:

  • By using small grants to support initiatives and build the capacities of grassroots groups, which tend to slip under the radar of most international donors. Small grants are also highly effective when it comes to building up a local donor base in places where public trust in institutions is low: they can be easily and transparently tracked rather than disappearing into institutional costs (nothing symbolises the “mystery” of development and puts local donors off more than the four-wheel drive car!), and they are also proof of the fact that development doesn’t always require big money but instead sustained and targeted support that can catalyse local action.
  • By building up a local support base. This is not just a funding strategy (although it certainly changes the power dynamics with external donors when an organisation can bring its own locally-sourced resources to the table) but also derives from the belief that development outcomes are more lasting when people invest their own resources.
  • By playing this double role as both a hub for local asset development and a developmental grantmaker, these organisations are able to act as a bridge between different sections of a community, linking resources and needs, as well as goodwill and good ideas. This unique, horizontal “linking” role is one that most other NGOs are rarely positioned – or encouraged – to play, so entrenched are they in issue-based silos (another distorting effect of mainstream development, whereby everyone is a specialist and generalist organisations are seen as “lacking in focus”).
  • Finally, these organizations are often rich in social capital. When a community philanthropy organisation in Romania or Nepal has a support base of thousands of local donors, no matter how small the individual gifts, that surely says something about how embedded they are in their community, and how much the organisation is seen as part of that community rather than a construct introduced from above. Although the budgets of these institutions might be small, this aspect of local trust and buy-in is often something that gets overlooked, with international aid directing large amounts of money to competent NGOs on the basis of administrative / proposal-writing / English language capacities.

 

A changing landscape for aid: What role for donors and civil society?

The emergence of these new types of community philanthropy institutions is happening at a time when issues around ownership, flows and governance of resources are being seen as more critical than ever. As the established architecture for international aid is changing, so is the landscape in which it has traditionally operated. For traditional international donors, whose influence is already starting to diminish with the arrival of new forms of South-South cooperation (which often requires much less in terms of compliance), I would suggest that it is time to do some real soul-searching about the kind of legacy or footprint that they want to leave behind in developing contexts where they have already been active for decades. Some food for thought:

  • Think long-term and think holistically (even if just a little!). Of course, numbers matter particularly given the growing preoccupation with metrics in development, but there is also something short-sighted about only concentrating on the tangible, the countable, and the “bang for your buck.” Often, development projects seem to me like someone deciding to decorate just one room in a house, self-contained and beautiful, with all mod cons, but forgetting to check whether the plumbing works, the foundations are intact etc. How about investing in partner organisations so that they can plan for their future as a longer-term social good and so that when you leave, you leave them in good shape.
  • Local people-centred institutions matter. International development needs local NGOs but when they are shaped too much by external funding they might not be the kinds of NGOs that local people really want. Local civil society organisations can play an important role in negotiating with other institutional players (state, corporate etc.) but their ability to do also depends on some degree of legitimacy / local buy-in.
  • Acknowledge the power imbalances and act! I have lost count of the number of times that I have heard of a staff member in a community foundation who has moved on to an international NGO, where they will no doubt earn a bigger salary and greater prestige. There is something wrong with an aid system where international organisations end up poaching the best local talent and where local organisations are perceived as less “valuable” than international ones.

As the international aid community and its civil society partners reflect on the MDGs and look forward to the next round of development goals, it seems a good time to engage in some critical introspection, as well as some creative thinking. Civicus recently convened a conversation of activists aimed at exploring the extent to which civil society is “fit for purpose” in the context of current global challenges and the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy, which got going last year, brings together a range of public and private donors interested in better understanding how more horizontal forms of asset development can foster more sustainable development and what role international donors can play. These kinds of conversations are both timely and essential if international development is going to engage constructively around real issues of power and ownership.

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

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

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

– Social innovation for sustainable development with social inclusion.

– Social enterprises, sustainability and new business forms.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Guest blog: Development finance: Can it advance local ownership?

John Kerry’s VIP convoy speeds through Ramallah, rushing past local Palestinians: and so goes the development finance discourse – rushing past grassroots development activists. If the development finance folks would just slow down for a moment, here are a few things they might hear from those who are aid dependent about financing the post-2015 development goals:

1. Development finance isn’t just about what you put in. It needs to account for failure, as well as success

Development failure is no accident. It is, in general, caused by the same forces and interests that enrich donor countries and make others needy. Yet, with few exceptions, the post-2015 development finance discourse seems to ignore the macro-causes of development failure. So how can development finance experts hope to estimate the true costs of achieving the MDGs or post-2015 development goals?

For example, how much will it cost to eliminate food insecurity in Gaza? That depends on whether Israel lifts the siege on Gaza, allows Palestinian farmers to export crops, and allows fisherfolk access to the ocean.

And if development finance is to be relevant, it must acknowledge the causes of development failure, and it must recalculate to show the real costs, not only of development interventions, but of doing nothing. If Europe continues to grant preferential trade status to Israel, which Israel then uses to export crops produced illegally on Palestinian-occupied land, thereby entrenching Palestinians’ inability to produce their own food, should Europe’s food aid to Palestinians be reported as aid? The problem itself might not exist if Europe and others didn’t empower Israel and fail to hold it accountable for international law.

2. As ‘development’ expands to include rights, development finance must acknowledge people’s right to control their own resources

Reading the mainstream development-finance discourse, one might think that all that is needed is to raise money. With money, it would be possible to vaccinate all the children in refugee camps, and this would indicate development. Of course all children should be vaccinated, but shouldn’t they also be able to claim their right to live at home, in peace, with rights, and not in a camp? Global civil society is working hard to integrate the concept of rights into post-2015 development discourse. But are the finance folks open to the idea that recipients have the right to decide how resources are used on their behalf? Even when international actors make decisions identical to ones that locals would make for themselves, the process of external control over local development decisions is inherently anti-developmental. There can be no real, sustainable development without self-determination.

3. Development finance should supplement local resources

The idea that development finance should be ‘..complemented by private capital, development  cooperation  among countries of the South, remittances from migrants and private  donations…. is backward. Development finance should complement local resources – and not just taxation, but local resources defined more broadly.

In reality, communities survive on local resources whose value is totally ignored by the development industry, with disastrous consequences. For example, if my mother in California sends $100 to an international NGO to buy a boat with a logo that picks up stranded flood victims and takes them to safety, this is counted as ‘aid’. But if a local person uses his or her own boat and carts family and neighbours, perhaps for 20 hours a day for weeks – before the boat with the logo arrives and long after it has gone, this is not only not counted as ‘aid’, it’s not counted at all! The system ‘counts’ the problem (X number of people stranded by floods), but then only ‘counts’ the part of the response that comes from outside. The result is distorted picture of the world: local people are always needy, without resources and entirely dependent on external help while outsiders are always abundant, generous and needed.

New models of international support for local development financing

The Overseas Development Institute’s project, ‘Localizing Aid’ took a major step forward by expanding the discussion about financing development through local systems to include a focus on local civil society and by prioritising the strengthening of local systems as an explicit objective of aid. Yet ODI’s findings are inconclusive, perhaps because they asked the wrong question. The question should have been whether development (not aid) should be localised, and the obvious answer would have been yes. If ODI had explored how international development finance could support localised development (including respect for local rights, local resource mobilisation, local accountability, and sustainability), then they might have come across one of the most exciting, high-potential local systems for accountable and sustainable development we have: The community foundation.

Dalia AssociationCommunity foundations build on long traditions of giving, sharing and self-reliance, and shape them into new community forms and processes. They mobilise resources – including local, diaspora and private sector monetary and non-monetary resources – and they make grants that strengthen communities and social capital.  Studies indicate they are proliferating, especially in the global south, in response to local priorities and local opportunities, and reflecting a critique of dominant donor-controlled development models.

For international donors with a sincere commitment to local ownership (i.e. ‘respecting basic norms of sovereignty and horizontality’ (p. 16)), community foundations offer some very attractive benefits. By investing in (not ‘channeling through’) community foundations, international donors can take part in long-term, locally-owned, locally accountable social change while simultaneously strengthening the civil society sector for the long-term. This will not happen, however, if community foundations are ‘used’ as or by apex partners, to adopt the ‘Localising Aid’ jargon. Community foundations should not be contracted to engage in short-term, donor-led projects. Instead, international donors need to invest in ways that respect local rights to self-determination in development.

One way to do this is to invest in endowments for community foundations. Endowments can either fund grant-making or operational support, but – above all – the decisions are made locally, by those with the greatest stake in success.

Nora Lester Murad lives in East Jerusalem, where she writes literary fiction. She blogs at The View from My Window in Palestine, addressing issues of aid, development and daily life under military occupation. She founded the Dalia Association, Palestine’s first community foundation, and served as director until 2010.

This was first published on the Development Progress website, a hub for ideas, debate and resources on how the world is doing on international development goals 

Community philanthropy celebrates 10 years in Latvia

Ansis Bērziņš, Community Foundation Movement in Latvia and Valmiera Community Foundation, describes a recent celebration of community philanthropy in Valmiera.

“Community Foundation Movement in Baltics – 10 years”. This was the title of international conference that brought 120 people from Latvia and ten different countries to Valmiera on 10th October, 2013, to celebrate the anniversary of community philanthropy in Latvia and the Baltic States. It was a moment to evaluate achievements, to discuss future challenges and to enjoy doing good for our local communities.

During the conference social researcher Linda Zīverte presented her case study from Talsi Region Community Foundation. She pointed that higher level of trust and collaboration in the community also brings faster economy growth, which is good evaluation for what community foundations have mostly done in Latvia. Jenny Hodgson, director of Global Fund for Community Foundations, gave insight on global trends in the field and emphasized that philanthropy becomes more and more local because donors want to give within their communities. Other speakers from Latvia, Romania and Belgium shared their experiences and challenges in local giving, fundraising and grant-making.

Rūta Dimanta, Ziedot Foundation

Ten years ago, in February and December of 2003, the first community foundations were established in Talsi and Lielvārde. Thanks to support of Baltic – American Partnership Fund, set up by Open Society Institute and the US Government, concept of locally rooted giving was strongly promoted in the Baltic States, including Latvia. A lot was invested for learning and institutional development as well as for sharing among ourselves. The Association, called the Community Foundation Movement, with 4 members was set up early on, in 2006. Now the Movement has grown to four active community foundations, two associate members and two emerging organizations willing to join the club. So far, 12% of Latvian population has access to community foundations.


Since February 2012, the Movement has acquired a new strategic partner to support its growth. The Boris and Ināra Teterev Foundation, private organization, has given a 5‑year collaboration contract with financial support for operations and capacity building of existing and potential community foundations. Three foundations have attracted additional funding from Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein via EEA Financial Mechanism. This support is fundamental for professional operations and development of community foundations in Latvia.

Despite the fact that philanthropy and giving culture is still only developing, the work of Latvian community foundations has been appreciated by local communities, governments and donors. Foundations are still struggling for survival; sustainability is an issue for all non-profit organizations in Latvia. But having everybody still in the field is success in itself. Here are just some numbers to describe community foundations’ work in Latvia: 2 million dollars raised, 676 grants given to local people, 100’000 and 80’000 dollars endowments reached for two largest foundations each, and countless amount of dollars and hours spent on promoting local giving and meaningful philanthropy.

Additional information: Ansis Bērziņš, Community Foundation Movement in Latvia
E-mail: kopienufondi@teterevufonds.lv