Community philanthropy in the spotlight at UNDP Small Grants Programme regional convenings

Over spring 2015, representatives of four community philanthropy organizations were invited to speak at UNDP Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme regional convenings – one held in Thailand and the other in the Dominican Republic – to inject a community philanthropy perspective into discussions, and to begin to explore how these development actors, seemingly so different, could finds ways of working with each other. Upon their return to their individual organizations, the GFCF followed up with these four individuals – all current GFCF grantees – to gather their thoughts on the following:

Community philanthropy works from the bottom up, quite different to how the UN, an enormous global organization, approaches its work. “Small grants” can also mean vastly different amounts depending on whether you are speaking with a local community philanthropy organization, or with a representative of the UNDP Small Grants Programme. Given these significant differences in approach and scale, after your time at the UNDP regional convening, did you observe any overlaps in terms of practice, values, principles, etc.? What were some of the more obvious differences? Beyond partnerships at the local level, what do you see as some of the opportunities for community philanthropy to connect with the UNDP Small Grants Programme?

 

Susana Aguilar Romero, Operations Coordinator

Fondo Acción Solidaria A.C. (FASOL) (Mexico) 

It was surprising to learn about all of the similarities between the UNDP Small Grants Programme and FASOL’s own small grants programme, particularly in terms of philosophy, values, and the operational side of the programmes themselves. One aspect that was especially interesting is the UNDP’s plan to incorporate a “services” programme to complement its grants, which sounds a lot like Grantmaker+ and which is very similar to a capacity-building program that FASOL is currently developing. However, because of its organizational structure, the UNDP Small Grants Programme is more rigid in terms of the scope of its grantmaking and the size of grants it offers.

FASOL works more with grassroots organizations, and thanks to a network of volunteer mentors who recommend our grants and offer ongoing support to our grantees, FASOL seems to have more flexibility. Trust is a key value in the work we do with grassroots groups. For FASOL, emerging from our participation in the regional convening is the chance to strengthen our work with different networks organized around common themes, such as indigenous peoples, climate change, and REDD (a UN collaborative initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in developing countries). 

Another point that featured prominently in the regional convening was the need to improve evaluation and assessment around social action. We share this observation because, often, the indicators that are used fail to capture very important results, such as increased understanding and agreement about natural resource conservation, or the strengthening of community capacity. It might be a good idea to implement a pilot programme in a limited set of countries to evaluate not only the direct outcomes of an environmental project, but also changes and growth in terms of network and group capacity.

 

Vuong Thao Vy, Grants Coordinator

LIN Center for Community Development (Vietnam)

The regional convening showed not only differences between the two approaches but also possible synergies between the UNDP and community foundations. In fact, it seemed the UNDP was interested in what it could learn from our sector in order to improve its own programmes.

The UNDP has the advantages of experience and reputation, robust procedures and documentation, and close connections with local governments. The UNDP “sets the rules” for its grantmaking process: potential grantees need to be qualified to implement projects that carry with them significant funding. Many of the UNDP’s projects and initiatives would be considered as large grants instead of small grants in the eyes of community foundations. Meanwhile, community philanthropy organizations are working from the bottom up. By engaging their stakeholders in grantmaking, community foundations are better able to: listen to their stakeholders’ needs; inspire them to change or improve their approach to philanthropy; and, nurture their desire to develop their capacity and to contribute to community sustainably.

In its new operational phase, the UNDP is committed to being a “Grantmaker+” which is certainly a guiding principle of most community foundations. Based on this common objective and each side’s strength, the UNDP could perhaps help to bridge the distance between local governments and community foundations, and to bring more visibility to grassroots work. At the same time, community foundations can help to equal out the traditional donor/beneficiary relationship by acting as a bridge between larger development actors and initiatives on the ground. Additionally, while the UNDP is better at mobilizing funds from governments and civil society, community philanthropy organizations pride themselves on leveraging different local kinds of resources (money, time, expertise, skills, networks, etc.). The two sides can certainly learn from each other in this regard, in order to better achieve their programme objectives, while ensuring the best use of resources and capacity.

 

Justin Welch, Executive Director

Monteverde Community Fund (Costa Rica) 

Although we work at different scales, and the processes for defining strategic priorities are much different, I saw a strong overlap between the practice, values and principles of the UNDP Small Grants Programme and ours at the Monteverde Community Fund. The UNDP Small Grants Programme in Costa Rica has been instrumental in grassroots development projects, especially those within the context of the National Biological Corridor Program. 

Community foundations should certainly be in contact with their UNDP Country Representative as they will be looking to develop partnerships in terms of resource matching and leveraging, as well as the strengthening of civil society capacities. The latter, I feel, being a forte of community foundations because of their ability to cultivate personal relationships over time and their flexibility to address the evolving needs of community groups along their individual path of development. Community foundations interested in exploring partnerships with the UNDP Small Grants Programme in their respective country should be aware of the intersection between the following thematic and strategic foci, which are important determining factors for funding decisions:

Thematic Foci:

  • Environmental: International waters, biodiversity, climate change, persistent chemicals and waste management
  • Social: Governance, civil sector capacity-building
  • Economic: Sustainable livelihoods, energy access

Strategic Aims:

  • Sustainable cities
  • Intelligent agriculture for climate change adaptation/agro-ecology
  • Grantmaker+
  • CBO-Government platforms
  • Social inclusion

Other Important Concepts:

  • Managing information in order to demonstrate donor impact, sharing new knowledge and learning, and improve institutional practices/operations
  • Thinking about replication, upscaling and mainstreaming
  • UNDP Small Grants Programme support for your area could come in the form of separate donations to a number of individual projects, or larger “strategic projects” that could include a number of smaller projects under an umbrella initiative

 

Sadhana Shrestha, Executive Director

Tewa (Nepal) 

My first day at the regional convening was somewhat overwhelming – trying to wrap my head around the massive differences in scale between community philanthropy and the UNDP “Small” Grants Programme, not to mention trying to keep up with the acronyms laced casually throughout the various presentations. But I eventually overcame my initial shock, and even began to enjoy the convening. As much as we had been invited so that UNDP staff could garner a better understanding of work happening on the ground, in the community philanthropy space, I took advantage of the opportunity to hear what was happening at the other end of the development spectrum from where I find myself.

And it was good to hear of a UNDP initiative that focuses on grants to communities, that seems to have done great work in many countries. Interestingly, there seemed to be quite a bit of buzz in the room about the potential contribution of community philanthropy to this work particularly in terms of: access to existing networks on the ground to overcome staff capacity constraints, knowledge sharing, and best practice in community engagement. The role and function of Grantmaker+ was also a hot topic. So while there did certainly seem to be synergies, my only concern was in this enthusiasm in the room being translated back into UNDP programmes and systems in an effective way. How can one idea or approach be adopted and understood across such a huge organization?

Despite this, it was particularly useful to meet the Nepal UNDP Country Director, who I’m sure Tewa will have contact with in the future.

A field moves together, while ships pass in the night: Nepal convening explores the intersections between community philanthropy and the environment

Food gardens in a Western Cape township, tended by school children and their families, under the watchful eye of an experienced gardener and grandfather. An informal grassroots group-turned NGO in China’s industrial heartland in the Pearl River Delta that helps bring about a tightening up of laws on recycling. Fishermen in Mexico, concerned about depleted fish stocks, restore the local reef thus replenishing their waters and renewing their livelihoods. A rural community foundation in Romania organizes a bike-a-thon to promote a healthy lifestyle among local residents, while taking a stand against plans for a giant wood processing plant in one of the richest forestlands in Europe.  

It was a diverse group of community philanthropy practitioners and grassroots grantmakers that came together recently in Lalitpur, Nepal, for a two-day meeting of GFCF partners that set out to explore the intersections between community philanthropy and the environment. Back in May 2014, the GFCF awarded grants to community foundations in 11 countries. It was part of a new programme focused on the environment, and it was this group of grantees that travelled to Nepal for their first face-to-face meeting. We were joined by a handful of others too from Kenya, China, Bangladesh, as well as a representative of the Nepal office of the GEP Small Grants Programme (UNDP). Our host was Tewa, the Nepal Women’s Fund – and also a grantee under the environment programme. Tewa’s physical location (its meeting and residential facilities), on the edge of Kathmandu, overlooking rice and vegetable fields provideda tranquil and inspiring setting for our conversations (we met and slept in buildings that were built in part through community philanthropy). But the construction sites – new apartments and housing complexes – that have encroached across farmland directly in front of Tewa in recent years were also a stark reminder both of Nepal’s rapid urbanization and of the tensions that frequently arise between environmental protection and preservation versus the drivers of economic development.

The Tewa Centre, Kathmandu

For two days our group worked together, sharing stories and experiences: for some, this was the first time that they had really start to consciously engage around the environment while others were old hands. For example, in Mexico FASOL has made small grants to grassroots groups on environmental issues to hundreds of organizations. For the majority of those present, however, the environment was one of a number of issues around which they were active. It perhaps comes as no surprise then, that our conversations were peppered with words like “holistic” and “integrated”, the sense that social problems rarely stand alone from each other and that there are always connections and knock-on effects that can get lost in an issue-specific or siloed approach to development. The idea of “assets” (meaning money as well as non-financial assets but also natural assets such as forests, minerals, waters) came up too, in terms of mobilization of local (often invisible) assets as well as the idea of stewardship of financial as well as natural assets for future generations. And there was also much agreement around “the power of the grassroots”, the idea that it local communities that are closest to the issues and that mobilized and organized communities can challenge power and create lasting change.

In 2015, the GFCF plans to continue and further develop this programme. The energy of the meeting, the various “A-ha!” moments and the sense that, collectively, the group possessed between them the basis of what could be described as “emergent practice” that set them apart from other parts of the non-profit and philanthropy sector. Indeed, by unlocking local assets, by strengthening local groups through grants and other supports and by building long-term and trusting across a range of constituents, we remain more convinced than ever that community foundations are positioned to act as a buffer and a resource as well play a community leadership or brokering role when it comes to complex and often potentially divisive environmental issues at a community level.

Kenyan, Chinese, Egyptian and Russian community philanthropy practitioners discuss

Over time we expect to produce more detailed reports and studies that establish a baseline for a larger body of work on community philanthropy and the environment. In the meantime, however, here are some of my takeaways from the meeting.

At the level of some of the individual organizations represented:

  • The observation that where community foundations have an established track record in a community, they are well-positioned to initiate community-level discussion and support local action around the environment. In Perm, Russia, for example, the community foundation Sodeistvie had observed that the environment was very low down on the list of local priorities in rural communities where they were active. In one particular community, in which the foundation built up long-term relationships through their grantmaking and other programmes, they felt as though they were well positioned to raise the issue of the environment and engage community members in a series of activities, particularly around recycling (which community members knew virtually nothing about). They now plan to roll out the programme in other rural communities.
  • The observation that community foundations are able to bring together different parts of the community around a particular problem around which no others were engaged. The Tuzla Community Foundation’s grant from the GFCF, for example, was aimed at addressing the problem of the large numbers of stray dogs in the town. Through a series of consultations with NGOs, local government and members of the public organized by the foundation, a multi-pronged programme has emerged to deal with the issue. As a result of this success, the foundation has since found itself invited to take part in other, wider, conversations with local government and other stakeholders about environmental issues in their community.
  • The confirmation that where community foundations have an established base and trusted relationships with a range of stakeholders, they can mobilize quickly and appropriately in the face of an emergency. Again, in Tuzla, following the severe flooding of May 2014, the community foundation was quick to mobilize, providing boots and shovels for the clean-up operation, emergency grants of €200 and larger, €2,000 grants, for bigger initiatives. At a recent GFCF board meeting, the director of the community foundation observed that 74 grants were made to long-term partners in the aftermath of the floods, the kind of rapid response that international NGOs arriving somewhere for the first time would be pushed to achieve.
  • The observation that the environment is not a stand-alone issue but rather cuts across every aspect of community life. Some of the examples that emerged at the meeting included:

– Environment and social justice (exploitation of trafficked children): the Foundation for Social Transformation in Guwahati, India, for example, used its grant to conduct a mapping exercise of grassroots groups working on environmental issues in the region and found that much of the environmental degradation that is taking place in one of the world’s environmental “hotspots” in terms of its rich biodiversity is associated with coal mining and, in particular, the practice of “rat-hole” mining which involves thousands of (normally trafficked) children being sent down narrow tunnels to dig for coal.

– Environment and gender: when Tewa convened its partners (mainly grassroots women’s groups) to discuss the impact of climate change on their lives, it became clear that the environment was not only a poor people’s issue but that the largest impacts were being felt by women, still a highly marginalized segment of the Nepali population.

There was agreement within the group too about two things:

  • Ordinary people often do not see themselves as having a stake in the environment, even though they are the ones that are being impacted (and each organization had a story to share about poor air quality, contaminated water sources, food security etc.). It seems specialist and remote, the terrain of global advocacy groups, governments and policy-makers. On their part, many community foundations – who are also often not specialists – find themselves responding to the symptoms of climate change but that they are also challenged to engage with root causes, particularly when they are confronted with trade-offs between economic development and environmental stewardship.
  • At the same time, community foundations constitute a growing network of local organizations on that are on the ground which are building trust, working holistically, are high in local ownership, are responsive to local needs and able to connect across their community. And yet every organization in the room felt financially vulnerable and expressed a frustration that they often struggled to be understood within their own communities (the idea of local philanthropy is still very new in many emerging markets and developing contexts and grantmaking is also not well-established as a way of working).

The community philanthropy sector has also long been overlooked by international donors (with a handful of exceptions that provide the basis of the GFCF’s own funding) as they too look for answers in the debates around sustainability and resilience.  In 2011 a report, Defining Disaster Resilience, produced by the UK’s Department for International Development noted that:

“Sensitivity and adaptive capacity are determined by the pool of assets and resources that can be mobilised in the face of shocks and stresses. Assets and resources can be social, human, technological, physical, economic, financial, environmental, natural, and political.”

Are we not talking about the same things – community philanthropy and resilience? Are we in fact ships passing each other in the night, singing the same song but in different languages? Isn’t there some linking up to be done here?

Jenny Hodgson is Executive Director of the GFCF

New grants for community philanthropy and the environment to Turkey, Bosnia, Egypt and Nepal!

The GFCF is pleased to announce grants totalling $117,000 to 10 community foundations and community philanthropy organizations for a new programme aimed at exploring the links between community philanthropy and the environment. New grantees include the Bolu Community Foundation in Turkey, the Tuzla Community Foundation in Bosnia, the Waqfeyat al Maadi Community Foundation in Egypt and Tewa in Nepal.

This programme represents a new area of exploration for the GFCF and builds on a series of activities conducted last in year which included consultations and two pilot grants in Romania and South Africa. In addition to grants to individual organizations, the GFCF will create a peer learning network and will host at least one face-to-face meeting later this year.

A full list of grants can be found here

 

Photo courtesy of the Monteverde Community Fund in Costa Rica, another 2014 GFCF environment grantee

Local foundations in the Balkans mobilize to support flood-affected communities

Communities across the Balkans are struggling to recover from the May 2014 flooding, the worst in a century after three months of rain fell over the period of just three days. With more than half a million citizens having to flee their homes, and with tens of thousands without drinking water, Bosnia’s Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija compared the destruction to that of the country’s 1992 – 1995 war.

Stepping up in the immediate aftermath of the flooding were several local foundations based across the Balkans including the Mozaik Foundation, Trag Foundation and Tuzla Community Foundation (among others). With boots on the ground, robust networks of partners, and the flexibility to move quickly, these foundations can mobilize quickly, proving immediate relief and timely information sharing in vulnerable areas affected by such disasters.

Only a week earlier, the Tuzla Community Foundation had been awarded a grant through the GFCF’s new grants programme which focuses on the role of community philanthropy organizations and local environmental issues, with a particular interest on how community foundations can help build and foster community resilience. Who could have expected that this issue would arrive so emphatically at the foundation’s door as flood waters rose across the community?

Moving beyond immediate needs, each of these foundations will have a key role to play in assisting individuals, families and communities in rebuilding their livelihoods, and contributing to finding lasting solutions to help those affected recover. To support these organizations in their vital work, please refer to links below for information on how to contribute to the Balkans flood relief.

Mozaik Foundation (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Trag Foundation (Serbia)

Tuzla Community Foundation (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

European Foundation Centre

 

Photo courtesy of Mozaik Foundation

 

Latest from the EdgeFunders’ Just Giving Social Philanthropy Conference: updates from our on-the-spot bloggers here!

Nora Lester Murad, writer and volunteer with Dalia Association, Palestine’s community foundation, Dana Doan, Adviser to the LIN Center for Community Development in Vietnam and Fulufhelo Netswera, Tswera Community Foundation are at the EdgeFunders’ Just Giving Social Philanthropy Conference in Berkeley, CA, where they will be speaking in a session on community philanthropy. They will contributing a series of blogs over the course of the conference. The most recent blog is at the top.

Nora Lester Murad, Dana Doan and Fulu Netswera, our intrepid bloggers at the EdgeFunders Conference

Wednesday 30th April 2014: Fulu on philanthropy in the context of complex global issues

 Today was another day filled with moving philanthropic experiences shared by foundations here at the EDGE Funders Alliance conference in Berkeley, CA.

The day started with at least three interesting performances. The three poems are inspired by the importance of benevolence and the work of philanthropic organisations all over the world. I realise very much how much it helps to visualise and dramatize important matters than just talk through some often “cold” PowerPoint slides and these plays reinforces an important learning angle:

The first poem presents intricacies and interconnectedness of life all over the plant to which the “well-off” is often oblivious. How important it is to realise that the your refrigerator is stocked with food that is produced of cheap labour exploited by big multinational corporates and that it is polluted by pesticides to which your body would soon falls sick;

  • The second poem was a dialogue between a human and earth. Earth reminds man that they are slowly sliding away from natural existence retreating into their concrete jungles, destroying forests and the little left fresh water sources continually dissing this relationship and fulfilling this void with new found gadgets and toys. Earth reminds man that she will survive with or without this relationship but will mankind survive?; and
  • The third poem paints a scene of two protests taking place at Washington DC. The first protest is Free Palestine movement and the second is Gay Rights parade. The march paints interesting contrast in life priorities and interests. The voices are competing as the two marches move parallel each other towards the capitol shouting free Palestine!….Gay rights now! Towards the end a singular voice emerges in this shouting match; “…Palestine Gay Rights!” These noises all over the world distract us of what in order of priority many may agree needs attention first and by all.

The plenary was equally moving titled, “Strategies for the historic shifts we need”. The panellists comprised Walden Bello who is Philippine author, academic and member of congress; Million Belay director of MELCA Mahiber who is a food sovereign activist from Ethiopia; Sarita Gupta who is executive director of Jobs with Justice and Holly Bartling of the Human Rights and Economic Justice Programme. Important takeaways from this plenary can be summarised as:

  • People do not perpetually tolerate huge and obvious disparities in wealth. The French revolution repeats itself all the time all over the world and we seem not to learn. Will it not repeat itself this time on a global scale? The big question is whose solutions will the general public chose? Will corporate, the rich and middle class retain the privileges that they have when the next class revolution happens? In a highly globalised world that is fast moving towards unprecedented disparities we need to continuously consider that production should firstly benefit local than export markets and capital. Economic policy should thus be subjected to democratic processes and swing away from further corporatisation;
  • Africa and the world are faced with increasing mouths to feed annually amidst disparity in consumption patterns and contrasting increase in climatic change, soil degradation and erosion and poor yield. It seems that everyone has solutions for Africa but no one has genuine interest for its development than just exploitation of Africa and the developing world. The green revolution should therefore recognise the rights of African farmers (mostly women) and their farming methods. Through interventions by international governments and corporations African agriculture has slowly been changed into agribusiness thereby eroding the important cultural elements of farming, water and soil treatment which are long indigenous African traditions. Million gave practical examples of how his programmes are making a difference in the restoration of fish stocks and turning unproductive land into fertile land using traditional methodologies in Ethiopia; and
  • One of the biggest challenge that faces humanity is attaining a livelihood through one’s labour. Trends internationally are that jobs are becoming contingent, part time, contracted thereby minimising the historic value associated with valuable and useful work. In the new forms of labour relations employees no longer negotiate conditions and lack stability and benefits of normal jobs. A variety of Jobs for Justice specifically in the retail sector has led to numerous litigations with giant retailors and their supply chain and logistical feeding industries that are continuously eroding and violating labour rights. Jobs for Justice won a big battle against Wall Mart forcing the industry to ensure that no abuses and exploitation from all its suppliers all over the world is tolerated and workers interests are protected.

 

There were also interesting lessons from one of the day’s parallel session titled “From Transaction to Transformation: why structural racialization analysis is essential for challenging global corporate power”. The discussions led by John Powell, Taj James and Saru Jayaraman flagged the following points:

 

  • The role of government overtime has shifted to protect corporates who are wrongfully perceived to be economic producers than protecting the interests of the general public and workers;
  • Explored how big corporates always get their favourite policies approved by legislature despite public protests because they are able to “buy” and sponsor power acquisition; and
  • Provided evidence proved that continuous expansion of corporate rights shrinks civil and human rights;

 

The political other represent those with no political voice and therefore no legislative representation. As the public gains more rights corporate slowly erode these rights. Example: when the public won the right to vote; the corporate South in America ensured the introduction of new legislative measure like voter ID and no vote rights for convicted felons.

The goal post keeps shifting to ensure the public is on the back foot and corporate interests are secured. There is recognition of the growth in anxiety among the racial other (blacks, Latinos and Muslim). We should realise that we can only deal with the environment and racial prejudices from public policy front and not from the economic (income inequality) front first. We can’t address inequality through tinkering with the economy like the minimum wages. The struggle should be for equitable in ownership across race. Although philanthropy realises the challenges of inequality and marginalisation its response unfortunately is often that we have bigger global challenges to confront like ecology thereby ignoring the root causes of the same major challenges.

Lookout for my next and final report from the EDGE Funders Alliance conference at the Bay in San Francisco FNetswera@gmail.com 

Wednesday 30th April 2014: Fulu asks whose side we choose to be on

Yesterday was an important day for philanthropy worldwide as the second EDGE (Engaged Donors for Global Equity) Funders Alliance conference got underway here in Berkeley, CA.

The facilitator opened the conference with a chorus, “Whose side are you on?”, that forced me reflect on the possibilities of the duality or multiplicity of side that mankind has to consider for and as their personal, social and economic choices for association. Or are there obvious choices really I wonder? How obvious is it to an everyday man the clarity of these choices or are these choices at all? Are the choices as clear either for corporates or is it survival of the fittest in this economic Wild West?

1. To be one with nature or to destroy our habitat as we know it?

2. To continue the capitalist/corporate greed at an all profit or nothing orientation and majority profit for a few?

To complement the chorus; a short video clip (ecology project) by Gopal Dayaneni that educates all about the meaning and importance of the principles of Eco (home) ology (nature/biodiversity) was screened suggesting that man “is/should be” one with nature. However man has taken a greedy path of extractive role by amassing finite earthly resources at a pace unsustainable. 

It seemed by the introduction of the inaugural plenary that philanthropy has chosen its side in this “struggle” by the introduction of the conference plenary titled “components of just transition”. The discussants (Sarah Hobson, Susan George, Kumi Naidoo and Maria Poblet) provided a compelling argument for the urgency of the required “transition” which should be “just” to all humans and ecology. 

Without repeating the entire plenary; among others, were important talk points and deductions:

 

  • There is a flaw in thinking the economy can sustain an infinite growth and mankind has to change that attitude;   
  • Man should consider possibilities of an economy with minimal externalities (pollution, labour exploitation, huge gaps between rich and poor, etc.);
  • Unfettered capitalism leads to inequality. Mankind (neoliberal economists [banks, gas companies, etc.]) have eroded the gains of post-world war (decolonization, women’s rights, universal health care, etc.) and the struggle should be to consolidate some of these gains.

The challenge we all face is global and systematic and small man is largely not able to influence major policies that matter. Kumi Naidoo closed by reminding everyone on the save earth campaign that mankind has already run out of time and that the planet needs no saving because it has the power to replenish with or without mankind.

The big question looms still; whose side are the philanthropic “intermediaries”? Do we realize the existence of the philanthropic movement is an outcome of the same extractionist capitalist system and we are complacent in perpetuation of the capitalist trickle down ideology? Naidoo reminded all that in all of history where mankind won; the struggles were characterized by ultimate sacrifice. It seems that mankind has already started an uprising against corporate and political greed worldwide if one chooses to look at it closely.

Gandhi: “…first they will ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”

The subsequent exchanges in parallel sessions were as cross sectional as they were informative. Lookout for my subsequent reports from San Francisco FNetswera@gmail.com 

Tuesday 29th April 2014: Dana on the vexed question of whom it is that intermediaries serve? Donors or communities?  

The conference started with an adapted version of the union organizing song “What Side Are You On?”  Little did I realize at the time how much that little ditty would affect me throughout the first day of dialogues.

My first breakout session of the day focused on “The importance of intermediaries in advancing social justice”. I choose that workshop because I assumed they would talk about organizations like the one I represent.  Then, somewhere in the middle of the presentations and questions from panelists, I became confused by the way we were talking about intermediaries.

The panelists shared that, to them, intermediaries are:

  • Issue experts and thought leaders;
  • Networkers and collaborators;
  • Making grassroots organizing possible;
  • Helping big donors disburse grants to small organizations;
  • Offering political cover to Foundation staff looking that want to overcome Trustee tendencies towards traditional philanthropy;
  • Important mechanisms for getting resources to the base;
  • Providing technical assistance to grassroots organizations;
  • Giving funders the stories they need;
  • Making it possible for their organizations to seek systemic change;
  • More effective messengers for change; and/or
  • The most loyal and strategic funder partners.

While some of these ideas fit my organization, others did not sit well.

Then Nora Murad, from the Dalia Association in Palestine, which I consider to be a peer organization, asked a question, making it clear that she does not see her organization as an intermediary either. Nora and I had an opportunity to talk for a bit about this after the workshop and, through that conversation, I realized my confusion lay in the fact that the discussion focused on being intermediaries for the funders.

For me and my colleagues at the LIN Center for Community Development, in Vietnam, our intermediary role was constructed to benefit our community. The work that we do and the organizations we support are and always have been determined based on our mission – to improve social outcomes by organizing different stakeholders that desire change.  As such, I really like and better relate to the term and description for Backbone Organizations, as coined by The Greater Cincinnati Foundation and FSG, in a 2012 report.  While we track the outcomes of our small grants, more important to us is how we can build common ground, how we can help to form new partnerships and how we can ensure good communication’s and a transparent process that people can understand and trust.

That’s all just to say that I do know what side we are on.

We are on the side of humanity.

Tuesday 29th April 2014: Nora again, on moving the conversation up a gear and a welcome break from log frames

By mid-morning on Day One, I was already basking in gratitude. Hearing these folks talk about transformation of the global economy, dismantling of power structures that perpetuate inequality, renewing relationships between human beings and the planet—wow! Coming from Palestine where donors talk about inputs and outputs and indicators and where “good practice” is often defined by submission of timely reports, my hope is refreshed. I had no idea that people were still talking about social justice. That people’s movements were still a living aspiration. Then, when the lights dimmed for the showing of the eight-minute film, “The Meaning of Home” I found myself holding my breath. I didn’t want to miss a word or risk spoiling the moment by the banal act of breathing. With powerful visuals, impassioned explanations, the film explained the components of ecological justice in a way that made me want to cheer. And the day got even better when at every opportunity these funders asked themselves, “What is our role in global transformation?” I am inspired!

 Tuesday 29th April 2014: Nora, on being neither a “funder” nor a “non-funder”

A pre-conference meeting preceded the opening welcome panel, and already the contradictions and challenges of defining “community philanthropy” have come to the fore. The organizers of EdgeFunders’ Just Giving Social Philanthropy Conference in Berkeley, CA called for a caucus of “non-funder” conference attendees. Slowly, as the word spread, the small room filled up with an exciting mix of climate justice activists, food sovereignty advocates, indigenous leaders, and others.

It made sense to me that folks who aren’t donors might have unique needs to fully benefit from a meeting primarily composed of grantmakers, but I am not sure whether or not Dalia Association, Palestine’s community foundation, is a “funder” or not. One could say that Dalia is a funder. Dalia is a community foundation. Dalia gives grants. On the other hand, Dalia is not a donor. We aren’t “giving” “our” “money” to others. We are “mobilizing” “collective” “resources” for “communities” to use because it is their “right.”

As the conversation goes on, I’m realizing that the concept of “philanthropy” that is being used is perhaps unclear, or perhaps I don’t agree with it, or perhaps it is in transition. Are the ones who give money “philanthropists” and the ones who give time, expertise, sweat, ideas, passion merely “receivers?” I take the risk to raise this question and it is warmly received, embraced actually. One guy says that all the resources that funders have were actually stolen from others, and that even funders who recognize that the need for massive social transformation may not acknowledge that philanthropy too must change. We’re all in process. What a very exciting conversation…

Call for concept notes: community foundations and the environment grants pilot

The GFCF is inviting concept notes for a grants and peer learning programme at strengthening the links between community philanthropy, people-led development and the environment in ways that are holistic and process-driven.

The purpose of these short-term grants will be to support the work of individual community foundations and community philanthropy organizations, both programmatically and institutionally, and to begin to draw a map of the range of different activities around the environment in which community philanthropy organizations are engaged.

Grants will be in the range of US $7,000 – $12,000 and the grant period will run from April 15th – December 31st 2014.

Read the full set of grant guidelines here

Guest blog: Converging concepts for more effective philanthropy in Monteverde, Costa Rica

Read the blog in Spanish

What do tourism, sustainable development and community philanthropy have in common? In Monteverde, Costa Rica, a secluded region with the largest complex of private reserves in Central America and host to over one-hundred thousand visitors annually, they all form an integral part of our past and our future. In the following blog, I share some personal experiences with the changing face of philanthropy in my adoptive mountain home.

Where conservation and community coexist. Since the late 1960s, local residents and organizations here have successfully harnessed the capacity of international philanthropy and eco-tourism to purchase and protect more than 25,000 hectares of unique tropical forests. Small-scale dairy and coffee production, mixed with agro- and adventure-tourism, have also helped preserve a predominately rural landscape in most areas adjacent to the protected forests.

Thanks to many of these development trends, residents enjoy a number of employment opportunities and public services, as well as benefit from infrastructure typically unseen in such remote locales. A historically pioneering spirit and sense of community collaboration have also led to the opening of over forty grassroots organizations, educational institutions, cooperatives and public offices. Of course, many of these entities have been beneficiaries of direct business donations and other generous forms of local philanthropy over the past decades.

Testing community resilience. Despite numerous benefits, the progressing drift toward tourism in recent years has continued to produce complex environmental, social and economic challenges that still go unmet. Examples include unplanned urbanization around the town center, increased pollution and stresses on natural resources, the globalization of cultural norms, the homogenization of economic activity, as well as decreased food security, just to mention a few. In order to confront these issues, local organizations, leaders and residents have facilitated participatory planning processes in order to clearly define common goals and strategies between the public, private and non-profit sectors. Often, the central question is “how can we more effectively engage the influential tourism industry to promote desired change?”, whether that be through better growth planning, a more equitable distribution of resources or the implementation of best practices at the individual business and destination level. This question becomes increasingly difficult over time as needs within the community evolve and new solutions are required.

Travelers’ Philanthropy, a potentially key ingredient. In response to this central question, a group of local residents and I have established the Monteverde Community Fund. We specialize in grant making, technical assistance, training and network development in order to support the innovative efforts of existing community organizations and work groups to meet emerging challenges. Our aim is to be inclusive, creative, flexible and supportive, and at the heart of our work are three core beliefs:  

 

  1. The local community is able to create the change it needs
  2. The absence of organized resource mobilization can inhibit good ideas from becoming tangible realities
  3. The lack of long-term thinking and short-term capacity-building can turn good projects into quick memories

 

 

Our principal focus at the moment is strengthening a fundraising platform at the destination level, known as the Monteverde Travelers’ Philanthropy Program, supporting the development of larger proposals with partners such as the local Municipality and Biological Corridor Council, and promoting a culture of grant making.

Photo: Selena Avendaño Leadem

“Travelers’ Philanthropy”, specifically, is a term coined by the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) that simply refers to the tangible contribution of ‘time, talent and treasure’ by tourism companies and visitors to local projects beyond what is generated through normal business transactions. CREST co-founder and co-director, Dr. Martha Honey, notes that a well-organized program can generate significant resources for a host community to promote social empowerment, sustainable long-term development and environmental conservation.[1] This program grew out of a pilot project originally led by the Monteverde Institute and supported by the Inter-American Foundation (IAF), the Global Fund for Community Foundations (GFCF) and CREST. Its main objective is to mobilize resources from a broad network of tourism businesses and equitably channel them to local initiatives by means of a Small Grants Program, with an eye toward community-identified priorities, generating tangible impacts and building capacity for grantees.

Growth of Travelers’ Philanthropy and Community Funds in Costa Rica. Travelers’ philanthropy is not a new practice in Monteverde or in Costa Rica. For years, programs across the country have captured tourism donations for community projects (e.g., sea turtle conservation in Tortuguero, environmental education in the Osa Peninsula, reforestation in Monteverde, etc.). Thus, the innovations of our program are: 1) we are seeking to involve a diversity of local and national businesses as strategic partners in the fundraising process, not just see them as ‘one-off’ donors; 2) we are implementing commercial products such as a “city tour” to create greater financial sustainability; and, 3) we are seeking to equitably support a variety of thematic areas important to the community, not just one single initiative.

Photo: Justin Welch

One of the more interesting trends observed over the past year is the coupling of resource mobilization strategies of travelers’ philanthropy with the concept of a community, or common, fund.  For example, one of the leading national organizations for promoting rural tourism, ACTUAR, is exploring ways in which it can effectively utilize travelers’ philanthropy to further benefit its network of rural tourism associations across the country. Also, the CRUSA Foundation recently announced its new Guanacaste Community Fund in an effort to address some of the environmental and social disparities of this region so heavily impacted by international tourism development. One of their foreseen strategies is using endowed funds to leverage additional private donations from tourism companies and international visitors.

Building a case for the Monteverde Community Fund. As complimentary concepts like sustainable tourism, social corporate responsibility and ecological economics continue to gain traction in Costa Rica, our hope is that potential business partners will see the comparative advantage of a collaborative travelers’ philanthropy program (i.e., one where their contributions can be multiplied by others) combined with a community fund structure (i.e., a model that facilitates participatory decision-making and supports a diversity of projects). Not only does this make sense from a strategic collaboration standpoint, but the act of reinvesting in the destination where they send customers also makes long-term economic sense.

Nevertheless, I can attest that it has been no easy task to develop the idea of Travelers’ Philanthropy and the model of a community fund simultaneously. Not only is raising new funds a challenging endeavor, but so too is the more protracted process of soliciting proposals, selecting projects and providing follow-up. Based on our experiences to date, I am consistently reminded of the concerns shared by other community foundation practitioners in the 2012 meeting of GFCF partners in Dinokeng, South Africa who spoke of the challenges in articulating the case for community foundations and demonstrating their added-value. I often reflect on the ideas and insights shared by these veteran peers and have more than once referenced the indicators of intangible impacts compiled in the report “A New Generation of Community Philanthropy.”[2] Both resources have been essential to staying motivated and focused in our worthy endeavor.

As I look forward to the future of the Monteverde Community Fund, I am encouraged by the small but steady successes and am heartened by the fact that we are following a similar path of many well established foundations. Thanks to additional support from the Inter-American Foundation and local donors we were able to fund four environmental and social projects in the first year alone. Projects ranged from water resource protection and alternative energy to a community radio station led by youth and a campaign to control the stray animal population. And, our network of business supporters seems to grow almost by the day. Certainly, we too will leave a lasting footprint on the history of this place we call home.

Justin Welch is Executive Director of the Monteverde Community Fund. He has had extensive experience with multi-stakeholder processes and resource mobilization strategies since his arrival to Monteverde in 2006. Welch is an environmental science and policy specialist by training, and has worked for the University of Georgia, the local Biological Corridor Council and the University of Costa Rica on various consulting projects regarding water resource management and land conservation. Between 2008 and 2013 he led the Water Resources Program, and later the Community Programs Department, at local non-profit, the Monteverde Institute. Contact: admin@monteverdefund.org; 506-8313-0799.

 


[1] Welch, J. and R. Bailes [2013]. The Quick Guide for Establishing a Destination-wide Travelers’ Philanthropy Program: A Synthesis of Best Practices from Around the World & Experiences from Monteverde, Costa Rica. Monteverde Institute.

[2] Hodgson, J., B. Knight and A. Mathie (March, 2012). A New Generation of Community Philanthropy. Global Fund for Community Foundations and Coady International Institute.

GFCF awards three new grants!

In October and November 2013, the GFCF awarded three new grants to partners in Kenya, South Africa and Romania. A grant of $12,350 to the Kilimani Project Foundation in Nairobi, Kenya, will support its institutional development and start-up costs. The Community Development Foundation Western Cape (South Africa) and Covasna Community Foundation (Romania) were awarded grants of $9,140 and $8,000 respectively under a pilot programme aimed at strengthening the links between community philanthropy and the environment.

Kilimani Project Foundation, Nairobi

Call for applications for joint action research pilot to map community philanthropy institutions’ work on the environment!

The GFCF is looking to engage a global cohort of community foundations and community philanthropy organizations in a joint mapping exercise to explore their work in issues related to their local environment

This call for submissions is only open to organizations that define themselves as community foundations, community philanthropy institutions, grassroots grantmakers and other types of local fundraising / grantmaking institutions. NGOs which implement programmes directly are not eligible to participate. (Find out more about selection criteria and FAQs)

Guidelines for this initiative can be downloaded here.

Deadline for submissions is May 20th 2013.

 

New grants include an environmental initiative in Costa Rica and a community foundation start up in South Africa – plus Zimbabwe, South Africa and the Philippines

The GFCF is pleased to announce US $70,000 in grants to five new and current partners in Costa Rica, South Africa, Zimbabwe and the Philippines. The grants include the first in a pilot programme focused on community foundations and the environment (supported by the Mott Foundation): the Monteverde Institute in Costa Rica is leading a  process to establish a community foundation for environmental conservation and sustainable community development, for which a key income stream will contributions from visiting tourists.

Monteverde Institute, Costa Rica: community leaders and activists discuss tourism and the environment

The Westlake Community Foundation is neighbourhood-based initiative in Cape Town which is being supported by the Community Development Foundation for Western Cape. A $3,000 grant has been awarded for start-up activities.

Also in South Africa, the West Coast Community Foundation has been awarded $20,000 for two separate initiatives – the introduction of MyMachine in South Africa and for a second regional peer learning event on community foundations and youth civic engagement.

Click here for a full list of all our recent grants