From tinkering to transformation: why Africa needs a strong community philanthropy sector

The familiarity of the scene was both startling and sobering. A couple of months ago, I joined a field visit to a village in eastern Uganda, a stunningly green and mountainous part of the country, rich in coffee and banana trees. The experience transported me back twenty years to my first proper experience of Africa.

Back in 1992, fresh from university, I had spent a year in a village in the far southwestern tip of Uganda, teaching English (one text-book per ten students) and Health Science (which depended too much, unfortunately, on my rather inadequate chalkboard drawings). I learned how to crochet (and spent many an hour producing intricate seat covers in white and dazzling pink and discussing the relative merits of Uganda village life versus that in large British city with my crochet friends, the school’s secretary and the librarian), attended several weddings in far flung corners of Kabale’s surrounding hills, and wondered why tins of World Food Programme fish were being sold at our local shop. And all against the backdrop of booms of gunfire, that were the sounds of a civil war being fought over the border in Rwanda.

At school, each term a nurse would come to school to check if any of the girls were pregnant. If yes, they were promptly expelled. And, too often, bright students would disappear for weeks on end to return, after a severe bout of malaria, with less of a sparkle in their eyes and less ability in their schoolwork. I also got to see how various government policies played out at village level. Uganda’s World Bank-supported Structural Adjustment Programme was then in full flow: in the village this meant that the school closed and all teaching was halted as “ghost” teachers were weeded out from the pay roll. It was a mystifying process to all of us. In terms of elections, years of brutal civil war and a complete break-down in trust, had led the government to introduce a new, fully transparent system that dispensed with ballot boxes and involved voters actually lining up behind their chosen candidate so that there was no doubt as to the result (and on voting days, there also seemed to be more beer in circulation than usual). Most people seemed to feel it was a more credible process than closed, and often stuffed, ballots boxes.

But what I learnt more than anything during that year was how different the world looks from a position of poverty. Obviously I was a comparatively wealthy foreigner, but as the months went by, I got to understand and appreciate the forces – so often random and unstoppable – that shook and shaped the community: heavy rains wiping out a field or a home, cerebral malaria or AIDS taking away a breadwinner. The effect was to limit people’s expectations, and to foster a sense of passive fatalism, powerlessness, and ultimately acceptance. And beyond that, I learnt how the community saw the forces of “development” – as something wholly external, something “done to” a village, a project or initiative that might seem bewildering to those on the receiving end, but which would be accepted dutifully with the conclusion that “someone up there” must know what they are meant to be doing. 

And here we were two decades later, in a very similar looking village in Uganda. Although the overall story we were there to hear was a positive one (a small grant had helped the community to organize itself through a goat farming project, people who had never really spoken to each other were now working side by side and the women “had found their voice”), it was hard not to feel a sense of disappointment, and by extension, of something close to guilt. There was the deep curtsey of the woman who greeted us, eyes cast down, hand extended in the formal elbow-hold African handshake that is sign of respect although, sometimes, feels like supplication – that the outsiders must automatically be better or superior; the hint of gender dynamics that dictated that the woman stoop so low but not the men; the village school – that looked exactly like the one in which I had taught my more memorable classes on water-borne diseases – more suited to housing cattle than learning, and with a metal roof that would be the cause of an almighty and deafen clatter whenever it rained; stories told of children still being sent home from school because although primary education is free, there are still various hidden fees needing to be paid and parents still failing to manage this.

Don’t get me wrong, the overall trajectory of social development indicators in Uganda is generally positive. Under-five mortality rates are down from 178 per 1,000 to around 60, and there has been a significant reduction of mother to child transmission of HIV. What was striking, however, was how the overall conversation in the village had remained the same: the goat story was a bright spot in a broader scene of stagnation, poverty, and isolation. No one we spoke to could think of anyone from the village who had actually ever left to get work in the nearby town, let alone Kampala.

The term “brief-case NGO” is a well-used shorthand across Africa for the dodgier parts of a civil society sector that is not particularly well trusted. And indeed, in the village, the stereotype rang only too true: its only previous experience of an NGO had left a bad taste – promises had been made, but this was followed either by a change of heart or downright dishonesty on the part of the NGO which was never seen again.

Standing there, watching and listening, I felt a sense of sadness and shame. How could it be this way? I have spent the last twenty years studying, learning about, working in philanthropy and development – a fast-changing field where new ideas, approaches, the next “silver bullet” pop up with an astonishing frequency. Structural adjustment had come and gone. Then there were the Millennium Development Goals and, coming soon, the Sustainable Development Goals. In philanthropy we’ve seen grantmaking and non-grantmaking approaches, the emergence of “strategic” philanthropy, venture philanthropy, impact investing…  And yet, here in this one village, it struck me that fundamentally very little had really changed for people; that an isolated community had never been aware of – let alone been involved in – the lively and dynamic conversation that the rest of us in development have been having.

Of course, critiques of aid are not new and there are some particularly good and urgent ones around at the moment. In fact, it was a meeting to explore ways to demonstrate and advocate for more community-driven approaches to development that had brought me back to Uganda this year (the goats project was the result of a highly engaged grant made by the meeting organizers, Spark Microgrants). For two days, against the stunning backdrop of Mount Elgon, a group of NGOs and a couple of donors had mulled over the contradictions and complexities of development aid, all united in the belief that there had to be better ways to work and that each of the organizations present possessed some component of that “better way”.

I note, with no small sense of irony, that too many meetings in hotel conference rooms can only reinforce the sense of displacement I’ve already described. What is the alternative? (Ideas please! There’s a comments section below). But I am afraid I am going to have to take you to one more conference room before I finish here.

A few weeks’ before the Uganda visit, the GFCF had brought together a group of community philanthropy partners from across Africa in Arusha, Tanzania, to meet and learn from each other and to also to work together to better articulate a development approach that can be more reflective of the interests and abilities of the people it’s meant to serve. So we were joined by people from Egypt, Congo, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Ethiopia, who each represent the various scattered and multi-lingual outposts of this emerging conversation about community philanthropy as an alternative development approach.GFCF Partners convening in Arusha, June 2015

One of the main topics of discussion was around a piece of research that the GFCF has been working on with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund in South Africa. We were interested in testing the hypothesis – often aired but harder to demonstrate – that local grantmakers and foundations bring something distinct to the table; that, beyond money, local foundations can play all sorts of other roles, as mentors, connectors and long-term sources of support; that they can support and help build local organizations which can indeed bring in local people and not just leave the business of development to “experts” (I lost track of how many people had joined savings or self-help groups and contributed to village funds on our site visits to Limpopo for the research, but it was a phenomenal number); that when such local foundations are themselves fundraisers trying to address issues of their own long-term sustainability, such preoccupations get – consciously or unconsciously – passed on to their grantees; and that issues around decision-making and governance – and therefore power – become more important than ever. The kinds of things that might move a community from being passive recipients of development to engaged participants.

We wondered whether we could identify, together, some of that “magic mixture” and if so, whether we would be better able to say why, for example, local African foundations are better than external donors at doing things like reaching deep into communities in meaningful ways, in listening to local people (without the same complications that can often arise from visits from “outsider”) and in building trust. If that village in Uganda had had a ten-year relationship with a local grantmaking foundation (as in the case of the Makutano Development Association in Kenya) would the situation have looked any different?

It is clear that there has to be a fundamental shift in how development is done and it needs to offer a framework that connects people to people, ideas to ideas, concepts to concepts, vertically from communities to big donor institutions and, as importantly, horizontally across communities in all their diversity. Tinkering at the edges of development is fine but what is needed is big change.

We were fortunate to be joined at our meeting by the redoubtable Joyce Malombe, author of the first report commissioned by the World Bank back in 2000 to examine the potential role for community foundations to play in fostering community-driven development, and someone who can be relied upon to bring a conversation down to brass tacks. We asked Joyce to reflect on the current state and relevance of the African community philanthropy field. Here are some thoughts that stayed with me:

 

  • There is nothing more powerful than when people / communities know what it is they want, and can be supported in voicing those aspirations, and building the institutions that can deliver them.
  • That’s the magic so often missing from “development.” If communities are left behind, or out of the mix, development will never get anywhere
  • If we, as practitioners, believe the above, then we have no choice but to make it happen: we need to get better at talking about what we mean with clarity and confidence and at demonstrating what successful community development can look like.

 

Jenny Hodgson, GFCF Executive Director

Alliance magazine requests your input – Sustainable Development Goals survey

Sustainable Development Goals: How much do you know? What do you think the role of foundations should be? Where will they be most effective?

Alliance magazine’s special feature in December will investigate philanthropy’s role in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A proposed set of targets to ensure that global development serves the poorest people without creating new environmental problems or exacerbating climate change, the SDGs replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGS) once they expire at the end of the year.

The goals reflect the experience of the MDGS, which aimed to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, introduce universal primary education, reduce infant mortality, improve maternal health, and ensure environmental sustainability. The MDG process was designed to build partnerships for development among bilateral donors, government and private sector givers and businesses. Most countries have made progress toward the MDGs, but few achieved every one of them.

The SDGs are more comprehensive. The long list of goals starts with unmet millennium goals — beginning with “end poverty” and “end hunger.” The SDGs also include “well-being”, water and sanitation, “safe cities”, and reducing inequality. Goal 17, “mechanisms and partnerships toward achieving the goals”, is thought to resonate most among philanthropic institutions.

Unlike the MDGs, this is a universal agenda: all governments will be expected to adopt it and to report on its progress and achievements. The SDGs will drive policy-making and the bulk of official development assistance, as well as the work of development ministries and government departments around the world. Organizations and governments have been negotiating post-2015 plans and strategies for many years.

This Alliance survey is aimed to provide its readers an opportunity to express their views and their knowledge about the SDGs. The results will form a part of Alliance’s coverage of these issues in its December 2015 issue and help both writers and readers plan their own SDGs approach.

Please take a few minutes to respond to the questions at this link. Your answers will be completely confidential. Alliance will report the aggregated findings in December.

Can African grantmakers transcend past development strategies?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

By: Jenny Hodgson, GFCF Executive Director

This piece originally appeared on the Alliance Magazine website.

 

 

Community philanthropy and development: Deepening the discussion

Issue 1: Community philanthropy and mutual accountability

One of the things that Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy offers is a rather unique platform for a diverse set of donors and development practitioners to come together to expand their understanding and share learnings about complex issues in development and, in particular, how community philanthropy might perform a particular and valuable role that results in more effective development outcomes.

A few weeks’ ago a conversation began between some members of the Alliance about how community philanthropy might foster greater mutual accountability. We thought it would be good to invite others to contribute to this discussion so we tidied up what was originally an email exchange, sharpened our thinking and have published the conversation so far. Please join the discussion!

The question:

I would like be able to be able to distinguish more clearly community philanthropy from other forms of civil society support. Specifically, there is a reference in “A Different Kind of Wealth” (a GFCF publication on African community foundations) to one of the defining features of community philanthropy being “mutual accountability” between the philanthropic organization and its community. I’m wondering if you could say a bit about how you see that form of mutual accountability as distinct from efforts by outside donors to support CSOs (assuming that the donors aim to support the CSOs relationship with its community/constituency).

I also wonder if you can speak to the way that having grantmaking power affects this pre-existing mutual accountability relationship.

I suppose part of my aim is to be able, in discussions with colleagues who say “we already support mutual accountability when we work with CSOs,” to have more clarity on how the community philanthropy meaning of that term might be distinct from the typical donor efforts to support the same.

The response:

Thanks for your question about the extent to which community philanthropy can foster mutual accountability between a local philanthropic organization and its community. It is indeed a big and important question and one that, where community foundations / community philanthropy organizations are still quite young or emerging, represents both a hypothesis and a potential source of tension. The answers aren’t yet cut and dried and, within the global field at least, we have to rely somewhat on anecdotes and one-off experiences of partners we have been working with over the last few years (although the outcome indicators that the GFCF has developed in the last four to five years are aimed at facilitating the collection of evidence across a diverse set of individual organizations and geographic regions so that we can begin to talk about trends, common characteristics, etc.).

Firstly, it is probably worth emphasizing that that the report, “A Different Kind of Wealth”, focuses specifically on community philanthropy organizations that are all grantmakers to some extent or another and that we didn’t include other types of NGOs / CSOs that were seeking to leverage local philanthropic assets. So this response will focus on experiences from that narrower cohort of specifically grantmaking organizations (as against broader forms of community philanthropy).

In very practical terms, a community foundation can demonstrate mutual accountability by modelling transparency. In regard to transparency, that might include an Annual Report that outlines how grantmaking has been carried out and which groups have received what grants to do what. Because grantmaking is often the community foundation’s primary tool for fund development, it is essential that local donors see exactly how money flows to and through the community foundation if they are to be convinced to give again. It should also include annual Donor Statements that allow each donor (whether local or international) to see exactly where their money has gone. It should contain a Summary Income and Expenditure statement for the community philanthropy organisation.

By comparison, typical outside donor funding for a CSO may include requirements for an annual audit, but generally does not require that the organization publish information in a way that makes it accessible to local stakeholders. Outside donors tend to emphasize accountability (tracking, through third-party audits, how funds were spent) rather than transparency (information sharing about how funds were spent).

In terms of governance and local participation in decision-making (beyond the board itself), there have been some very interesting efforts by some community foundations to engage with power dynamics directly and root themselves more firmly and “horizontally” in their communities. Strategies include publically advertising for board members (Community Foundation for Northern Ireland), organizing community-decision making processes around the allocation of grants and then having grantees report back to those same community forums (Central American Women’s Fund and Dalia Association, Palestine), working with communities to create their own community funds within the foundation which give them a stake both as co-investors in the foundation but also decision-makers in regard to their allocation for local development purposes (Kenya Community Development Foundation) and engaging young people both in fundraising and grantmaking activities through projects such as YouthBank (where they raise the funds, decide how to allocate them and then monitor and review them, with the support of a community foundation or other hosting institution). We also have examples of foundations (e.g. Tewa in Nepal and West Coast Community Foundation in South Africa) where organizations that have received grants are encouraged to make a donation back to the foundation as a strategy for fostering a sense of co-investment / mutuality between the foundation and its partners. Of course, the potential for elite capture and for token participation always exists with any organization. But a community philanthropy institution that is making decisions about how to spend locally-raised resources often tends to have a stronger incentive toward horizontal engagement, and it is often built into governance structures or programmatic management.

Central American Women’s Fund

 By contrast, in terms of local participation in decision-making, where large outside donors support CSOs, even including re-granting facilities, their emphasis tends to be on the organization’s reach and potential array of activities to support, rather than the quality of engagement between the CSO and its constituents. Outside donors often have incentives to define a minimum standard of engagement for the CSO and push it not to go beyond that standard – so it is effectively a minimum and maximum – in order to maximize “value for money” from the donor perspective.

In the realm of governance, outside donors often have very robust governance standards. Their standards, while often high, reference compliance with international best practice or local legal requirements and tend to place emphasis on avoiding conflicts of interest among staff or board, with much less attention to formal roles for an organization’s community in its governance.

What is key here is that the simple “bricks and mortar” of the institutional framework of a community philanthropy organization are not in themselves sufficient to ensure mutual accountability, power-sharing with the community and only a clear articulation of some key values and principles by board and staff can help ward against the push and pull of forces that exist within any multi-stakeholder institutional arrangement.

And finally perhaps it is worth touching on the role of grantmaking and re-granting in all of this. A recent issue of Alliance magazine included a special focus on grantmaking. It explored whether grantmaking as a tool for achieving social change had been over-stated and whether other philanthropic and development tools might be more effective. Overall, contributors from emerging markets and developing contexts were adamant that grantmaking was an essential tool in fostering local development – and that it was so much more than a series of transactions and transfers of money (as is often the case when it comes to “re-granting” on behalf of international donors. Filiz Bikmen observed that in Turkey grantmaking is so much more than the transfer of funds; it is all about increasing the capacities of civil society, fostering connections between different groups – an investment in democratization. And Akwasi Aidoo, from TrustAfrica, also noted that in Africa, for so long dependent on donor aid and only just now beginning to experience the reality of a developed and indigenous African philanthropy sector, “grantmaking becomes an essential tool in fostering new and more horizontal and transparent forms of mutual accountability between donors and recipients; it constitutes part of a paradigm shift towards a form of development that is driven and resourced by Africans.”

What do you think? The GACP offers a valuable platform to establish a dialogue across different development approaches and agendas and what it needs is a range of different voices and perspectives. So, please, join the discussion!

 

 

 

Alliance magazine editorial: Bringing grantmaking in from the cold

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

Barry Knight & Jenny Hodgson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beware all models

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seven routes to greatness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barry Knight is secretary of CENTRIS

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

Achieving social change: what role for grantmaking?

Increasingly, grantmaking is being dismissed as a serious strategy for achieving social change, with the real business being done by venture philanthropy, strategic philanthropy, and most recently catalytic philanthropy.

As a prelude to the March 2014 issue of Alliance magazine this webinar roundtable brought together proponents/practitioners of different approaches to philanthropy to look at grantmaking as a strategy for achieving social change – not as the strategy, the truth, but as one of a number of approaches that funders can use.

The discussion was moderated by Barry Knight and Jenny Hodgson, guest editors for the ‘Grantmaking for social change’ Alliance special feature to be published on 1 March.

The following took part:

  • Kathleen Cravero, Oak Foundation, Switzerland
  • Stephen Heintz, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, US
  • Avila Kilmurray, Community Foundation for Northern Ireland, UK
  • Rana Kotan, Sabanci Foundation, Turkey
  • Mark Kramer, FSG, US

Listen to the webinar

Guest blog: New directions in Southern Human Rights Funding

The next generation of foundations in the Global South will likely be the vanguard of experimentation and learning. A look across the current funding landscape for human rights and justice in the Global South suggests reason for both disappointment and for optimism. For the sake of this review, I put aside official government aid—there is plenty there to discuss—and only look at the smaller world of private philanthropic giving.

Most past criticisms of foundation support for human rights and justice are still relevant. These critiques—apart from the very real problem of simply not enough money—include concern over weak funder strategies, timidity, short attention span, evaluation fetish, poor or no accountability and the absence of centres of research and learning committed to funding rights and justice.

Most funders who express concern about poverty, injustice and the abuse of human rights still employ strategies that that can be described as ‘charity’—funding the provision of services to reduce suffering or an immediate injustice. Although these are important if you are the victim, these strategies are silent on the causes of injustice, and leave them untouched. As a result, charitable approaches rarely deal with the frequently invisible structural sources of injustice, be they legal, economic, political or cultural.

Foundations also often have unrealistically short time frames with internal pressure to fund something new, rather than sticking with the same old problem. However, the exact opposite is necessary if one is interested not only in documenting an abuse, but working to eradicate it. Social change takes time and effort, and often requires strategic evaluation assessment and adjustment. Few foundations, however, think in terms of decades of support, rather than in yearly cycles.

Another problem is foundations’ often misguided efforts to measure success, and their seemingly blind attraction to metrics. To be sure, measuring and understanding success can be a powerful tool for learning and correction. Still, most contemporary evaluative work looks at managerial and financial issues, does not measure social impact, and is deeply burdensome. Few foundations, moreover, have effective learning mechanisms.

Funder accountability is another gaping hole. An oft-cited example is the Gates Foundation, whose assets are greater than the Gross Domestic Product of 40 of Africa’s 52 nations, but is accountable to only three trustees – Bill & Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet – none of whom are African. Most funding for human rights in the Global South is still coming from the North. As a result, this is where donors take most decisions about issue framing and the choice and deployment of methods, frequently without voice from the regions where the work will be done. While care must be taken not to over-regulate foundations and unduly restrict their creative abilities, there remains room for more thoughtful rules about governance and accountability. This is especially true where such enormous power and (what is now public) wealth are unhealthily concentrated in the hands of a few.

What, then, is the good news about global funding for human rights? There are some exciting trends worthy of note, including new funders, different kinds of funders, and new networks to strengthen them.

Over the past two decades, the global foundation landscape has changed profoundly, with many new foundations based in, and indigenous to, the Global South. New institutions like TrustAfrica (Senegal) and the African Women’s Development Foundation (Ghana) now speak to Africa, from Africa. Though still heavily reliant on overseas funding, these groups are increasingly raising money from African donors, including individuals, civil society groups and corporations. For example, several African national air carriers have “donate spare change” envelopes in the seat pockets. More importantly, these African donor organizations offer a different voice in the intra-funder conversation.

Other independent foundations in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East are increasingly visible—though not all are committed to human rights and justice. Several large funds in the Persian Gulf, for example, seem more interested in marketing the donor’s name. But in another exciting example, the Welfare Association in Palestine has shifted over the years from providing services to funding programmes focused on rights and justice. In Israel, the New Israel Fund is under attack by conservatives for its firm support of human rights and social justice. In India the Dalit Foundation is run by, organizes, trains and champions the rights of dalits (so-called untouchables) against remarkable odds.

There has also been a rapid growth of funds explicitly devoted to human rights and justice. Some, like the Brazil Human Rights Fund and the Arab Human Rights Fund, are specifically designed to serve a particular region or, in the case of the Fund for Global Human Rights, to offer grants more broadly. Others like the Astraea Lesbian Fund for Justice , which provides grants in 39 countries, and the Santamaria Fundacion GLBT in Colombia, are among a rapidly growing number of foundations that support LGBT rights, and can be found in almost every corner of the globe.

Another important trend is the growth of community-based funds across the Global South. Unlike their counterparts in the U.S. and U.K., where community foundations are often politically timid, many of these community donor groups help build constituencies among marginalized groups and negotiate for their rights with the state. The Kenya Community Development Foundation (Nairobi), the Waqfeyat al Maadi Community Foundation (Cairo) and the Amazon Partnerships Foundation (Ecuador), among many others, pose a new vision for developing stronger communities. They also challenge many assumptions of outside development aid, such as imposed problem identification and strategies, and lack of community agency. Most mainstream foundations in the U.S. and Europe, as well as most bi-lateral aid agencies, are unaware of this growing phenomenon.

Waqfeyat al Maadi Community Foundation, Egypt

Perhaps the most impressive collection of funds are those focusing on the rights of women and girls. While the Global Fund for Women (US) and MamaCash (the Netherlands) operate worldwide, a rapidly growing number of women’s funds are anchored in national and local communities. From Serbia to Mongolia, and from Bulgaria to Bangladesh, there are almost 50 members of the International Network of Women’s Funds (INWF). This number does not include the women’s funds in the U.S. While many of these funds have very limited budgets, they represent a new movement of philanthropic giving. One particularly impressive example is Tewa, the women’s fund of Nepal, which has raised funds from over 3,000 Nepali donors, most of very modest means. Although large foundations often belittle small donations of this kind, they misunderstand the critical importance of building local power and community ownership. Tewa and the other women’s funds are closely linked to one another by the INWF, and demonstrate a high degree of collective work and joint learning, unlike most mainstream foundations. In some instances, women’s funds form regional coalitions, as in the case of Latin America, to deal with common issues.

INWF is just one of several active funder networks supporting human rights and justice in the Global South. These new networks have a vitality and seriousness of purpose largely missing in the North. Exceptions include groups such as Ariadne in Europe, which has partnered with the International Human Rights Funders Group to work on funding for human rights worldwide. Several issue-based groups (e.g., Foundations for Peace) and location-specific ones (e.g., the African Grantmakers Network) are actively engaging their members in work that deals with human rights, social justice and peacebuilding issues—changing the traditional role of foundation associations.

So, while old problems remain, new funders are emerging with an explicit commitment to justice and rights. They are challenging the dominant philanthropic discourses, and in some instances, are experimenting with radically different practices. In one example of new thinking, a few groups are talking about moving away from sole reliance on foundation support and looking not at discrete grants—but the possibility of tapping small percentages of massive international financial resource flows. Ideas like these point to the role of this next generation of foundations in the South as the likely vanguard of experimentation and learning.

Christopher Harris was Senior Program Officer for Philanthropy in the Peace and Social Justice Program of the Ford Foundation for a decade. He now works as a consultant to foundations, and works with the international Working Group on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace, which he founded. 

This article was originally published on openGlobalRights a new and accessible platform for debate about advocacy strategies, funding, successes, and failures. It is also available in Spanish, French, Portuguese and Arabic.

Taking a stand while finding a position: Africa’s evolving philanthropic discourse

Africa, as we are often told, is rising. The continent has been dubbed the “next economic powerhouse”, its countries “lions on the move” which include six of the world’s ten fastest growing economies. With this growth has come the arrival of a new set of African foundations on the philanthropic scene, which is becoming both more vibrant and more diverse. New networks – such as the African Grantmakers Network and the African Philanthropy Forum – have also emerged to support the fast-growing sector.

The rapid changes in the African philanthropy scene were brought home to me recently when I attended the East Africa Grantmakers Association conference in Mombasa, Kenya. I had last attended an EAAG conference in 2010 in Nairobi. At the time I was struck by how the conference was something of a mixed bag of different, often un-connected, pieces, the product of an emerging philanthropic sector which was still finding its voice, identity – probably even its constituents. So there was a fundraising master class probably more suited to NGOs than grantmakers or foundations, for example. And most of the examples of African philanthropy that were highlighted were individual, community-level, acts of giving and kindness: all very heart-warming and a good reminder of Africa’s strong traditions of social solidarity, but hard to locate in the framework of a regional network of institutional grantmakers. Overall, with the exception of the inspiring story of the Kenyan Red Cross, which had come through a particularly dark chapter in its existence, marked by scandal and financial woes and had forged a new path to financial sustainability, there was very little discussion of the “big” strategic issues for African philanthropy and its potential to develop a collective voice, harness and deploy resources and exercise influence in the social and economic development spheres.

Fast forward three years and this year’s EAAG conference was back Kenya, this time Mombasa. The theme of the conference was “Philanthropy and Business: is it business unusual?” This time, the tenor of the conversation felt very different, with the emphasis firmly on business models and approaches – impact investing, venture philanthropy, corporate social investment etc. Certainly, there were some interesting questions raised about the need for new ways of thinking that marked a departure from the project-funding paradigm that has characterized the delivery of so much external development aid and which has forced Africa’s civil society to exist on a hand to mouth existence, constantly having to respond to the changing interests of external donors. The case of the Kagiso Trust (South Africa), for example, offered a powerful example of the bold and strategic reinvention of itself that it embarked on 15 years ago when it transformed from being a re-granting intermediary for international donors during the apartheid years to organization which funds its own programmes with dividends generated by its own investment company.

And yet, while I fully accept that there is always room for greater efficient, transparency in the philanthropic sector, I did begin to wonder whether, by focusing entirely on the business side of things, we were missing out on some big and important questions about the role and responsibilities of the African philanthropic sector in grappling with big issues around poverty, equity and rights and in empowering communities to act in in the face of conflicting government or corporate interests.

Philanthropy, or the use of private resources for public good, has and will always been fraught with tensions and contradictions. Can resources earned in regressive ways (low wages or even exploitation of its workers, deals cut in corrupt ways that bypass regulation or legislation etc.) ever really achieve progressive social change? Can corporate philanthropy ever really be more than an arm of a company’s marketing and public relations departments? Concerns about philanthropy as a strategy for corporate “greenwashing”, for example, are particularly pertinent in Africa right now because so much of its economic growth is commodity driven which means minerals extracted from ground under which people live, communities displaced and environmental impacts.

At an excellent panel on social justice philanthropy which was, alas, relegated to a break-out session, Kaari Murungi (co-founder of the Urgent Action Fund for Women – Africa) raised important questions that offered rather a stark counter-narrative to tone of the larger plenary discussions around the need for grantmakers to “step up” to the standards of business in their work. “What shapes in justice and what perpetuates it?” she asked. “In order to understand social injustice, we need to understand power, how it is acquired, how it is used and who stands to benefit.” She lamented the lack of resources and research to enable social justice activists to engage corporates, particularly extractive industries, around issues such as land ownership (and by implication urged an essential role for philanthropy in supporting such efforts). And she highlighted the worrying “democratic deficit” across much of Africa, which created a culture of impunity and allowed those with resources to do anything and get away with it. This was particularly true in the corporate sector, where levels of accountability and good governance were often very low. And yet, in the context of the overall conference, this “side-conversation” (of, it has to be said, the already converted) seemed both extremely important and yet out of kilter with the overall narrative of the conference.

As the African philanthropy sector enters a period of rapid growth, with new players and new resources emerging, some level of tension and contradiction is inevitable – and healthy – not least because different kinds of philanthropic money come shaped by different visions and theories of change.

Kingsley Mucheke, Jane Weru The Akiba Mashinani Trust, Kenya

I very much believe in the power of networks, associations and philanthropy support organizations in helping to advance and shape both the philanthropic discourse and strengthen the capacities of constituents. This is a collective task for all of us who are engaged in the philanthropy field wherever we are. Some closing thoughts on how we do this.

Take a stand: While we wait for the benefits of Africa’s economic growth to trickle down beyond a handful of elites and a growing middle class, issues of poverty and inequity are ever-present. Philanthropy offers a unique position from which to take risks, seed innovation and ensure the voice of a vibrant civil society to hold governments and big corporates to account. Yes, there are new opportunities for African foundations and NGOs to rethink their business model and models like the Kagiso Trust offer great learning, but business solutions in terms of how development is actually done may not always be the most effective. While civil society may want to look for lessons from the business sector, new business-oriented foundations can also look to the work of the African Women’s Development Fund or the Kenya Community Development Foundation for examples of years of good and effective community and economic development work.

Engage in and encourage debates around language so that it helps to connect dots, denote concrete meaning and move us beyond the abstract or the vague: Over the last couple of years, a group of donor organizations have been engaged in a consultation and reflection process aimed at building up a case for community philanthropy as a practice that could enhance development outcomes. The definition of community philanthropy that has emerged out of this process rests on three cornerstones: assets, capacities and trust. In July, two Kenyans became the first winners of the Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize: in awarding the prize, the judges were all impressed by the explicit focus of Jane (Weru) and Kingsley (Mucheke) of the Akiba Mashinani Trust on the most marginalized community in Kenya – landless slum dwellers – and “by the way they have developed a philanthropic mechanism to support transformational efforts by that community”. Jane and Kingsley (who, by the way, wrote the most wonderful blog about his experience) did not nominate themselves: in fact, before they travelled to St Petersburg, Russia, to collect their prize at the Emerging Societies, Emerging Philanthropies Forum, it did not seem that they had ever seen their own work in the context of “doing philanthropy”, so much as “receiving philanthropy” (from foundations that had invested in their work). And yet it so clearly conforms to a form of community philanthropy that is all about building up local assets, capacities and trust. (I’d also be interested to know more about the definition of “community philanthropy” that was used in the EAAG Philanthropy Prize process).

Jenny Hodgson

Guest blog: The Old and the New

I’m feeling “old.”  Not as opposed to “young” but as opposed to “new.”  I think it’s all this talk in our sector lately about innovation. Whatever happened to “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?”  And it’s just oh so sexy and attention-grabbing to label something as “new” even when it’s not.

OK, so I’m sounding like a stuffy old curmudgeon pining away for some mythical good ole days.  But I still do have serious questions about how “new” some hot trendy things in philanthropy really are (e.g. venture philanthropy, collective impact, scaling, even community leadership) or whether it’s just things people have been doing for quite a while but were calling them something else, or not calling them anything at all but still doing.  The proverbial “old wine in new bottles.”

Anyway, in thinking about a session at the upcoming fall conference on some new (there I go – as guilty as the rest!) and exciting things going on at community foundations around the world as well as in the U.S., Jenny Hodgson and I almost went with “old wine in new bottles” for (a feeble attempt at) a catchy title for the session.  But then we realized – although there’s certainly some of that in what we’d like people to learn and think about – there’s more of the reverse going on.  If the bottle is the value base and purpose of community foundations, then the wine is what they actually do day-to-day to make a difference in their communities.

A recent report (published by the Global Fund for Community Foundations and the Coady International Institute) called The New Generation of Community Foundations talks about how this “new generation … blurs the boundaries between mutual aid and philanthropy by placing a particular emphasis on the role and value of local assets and resources [ed. – don’t see nuthin’ new here – yet], which may include money as well as different forms of social capital, such as trust and volunteerism or mutual help and support [ed. – there it is!].”

Waqfeyat al Maadi Community Foundation, Egypt: a “new generation community foundation”?

Whether or not you think that’s really new, I would say that it’s different than most of the last few decades in the U.S. community foundation field.  Or, at the least, it represents a shift in emphasis between the various components of the value proposition of community foundations.  And it’s beyond just the by-now-slightly-tiring and somewhat false dichotomy between asset development/endowment building/donor service on the one hand and community change/social justice/lasting impact on the other.

Especially in  some places around the world facing huge challenges, there seems to be a new (different?) way of considering what community assets really are (certainly beyond endowments or even money), by whom and for whom and how they are unleashed and applied, and what role community foundations play in all this.

In many cases this “new generation of community foundations stretches the concept of what a community foundation is.  So – are we talking about new bottles as well?  Is it really new wine?  Or is it all just same-old same-old, but using different terms?

Please join the conversation by reading the report and posting a comment to this blog and/or at the session (at the Council on Foundations Fall Community Foundation conference in New Orleans) called A new generation of community foundations: New wine in old bottles? on Tuesday September 11, from 4 to 5 p.m.

Nick Deychakiwsky is Program Officer at the CS Mott Foundation. This blog was originally published on the US Council on Foundations RE: Philanthropy blog.