What can community philanthropy offer a Europe of refugees?

Parc Maximilien, Brussels, Sept. 2015, (Licensed Under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)At a meeting of community foundation representatives from across Europe, Jasna Jasarevic, from the Tuzla Community Foundation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, reminded us that although her country was not a transit area for refugees, Bosnians were experienced in responding to emergencies. “We can identify all available buildings for shelter”, she assured us. The needs of those forced from their home as a result of conflict is still a vibrant memory in many parts of Europe. Indeed, for those of a historical bent of mind, Europe is not all that far removed from generating refugee “crises” itself in decades past. All the more reason that it should adopt a “can do” approach in responding to current needs.

The more immediate question for the community philanthropy field is whether there is a specific contribution that community foundations can make. As place-based foundations they are on the ground in many parts of Europe – including those countries that are dubbed “entry” or “transit” regions for refugees, and other countries that are pivotal points of “destination.” It is true that the financial resources available to these foundations are often limited, yet notwithstanding this, the added value that they bring includes their experience as grantmakers; their transparent procedures and accountability to both their local communities and their donors; their accessible and visible organizational infrastructure; and their “ear to the ground”, picking up local sensitivities and opportunities. Community foundations are generalist facilitators in circumstances where existing civil society organizations may be over-stretched and where there is a need to communicate with a multiplicity of stakeholders.

 

A rabbit in the headlights?

There is, of course, always the danger that the scale and rapidity of the current movement of refugees into Europe can cause caring organizations to throw up their hands in despair of being able to make a difference. Yet the reality is that a number of community foundations in Germany, Croatia and Hungary speak of thousands of new volunteers emerging to ask what they can do to help. This is a real opportunity for civic activism but needs to be responded to in a timely manner. In response to a survey conducted by the GFCF over October 2015 one respondent made the point: “We are too small to make a real difference in financial support for refugee-related initiatives, but we play quite an important role in sensibilization and communication (and add some nuance to the debate) around the subject on a local level, as well as playing a facilitating and motivating role to support local volunteers and/or local support initiatives.” Similarly, a community foundation in Croatia is working closely with the volunteer centre in their community, who in turn organize local volunteers and arrange daily transport to distribute humanitarian aid to the refugees there. The foundation Director makes the plea for more resources to support this work: “Funds for transportation of volunteers is necessary as they can no longer organize transport by their own vehicles or for large groups of volunteers.” A German community foundation describes itself as one of the many players responding to the needs of the refugees that are arriving in the city at the rate of 4000 – 5000 each day.

Community foundation activists are clearly concerned about the very human needs of people who are mothers, fathers, sons and daughters – and not just “refugees.” A number of the GFCF respondents expressed fears about the “lack of empathy” among their local population with regard to the images seen on television screens or the trudge of people through their fields and streets. Negative attitudes are ascribed to a lack of information about the crisis in Syria, but also to a fear of the unknown that can be politically exploited. Certainly there is a recognition of the need to respond to immediate refugee relief, but as organizations with an eye to the long-term it is not surprising that community foundations are thinking through the longer term implications of the current situation. There was equal agreement from GFCF survey responses that while community foundations need to be seen to be taking action through funding and support for refugees now, they also need to focus on the medium to longer term needs of building inclusive communities.

 

Taking the pulse of long-term implications

A community foundation representative in one of the main transit countries for refugees spoke of the “growing split of views, heightened emotions and polarization which prevents rational discussion” in her country.  She called for a “strengthening of the quality of public discourse, argumentation and critical thinking at all levels.” This proposition is supported by comments received from Romania, Hungary and Serbia. There is also a recognition that the task of maintaining community cohesion, and a sense of solidarity, in the destination countries is of particular importance in the medium to longer term. This is an area in which community foundations are uniquely placed to work with local NGOs and community-based groups to make a real difference. There are at least two levels of intervention – on the one hand the macro level discussion of European values; on the other, the lived realities and relationships in those neighbourhoods that refugee families are likely to settle. A UK community foundation, that has previous experience of funding local NGOs working directly with refugees and asylum seekers, makes the point that there is a need for a shared narrative which would allow a much wider dialogue with donors and others who might be wondering what they can do to help.

In addressing these critical long term issues there is also a need for support for those community foundations that are working in particularly difficult political circumstances. One such foundation described itself as feeling “between a rock and a hard place: an openly hostile government that is ready to attack anyone who seems to ‘like’ refugees and our own conscience that says we have to speak up.” Consequently there was overwhelming support for the suggestion that community foundations that are interested/concerned with the refugee issue would benefit from being linked into other European philanthropy platforms and that community foundations would benefit from networking and sharing information on current challenges and opportunities. As such, the GFCF will be hosting a convening on the topic at Philanthropy House in Brussels from 26 – 27 January 2015. 

Avila Kilmurray, GFCF Director – Policy & Strategy

Learning first-hand about community philanthropy: Volunteering with Tewa

James Morrison-Knight volunteered at Tewa in Kathmandu from November 2014 – March 2015: he left just a month before the massive earthquake that hit the country in April. The GFCF asked James, who is currently an intern at the European Foundation Centre (EFC), about his impressions of Tewa and their work with women’s groups across Nepal.

 

GFCF: What were your main responsibilities at Tewa?

James Morrison-Knight: I mainly assisted with various writing tasks: this was a good way for me to be of use to the organization, while also learning a lot about their history, activities, plans, approaches, culture and beliefs. I started my internship by helping to write Tewa’s Annual Report, a task I found quite daunting to begin with. Yet the more I learned, the more motivated I became.

I was given a lot of freedom and encouragement to be creative, so I tried to think of what would be useful for Tewa. I adore photography, so I decided to take many pictures of the centre, the staff and collected existing pictures, which I then pooled together in various albums and created a resource, for them to build and draw from in future.James Morrison-Knight (2nd right) and Tewa staff

While I was there, Tewa completed its land and building project – the Sampanna Campaign – which has seen it constructed a training centre, theatre. It was a historic moment for them, as Tewa now has a permanent home. It was exciting to see their vision realized. They also built a monument dedicated to their supporters, with every name carved onto the stones. Another one of my tasks was to create personalized letters to those who donated to the campaign, each including an image of the stone marking their contribution.

 

GFCF: What did a typical day at Tewa look like for you?

JMK: In the morning the Tewa bus would weave its way through the dusty streets of Kathmandu, picking up staff members. We would drive down the bumpy roads to the calmer area of Dhapakel in the city of Patan, home to the Tewa Centre. Entering the grounds is like stumbling upon an oasis in a desert; a beautiful gem in the surrounding chaotic city. Entering the office, we would be greeted by smiling staff members and hot, sweet cups of chiya (tea). Tewa has a lovely working environment: the staff take their work seriously, yet have fun at the same time.

One of my favourite points in the day was lunch. Everyone would go to the cafeteria, where there would be a small feast lovingly prepared. The food was always incredible, mostly it would be dal bhat, the national dish. I loved the food, and the chef loved my appetite! We would then all sit together outside on the grass. What I enjoyed most was that everyone would be there eating, talking and laughing. It was a totally natural occurrence. They all cared for one another. It’s one of the many examples of the non-hierarchal spirit that is characteristic of Tewa’s work.

As an outsider in an all Nepali organization, initially I was daunted by the language barrier and struggled to fit in. Yet as I adjusted to the cultural difference I realized how fortunate I was to be working in an environment with such wonderful people. The staff are more than colleagues, they are family.

 

GFCF: How is Tewa working with the communities it aims to serve?

JMK: I see Tewa as a tree. It began from a seed in the mind of the founder, Rita Thapa. Over the past twenty years, through nurturing and care, it has flourished into a tall, beautiful tree. The tree provides seeds for others to grow their own organization. In many cases these seeds that have been cast far and wide have even gone on to produce more seeds.

Although Tewa is a grantmaking organization, their work goes much further than providing funding to grassroots women’s groups. My impression is that philanthropy runs the risk of being impersonal; larger institutions may only know what they are funding through the application forms they receive. For Tewa, it is not simply a grant, it is the forging of a long-standing relationship. Many of those that Tewa have supported have in turn become donors to Tewa. This participatory approach means all involved are invested in the work and Tewa’s roots are the communities they aim to serve.

Over the years Tewa has trained hundreds of volunteers who work on the ground, in communities. They create deep bonds and connections with these communities, spreading the message of Tewa. If Tewa is a tree, the volunteers are the branches and leaves: reaching out, spreading, and helping the organization to flourish. Through these branches and leaves Tewa is subtly creating a movement that is engaging more and more Nepali’s to drive change. Without imposing their beliefs on anyone or seeking attention, but rather acting humbly, with empathy and compassion, they are pursuing their goals with quiet conviction.

 

GFCF: What, in your opinion, sets Tewa apart from other organizations working in Nepal?

JMK: Nepal was a country congested with foreign aid, and this has only increased since the terrible earthquakes that struck this spring. The most scathing critiques of this aid are that it can tend to overlook citizens on the ground and grassroots work, and creates a culture of dependency within those organizations that do manage to receive the aid. Tewa’s principles seek to counter this.

To date, Tewa has over 3000 donors within Nepal, many of whom are local volunteers. Whilst they do accept funding from external organisations, they do not rely on it: this is quite unique. Many of these local funders also contributed to the construction of the Tewa Centre. What these women have achieved in Nepal, a deeply patriarchal society, is truly incredible.

But what really sets Tewa apart is their grantmaking. They give their grantees room to breathe and make their own decisions. They don’t impose strict guidelines, rules, or demanding financial reports. Grants target the most marginalized women in remote areas, where opportunity is scarce. Although the grants are small, the impact they can have on communities can be great.

 

GFCF: What do you think may be Tewa’s unique contribution to earthquake relief and reconstruction in Nepal?

JMK: The situation that has been thrust upon Tewa has forced them into a position they could never have anticipated. In the wake of the earthquake people have looked to them for guidance and direction, for solidarity. They have stepped up to the challenge without hesitation.

In times of humanitarian crises there are often gaps that are overlooked in the rescue and relief; Albert Ruesga of the Greater New Orleans Foundation explained this in a session on community philanthropy and disaster response during the EFC’s AGA & Conference. Tewa has decided to specifically focus on where it saw such a gap, and on what it already knows: supporting pregnant and post-natal women, ensuring they have access to medical supplies and care. In its twenty years of operations, Tewa has built extensive networks and developed strong bonds across the country. Through these connections and links they have been able, post-earthquake, to establish what is needed in different communities, mobilizing and moving resources effectively and efficiently, using staff and volunteers.

As the emergency workers begin to leave, and the Nepal earthquakes drop out of the headlines, what happens? Tewa was there before the disaster and will be there long after. This is what makes them unique.

Tewa’s outreach to women’s group following the April 2015 earthquakes

GFCF: What is something you learned at Tewa that you think you will stick with you for the rest of your career?

JMK: Shortly after arriving I was told a phrase by Tewa’s founder, Rita: “ke garne?” Literally translated this means “what to do?” It is a question that does not require an answer. It is a philosophy in Nepal, a way of being.

When presented with a difficult situation of any nature: “ke garne?” It’s a simple thing, in essence it means accepting and surrendering to whatever you are faced with and just getting on with it, trying to do your best with what you have. I hope I never forget that.

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.

 

 

Brazil, and the growth of community philanthropy

Community foundations and funds are increasing in number in Brazil, but are still just the tip of the philanthropic iceberg in this sprawling country of over 203 million people. They are working in a nation of contrasts, with the 2014 Forbes Annual Report listing 65 Brazilian billionaires, while 21.4% of the population live below the World Bank poverty line (2012) and 16% exist in conditions of abject poverty. It is also striking that only three in ten of the poorest 20% of the population are white, but they comprise seven in ten of the richest 20%. This context frames the development of both place-based and issue-focused local philanthropy, as does the legacy of experience and attitudes.

 

The Olympic city

Rio de Janeiro is playing host to the 2016 Olympic Games that will take place in the very area of the city prioritized by Instituto Rio (IR) for its work – the populous West Zone. As the first community foundation in Brazil, IR was established in 2000 and began its grantmaking in 2003. Since that time it has supported 222 projects in 80 community-based organizations. The grants are relatively modest ($2500 – $4000 USD) but they come with an impressive added-value programme of shared learning delivered through the imaginative Community University of the West Zone (Universidade Comunitária da Zona Oeste). The virtual university recognizes the expertise garnered by local activists and creates networks for peer exchange. IR Chief Executive, Graciela Hopstein is the first to acknowledge that local fund development is still a challenge, but given its location it would be a shame if the 2016 Olympics comes to Rio, and leaves again, without directly benefiting both IR and the communities that it is supporting.

Graciela Hopstein (L) and Avila Kilmurray (2nd L) in RioAcross the city, just a stone’s throw away from the linha vermelha, a main route into the city centre, Eliana Sousa Silva has a gleam in her eye as she talks about establishing a community foundation in Bairro Maré. Bairro Maré has a population of 140,000 in a favela that consists of a warren of streets stretching across sixteen distinct neighbourhoods. Eliana is a founder member of the Redes de Desenvolvimento da Maré and has been active over eighteen years in supporting community action in an area that was not even mapped by the municipal authorities. In partnership with the Observatόrio de Favelas local activists in the Bairro took matters into their own hands, carrying out a local census, giving the streets names and the houses numbers, and convincing the authorities to “make visible a population that was invisible.” Other community initiatives focus on education, health, development through the arts and public safety. A community newspaper is delivered door to door, with a circulation of 40,000 copies, on a monthly basis. The challenge for Eliana and her colleagues is how to both keep the community momentum going and how to plan for the long term. The Redes feels that part of the answer may be found in setting up a community foundation that could enable local people to become decision-makers in their own right. “Usually people are waiting – spectators of their environment”, explains Eliana, a local community foundation could be a mechanism to help shift the power paradigm in the longer term. What Eliana now needs is information, ideas and support in taking the next step.

 

An integrated model of community support

Working in Maranhão, one of the poorest states in Brazil, the Baixada Institute was established in 2008 by community leaders in the area. Regina Cabral, an Ashoka Fellow (2010) was a founder member of the Instituto Formaҫāo which was a formative influence in the development of the Baixada Institute. The focus of both the Baixada Institute, as the local community foundation, and the Instituto Formaҫāo, as a development agency, is to work with local communities in the rural areas of Baixada Maranhense that are clustered in the north-east corner of Brazil. The area has a population of some 250,000 and has a history of labour migration and violent conflict over land rights. Regina speaks about the importance of investing in young people, raising their aspirations through education, sport, the arts and skills training. An important area of development has been in agri-ecology, where a combination of technical assistance, seeding grants and encouragement has resulted in pilot income generation horticultural projects, many carried out with black and quilombola (ex-slave) communities. Work over the years has resulted in the opening of fourteen Information Technology centres, with adjoining youth support centres, in rural towns and villages across the region. The idea of the community foundation (Fundaҫão Comunitária na Baixada Maranhense) came out of consultation with both young activists and community-based organizations. The community foundation continues to place a high priority on local consultation.

The Instituto Baixada operates from its own premises and was set up with initial financial support from the Kellogg Foundation. Among its goals is the support of community initiatives that empower local organizations and foster regional development. Fund development is also on the agenda and a donor network (Embaixadeiros Doadores) works to secure local donations. Regina explains that there is still a need for external support particularly given the developmental focus of the work which is seen by some as being at odds with traditional charitable giving. The work of the foundation is underpinned by a network of volunteers, which is found to be as beneficial as donations – although both are welcome.

With its concentration on Baixada Maranhense, Instituto Baixada draws on the networks and community insights built by Institute Formaҫāo, and other voluntary sector organizations, over the years. This allows strong lines of communication between the community foundation and local activists. It also ensures that there is transparency and a sense of mutual accountability in how Instituto Baixada delivers on its objectives. As to the next priority – the Institute Formaҫāo is working with communities in selected rural towns to open seven libraries, located in a range of venues. The Instituto Baixada plans to support this venture by allocating some $42,000 USD to purchase books. A seeding grant awarded to a group of young people involved in developing a community library last year already acted as a demonstration project.

 

Florianopolis – the southern Silicon Valley

ICom was established in 2005 as the second community foundation in Brazil. Working in Florianopolis, the second largest city in the southern state of Santa Catarina, this foundation emphasizes the importance of development support and capacity-building for local community and voluntary organizations. In order to counter public scepticism about the NGO sector it developed a transparency portal which holds detailed information on local organizations. ICom also facilitates training and professional development courses in order to promote institutional growth within organizations. Alongside its developmental objective of strengthening non-profit organizations,  ICom also prioritizes knowledge production and community mobilization that it achieves through its Vital Signs research (adapted from the Community Foundations of Canada model); working with donors and social innovation.

The work with donors is long-term and time consuming, not helped by the complexities of Brazilian tax and fiscal regulations, however, ICom Executive Director, Anderson Giovani da Silva is celebrating a major gift received recently from an individual donor who has been involved with ICom over a number of years. Anderson rules out direct fundraising activities and events as he does not want to be in competition with the local organizations that ICom is supporting. It is the area of social innovation where ICom has made a specific contribution, opening its offices as a Centre for Social Innovation and sharing them with social entrepreneurs. A new start-up 3 D design company currently operates from the space, with Anderson also being involved in raising funding for investment in a high quality movie – featuring four stories of young people using technology for social change purposes. A grant from the Inter-American Foundation is currently supporting the development of this centre. Anderson’s belief in the power of innovative design thinking to progress social change and bring a new dimension to the philanthropy of the future can be seen in ICom’s partnership with the Institute of Volunteering in taking a stake in Social Good Brazil.

The ICom office, operating as a Centre for Social InnovationThis has now spun off as an independent entity but re-invests a donor advised fund with ICom. Both ICom and Social Good Brazil are partners in an annual call for design ideas for products that can address social issues in an imaginative way. Piloted in 2013, fifty social entrepreneurs were invited to participate and receive mentoring through a Social Design Lab; they also benefited from $250 USD seed funding that ICom managed. One example of work supported was an app for use in the case of domestic violence. Participants were initially drawn from Florianopolis, but the popularity of the programme has resulted in it being extended to São Paulo. This may not be community philanthropy as it is commonly understood, but it seems to be a model that is working in Florianopolis, a city that prides itself as a technology hub.

 

New community funds emerging

Two recent developments have seen the emergence of a community fund and a community foundation in the East Zone of São Paulo and southern Bahia respectively, two very different contexts. With a population of ten million, São Paulo is the world’s third largest city, but the Fundaҫão Tide Setubal – a family foundation – concentrated its energies in the São Miguel district of the East Zone. The foundation became particularly known for its programmes of work with young people and investment in family support. Adopting a new approach the foundation decided to establish the Fundo Zona Leste Sustentável as a five year pilot exercise which was inspired by a discussion about community foundations involving a number of local stakeholders. An Oversight Board for the initiative was set up and a Monitoring and Evaluation Board, drawing on expertise from a local university. The Fund itself is focusing on business start-ups and technical support, funding 31 projects to date. Amongst those benefiting is a garbage collectors’ cooperative. One of the three staff members employed by the Fund emphasizes that it is still a community fund rather than a foundation – the jury is still out as to whether it will develop into a community foundation.

Roberto Vilela, working with the recently established community foundation in southern Bahia, is celebrating the fact that a recent grant call attracted 65 applications. The Tabôa Fortalecimento Comunitário was set up in 2013 with initial funding being put in place by Instituto Arapyaū, the World Bank and a foundation established by documentary filmmaker, Joāo Moreira Salles. Tabôa operates in the Uruҫuca region of Bahia which faces challenges of degradation of natural resources, economic inequality and under attainment in education. Consequently the new community foundation is prioritizing the strengthening of grassroots development associations and supporting community tourism projects that benefit local people. As a good grantmaker, Roberto is already thinking about how to respond to those grant applicants that may not be successful in being funded under the current round. He wants the application process to be empowering and is keen to build capacity and learning for local organizations. Decision-making in the community foundation is already participative, with the board currently made up of five representatives from the donors and five people from the local community.

 

A comparative approach to community foundation development

Representatives from the four Brazilian community foundations, as well as from the Fondo Zona Leste Sustentável and Redes de Desenvolvimento da Maré all attended a two-day conference on philanthropy for social justice organized in July by the Brazilian Network of Independent Funds for Social Justice. Joining with a number of other issue-focused funders the gathering recognized the need to create a narrative capable of motivating people to address issues of structural inequality and implicit racism. A follow-on seminar on the specific role of community philanthropy highlighted the important dimension of local engagement that community foundations can offer, although concerns were expressed at continuing difficulties in attracting a mix of donors to invest in this work.

Brazilian Network of Independent Funds for Social Justice, July 2015What became apparent over the course of the seminar is that Brazil offers a fascinating insight into how community foundations can emerge and be incubated through a variety of approaches. The origins of both Instituto Rio and ICom were influenced by the North American model of community foundations, fostered through international contacts and support. Tabôa Fortalecimento Comunitário has developed as an initiative of Instituto Arapyaū with a similar progression route to the Fundo Zona Leste Sustentável, should it decide to pursue this course further; whilst Instituto Baixada shares a sense of rooted local development that also characterizes the plans of Redes des Desenvolvimente da Maré. This latter phenomenon of community foundations, or funds, developing as mechanisms of sustainability for locality-based or regional community development is emerging in other country contexts as well. The comparative nature of the incubation and growth of community foundations in Brazil offers an important opportunity to track both opportunities and challenges presented by these different development paths and to welcome the diversity that is a response to local context.

 

By: Avila Kilmurray, GFCF Director of Policy & Strategy

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Help us to help Tewa, the Nepal Women’s Fund – and here’s why…

This piece was originally posted on the GrantCraft blog on 4th May 2015. For an update on Tewa’s activities since, please scroll down. The GFCF’s JustGiving campaign in support of Tewa can be found here

You could have heard a pin drop. It was September 2011, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Rita Thapa, who founded Tewa, the Nepal Women’s Fund back in 1996, had just described to a room of NGO and development practitioners how Tewa had a network of over 3000 individual Nepali donors – “ordinary” people – whose combined contributions have formed the backbone of Tewa’s small grants to women’s groups and organizations across the country for almost twenty years. After the silence, the marvel…“If you told me you were talking about the Netherlands,” said one man, “then I would believe it…But you are talking about Nepal! If this is possible in Nepal, then it must also be possible in Bangladesh!”

That is what is so remarkable about Tewa, whose bus drives through the streets of Kathmandu and its outskirts, with the words “Philanthropy for Social Justice” painted in English on its side. For twenty years, this organization has been living its values in a profound, and also rather humble, way. Tewa is a women’s fund, shaped by the politics of feminism. Women continue to constitute a highly marginalized majority in Nepal, where common practice dictates that women must seclude themselves during menstruation and levels of domestic violence remain high.

Tewa is also a community philanthropy organization that has walked its talk, embracing the values of local ownership and local agency in the way it does its work. Tewa’s small grants to local women’s groups have always been sourced from local donors (that “3000-in-Nepal-not-the-Netherlands” mentioned above), a principle that seeks to reinforce the importance of local participation in development and that there are resources in even the poorest countries. In the same manner, community organizations that receive these grants are often encouraged to “give back” (no matter how small their contribution) as a way of flattening power dynamics that often prevail between “donor” and “recipient” and fostering a sense of shared and equal ownership of the Fund.

And the vision of Tewa has always been long-term: external funding has helped support operational costs but they have also been leveraged to enable the construction of the Tewa Centre, a complex of offices and, most recently, a residential centre that perch on a hill on the edge of Kathmandu and overlooks rice fields. It was just in November last year that Tewa hosted a meeting of GFCF grantees who came from all over the world: everyone – whether they came from China, Russia, Zimbabwe or Mexico – was blown away by Centre which is a testament, in bricks and mortar, to the power of community philanthropy. The name of each donor is carved into the wall, with foreign donors listed alongside local ones.

Tewa staff assist in earthquake relief, May 2015

In recent months, we at the GFCF have been exploring an area of work around the role that community philanthropy can play in disasters and emergencies. We believe that, while there are clearly crucial roles to be played by specialized internal and external actors in the immediate aftermath of a disaster (helicopters to deliver food, heavy lifting of rubble and debris, the establishment of emergency / temporary medical facilities), community philanthropy organizations – who are known and trusted in their communities, have a huge role to play. Five years after the earthquake in Haiti, a Haiti Community Foundation is on the verge of being registered, after an extensive process of community consultations.

We believe that communities will turn to organizations that they know and trust and that these organizations possess unique insights into and knowledge of their local communities and they are perfectly positioned to play an important role in making sure that community voices are heard as talks turn to reconstruction. In 2005 in the United States, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, community foundations played an instrumental role in physically bringing community members from the most marginalized communities who had been displaced by the hurricane – often hundreds of miles away.

Today, Tewa – like so many in Nepal – has found itself in a situation it had probably never envisaged for itself, at the heart of a national emergency on a huge scale. Tewa staff are relocating from their offices on the edge of town to a café in downtown Kathmandu. In the short term, they plan to mobilize their network of volunteers to distribute essential supplies to neighbourhoods on the edge of the city, and will also prioritize pregnant and post-natal women in some of the makeshift camps to ensure that they have access to medical care. In addition to these and other priority areas that they have identified, Tewa is working with a range of different impromptu networks that have emerged.

In the short to medium term, Tewa will be assessing the situation of its grant partners in more remote areas of Nepal with a view to both immediate relief and rehabilitation. In the long term, Tewa will continue to be there too. That is why the GFCF has launched a campaign in support of Tewa, the Nepal Women’s Fund. It’s amazing how quickly one’s world can be thrown up in the air. Tewa is there and ready to work: let’s help them.

Jenny Hodgson

GFCF Executive Director 

Tewa staff visiting rural areas, May 2015

*********************************************

Update on Tewa

 

  • In the weeks following the earthquake, Tewa and its partner organization Nagarik Aawaz, have concentrated on providing relief to communities that they know and have worked with before, delivering relief and prioritising maternal and child health. In the words of Rita Thapa, a founder of Tewa and former GFCF board member: “We are realizing that one of the fundamentally important things is not to underestimate the enormity of this disaster, but also not to allow anyone to blow it out of proportion. We need to carefully examine who tells our story/ies and with what intentions. There are many tragic or sad tales, but there are also stories of fortitude and strength, of compassion and kindness. The entire Nepali people, it feels like, are working as one and for each other.” You can read regular updates on Tewa’s relief efforts on their Facebook page.
  • The GFCF’s fundraising campaign for Tewa has so far raised over US $18,500 from more than 100 individual donors.

 

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

Swimming against the tide: Building local philanthropy in Northeast India

Drishana is celebrating; in fact she is ecstatic. As September draws to a close she has reached her fund development target: USD $5,000 from a range of individual donors by means of Global Giving.  The money will open the doors, and meet the running costs for a year, of a Safe House in Aizawl, to provide for women and children that are victims of domestic violence. The project is run by a woman who herself is a survivor. Working across the seven regions that comprise the Northeast of India (Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh) the Foundation for Social Transformation (FST) highlights essential community-based work and engages in an active programme of fund development. But more than this, they are planning for the long-term, recognizing that community philanthropy brings an important new dimension to social action – the ability to mobilize local resources for positive change. This has been the first time that Drishana has been involved directly in fund development. Judging from her smile and sense of achievement it won’t be the last.

Avila, Jenny and Rita meet with FST staff and board

As the crow flies, Guwahati, where FST has its office, is closer to Hanoi than to New Delhi. When we visited it in September 2014 the city was suffering from late monsoon flooding that closed local primary schools and ruffled the coconut trees up into a bad hair day. For areas across this far flung region the unremitting rain brought a number of deaths and considerable disruption through flooding and landslides. This didn’t prevent Gayatri Buragohain (CEO of FST) from bringing us out to meet social activists in Kokrajhar, an area under the control of the Bodoland Territorial Council. Gayatri used the lengthy travel time to explain the importance of the work of the foundation given the complexities of the Northeast region. The related aspects of grantmaking and fund development lie at the heart of her mission, but there is also a strong value base of social and gender justice alongside a society free from want, fear and discrimination.

Building Trust Through Solidarity

In the political and demographic complexity that is the Northeast, there is always a danger that donors fund where it is easy rather than where it is most needed, as Gayatri explains. Sporadic, and multiple, guerrilla movements have long been agitating around demands for autonomy and/or sovereignty based on sub-national identities, bringing them into violent conflict with the Indian state forces as well as other communities, such as migrants from Bangladesh. Some 90% of the border areas are both international and porous, edging up against Bhutan and Myanmar, as well as Bangladesh. Members of the Bodo community spoke angrily about how its language, script and culture were in danger of disappearing. One of their demands is for the building of universities and colleges in their area – this is now happening.

Monisha Behal, Chair of FST, and Avila Kilmurray

Not surprisingly the ongoing violence brings its own challenges. Relations have to be nuanced with a wide range of social organizations that may have very different ethnic and political aspirations. Resources allocated by FST are carefully judged and must be seen to be allocated in an inclusive and even handed manner. The next fund development target, entitled Northeast Rising, is to provide 14 Youth Fellowships on Peacebuilding (two for each of the seven regions) and seven organizational grants to women’s initiatives (one for each region). Inter-regional convenings can then draw out shared issues while leaving space for the examination of difference. The FST Chairperson, veteran women’s rights campaigner, Monisha Behal, recognizes how discussion can build an understanding of difference, if not necessarily achieving agreement. A previous FST partner, Nonibala Narengbam from Manipur, spoke about how “working with FST for one year gave me incredible experience of working with women who lost their loved ones (husbands) in the armed conflict. I also feel that the coming together of these women itself is a process of healing from their traumas. I witnessed women changing from the first time I met and saw them.” This is trust-building, in the most difficult circumstances, from the bottom-up. Sitting on plastic chairs in the mud of a camp for a Muslim community that had been displaced from their homes due to internal area violence the plea was the same: “Who will listen to us?”

Challenges amidst Beauty

From the stately Brahmaputra River to the vibrancy of sub-tropical forests this is a region of environmental beauty. On the basis of a recent bio-diversity mapping, FST Programme Officer, Rashmi, introduced us to the startling fact that the Northeast, which comprises almost 8% of the area of India, has 80,000 species of flowering plants; 836 bird types; multiple forest animals; and 51 forest species. Little wonder that it has been declared one of the 34 environmental “hot spots” in the world. She also charted the adverse impact of pollution, illegal mining and the depletion of both cultural resources and indigenous rights. A creative approach to women’s empowerment through the funding of traditional therapies and medicines is a current priority for FST. There is also an appreciation of the need to fund win-win solutions to the conflict between rural communities and elephants set on following traditional routes. Evidence is being gathered of those approaches that work. Rashmi shares her knowledge of locally based environmental partners that FST can support.

Kangkana, on the other hand, puts her energies into working with young people. Youth development is a key theme that FST has identified and Kangkana works to support a gathering of young men and women that are bubbling with ideas. Drawing from the Assam custom of Husori some of the young participants are already practicing Bihu folk songs and dances. During Bohag Bihu, one of the biggest festivals in Assam, the Husori teams visit homes to perform their dances and bring blessings. In return the household offers gifts and whatever they can afford. This is to be the new fundraising approach that will hopefully bring in resources for the establishment of a YouthBank within FST.

Rita and Gayatri in conversation with members of FST’s Youth Collective

The aspirations and rights of young people are also on the agenda of the activists that we met in Kokrajhar. Youth caught at the sharp edge of political conflict can be the first to suffer. There is talk about holding a conference on children’s rights. This could look at the recruitment of young people as informants by the security forces; it could also focus on the execution of a 16 year old local girl by guerrilla fighters due to accusations that she was an informer. This was all caught and circulated on social media as a stark message to others. Youth and peacebuilding remains an ongoing priority for FST – not just in fund development terms, but also in supporting community-based organizations to challenge and share new ideas locally. An impressive Meghalaya local partner, Prince Thangkhiew, is working to organize regular meetings of a Children’s Dorbar (traditional gathering) to encourage children, and especially girls, to become community leaders in identifying issues of importance.

There for the Long Haul

If navigating the virtual road from Kokrajhar to Guwahati was difficult given cows, goats, geese and the descending dark, equally Gayatri and her FST board members are under no illusion about the difficulties of putting FST on a secure long-term footing. The organization was initially incubated in 2005 and gained the support of the Ford Foundation. Since 2008 it has become registered as a community foundation and has struggled to put in place a fund development strategy. There is a clear recognition that its effectiveness is linked with the mobilization of funds that can support social change organisations and initiatives. Alongside the fundraising campaigns highlighted on its website (www.fstindia.org) there have been fundraising events and increasing contacts with potential donors, local, national and international. Anju, the Finance Administrator, takes a firm line on transparency and accountability to donors. Gayatri acknowledges that such accountability is particularly important in a situation where NGOs may be regarded with a degree of scepticism. She is determined that FST can model its principles of effective social change in such a way that it will make sense to local people. If we were looking for a metaphor we saw it within an hour of landing at the regional airport. A solitary elephant trundled its way down the white line at the centre of the nearby road as a departing jet airliner roared overhead – the traditional and the modern in one frame: FST as a model of community philanthropy in practice able to draw from both the local and the global.

Avila Kilmurray travelled to Guwahati to meet the Foundation for Social Transformation with Jenny Hodgson (GFCF) and Rita Thapa (Tewa, Nepal and GFCF board member) in September 2014.

Katanga Community Foundation: Dreaming of a poverty-free Katanga!

Read this post in French 

In February 2014, plans to create a Katanga Community Foundation (KCF) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) got underway. An initiative group, coordinated by NGO professional, Pierre Kahenga, engaged in a series of consultations and discussions aimed at exploring how to grow the idea of local philanthropy under the auspices of the new community foundation. The Katanga region is in the south of Congo and is known for its rich deposits of copper and cobalt.

Once a shared understanding of what a community foundation for Katanga might look like had emerged within the group, it was time to translate these ideas into action. It’s fair to say that we all had some reservations, even fears:  the fear of the enormity of the task; the fear of stepping off the “beaten path” of development and discovering new ways to work; the fear of writing a new page in history, of innovation. There were other things missing too: a greater sense of legitimacy perhaps or more resources… or knowing even where to start!

And so it was to help overcome these “birthing pains” that we looked to Kenya and the well-established Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF) for both guidance and energy. In July 2014, eleven of the fourteen members of the FCK planning group traveled to Nairobi on a study visit. KCF has already benefited from good relations with its partners, the King Baudouin Foundation, GFCF and the Haiti Community Foundation initiative. KCDF can now also be added to the list.

 

Understanding the context

The global financial crisis that hit many of the world’s developed economies in 2008 forced a radical rethink about the potential role of local resources in supporting community development. This thinking is now also moving beyond the traditional sphere of development cooperation.

According to current statistics, the DRC’s economy will grow by 8.7% this year, thanks mainly to the development of the mining industry. However, although the impact of this growth is not yet evident in terms of poverty reduction among the majority of the population, it is enough to convince traditional development partners to shift their attention to other provinces in the country. At the same time, few companies are using their social responsibility programmes to really invest in supporting the socio-economic recovery of communities, preferring to establish funds or foundations or to run their own social development programmes directly. But the unbalanced distribution of development assistance to urban and mining areas is clearly felt by rural areas.

In the face of such inconsistencies, how can one contribute to the overall wellbeing of the greatest number of people? What could we learn from KCDF’s fifteen years of experience and expertise to help inspire and shape the Katangan project? And would KCDF be ready to accompany us on this journey. If so, how?

In Nairobi, Janet Mawiyoo, Tom Were, Francis Kamau and the rest of the KCDF team provided a warm welcome and an excellent programme for our visit, which was comprised of both meetings with KCDF and visits to some of KCDF’s partners, including St. Martin’s School, Haki Self Help Group, Grapevine Hope Centre, and Watoto Wema Centre. We were also invited to attend the Forum of KCDF’s “Fund Builders” which focused on the review of performance evaluation and investment strategies, as well as the launch of KCDF’s new strategic plan (“KCDF: 2014 to 2018”) and its “Community Day.”

 

What did we learn?

KCDF emerged as the result of the frustrations of its founders, who wanted to challenge the situation in Kenya, where despite numerous external interventions, the poor continued to be poor. International donors continued to design projects from their own countries, without a real understanding of local needs or of local expertise. KCDF has its roots in both the Kenyan national context as well as within the broader African cultural heritage. Its institutional architecture and form were shaped by its long-term vision and KCDF has invested in building up a strong and professional staff, which can continue to maintaining the trust of the general public.

KCDF is a truly public fund that operates in the service of the most disadvantaged. It has filled an institutional vacuum in Kenya by establishing two key roles for itself. Firstly, as primarily a grantmaker that mobilizes resources and targets them towards development projects. As such, KCDF doesn’t seek to be an operational organization but rather to position itself at the national level and to provide financial support and capacity building to 180 partners scattered across the country. The organization has also managed to build financial capital, including property (specifically the office block where its office is located), all of which generates interest and / or income. These resources are held in perpetuity in the form of a Trust, which can provide ongoing funding for local development. Its donors include companies, individuals, the government as well as grassroots organizations, all of whom are regularly invited to forums to discuss strategic direction and reflect on outcomes.

 

Conclusions….

An organization that started from scratch and learnt through its experiences, KCDF has evolved into a highly complex “machine” which is hard to sum up. As a highly trusted organization, KCDF has managed to build up a sustainable development fund for the community. KCDF’s success comes down to the skills and commitment of the individuals behind it, who have combined their know-how and values to create a mechanism for local communities to be in charge of their own development. No-one can develop someone else but, at the same time, no-one develops alone. As such, KCDF works to empower communities.

This trip to Kenya encouraged us all to reflect on some of the fundamentals: vision, mission and goals. Returning home, we have continued to work on this, inspired by KCDF’s story.

 

Next steps

We need to:

  • Review Congolese laws governing non-profit organizations in order to develop an organizational structure that best meets FCK’s vision.
  • Embark on a campaign to build up some initial capital.
  • Create a simple organizational structure with light and flexible management procedures.
  • Meet regularly and consistently.
  • Analyze our own local context further in order to be able to review our options and then to develop a multi-year plan of action.

 

Pierre Kahenga has been involved in the planning group for the Fondation Communautaire du Katanga initiative from its outset. The King Baudouin Foundation has been a key source of support to the process. The GFCF has also provided technical support to the intiative.