What role for domestic fund mobilization? Is it time for INGOs to retire? Join the Change the Game Debate!

The Dutch development sector is (modestly) celebrating its 65th anniversary this year. Is it time to retire, or should it continue? And, if so, in what way? With shrinking development budgets on one side of the spectrum and a globally rising middle class on the other, domestic resource mobilisation and claim-making are presented as the future of international development. But what exactly does this approach entail? What are the challenges and opportunities concerned with it? How do we make International development relevant in the years to come? How to Change the Game?

For the next four weeks, Vice Versa, a Dutch journal on international development and the Wild Geese Foundation will be exploring this topic by conducting research, interviews with Dutch and international experts and professionals in the field. In the opening article, Jenny Hodgson, Executive Director of the GFCF, argues that domestic resource mobilisation and claim-making is about more than diversifying an organisation’s donor base in favour of a radically different approach to international development. “In the end, it is about devolving power. The willingness to give up power to local groups”, claims Hodgson. Does this reorientation mean we (INGOs) should completely stop our involvement? “No, absolutely not”, she says. “Especially at this point it is important to invest, both in the capacity to mobilise resources domestically and in the strength of the lobby and advocacy skills of local partners.”

Follow the debate and join the discussion!

The matter of international development cooperation

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three final thoughts on the conference:

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

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

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

 

Jenny Hodgson

Executive Director, GFCF

Guest blog: The Great Untapped – revolutionizing development through community-based organizations

It was a risky venture from the start: a group of colleagues from south and north, jungle and city, Spanish and English and Kichwa-speaking backgrounds coming together to do something that to our knowledge had not been done in the Ecuadorian Amazonian province of Napo: ask communities what projects they wanted to implement themselves, give them a little bit of money and a lot of practical training to bring the projects into existence, and invite them to help make the process better the next time around.

Learning to graft cacao in community of Canambo

That was the simple premise of Amazon Partnerships Foundation (Fundación Tarpuna Causay), which Ecuadorian and North American colleagues and I founded in late 2008. Going from premise to program was not simple, however, and the lessons we learned revealed not only the source of rampant dissatisfaction and disappointment in development work, but glimmers of opportunity for community-based organizations (CBOs) to bring about a fundamental shift in the nature of aid.

Our experience, as one example among many, suggests that effective development is not simply about pouring more money into CBOs. It’s about flattening the power structure so that community-based organizations come to the table as equal negotiating partners on all aspects of projects, from design to outcome measurements to funding. This shift could help international funders realize the long-elusive increased return on investment, and more importantly, unleash the immense power of communities to change their lives.

Changing the Power Dynamic: A Compelling Reason

From the beginning, we saw no point in joining the overcrowded field of non-profit organizations working in international conservation unless we had a compelling reason to do so. Having worked for years in Latin America, I had seen the same problems we all see in development: lack of services and support reaching communities, lack of community participation, lack of commitment to the projects (both from the community and outside the organization), little or no use of projects, disunity, and community infighting. Beneath the evidence of failed projects, a sense of apathy or sometimes disgust prevailed. Despite the fact that many people in communities would claim they wanted “projects”, those who were not leaders looking for self-aggrandizement or personal gain were often tired of the routine that built up their expectations but left them disillusioned in the end.

Meanwhile, plenty of good organizations were genuinely committed to saving the Amazon rainforest, but many lacked the agility, the access, the time, or communication skills to get to know local populations and figure out where the organization’s and community’s agendas intersected. This lack of understanding contributed greatly to raised and dashed hopes. It also diminished the likelihood that all stakeholders could evaluate the situation from a different angle, to identify the strengths or assets that communities brought to the table and determine how these could be used to meet the communities’ priorities.

Like others who promote asset-based community development, we believed a major problem was that communities were not the drivers in their own development. Organizations that support them, while staying true to their own mission, should collaborate as truly equal partners, which meant changing the power relationships so that above all else, communities determined their priorities and would take responsibility for their own development. Based on that premise, communities would have greater agency in seeking support from NGOs, government institutions, and foundations. Our desire to try to change the power dynamic, to experiment with supporting communities on their timetable according to their self-defined priorities, compelled us to dive in.

Practicing the Community Self-Development Methodology

Through trial and error, the Amazon Partnerships Foundation (AFP) team and our community partners created the Community Self-Development Methodology, which yielded highly positive results. Our intention was to work with fewer communities in greater depth. We established relationships of mutual trust and accountability that would enable us to respond to changes, allow time for the community’s learning curve, and provide a natural give-and-take that helped us understand how to improve our support. Our reach was not extensive; our focus on relationships, training, and learning, however, was intensive.

With a volunteer board, just two staff members, and a small budget, we funded seven projects ranging from rainwater catchment systems to reforestation to organic agriculture practices. We conducted more than 100 workshops on project management for eleven communities, and positively impacted 1300 women, men, and children in three years. More than half of the communities we worked with achieved outcomes based primarily on their own benchmarks that qualified them to submit a follow-on proposal, all of which were approved.  Even more encouraging was that communities were practicing the values our methodology intends to promote: creative problem-solving, greater transparency, and understanding and accountability instead of punishment and finger-pointing.

For example, the community of Campana Cocha, which installed more than 50 rainwater catchment systems and planted 135 trees, has been inspired by their own success to come up with other creative ideas. Before their APF project, most believed that expanding a costly and ineffective piped water system was necessary to meet community water needs; now they want to expand the use of rainwater catchment systems. On land that had been cleared to build government houses, they now want to replant trees and pursue conservation projects that will help transform Campana Cocha into an “eco-community.”

Project Coordinator Patricia Grefa reviewing a community report in Campana Cocha

An example from the community of San Pedro de Chimbiyacu shows how the group explored the implications of transparency in their rainwater catchment project. In a meeting in which community-elected inspectors shared results of monthly visits to determine how well families were maintaining their systems, two women disputed their scores. The inspector explained what she saw on inspection day and that she had a responsibility to record true information. After a spirited conversation about why data collection and verification are important, the entire group concluded that the inspector’s data would stand for calculating the overall maintenance scores for the project. The inspector agreed to do a follow up visit for the two households in question, submitting that data in a separate report.

Resolving conflict through accountability was an important part of the project in the community of Canambo. At a meeting we held with the project committee (elected by the project participants) everyone acknowledged that the outcomes of their organic cacao production project weren’t sufficient to qualify for follow-on support.

We discussed how APF could have helped the community better understand the budget process, and how the committee leaders could have been more transparent with incidental spending so participants would have been more willing to cover unexpected costs. The community president said he wanted to use the project management skills acquired through working with APF to submit a proposal to a different funder, and he requested our technical assistance. Working through problems together, we all left the meeting with a clear understanding of what we could do differently next time, and the relationship between APF and the community was stronger as a result.

The Great Funding Disconnect

While communities were starting to discover their power to meet basic needs and confront climate change, other organizations started to recognize that APF’s relationships with communities could help them find groups to work with. On the one hand, we found this encouraging: communities that had worked with us gained skills, confidence, and clarity about how they wanted to continue improving their lives, so they had greater capacity to make the most of projects with other groups. On the other hand, we were concerned that some of these organizations, which did have a mission of promoting well-being and environmental protection, were circumventing the process of building trust and accountability with communities so that they could meet “community participation” requirements from their funders and guarantee their operational budgets.

The question of how to build genuine partnerships for better results also came up as we worked with international aid agencies, for example, the German Development Cooperation (GIZ)[1]. GIZ in its various iterations has partnered with the Ecuadorian environment ministry for years, helping to secure UNESCO Biosphere Reserve designation for the Sumaco-Galeras national park. The agency recognized the importance not just of gaining international protected status for the park but of supporting communities’ livelihoods through agro-forestry and forest management programs. With the goal of building natural resource management and policy-making capacity so programs can be managed locally and permit the eventual withdrawal of outside support, GIZ has a strategic interest in working with local partners to help execute its outreach and education initiatives. Its budget is structured around these training and technical assistance objectives.

Without question, GIZ has provided valuable financial assistance for some local organizations, including Amazon Partnerships Foundation. GIZ contributed a portion of the budget for our locally filmed documentary on climate change and for the creation of an implementation handbook for the Community Self-Development Methodology. GIZ also helped fund local staff. This financial support aligned with our larger strategic goals: to promote climate change awareness, local leadership, and grassroots capacity to bring about change, and to build a strong local team that could act as role models both for community members and professionals in the local non-profit sector.

While this funding was indisputably beneficial, unfortunately we weren’t able to leverage it in ways that could make the biggest impact. What we experienced with GIZ was similar to what we experienced with other institutional supporters, namely funding parameters that were too restrictive, time-elongated, or reactive to serve the goal of building an organization, not simply executing a project. Despite maintaining a positive and productive relationship with GIZ staff who visited project sites, shared our materials for education and outreach, promoted our projects among regional government agencies, and turned to us to help build liaisons with communities, GIZ did not have a budget mechanism for making a significant investment in our organizational development.

This was a missed opportunity for us, of course, because the difficulty in raising money eventually caused us to scale back our on-the-ground operations and look for other ways to continue implementing our methodology. We believe GIZ also missed an important strategic opportunity not just with Amazon Partnerships, but with the sector in general. With even just a fraction of its resources as an international development agency, it could have invested in cultivating a cohort of qualified, local organizations that foster genuine community-powered development. A network of communities with the capacity to give meaningful feedback on natural resource planning and to meet some of their own basic needs would have helped GIZ accomplish its long-term conservation goals. Those communities would have bought in to GIZ’s vision because they could have taken some ownership of it. CBOs, as the logical and most effective liaison with individual communities, could have played a key role in that process.

Our critique is not intended as a criticism of GIZ or any other institution. International funders (whether private or government) and NGOs must juggle numerous and competing agendas that complicate even the best efforts to build grassroots capacity. But our story suggests that exploring how we can create a culture of partnership between funders (and NGO intermediaries) and CBOs could result in much greater success for everyone.

Real Change, Big Rewards

Community-based organizations are generally characterized by the fact that they work locally, maintain on-going relationships with local people, are led or managed by local representatives, and use local assets, whether monetary, in-kind, or otherwise. Geographically and culturally closest to the people they represent, CBOs have the most insight, most influence, and most agility to incubate, catalyze, or nurture projects. They are at the fulcrum of real change.

The question is: how can we unleash the power of these organizations? Based on APF’s experience, we believe that CBOs:

  • Need the freedom to develop their organizational identity and professional processes. They need the financial flexibility to develop missions that reflect their constituents’ priorities and promote projects that people want.
  • Can benefit from administrative support and training. Larger organizations can share ideas for how to streamline processes, collect useful quantitative and qualitative data, and communicate the grassroots agenda to stakeholders that are farther removed from it. The key is for outside organizations to listen to CBOs regarding what is feasible for local circumstances.
  • Need platforms for exchanging information with other CBOs. These platforms give people the encouragement to turn good ideas into concrete initiatives, which can feed into the development strategy that they have helped create along with institutional or large-scale players.

This doesn’t mean writing a blank check–it means getting to know CBOs and allowing CBOs to know funders, letting go of some of the gatekeeping, and establishing real dialog. It is in everyone’s best interest to ask questions that cannot necessarily be answered with a checklist: What’s really going on on the ground? What are people saying? What are the good ideas? What are the biggest challenges? Where do the communities’ priorities fit within those of the funder?

Just as we witnessed applying a similar philosophy with communities, a relationship-based approach between CBOs and bigger funders helps promote more mutual transparency, better opportunities for qualitative evaluation and impact measurement, and more agility in responding to actual grassroots needs. Organizations like Global Fund for Community Foundations, which has taken this funding approach with Amazon Partnerships Foundation and dozens of others, has ample evidence proving that nurturing the CBO sector in the Global South results in meaningful change in communities–everything from better access to services to increased problem-solving capacity and creativity.

Of course, relationship building takes time and may require a funder to make some structural changes. For large organizations, this may seem like an all-but insurmountable challenge, but testing a relationship-based funding approach in one department, working group, or funding area could help determine how and whether it has organization-wide application.

With so much promise to cultivate bottom-up–top-down development, we should seize the moment to reassess the power dynamic between CBOs and funders. The stakes are simply too high for not re-evaluating business-as-usual strategies, and the benefits could be gamechangers.

Mary Fifield is Executive Director of the Amazon Partnerships Foundation. She is also the author of a blog called Earth in Here 

 

 

 


[1] GIZ is the product of a recent merger of several separate German government agencies, among them DED and GTZ, which were Amazon Partnerships closest local allies.

“How development work can be effective and respectful”: blog highlights the work of the Community Foundation for South Sinai

Development projects for Third World regions. Around the world we are becoming more critical and disappointed with regards to the effectiveness and sincerity of them. But out of criticism arise great, new initiatives that are well thought-out and strive to obtain deeper knowledge of those people truly in need of help. South Sinai Bedouin have one of those: the Community Foundation for South Sinai.”

So begins a recent entry in the Voices of South Sinai blog about CFSS, a partner of the GFCF working with Bedouin in Egypt’s South Sinai region. It continues:

“Sorry to say, but we all know it: big, western development organizations may have the most beautiful intentions, but somehow many of them have big problems making those reality.


Huge amounts of money are put aside for those in need. But what often happens next? Corruption and ignorance make project money disappear in already filled pockets, for example. Or: some projects that are set up are simply a waste of money, as they do not address to the core problems in the deprived society. And then there are projects that are fantastic, but never will finish or run due to, again, local corruption or distorted power balances.”

Read the full blog post

Development projects for Third World regions. Around the world we are becoming more critical and disappointed with regards to the effectiveness and sincerity of them. But out of criticism arise great, new initiatives that are well thought-out and strive to obtain deeper knowledge of those people truly in need of help. South Sinai Bedouin have one of those: the Community Foundation for South Sinai.

Statement from GFCF grantee, Dalia Association, initiating a campaign to reform international aid to Palestine in run up to Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness

Ramallah, PalestineDalia Association joins the global movement for aid reform by launching a campaign to enable Palestinians to claim their rights to self-determination in development. Palestinians’ rights to self-determination are already denied by occupation, colonization and dispossession. Dalia Association, a long-time GFCF grantee, argues that international aid, which is supposed to help, should not be delivered in ways that further undermine local priorities, capacities and ownership.

Dalia Association considers advocacy to reform the international aid system among its core objectives because aid-dependence undermines self-reliance, philanthropy and local decision-making, which are core objectives of community foundations. However, this campaign is Dalia Association’s first effort to seek support around the world.

Palestinians discuss their experiences with international aid and mechanisms to reduce dependence on aid

“The campaign aims to raise awareness among Palestinians and internationals that we do have rights in the aid process and that respect for these rights is tied to development effectiveness,” says Saeeda Mousa, Dalia Association’s acting executive director. “We also want to cultivate tangible support for aid reform among southern civil society organizations and northern allies. This is the first step in a longer process of engaging constructively with donors and international NGOs to change the policies and practices that perpetuate aid dependence and disempower local civil society.”

The advocacy campaign began with the launch of Dalia Association’s research with community-based organizations entitled, Appeal by Palestinian Civil Society to the International Community to Respect Our Right to Self-Determination in the Aid System. The report expresses the complaints and recommendations of grassroots civil society in Palestine and gives rare and valuable insight into how recipients experience the aid system.

Specifically, participants in Dalia Association’s research objected that:

1.   Most donors fund relief, not development;

2.   Use of intermediaries can harm local civil society’s effectiveness and sustainability;

3.   International aid organizations often impose unrealistic and unfair procedures;

4.   Many international aid organizations impose agendas rather than respond to local ones;

5.   Applying for funds takes too much time and effort;

6.   Proposals and reports usually cannot be in Arabic, which is the local language;

7.   Most donors fund using political criteria;

8.   Many funding schemes are designed not to cover all costs;

9.   There is insufficient local leadership in agenda-setting and decision-making;

10. Anti-terrorism clause is unacceptable; and

11. Aid actors do not always fulfill their contractual obligations.

 

Workshop participants also made recommendations about how to improve the international aid system. These included:

1.   Select and evaluate civil society grantees fairly and transparently;

2.   Fulfill commitments;

3.   Respect local priorities and capacities;

4.   Follow up…genuinely;

5.   Don’t fund through unprofessional intermediaries;

6.   Give aid on professional, not political, criteria;

7.   Make the aid process more accessible and less burdensome;

8.   Enable sustainability through longer and more flexible funding; and

9.   Invest in local capacity, not in INGOs at Palestinians’ expense.

 

Changes like these will not only directly improve aid programs, but leverage local insight and capacity, thus providing donors with greater value for their contributions.

The campaign also includes circulation of a petition to Palestinians and allies all over the world, release of two forthcoming short films highlighting grassroots voices, and cooperation with other NGOs, donors and international NGOs to innovate solutions to the problems identified.

The campaign is timed to correspond with the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, Korea at the end of November. The High Level Forum is the most influential venue for global discussions about aid policy; the Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda for Action being the outcomes of the last two Forums.

“Representing Dalia Association at the High Level Forum is a huge honor and responsibility,” says Nora Lester Murad, a volunteer. Dalia Association is the only Palestinian NGO participating and only one of eight civil society representatives from the Arab world. Dalia Association will be exhibiting its innovations in local-international cooperation to the 2500 global aid policymakers, speaking on a panel on aid to conflict areas in the civil society forum, and facilitating a cross-sectoral workshop about reforming aid on the main agenda of the global meeting. Dalia Association previously signed on to Better Aid’s “CSO Key Asks” and the Make Aid Transparent Campaign.

Although Palestine’s political context is unique, the challenges it faces as a result of aid dependence are similar to the challenges faced in other aid-dependent regions. For this reason, both the problems – and the solutions – uncovered by the campaign in Palestine should be of interest across the globe. “We encourage our international allies to read and disseminate the report and sign the petition. We also invite civil societies in other aid-dependent regions to contact us with ideas about how we can cooperate in this effort,” says Saeeda Mousa. Interested parties can subscribe to eNews from Dalia Association.

(An e-poster produced by the Dalia Association, which presents the community foundation as a mechanism for international support of locally accountable development, was among those selected to be played at the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, Korea at the end of November 2011. To see the e-poster click here).

Exploring the idea of a community foundation for Haiti

“How can we get long term reconstruction and development that is Haitian-led and owned?” This was the topic of a two-day meeting held on Haiti’s Arcahaie Coast in late July 2011 which brought together a diverse cross-section of Haitians from civil society organizations, business institutions, members of the Haitian Diaspora and representatives of international foundations. The meeting, which was convened by the GFCF, Espwa, the Puerto Rico Community Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, was a first step in a conversation around the idea of establishing a community foundation-type institution in Haiti.

The “makers” group discuss next steps for the Haiti Community Foundation initiative

The earthquake which hit Haiti on January 12, 2010, killing over 200,000 people and leaving more than 1.3 million more homeless, crippled the country’s already very weak systems and infrastructure. It also prompted a huge outpouring of donations and development aid as well as a massive influx of international NGOs into the country. Increasingly, concerns have been voiced about the ways in which some international development efforts have marginalized local communities and de-emphasized indigenous leadership.

In addition to reflecting on some of the structural flaws in the ways that development funding was being delivered, the group discussed the potential role that a Haitian-owned, Haitian-led philanthropic institution might play in supporting the country’s long-term reconstruction and development, particularly in the areas of strengthening the capacities and voices of home-grown groups and community associations and of developing philanthropic assets which can be both transparently and effectively applied.

This process is still at an early stage and there is much to be done in terms of determining its feasibility, consulting widely with a broad range of Haitians from all walks of life and ensuring that what emerges is deeply rooted in Haiti’s context and culture. An informal working group has been organized which will take responsibility for the next steps in the process.

For more information, contact Espwa (romainmurphy[at]gmail.com)

News from our partners

Fostering local leadership in the Amazon region: interview with the director of the Amazon Partnerships Foundation.

Mary Fifield helped to set up a community foundation in Ecuador with a focus on environmental issues – the Amazon Partnerships Foundation (Fundaciòn Tarpuna Causay). Mary, executive director of the APF, spoke to the Global Fund for Community Foundations about her experience.

Mary Fifield in a community meeting in Campaña Cocha (photo: David Barnes)

 1. Can you tell us about the origins of the Amazon Partnerships Foundation (APF) and the context in which it operates?

The Amazon Partnership Foundation’s (APF) model grew out of an experience I had a few years ago when I first started working in Napo Province in the Ecuadorian Amazon for an international community health NGO, whose primary objective was offering health workshops. Visiting rural, indigenous communities, I discovered that many people had their own ideas for projects but lacked the technical skills or financial resources to implement them. I researched grassroots grant-making approaches and developed a model that applied to health issues. But then I found that communities were repeatedly asking for support to address worsening environmental degradation and the changing climate, which of course affects everything from health to economic development to community cohesion.

Meanwhile, I had begun to discuss some of these issues with my Ecuadorian and North American colleagues – in particular Natalia Santillan, Stella Klemperer and Susan King – all of whom had worked in the area and would later become APF board members. Given the fact that we were working in the world’s largest tropical rainforest and one crucial to maintaining climate stability, we saw the opportunity to broaden and refine the model so it could be applied to conservation projects. We recognized that this strategy would also allow us to foster environmental leadership and a sense of ownership among traditionally marginalized communities. That was the beginning of the APF.

Mary helping people in the community of Isla Appai install a water system (photo: David Barnes)

2. Can you say something about the role that institutions play in local culture and also about how the communities you are working with relate to the mainstream in Ecuador?

The relationship between institutions (state, religious, and non-governmental) and communities is as complex here as it is in most developing countries. Rural communities, especially indigenous ones, have usually been regarded with a mixture of disdain, disregard, pity, or worse, and have been marginalized or discriminated against for years. Recently that dynamic is changing, and the new Ecuadorian constitution guarantees many more rights for indigenous groups than they’ve been afforded before. Some indigenous federations have made inroads in terms of development policy, government assistance in health and education, and land rights, but communities in Napo Province are still quite removed from most decision-making processes. Despite changes in the law that are intended to include and empower the grassroots, by and large many institutions still take a paternalistic approach to development, and many communities expect the government or NGOs to bring projects to them.

3. How did you come to the (community) foundation framework as a way of framing your work? How different is it, in your view, from what has gone before?

In Napo Province, one thing that always concerned me with the traditional NGO approach –whereby the organization designs the project (even with significant participation from community recipients) – is that the initiative, no matter how well researched and planned, comes from outside the community. Although the community may want a reforestation project, for example, it’s the NGO that has to show results and therefore must do whatever is necessary to encourage community participation. Depending on the community, this may be relatively easy or difficult, but ultimately the NGO owns the project until the day comes when it has to be turned over to the community to make it ‘sustainable’. At that point, it is difficult to convince people to take ownership, especially when they know they won’t have any outside support. And that’s when many projects fail.

The power dynamic inherent in this model, where the project really belongs to the NGO and the communities are participants, discourages a genuine sense of community ownership. That was one of the reasons that a community foundation model appealed to us: initiative, responsibility, and ultimately success or failure of the project rest in the hands of the communities. Through our competitive grant solicitation process, communities have to think carefully about what they want to do and how they are going to do it, and they learn more about how the world of grant-making works – this knowledge can help them find other sources of funding for future projects.

Of course, for this very reason, our model is much more labor-intensive than a conventional grant-making approach. We first conduct workshops with communities to teach them how to plan and design proposals. If our board approves their proposal, we work with communities for at least a year, teaching them how to monitor and evaluate their projects. Results based on benchmarks they set themselves help determine whether they qualify for follow-on funding from us.

Despite such a deep culture of paternalism, many communities respond favorably once they learn about our model. We see people – some of them indigenous women who are typically quite reserved – participating actively in meetings, brainstorming new project ideas, and even coming up with ideas to help us improve our process. Many of the techniques we use in our project management workshops were suggested to us by the communities.

4. What have you learnt about the context for local philanthropy in Ecuador and, specifically, how it relates to communities with which APF is working? What do local philanthropic traditions or systems of self-help look like at the community level? Do they provide a basis from which to build?

The philanthropic sector, as it might be defined in the US or Europe, is quite weak in Ecuador. The country suffers from a history of corruption, including in the non-profit sector, and many, including the government, view foundations or NGOs with distrust. The few wealthy individuals who give to charities tend to have a direct connection with them, whether it’s their children’s school or their church. With no government tax incentive for giving, there is no culture of social investing or supporting organizations working in social or environmental justice.

Despite these obstacles, we do see some potential for change. A number of high-profile environmentalists also have power and influence among potential philanthropists, and could be important allies in changing philanthropic culture. We focus on strengthening our relationships with local small business owners because they are often willing to provide in-kind support to local NGOs. We also find that communities themselves are willing to make a contribution to the project budget and, though the amount is usually small, the practice encourages a ‘self-help’ attitude.

A family in Campaña Cocha standing proudly by their water tank (photo: David Barnes)

5. In our report More than the Poor Cousin? we looked at the notion of building trust and of the role of community foundations in trying to build it within and across communities. Does this resonate with the experiences of APF?

Very much so. I think one of the reasons we have been well received by communities is that they know that we are committed to the process. We strive to be accessible and reliable, and we expect communities to fulfill the commitment they make to us. When they don’t, we respectfully and directly address the problem with them, supporting their process for resolving it. Because there is a dearth of good jobs and local professionals to fill them, we are also committed to building a local team who can eventually manage the organization. Many of the skills we teach communities are the same we try to cultivate in our staff, though these may be on a more advanced level. This professional capacity building is a new approach for the region, and our partners view it favorably. All these activities have helped us build a good reputation with stakeholders, and we are very conscious of maintaining positive, transparent relationships in our area of influence.

Distributing saplings in Shiwa Yacu

6. Do you see the community-foundation approach – with its emphasis on local assets, ownership and participation – as having something to offer more mainstream development?

Absolutely. This is one of the hypotheses we want to explore as we continue to refine and implement our model. We have discovered that setting up a truly collaborative relationship from the beginning, where each party has well-defined responsibilities and commitments, is crucial. Mainstream development organizations could adopt this practice when starting new projects with new communities, though it requires a willingness to let communities learn through failure as well as from success. It may also mean that mainstream development organizations have to be more selective in choosing communities, because fostering ownership is both time and labor-intensive. In the short run, an organization might have to collaborate with fewer communities but do more far-reaching work with them.

With the community-foundation approach, to some degree we have to let go of our over-dependence on large quantitative goals and outcomes to prove we are effective. In the long run, though, I think this will serve both the grassroots and the development sector. Though it may be slow going at first, I believe changing the power dynamic and generating a true sense of ownership among communities will have farther-reaching, longer-lasting impact than efforts to impose development from the outside. In the long run, this approach may also prove more cost-effective, which is a theory we will test as we continue working. In the short run, we know we can help communities accomplish concrete projects, such as household ecological sanitation, small-scale reforestation, and organic agriculture, more quickly and with a smaller budget than most mainstream development organizations.

7. Who are your peers in this work? Are there others interested in taking a new look at ways of doing development?

We haven’t found many other community foundations working in the Amazon, but we have strong partnerships with the Universidad Andina in Quito, as well as with the US Peace Corps, Ecuadorian environment ministry and the German Development Cooperation. All of these are primarily focused on conservation initiatives, but our model intrigues them. We’ve also been invited to participate in a regional sustainable development planning body, which we see as an excellent opportunity to lay out our version of the community foundation model to government officials and other institutional stakeholders.

The conversation continued . . .

Thanks to those of you who have responded to our invitation to engage in discussion! And also, to those of you who have shared and written about the report in your own circles, such as this one published by GFCF partner in Mexico, Alternativas y Capacidades A.C. A Spanish version of the report will be available very soon and we will post it on this site and on the GFCF homepage. Portuguese and Russian translations of the report will also follow – and we are exploring the possibility of a version in Thai (there is a growing and active cluster of community foundations in Thailand but there are few resources available in Thai and English is not always so widely spoken).

Some interesting points have been raised in the responses so far on this blog. To summarize a few:

Further unpack the notion of trust One conclusion of the report is that many community foundations see one of their roles as that of building trust at the community level. In thinking about their responses, were community foundation respondents referring to organizational trust or community trust? Bheki Moyo reflects “This (community trust) it seems to me would be the greatest contribution that community foundations can make. It is only when communities have trust for themselves that they can begin to trust organisations and institutions. After all community foundations are supposed to be made up of community members.” Here in South Africa, with the end of the World Cup imminent, there are already concerns about a resurgence of xenophobic violence against non-South Africans (I recently wrote about this on the Mott Foundation’s World Cup blog): and yet only last week, it seemed the whole of Africa was united as one behind Ghana….

Writing from Vietnam, Dana Doan of the LIN Center puts it very succinctly: “building trust is a key requirement for success in terms of both community engagement programs and local fundraising. Here in Vietnam, gaining such trust depends on transparency, effective use of funds and, most importantly, the demonstration of impact.”

What are other thoughts from the field? What is your organization’s take on the question of building trust?

Exploring the role of government. In writing our report, Barry Knight and I did not go into a great deal of depth on community foundations’ interaction and engagement with government. Certainly, our data suggests that experiences differ from one community foundation to another. There does, however, seem to be a common concern regarding the importance of a community foundation’s ability to preserve some degree of independence – both in terms of governance (so in Russia, where it is common practice for government representatives to sit on the board of community foundations, they constitute no more than 1/3 of the board) and resources (in the UK, many community foundations have implemented government-funded programmes as described here by the East London Community Foundation: what have been the implications of this in terms of preserving their independence, I wonder?). In his comment, Vadim Georgienko is not convinced that states are always developmental in their orientation and methods:  “At the same time, let’s never forget totally different methods (taxes versus donations) to reach development: state has a legal monopoly for violence, coercion. Community foundations can work only with a good will.”

From a practitioner’s or even policymaker’s perspective, what would you be interested in finding out more on as far as examples and experiences of community foundations’ relationships with the state are concerned?

Engaging donor institutions Chris Mkhize from uThungulu Community Foundation in South Africa points to the current apparent disconnect between the community foundation / community philanthropy and international and national development agencies and urges greater collaboration across different development silos.

This is a key interest of the GFCF and one that we are very interested in pursuing. What are some of the steps that others are taking to raise the profile of community philanthropy institutions in international development circles? How can we, collectively, strengthen the case?

Next steps

Dana asked in her post about next steps: well, these will include making the report available in other languages and working with this current cohort of grantee partners – and others who are interested – to deepen our understanding of the different roles that community foundations with a particular view to the question of measurement and impact.