Danger, opportunity, and a new path for community asset management

Contrary to popular belief, the Mandarin character for “crisis” is not composed of the characters meaning “danger” and “opportunity.” Yet, in the crises many local and global communities face right now, danger and opportunity are gliding within a razor’s edge of each other.

“The razor’s edge between danger and opportunity” is an apt way to describe what the GFCF team has discovered researching community management of large-scale assets. Although most Indigenous and rural communities are surrounded by valuable natural resources (from minerals to rivers to old growth forests), these assets are usually managed by corporations and/or governments, and many communities don’t see long-term or commensurate economic benefit when the resources are used.

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Join our next webinar on Community Funds – a strategy for building philanthropy from the grassroots

Hear how two community foundations – one in South Africa and the other in the United States –are using community (affiliated) funds to build grassroots philanthropy as a development tool and to stay local.

The last two decades have seen a dramatic growth in the number of community foundation around the world, particularly in low and middle-income countries. A key feature of many community foundations is that of an endowment fund, which can provide both a buffer to communities in the case of sudden shocks, and a long-term resource which allows communities to plan for their futures. However, building an endowment is not an easy process: in low-trust environments it can be hard to convince people to give in perpetuity to a general “pot” of funds. And when you are trying to demonstrate the importance of local assets and local action in building vibrant and connected communities, it becomes very important to engage people where they are.

In recent years, local level funds have become an increasingly attractive and effective strategy for bringing community philanthropy “to the people” and for engaging communities in local level decision-making and asset development. In the United States, such funds are often called affiliate funds. The Nebraska Community Foundation uses the affiliated funds model as a way of building grassroots philanthropy as a tool for economic development. Elsewhere, the Kenya Community Development Foundation has supported the creation of a number of “community funds” for over a decade, in Russia, very local level “rural funds” have become a key feature of rural community foundations and the Haiti Community Foundation Initiative is also exploring the idea. And in South Africa, the West Coast Community Foundation has just launched its very first community fund.

 

Date / time

Monday 19th October at 3:30pm (British Summer Time, corresponding to 4:30pm in South Africa and 9:30am in Nebraska).

 

Speakers

Johanna Hendriks, CEO, West Coast Community Foundation (South Africa)

Jeff Yost, President and CEO, Nebraska Community Foundation (US)

 

Registration

Please register at the following link:

https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/7550245561925480450

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar. For any technical difficulties, please contact Wendy Richardson (wendy@globalfundcf.org).

Some thoughts on place-based organizing in Kilimani, Kenya

Irũngũ Houghton is Chairperson of the Kilimani Project Foundation. The following was written on the occasion of the 2014 Council on Foundations (COF) fall community foundation conference.

“We are slowly thinking of leaving Kilimani for other suburbs. Yet, we forget Kilimani is a little Kenya. What we don’t like about Kilimani is showing up in all parts of Nairobi. The line stops here. If we can’t transform this ward, what makes us confident that we will not have to keep running forever?”

Kilimani, Nairobi and Kenya

Kilimani is one of the very few Nairobi neighborhoods in which 43,000 Kenyans can work, school, live, shop and be entertained. Very few neighborhoods have this. Neither higher end Karen, Runda or Loresho can boast this. Kilimani has a very wide selection of restaurants. Lenana road offers one of the best row of restaurants available. It is also a melting pot for several nationalities and ethnic communities ranging from the French to the Chinese, francophone West Africans to the Ethiopians. Kilimani is also a place of innovation, culture, activism and the arts. Kuona Trust Art Gallery, PAWA254, the Nest, i-hub, 3 mice, University of Nairobi, Daystar University and several other places of innovation are all located here. It is home to the President and State House, famous Kenyan musicians Maia von Lekow, Atemi Oyungu, Chris Bitok, Suzanna Owiyo, Justaband as well as photographers Emmanuel Jambo, Nadia Moussani and Rafique among others.

While Kilimani is rapidly becoming a high-density suburb, a melting pot for brand companies and a place of innovation, culture, arts and leadership, it is not yet an integrated neighbourhood. What’s missing? Choice, community empowerment and liveability. Utilities are in danger of being overstrained but there is little dialogue between County planners, developers and residents. Residents remain uninformed on their rights and responsibilities. There is private security everywhere yet we perceive ourselves as insecure. There are regular electricity and water outages and no integrated public information system. As Kilimani grows, the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are increasingly being displaced. There are no skills building or market support for informal or small entrepreneurs and market access remains limited despite growing potential markets. While diverse, we are also a divided community. Most of us are walking complaints and our experience of community is shrinking to our very homes.

While distinctively urban, largely middle income and in Nairobi, Kilimani reflects a predictable future for Kenya. A future where rapid private investment remains unmatched by public investment. High rise families constrained within their flats or calbro compounds behind tall fences and gates. The other Kilimani, hidden communities of domestic workers, security guards, gardeners, taxis and boda boda transporters, are neither properly serviced or integrated in future planning.[i] There are few opportunities left for converting pavement and concrete into green recreational spaces. More significantly, communities don’t get to choose and powerfully create inclusive public spaces around their homes.

An alternative vision for Kilimani

We continue to be inspired by a commUnity where: ‘Karibu Kilimani’ greets people passing through and those to take root, guests and those who work or live here; A bustling public library and theatre, where children ride bikes and families enjoy recreation facilities; Informal service-providers are integrated and inform planning processes; safety and security is an owned responsibility of everyone in partnership with the public and private authorities.  The community is known for its creativity, aliveness, tenacity and neighborliness. People find affordable, accessible and adequate housing and business diversity thrives in Kilimani. And the area rarely experiences violence, crime or a sense of isolation. It is, simply, the community of choice.

Irungu presenting at the 2014 COF conference

Six lessons on building community assets, capacities and trust over 2014

Lesson 1: Residency is not a given, has to be claimed: Despite a 115 year old history, many Nairobians do not see themselves as primary residents of Nairobi.[i] Originally a coffee estate, Kilimani was developed as a white residential area first in the late 1950s and only desegregated in the early 60s. Here anti-colonialist and women’s rights leader Muthoni Likimani would settle and buy a house. 50 years later in 2014 this house is home to The Kuona Trust, the area art gallery and 20 or so Kenyan artists.

From the mama mboga (market vendor) on the corner of Chaka avenue and Argwings Kodhek road to the single bungalow owners on Denis Pritt road, most Kilimanians see themselves as transient occupants. During elections, they will go to ancestral homes country to vote for leaders that cannot ultimately, serve their interests. They will invest their pensions in upcountry homes to retire to.

Nairobi politicians understand this game. They pay residents Kshs 300 (roughly $3) from neighboring low-income, high density communities like Kibra and Kawangware and bus them into this middle income, low density community to vote for them. During the run up to the 2013 elections, the Foundation invited ward, county and parliamentary aspirants to engage and covenant with residents. We also questioned why their posters never had any telephone or email contacts. We challenged them to commit to their aspirations whether we voted for them or not. Few have remained engaged around their covenant. Without the experience of residency, local issues and causes that matter to people cannot be the platform to build the active citizenship envisaged in the constitution of Kenya.

Lesson 2: Appreciative enquiry holds great communal power: Today, Kilimani is home to a mix of Kenyans, expatriates and refugee communities. It is also bordered by Kibra and Kawangware, two large low income areas. From francophone West Africans, Somalis, South Sudanese, Ethiopians to the latest and growing Chinese population, Kilimani is home to many national embassies as well.

Most of the public schools serve children from Kibra and Kawangware. Middle class children have long left the congested Kilimani based public schools for out-of-area private schools. Yet, they and their parents long for convenient green and recreational spaces. Spaces, the public schools have in abundance. Kilimani Primary School Headmaster Gideon Wasike puts it best, “We are both located and displaced in Kilimani”. Kilimani is less a community than multiplicities of communities.

Over 2012-2014, the Foundation has consistently convened the community to map what matters to them and what they would like to create. Some of these “kililogues” have included taking photos of the good, bad and ugly in Kilimani, holding six  breakfast meetings for 55 corporate, not-for-profit and diplomatic leaders and school hall meetings to discuss the Nairobi Urban Masterplan, Solid Waste Management, public safety and community policing. Glimmers of a sense of relatedness, connection and new friendships and contacts demonstrate the power of appreciative enquiry.[ii]

Lesson 3: Trust and solidarity is an online and face to face conversation: Like other urban Kenyans, most Kilimanians do not have a sense of relatedness to the community as a whole. Powerful conversations with the Officer in Charge of the Police Division, our Member of County Assembly, local businesses like Chandarana Supermarkets, Dawda Group of companies, Black Butterfly and Willlart Production Inc and the Management of local malls like Prestige Plaza and Yaya center have unlocked resources for the wider community.

Online we can reliably now reach 1,300 by twitter and 1,000 by direct email. Our twitter account is invariably challenged to take action on a variety of issues from noise pollution from the local bar, potholes, car-jacking and failing streetlights. Our experience demonstrates most citizens are not apathetic. They do want to contribute and make a difference in the community they live and work. What’s missing is the opportunity and platform to meet and act with like-minded people. This is probably the biggest asset the Foundation has. Still largely untapped, the Foundation has to continue expanding and deepening its strategies for enabling relationships of trust and solidarity not only between the Foundation and the community but between the community as well.

Lesson 4: Resident’s action is not only fixing utilities: Caught within a model of private solutions for public problems, most residents remain constrained by the vision of community foundations and residents associations as an alternative to effective County Government. This is both liberating and disempowering. It facilitates civic agency to own and take up the challenge of making communities work on one hand. On the other, it releases County Government from any obligation to provide value for money services in return for taxes and rates collected. It also contributes to the privatization of core services and “user pays” system managed by private companies. Lastly, it feeds a perception that personal choices rather than public policy choices matter.[iii]

Foundations and associations can only be complimentary to local Government. Local Government could work smarter with foundations and associations around citizens’ forums, budget hearings and development priority setting.  Resident Associations and Community Foundations could provide the Nairobi County Government with the much needed intermediary to speak with organized citizens. In so doing, perhaps we can raise the national statistic bar of only 5.7% of Kenyans currently participating in the citizens based forums.

Key to this, as resident Dr Kahare Miano would say, “…will be shifting perceptions of Kilimani residents’ relationship to streets as places’ not just non-places on the way to places.” Fixing public utilities is one thing, but creating new intersections between actors, places and interests could transform the inequalities and divisions between citizens. The community could, one day, say to the Nairobi Governor, “this is what we need done, thanks.”

Lesson 5: Leadership requires imagination, openness, this is a road not well travelled: In a capitalist society like Kenya, critics have mistaken the President’s call for the public to form neighborhood committees as a call to spy on each other. This is consistent with a worldview that keeps us isolated as individuals. It is consistent with the pattern of building cities that exclude each other like in Europe or North America. It is this that reinforces our appreciation of community only as far as our family, compound or ethnic community. The Foundation completely rejects this worldview and embraces the African community spirit of “we are our brother and sisters’ keeper”.

The other challenge the Foundation has faced is the perception that community organizing is essentially for communities living in poverty and marginalization. Middle income neighborhoods don’t need a community foundation so the argument goes. It is precisely the absence of an inclusive and caring community that robs the middle class of the opportunity to provide leadership, share excess assets and influence the world around them.

With 5-6% growth and a growing middle class with disposable income, this robs the country of an important resource. As leading Kenyan musician Muthoni Ndonga noted, “I went to school with the children of the who’s who and the woman who sold vegetables to my mother. The richer parents contributed to ensuring that the school had all the facilities of the private schools. Nowadays, the rich spend a fortune on expensive schools for 1 or 2 children, when they could be impacting on 1,000 children.” The consequence is two Kilimanis and two Kenyas.

Lesson 6: Place based focus yields tangible results: Since November 2012, the Foundation has organized over twenty community events with over fifty partners and scores of residents. The community has responded very well to some events, not well to others. In October 2012, we invited the community to take photos of the community as they went about their daily activities in what we called “picha sauti”.[iv] We got very few submissions but instead requests for us to organize collective photo walk-abouts. These were more successful and we got over 200 photos.

We have learned that it is easier to think in activities rather than new ways of being in the same spaces. Yet, activities are insufficient to transform the community’s relationship to itself in the absence of an iconic victory in an area that is important to residents. Cultivating a common interest and agenda around public spaces is where tangible change can be found. Encouraging agencies to renovate the swimming pool, canteen and library at the Kilimani Primary School provides the best example of the Foundation’s tangible impact over the last year.

Four challenges on building a community and foundation for 2024

If we were building a 100 year old endowed foundation that is be rooted in the Kilimani area, capable of providing community grants and is nationally recognized and influential, what could we do next? Learning from the Google business model, a strategic portfolio would focus 70% on our core business, 20% on programmes adjacent to core and the remaining 10% on radical new ideas.

We could identify one to two programmes that have the possibility of an iconic victory in an area that matters to the community. Earlier in 2014, the Foundation participated in a Master Planning exercise.[v] Possible options include redesigning the Kilimani square near Yaya to ease traffic congestion and support the small business enterprises, finding an alternative to the matatu terminus at the corner of Wood avenue and Argwings Kodhek avenue, securing a more permanent space for the Denis Pritt road and Prestige Plaza markets, ensuring safety for children walking to and from school and lastly, neighbors actions to reclaim the streets outside their homes.

We need to expand and strengthen the Board, staff and volunteers to take leadership in enabling community self-discovery, confidence and action. We also need to create pathways for large and small individual and corporate members and sponsors to give regularly to the programmes we run. This will allow us to take the baby steps towards an endowment and a permanent resource-base for the Foundation. These four steps must occupy the immediate focus of the leadership both in the Foundation and in the community.

Kilimani Project Foundation

The Kilimani Project Foundation started as a garden conversation of residents, educationalists, businesspeople and artists and urban planners in 2012. Critical for its formation was a sense that the physical environment was changing rapidly and this was happening without the vision and voice of the community. Public investment in utilities, facilities and services lagged behind the rapid sprouting of privately developed apartment skyscrapers. Key communities were being physically displaced from the public spaces they had operated from – the street garages, food courts, markets, taxi ranks – at a time when ironically, business opportunities boomed.

Over the last two years, the foundation has supported local NGOs, businesses, associations, artists, doctors, the police service to hold an appreciative photo exhibition, community festival and play, renovate the Kilimani Primary School canteen, library and pool, organize cleanups along Argwings Kodhek road and Milimani Primary School, organize a free public medical camp and an open day at the Kilimani Police Station among other activities.


[i] Many residents still behave as temporal migrants http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Nairobi

[ii] In many ways, left uninterrupted, urban middle income Nairobi development will predictably mirror the current realities seen in North America and Europe where 30-50% of the population don’t know their neighbors well enough to ask for help, interact or pick them out of a police lineup. http://www.macleans.ca/society/the-end-of-neighbours/ There are models of integrated planning we can learn from. See http://pubs.iied.org/17189IIED.html and http://www.huduser.org/portal/pdredge/pdr_edge_hudpartrpt_032213.html

[iii] For more on the future of gated world by 2050 see Joseph S. Nye’s http://forumblog.org/2014/01/2050-can-avoid-gated-world/

[iv] In English, photo voice exercise

[v] See some of the issues generated http://ow.ly/D9riY

[vi] Many of the public eateries where these communities eat together are on road reserves or plots waiting to be developed. There are only toilets at Yaya Centre and Prestige Plaza with the latter recording 14,000 flushes every day. The Prestige Plaza owners speak to this service as one of their biggest corporate contributions to the wider society.

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.

My experience celebrating philanthropy in DC

“Celebrating Philanthropy in Emerging Economies” was the title of the 2014 Global Donors Forum that took place April 14 – 16 in Washington D.C. during the cherry blossom season. The Global Donors Forum is the biennial convening of the World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists that seeks to promote effective giving and forge strategic partnerships for high-impact social investment. I was thrilled when Jenny Hodgson from the Global Fund for Community Foundations invited me to join a plenary with a remarkable of group of community foundation gurus like Avila Kilmurray from the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland (who will be joining the GFCF staff as Director of Strategy and Policy in July), who moderated the plenary entitled “Community Philanthropy for Social Cohesion”, together with Rita Thapa from Tewa in Nepal and Haaris Ahmed from Canton Community Foundation in the U.S.

El-Daly (centre), Kilmurray (second from right) and Thapa (far right)

As a believer in community philanthropy and the role of local change-makers in enhancing living conditions, opportunities and fair access to resources for all citizens, the forum was an important venue for me. In times of crisis and in relation to the so-called democratic transformation after what we used to refer to as the “Arab Spring”, civil society and community philanthropy are being challenged as never before. Our session on community philanthropy reflected the depth of this challenge. As Kilmurray indicated, people of the Dalia Association in Palestine or those young people working in the Cluj Community Foundation in Romania (among others across the world) are part of a coming of age of community foundations. Such organizations are pooling resources in creative and dynamic ways to respond to the root causes of social injustice. Through presentations of the WMCF and Tewa, our session demonstrated how the power of people coming together to effect change also brings hope and power to actions that are empowering and sustainable.

After what was an engaging discussion that highlighted community foundations’ spirit of “business as unusual”, there was a plenary on faith-based giving innovations that drew on models from Malaysia. A plenary entitled “Zakat: The Unexplored Power of Faith Giving”, moderated by Achmat Sali, Director of Islamic Studies of the University of Detroit, spoke about how faith-based giving like “Zakat” could be used as a tool for justice. Equally inspiring was the discussion on the model of “waqf” which means endowment and is an indigenous tool in the Arab and Muslim Worlds that has allowed for the creation of private foundations that are called waqf, Waqfeyat or Awqaf. These functioned as civic donor-advised funds for hundreds of centuries, serving development until governments confiscated them under a ministry in each country of this vast region. Thus, in the forum, it was very informative to see how the Islamic Solidarity Fund for Development (ISFD) has capitalized on this old and forgotten tool that was adapted by the West yet forgotten in the East, to fund social development projects across the world.

The session entitled “Unleashing the potential of Islamic social assets” by Diab Karrar, the Activing Director of the IFSD and Manager of the Awqaf Properties Investment Fund (APIF), spoke about innovative solutions for reviving the “property waqf” and encouraging social investors to contribute to it. Of course this was “big money” talk by the bank and it was not so relevant in monetary terms to the cash-waqf revival mechanism that we have been developing in Egypt. However, it was great learning between two organizations, a community foundation and a bank, even with all differences approach. The first lesson for me, as a representative of an Egyptian community foundation, was the importance of big capital to invest in property or cash waqf – which means further battles on the legal arena to change policies in this time of transition in Egypt, in addition to the fundraising challenge. In the case of a “property waqf” partnership between the bank and a community foundation such as ours it would involve the community foundation having rights to a particular piece of land on which some kind of business (such as a hotel, a private school, etc) could be developed. Any profits from the partnerships would be divided equally between the bank and the community foundation to support its development projects in a sustainable way.

Last but not least, the highlight of this forum, apart from these interesting linkages, potential partnerships, models, power struggles, etc, was that the forum signaled the launch of the “Hassanah Fund” that was initiated by the World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists. The IFSD provided its seed funding, a form of cash-waqf, that has allowed the Hassanah Fund to begin working on its mission of combatting hunger across the world. Some involved theorized that USD $5 million was a modest amount and, as I learned in Washington, a cash-waqf is typically around USD $20 million to be worthy of the investment: a depressing fact that I quickly turned into a target. If others can manage to raise such funds, our community could too!

Marwa El Daly is Chair of the Waqfeyat al Maadi Community Foundation (WMCF) in Egypt

Why plumbing matters: introducing the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy

We very excited to be unveiling some new changes to our website this month, along with a new-look e-bulletin. These include a new section on the recently-established Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy (GACP) and in the future, stories and blogs that link directly to the GACP will be easily identifiable through its own distinct logo.

Refreshing one’s communications tools is always good to do from time to time. However, the GACP represents much more than an opportunity for a re-branding exercise, providing as it does an exciting opportunity to put community philanthropy on the map of international development. The GACP has big ambitions: it “aims to advance the practice of community philanthropy and influence international development actors to better understand, support, and promote the role of community philanthropy in the sustainability and vibrancy of civil society and in achieving more lasting development outcomes.” And what is particularly significant about it is that its initial funder members are drawn from across the development and philanthropy spectrum, including private foundations (Mott Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund), a bilateral donor (USAID) and a private foundation / INGO hybrid (Aga Khan Foundation), each of which has agreed to commit time and resources to thinking and learning about community philanthropy, to sharing experiences of what works and what doesn’t, to testing concepts across institutional frameworks and to informing and engaging others in the donor space. As a fifth partner and the Secretariat, the GFCF has been charged with coordinating the efforts of the GACP. We will be drawing on our experiences of using our grantmaking to develop an evidence base for the global community philanthropy field, drawn from a diversity of circumstances, institutions and contexts. Over the last seven years, the GFCF has been working to promote and support institutions of community philanthropy around the world. Our work has been driven by a conviction that local development efforts are more effective when communities are able to articulate and address their needs and also when they have a stake – as co-investors bringing assets to the table – in their own development.

The GACP has been established at a time when the global context for development aid is changing rapidly as a recent article on the Guardian Development Professionals website describes. The search for new models and structures has meant many INGOs restructuring to cut costs because of a dramatic reduction in development aid which has traditionally been a key source of funding for many of them. Some internationally active NGOs are relocating their offices to the Global South, for a variety of philosophical and tactical reasons. As the shifting landscape for development aid changes, pointing to a future with less international funding for development, as civil society organizations in the Global South grow stronger and more established and as new assets emerge in traditionally aid-dependent contexts (whether in terms of new classes of mega-rich and middle classes, or of mineral wealth), there is certainly a need for some radical new thinking about what the future architecture for civil society funding might look like.

At the heart of the notion of community philanthropy is the idea that assets exist in every community and that if these can be harnessed and organized, they can be applied to local development processes in ways that are both more cost-effective and more sustainable in terms of social capital (assuming that people invest their own assets when high levels of trust exist).

And yet, community philanthropy barely features in the mainstream development discourse. In a recent article, An Alternative to Development Aid on the Open Democracy website, Nora Lester Murad, a leading advocate for community philanthropy as a development strategy and a founder of the Dalia Association, Palestine, writes. “While critiques of international aid are becoming mainstream, there is still little awareness about community foundations as a viable alternative, even in the discourse about funding for human rights. In responding to local challenges and opportunities, community foundations and other community philanthropic organizations offer communities a dignified and creative way to organize their resources towards collective self-reliance for generations to come.” She goes on to describe her own experience of working with a group of local leaders to establish Dalia, Palestine’s first community foundation.

“If only Palestinians had their own money,” I thought, “…the wasteful, irrelevant and unsustainable activities posited as ‘post conflict development’ would stop.” But my group of co-founders quickly disabused me of my naïve and simplistic approach. Self-determination is not about having a big endowment. It’s about responsibly and intentionally utilizing the resources we have, mobilizing other resources by modelling credible, inspiring practice, and working transparently, democratically and accountably to pursue our own priorities over the long haul.”

Over the past seven years, Dalia has introduced an innovative local grants process, “community-controlled grantmaking”, which involves local community members in decision-making around the allocation of small grants. They have also developed another strand of work around building local philanthropy among local companies. And throughout they have sought to use their experiences of grassroots grantmaking and philanthropy development processes as an alternative to many of the assumptions of international development aid and a model from which to learn.

In thinking about what sustainable development might look like, who wouldn’t find the idea of a local institution that facilitates local people making decisions about their own development, backed by local philanthropic resources, compelling? And yet so far few funding institutions have – for a variety of reasons – had the interest, the resources or the flexibility to invest in creating the conditions which might allow such organizations to thrive.

At the recent WINGSForum, The Power of Networks: Building Connected Global Philanthropyin Istanbul, the Mott Foundation received an award for its constant and unwavering support for and investment in the development of civil society (and specifically philanthropic) infrastructure around the world. Mott has also invested heavily in the development of community foundations and community philanthropy around the world. In accepting the award on behalf of the foundation, Shannon Lawder, Director of Civil Society described how philanthropic infrastructure might be compared to the plumbing in a house: it’s not the most attractive or creative part of construction and design, you can’t actually see the pipes but you know they are there, they play an essential and yet invisible role and you would be in trouble without them.

Jenny Hodgson

Today’s charity, tomorrow’s philanthropy

So says the newly established Bermuda Community Foundation which was launched in January 2014 with the aim of building endowments for local philanthropy alongside working to help people to give effectively and efficiently. This is a community foundation for an island that is just 26 square miles, with a population of just over 64,900. However, the statistics suggest that 19% of the population live below the poverty line notwithstanding the impressive office buildings, and shining name plates, that house many well-known Fortune 500 companies.

It is a tribute to the industrious work of the Board of Trustees that the Bermuda Community Foundation opened its doors with four Donor Advised Funds; two Designated Funds; three Agency Funds to support local organizations; four Field of Interest Funds; five named Community Funds established by the Bermuda Community Foundation with open contributions from the local community; and an Endowed Fund with founding investments from Atlantic Philanthropies and RenaissanceRe. The overall venture has been proactively supported by Atlantic Philanthropies that is currently in spend down mode in recognition of its long-term relationship with Bermuda.

The dynamic Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of the Bermuda Community Foundation, Myra Virgil, pointed out that the ambition of the Community Foundation is to achieve the “long-term strengthening and sustainability of Bermuda’s non-profit sector.”  Despite the tidy white-roofed villas and the stunning pink-sand beaches there are multiple issues of deprivation and racial inequities that the local non-profit sector continue to grapple with. Early childhood development is one priority that has been identified. Peter Durhager, Chairperson of the Community Foundation adds that “many charities are engaged in a daily financial struggle to continue to offer their services and some are shutting down completely when Bermuda needs them most.” He recognizes that the emphasis on growing an endowment can work towards mitigating the impact of future uncertainty given that it is essential to have a vibrant, non-profit sector in the interests of community solidarity.

The Bermuda Community Foundation working strapline – “Dedicated to the good of Bermuda forever” – clearly needs to be translated into practice.  However, a carefully crafted initiative has been launched after a considerable investment in local consultation and identification of potential donors.  The fair winds of Atlantic Philanthropies support also made for good conditions of sail. All in all a successful launch of a welcome venture!

Asian community philanthropy practitioners gather in Shillong, India

In mid-September, a group of community philanthropy practitioners and supporters gathered for a two-day meeting in the hill station of Shillong, capital of the state of Meghalaya, one of the “Seven Sister” states of Northeast India, which is connected to the rest of the country by a narrow corridor squeezed between Nepal and Bangladesh. This part of India is quite isolated from the rest of the country and it has seen decades of conflict and separatist insurgency. The meeting was organized by the Global Fund for Community Foundations and the Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace Network and it was hosted by the Foundation for Social Transformation – enabling north east India.

In 2011, the GFCF convened a meeting of South Asian community philanthropy practitioners at Tewa Women’s Fund in Nepal. The aim of that meeting had been to begin a regional conversation about the state and practice of organized community philanthropy in South Asia, a field which is still quite scattered and disconnected. This time, the geographic net was extended even further: so, in addition to foundation representatives from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka, there were also participants from southeast Asia – Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand.

We asked three participants, Gayatri Buragohain (Foundation for Social Transformation and our excellent local hosts), Nhu Ngo (LIN Center for Community Development, Vietnam), and Amelia Fauzia (Social Trust Fund, Indonesia) to tell us about their impressions of the meeting.

GFCF: Firstly, Gayatri, as the local hosts, how important was this convening on community philanthropy in Asia to the Foundation for Social Transformation?

Gayatri: Northeast India has suffered much over the last few decades due to on-going conflict, both in terms of economic and social development and in the recognition and protection of human rights. Although there are many local initiatives all over the region working to restore peace and support development, it is a big challenge for such groups or organizations to access resources that are needed to support and sustain their work. To fill this resource gap, in 2005 a group of people from the region got together to create the Foundation for Social Transformation as a local philanthropic organization.

Foundation for Social Transformation – enabling north east India [the organization’s full name] is the first philanthropic organization in the North East that has been started by local people and that is exclusively dedicated to giving grants for development projects in the region. However, the concept of ‘community philanthropy’ is quite new in this region. Although community giving has existed in the various different cultures of the region, with community dwellers pooling resources to help one of its members in distress, the concept of organized philanthropy is still at a nascent stage.

For the team of FST, the Asia Community Philanthropy Peer Learning and Exchange came at a time when we were seeking some much needed support. We were happy to organise the meeting on behalf of the GFCF and the PSJP Network and felt a great sense of pride that it was going to be held in our part of the world! We feel it helped us highlight the region on the global “map” of community philanthropy. It was also very helpful for us to see the larger picture of community philanthropy in Asia, meet with others and understand our place in this larger picture. It reconfirmed the need for an organization such as ours. Being located in a geographically less accessible place, and working on very different social context from mainland India, we do feel a little lonely and disconnected. More importantly, we have a very new team on board for whom the understanding on local philanthropy is new. This meeting helped us feel connected, inspired and gave much needed conceptual clarity on local philanthropy.

 

GFCF: Gayatri, Nhu and Amelia, what were you impressions of the meeting, in particular, in terms of the similarities and differences between different institutions and different countries as well as the current state of community philanthropy in Asia overall?

Gayatri: FST has been struggling to survive over the last few years due to a serious financial crunch. We started recovering towards the later part of 2012 following some major strategic changes in the way we function and raise funds. In this meeting we realized that the challenges we are facing are very similar to what many other community foundations are facing, especially when it comes to raising operational costs for the foundation. It also came out from our various conversations that the strategies other organizations have used or are considering are also very similar to what we have adopted or are considering. It was certainly clear that through networking, sharing of experiences, we can share best practices and not reinvent the wheel. A lot of discussions also resulted in identifying possible collaborations which we are very excited about. At the same time, however, we did feel that there were some ideological differences with some tactics of raising funds [in particular, in engaging corporates], but we feel that discussing those helped us to examine and reflect on different perspectives on resource mobilization.

Nhu: We were honoured to participate in such a convening that lets us exchange and learn from other institutions building philanthropy.  Although we come from different countries, our issues and concerns are similar.  This was my first meeting with other community philanthropy institutions in the region.  I was so impressed by the way that we were all so open with each other about our successes, experiences and challenges.  In one group, for example, we were five people from five different countries; when the first one finished talking about his institution’s goal and challenges, most of us said, “Same here!”  Each different institution has different programmes for fundraising and different approaches to serving its local community. 

Amelia: The meeting was very productive and useful for us all to learn from each other on some very practical issues related to community foundations. It is also a great opportunity for everyone to reflect on his or her own organization and to define where it “sits” in the working concept of the community foundation concept.

Previously, I had thought my organization, Social Trust Fund, had a rather uncommon or unusual form, but in Shillong, I found that my institution is not alone at all. There are many similarities in terms of activities, visions, and organizational characteristics (such as grantmaking and capacity building) among the different community foundation-type institutions in different countries. Culture, religion, ethnicity, gender, are all big issues that have caused particular problems across Asia. Because of this, it seems to me that these Asian-based community foundations try hard and are perhaps more outspoken in their missions of pluralism, inclusiveness, and targeting non-discriminative approaches and aims. Community philanthropy in Asia is not yet strong enough in terms of asset and numbers, but it is certainly rising as an important force. It matters because change or transformation should be led and done by the community itself.

Yes, I learnt the importance of grantmaking, community leadership, community money and cause, and capacity building within community foundations, which are very important for growing community foundations in Indonesia. Although the term “community foundation” is not familiar in Indonesia, there are similar types of institutions (although they tend to involve less grantmaking, community leadership and capacity building). I have many ideas as to how to build up my own institution (Social Trust Fund-STF) as well about how to seed and grow community foundations in Indonesia. …In terms of the national context, I think there is an urgent need to transform “traditional” foundations into more community foundation-like institutions.

GFCF: From our grantmaking experience over the last few years, we have observed that although community philanthropy institutions around the world may be quite diverse and operate in very different contexts, some of the particular aspects of their work that bring them together as a distinct cohort include an interest in a) building assets b) building agency of local institutions (often by strengthening them through small grants) and c) building trust across and within different parts of a community. What are your thoughts on this as far as your own institutions are concerned?

Gayatri: I agree with all three points you have mentioned. For FST, it is a top priority right now to build trust within the local community around the notion of civil society and also build assets within the community to support local progressive development projects. It has become important for two reasons. The first is that accessing traditional funds from foreign foundations and donors has become more and more difficult for local NGOs because of both a reduction in international funding and the introduction of new government rules and regulations that restrict access to such funding. Secondly, we feel it is important for people of the region to own the responsibility of development of the region and peace building in the region. There are many local institutions that are doing remarkable work for the region. They need support from the local people to sustain their work. Otherwise they will always find themselves flowing against the tide. So even for us, building assets, building agency of local institutions and building trust are key priorities – all of which need to take place within the framework of a rights based approach.

Nhu: LIN’s approach to community philanthropy indeed seeks to achieve all three of the objectives you mentioned:

(1) We build assets in our community by attracting and pooling resources from as many sources as possible to address the needs in our community.

(2) We build agency of local nonprofits not only via small grants but also by other means, including the creation of organizational development tools, peer working groups, workshops, introductions to skilled volunteers and information sharing.

(3) We are working to build trust across and within different parts of our community by being transparent about our activities, income and expenditures and proactively communicating what we are doing to as many people as possible. We are also trying to support our local non-profit partners that want to do the same.

Amelia: Yes, these three are very important to us. They are inter-related: trust, agency and assets. Social Trust Fund chooses to start from building trust. We are very new organization, almost two years old. Trust aspect is very important to us, and it is explicitly stated as name of our institution. Trust should be started from our internal institution (staff, board, activities) and then transformed to our wider programs and communities. Based on trust, we build agency and we build our assets.

Read more PJSP Coordinator, Chandrika Sahai’s blog here and Drishana Kalita’s (Drishana is a staff member at FST) here. Also on the PJSP Network’s website is an interview with Sumitra Mishra, Country Director, at iPartner India, who talks about the unique and important role of “intermediary” organisations and their “value added” in the process of philanthropic giving

New on the GFCF website

1. Community philanthropy and power

No matter where they are located, the multi-stakeholder nature of community philanthropy organizations means that they will always have to deal with the tension that arises from juggling donor interests and pursuing social justice imperatives. Indeed, part of their task is to work out ways to successfully build bridges between the twoRead more

From the latest edition of Alliance magazine, Community philanthropy and power.

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2. Tracking the growth of organized philanthropy: is it the missing piece in community development?

From the 2013 CIVICUS State of Civil Society Report

This article provides an overview of the current state of global community philanthropy, with particular reference to the global South. It describes the factors that are driving a growth in community philanthropy, and the key features of this distinct section of civil society and its role in driving community development agendas that are locally formulated. This small but growing field, which emphasises local asset development and multi-stakeholder good governance, may have particular relevance in the context of increased limitations experienced by and reduced resources for CSOs in many parts of the world. Read more

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3. Profile of Uluntu Community Foundation

“What will make us different? The first five years of the Uluntu Community Foundation” is now available for download as a PDF file.

‘What will make us different?’ The first five years of the Uluntu Community Foundation

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? 
TS Eliot, ‘The Wasteland’

The pipe-dream of sustainability …

Sustainability is the issue at the heart of most community foundations – and the environmental meaning of the word is as important as its organizational significance, particularly in a country and a continent subject to increasingly unpredictable rainfall and erratic climatic conditions, both of which compound the physical challenges of securing a livelihood from the land. Add to these natural circumstances a set of economic factors that has laid waste whole communities, seen poverty and unemployment reach worrying heights and gross national product nosedive, and sustainability begins to seem something of a pipe-dream. And then top all that with a political state of affairs that has made your country an international pariah, severely reduced any appeal it might have held for international investors, and threatened to damage the social cohesion of communities themselves – and you have a cocktail of difficulties that most people would run away from.

So the fact that the Uluntu Community Foundation, far from doing so, has recently recorded its fifth year of operation (it was registered in 2008) is impressive enough. That it has done so while keeping true to its founding principles and maintaining the same core of volunteer board members is doubly astounding. In this stony ground, Uluntu has laid down roots and caused branches to grow that show every chance of enduring and flourishing. Just read this, about two gardening projects:

The generous donation to the people of Sinkukwe and Zhokwe has enabled these two groups, managed by women, to start up income-generating projects from their nutrition gardens. The projects directly benefit children – particularly orphans – and the elderly by providing healthy and fresh vegetables, as well as crops each farming season. The gardens have become educational platforms and have helped impart survival skills to the women and their families. Through the income realized from the selling of garden produce, the wardens have further managed to purchase other livestock such as cattle, goats and chickens. In appreciation of the support they have received, Ms Jessie Ncube, Chairlady of the Njabulo group, had this to say, ‘We have been equipped and we will not look back but move forward with developing ourselves.’

Nutrition garden supported by Uluntu CF

How did this come about?

If, at first, …

Uluntu is an emerging community foundation based in Bulawayo, in the west of Zimbabwe. Registered in 2008, it aims to foster and support a type of development driven by local people rather than by external agencies. Indeed, this spirit of a people-centred organization is captured in the organization’s name: ‘Uluntu’ means ‘people’ in isiNdebele, the main local language of Western Zimbabwe.

In the context of much of sub-Saharan Africa, where international development aid has often crowded out notions of local philanthropy, the vision of a local philanthropic institution might be seen to be bold. In Zimbabwe, it feels beyond bold.

Economic, political and personal backgrounds

In 2013, Zimbabwe was ranked 172 out of 187 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index.[1] Hyperinflation, the demise of the ‘zim’ dollar, the crashing of the country’s economy, all created extraordinarily difficult trading environments. And the Matabeleland Provinces (North and South) are some of the poorest parts of Zimbabwe, with poverty levels estimated at 80% and unemployment at 90%. In recent years, local industry has all but ground to a halt, and the lack of economic opportunities in the region has resulted in high levels of migration to South Africa, particularly among economically active young women and men. This is where Uluntu has elected to work.

The Uluntu Community Foundation was not, in fact, the first such venture undertaken by its founding member, Inviolatta Moyo. She had previously worked in the Community Foundation for the Western Region of Zimbabwe, but the foundation had faced its own set of challenges and had eventually come to change its focus: ‘Things started too well previously,’ she says and, when economic circumstances changed, she ended up losing ‘the zeal and direction’ and becoming ‘frustrated and sometimes very confused’. Having always been convinced that community foundations were the way forward, however, she was determined not to be discouraged by this but to see it as an object lesson in how to refine the model for the next attempt.

Two things emerged from this earlier experience: her conviction that rapid growth was unlikely to lead to sustainability and her belief that success would depend on her building up a close network of relationships with others who shared her vision.

Relationships – the building blocks of Uluntu

The issue of trust was a crucial factor here: in a country where institutions have too often failed the people they should be serving, Uluntu would prioritize the building of relationships, recognizing that these can’t be built up quickly or easily and that, to many Zimbabweans, trust is an entirely new currency to be dealing in. As the political and economic circumstances in Zimbabwe evolved, the robust network of people and communities that Uluntu would gradually build up would be what set the organization apart, and what would make it a strong, valuable resource for new partners.

In this endeavour, Inviolatta’s co-trustees, the current board members of Uluntu, were first in terms of importance. They were the ones who encouraged her to embark on a new venture. But their composition and their pattern of behaviour also set the benchmark for the foundation as a whole. The board members were drawn from a range of backgrounds, with an equally mixed experience of national and international experience, and a range of skill sets – journalism, education, commerce, broadcasting and civil service – that guaranteed coverage of all the fledgling foundation’s needs and, combined, related perfectly to its mandate. There was also an equal gender mix but, perhaps more significantly even than any of this, the members were unified by a sense of all being in it together: nobody expected any allowance or stipend for their involvement but instead gave freely of their time and of their resources – hosting meetings at their homes, donating furniture, lending cars or petrol, contributing money to get Uluntu’s bank account opened. This was a shared journey they were all on together, and it was one that they were going to undertake patiently and without compromising on any of their principles. The words of Thomas à Becket in TS Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral were almost made for Uluntu:

The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed, for the wrong reason.

Listening to communities

Patience and the refusal to lose sight of their founding principles lie behind everything Uluntu does and are equally at the basis of its relationships with the communities in which it works. Some funding organizations come into communities with a clear idea of the projects they want to develop; inevitably, the communities pick up on the funders’ agenda and identify either the burgeoning project or the need for such a project, in order to secure the funding. The project may represent the community’s most important need but, equally, it may not. Uluntu likes to think it operates differently. Since relationships are at the heart of its activity, what it does first is to establish a relationship with the community, listening to its representatives and members, waiting to hear from them what their most pressing concerns and needs are.

Initially, formal and informal meetings were held with friends, acquaintances and contacts to begin to identify the priorities and concerns of various communities and groups, initially in the Matabeleland South Province. The board and staff travelled to rural areas to gauge the temperatures of the communities there, and to begin to understand where the energy may be. The communities themselves had to be the drivers of any change they wanted to see in their local contexts: the foundation never saw itself as being the leader of this process, but rather a convener, broker or catalyst for community empowerment – an institutional partner that could help translate vision to reality.

So the Uluntu staff and board would call for and facilitate meetings with the communities involved, and then would simply listen as the ideas and brainstorms began to flow. Given the high exodus of working males from the region in search of employment opportunities in neighbouring countries, many of these conversations were held with females and youth groups.

Prioritizing relationship building, Uluntu was careful to ensure that partnerships and overlapping interests were the opening topics of all discussions – not funding or the promise of money. Busani Bafana, Uluntu’s current Chair, who brings with him a journalistic background and fresh perspective to this work, explains: ‘We put our cards on the table and get to know a community. We have seen other organizations try to come in with too many ideas, solutions and funds, and it doesn’t work.’ As a result of this lengthy, community-driven process, which spanned several years, Uluntu narrowed its programmatic focus to several key areas: education, food security and livelihoods, research, social entrepreneurship – and crosscutting topics such as the environment, HIV/AIDS and gender issues.

Busani maintains that it was not difficult to convince these communities that they should in fact be the leaders of the process: ‘Local giving, no matter how small, makes a big difference in the livelihoods of disadvantaged communities. What is locally rooted is guaranteed to last, because the sense of ownership is stronger and yields deeper commitment.’ And the recipe for the foundation’s success in encouraging this grassroots leadership? ‘Trust is our currency.’

Inviolatta pursues this idea:

When you go to the community without answers, automatically the energy is with the community. They are driving the vehicles they want to move forward. When we get there and listen to them, they are already in the driver’s seat. This instills a sense of ownership and trust and they gradually open up. It may take a few meetings, but then they believe in what you are doing.

It was also critical to relate to these communities and individuals on their terms, linking larger issues back to the familiar realities of day-to-day life, and in doing so encouraging the empowerment of households as development change agents themselves. Inviolatta elaborates: ‘Just ask them: “How have you coped before? How do we add to that?” It’s about addressing poverty from the micro level. This is the taking-off point.’

Funders and authorities – the routes into communities

These communities were accessible only if the representatives of Uluntu could get to them, of course. On a practical level, this was a serious issue, as many communities and projects are more than 100 kilometres away from Bulawayo, and the roads are rudimentary. With no funds to support vehicles of its own, Uluntu had, again, to rely on the goodwill of its trustees and founding members, who offered their own means of transport – and occasionally themselves as drivers! But on a political level, the foundation could work with these communities only if they had the approval of the local authorities under whose responsibility they fell – and here again the importance of relationship building came to the fore.

To have authorization to work in the wards they had targeted, Uluntu had to make several trips to five of the seven Rural District Councils operating in the Matabeleland South Province. These meetings eventually led to the issuing of memoranda of understanding – documents required of all organizations by the government – authorizing the activities of Uluntu in the districts. This arrangement, although a practical complication, creates easy access to communities and allows both Uluntu and the local authority to monitor the situation, which is particularly useful in the event of any conflict.

Last in the network of relationships is the relationship with funders. The ultimate objective of Uluntu, of course, is to be self-sustaining and to enable communities to be self-supporting, too. As Inviolatta puts it:

Local money is important because it means you are investing in your own community. After all, charity begins at home and raising local money is essential when it comes to building local trust, and it also means more local ownership and sustainability. For me, local money is for ever: a well that you can always draw from. Like a well, if it is well constructed, it can go on for ever. People are always there, ready to help, but they need someone to provide a platform through which to give … And communities already have their own assets, probably without realizing it. They work in their own small way on a day-to-day basis and manage their own economies in absolutely fascinating ways. What Uluntu does is add value to what already exists.[2]

If the goal of the journey was to get to a point where communities could sustain the projects which Uluntu’s support had enabled them to start, the community foundation had to source funds itself. To do so would not be easy, because just as Uluntu was determined not to impose on communities the projects it thought they should be doing, so too it was adamant that funders should not be able to dictate to it the programmes they thought it should engage in. This was dramatically to limit the pool of potential supporters. Yet, once again, the determination of this approach and the patience with which the foundation was determined to build its system of operation ended up attracting the interest of like-minded funding organizations that were happy to work in the way Uluntu proposed. International funders such as the American Jewish World Service, Global Greengrants Fund, the Global Fund for Community Foundations (GFCF) and the African Women’s Development Fund have all been in sympathy with the process Uluntu is engaged in, and all have been happy to invest in the process rather than to insist on project outcomes overnight. Inviolatta is quick to acknowledge the debt Uluntu owes these organizations:

Each of these external funders has been a huge strength in our ability to be able to leverage other sources of support. It would not have been possible for us to move our dream forward without these funders. The grants have cut down our otherwise long lead-time to start collaborative projects with communities … we have moved a notch higher in fulfilling our vision.

Important though the support of international funders may be, Uluntu was also aware of the dangers of a community foundation operating in isolation and without local or regional support. As a fledgling organization, what it needed was the experience and advice of other organizations operating in a similar field and in the same broad geographical region. To this end, Uluntu deliberately sought out other foundations as partners and has formed invaluable partnerships with the West Coast Community Foundation and the Community Development Foundation for the Western Cape. Within the broader region, it has also made a point of joining larger networks such as the Southern African Community Grant Makers Forum (on which the executive director of Uluntu sits as secretary of the board), the African Grantmakers Network, and the Worldwide Initiative for Grantmaker Support (WINGS). Synergos has also been an important source of support. These combined partnerships have been able to provide Uluntu with vital input in terms of knowledge processes and ideas on development initiatives.

This intricate network of relationships – within the foundation itself, with the communities it supports and works with, with the local authorities, and with regional and international funders and supporters – has already consolidated Uluntu’s position so that, despite the currently difficult economic and political conditions, Inviolatta and her colleagues are quietly confident that they have reached a stage where they can move forward. As Busani puts it: ‘Our slow growth has paid off. I’m glad we didn’t try to expand in 2008: we would not have succeeded but would have collapsed. Development really means raising funds slowly, building relationships and trust and moving ahead slowly.’

Starting points

What Uluntu started with is a set of values and principles, not an idea of the organization’s form or function.

‘What will make us different? It’s because we care’ is how Kingsley Dinga Dube, one of the founding board members of the Uluntu Community Foundation, used to define the work of the organization in the early days of its existence.

Founding principles

The premise on which Uluntu’s original staff (the same as are there today) began the foundation in 2008 was an absolute rootedness in the community and a belief in communities’ power to solve their own problems – a shared vision of a local Zimbabwean philanthropic grantmaking institution which could foster and support a type of development driven by local people rather than by external agencies.[3] Their belief that every person has something to give and that individuals should be put in charge of their own futures was unwavering and was, they felt convinced, the bricks on which independent, self-reliant communities would be built.

Patience and transparency – Uluntu’s early stages

Building the board

Uluntu started with seven citizens from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city, the founding members of the organization. With no office at their disposal, these members met where they could and established a pattern of working that has remained unchanged. Their first significant decision was to take their time, not to jump in at the deep end with solutions at the ready, but to complete a multi-year strategic plan, and carry out thorough baseline surveys to better focus their programming[4] – to move in an informed direction. This notion of patience comes up constantly when speaking with Inviolatta, who compares it with the tight timelines of more-traditional development projects: ‘We know that quick results often don’t last and that process is everything.’ According to her, a good part of the burgeoning institution’s first three years of existence was spent ‘lying low’, populating the board and learning to work together through regular meetings and intensive hands-on workshops.

Board members – drawn, as already stated, from a range of backgrounds (all of them relevant to Uluntu’s work) and featuring an equal mix of men and women – immediately recognized that the shared journey they were on required a different attitude from that of many other boards in NGOs across Africa, where compensation of board members has become standard practice. No member expected a sitting allowance or stipend in return for their time, efforts and personal expenses; on the contrary, the foundation saw its board members as assets rather than overheads. Significantly, the board also followed Inviolatta’s lead when it comes to patience and persistence, and recognized that the proper establishment of a community foundation was not something that happened overnight, or even within a year or two. Here, as elsewhere, the principle of doing things correctly rather than quickly has been the cornerstone of all Uluntu’s activities since its 2008 founding.

One of the extraordinary things about Uluntu – and no doubt a key element in its success – is that the same staff that began with the foundation in 2008 are still there today: its volunteer board members continue to pour themselves (not to mention their own resources) into the organization’s work. That fact alone is proof of an institution that truly values, and is truly valued by, the individuals who are fortunate enough to be involved in it.

Building the governance structure

The board also recognized that at the heart of any future successes there would have to be a robust governance structure, with dedicated individuals at the helm of the foundation’s leadership. Busani speaks about the significance of small indicators – such as conducting an annual external audit of Uluntu’s finances – that send the right message to the foundation’s partners about transparency and accountability: ‘So that when someone decides to invest in the organization, they will not have questions or doubts. They will invest in us because we have gone beyond the basic standards.’ Uluntu has developed key governance instruments and provided a record of them in policy documents for finance, administration, human resources, grant making, and the roles and responsibilities of the Board. These documents, prepared in line with internationally accepted practice, have been reviewed by an independent consultancy firm, which offered this service pro bono.

Moving forward

Uluntu has had to overcome, and continues to grapple with, enormous logistical challenges to go about its work. For the first couple of years, the foundation operated on very modest resources, working out of Internet cafés, and then from a makeshift office in Inviolatta’s house, all the time depending on volunteer labour and the moral and material support of its board. In 2009, a small planning grant from the GFCF helped support some start-up costs, including basic office equipment, board development and strategic planning. More recently, the foundation has become more established; it now has three staff members and operates from a modest two-room office in a Bulawayo suburb. The move to a permanent office has been a milestone, but it is not without its share of headaches – power outages and water shortages continue to be recurring challenges. And, as mentioned earlier, the distances between the Uluntu office and the projects it supports are considerable, and the roads leading there perilously unpredictable!

On top of these physical logistical difficulties, many of the groups and communities that Uluntu works with do not have bank accounts, which means that the staff has to be somewhat creative in how it transfers its support. When working with the women active in the nutrition gardens, for example, Uluntu negotiated reasonable prices for related equipment and materials directly with suppliers, and then purchased these items directly on behalf of the communities. (This is a useful strategy even when working with groups with bank accounts, as high banking transaction costs can significantly reduce the relatively small amounts of money being moved.)

From these early days, and having spent time putting down roots and building trust at the community level through some initial projects in rural communities, Uluntu has more recently been able (with the support of the international grassroots funders named elsewhere) to develop a number of key programmes around youth development, education, food security and livelihoods. In 2011 and 2012, with support from the GFCF, Uluntu staff and board members participated in three joint learning events on youth civic engagement with community foundation peers in South Africa,[5] and a global meeting of GFCF partners in Romania. The GFCF has provided support for Uluntu’s institutional development and its youth programmes to the end of 2013.

Youth civic engagement peer exchange

The Uluntu Community Foundation Annual Report 2012 gives the most up-to-date accounts of Uluntu’s activities in the fields of education, young people, research, and food security and livelihoods. Despite a difficult economic environment of constantly rising costs of living, enlarged budgets and reduced funds, the foundation remains upbeat. As Inviolatta relates in her director’s report:

In spite of all these difficulties, we came out winners, as we were able to reach out to the communities that we needed to get to. For an organization as small as ours, to enable an entire community and their livestock to access safe drinking water was a great accomplishment. This was a year affected by a severe drought that saw thousands of livestock dying in the entire region. The drought threatened human life and wild animals as well. How good, then, to our ears, to hear one villager remarking, ‘What would we have done without this borehole? Both us and our livestock would have all been wiped out.’

The world outside … the world inside

Uluntu is already exploring ways of growing its global network, with a view to enticing well-wishers, friends, and donors to establish a Friends of Uluntu network that can help the organization set up an endowment fund outside Zimbabwe, while the country’s financial situation stabilizes. A similar project is needed inside the country, to grow the elusive local funding from corporates and individuals, particularly aimed at the building of an endowment. Uluntu is not naïve about the difficulties surrounding this and, more widely, about bringing the issue of philanthropy to the attention of the public and potential supporters. Further down the road, this might call for a specific role for the country’s middle class, which was effectively wiped out following Zimbabwe’s currency devaluation in 1997 and political events since 2000. In the meantime, Uluntu stretches the modest resources at its disposal to achieve maximum impact. In 2012, the foundation granted $7,500 US dollars, but naturally hopes this figure will increase as the organization builds non-restricted funds.

A model for the future?

After its first five years, Uluntu is cautiously optimistic about what lies in store for the institution, as well as the future of Zimbabwe. Part of the organizational strategic plan is to develop the foundation further, but Busani is quick to note that Uluntu is wary about the speed and scope of organizational growth, and he recognizes the importance of maintaining Uluntu’s core values and ideals: ‘We are willing to wait for things to happen. We are in this for the long haul.’ Inviolatta agrees: ‘We aren’t thinking of a community foundation with hundreds of staff, many offices, or with a large international budget. Everything should remain low-cost and should add value to what is already being done. The last thing we want is for the community to feel that we are inaccessible because we have become this huge corporate.’

Consolidating funding and building an endowment is an ambitious goal for the foundation, but as Inviolatta cautions: ‘This should be grown internally in Zimbabwe and should not be entirely from the outside. We have to make our own people believe and act on philanthropy.’ Uluntu is firmly committed to this goal, because local philanthropy is a powerful catalyst for development change. But it is equally determined to bring together local and global philanthropists so that they may learn from each other, identify shared areas of interest and develop partnerships (these partnerships might also include government departments and agencies, and other organizations engaged in community development). ‘It is only when we work together,’ Busani says, ‘that we can win the war on poverty.’

As the foundation looks forward, it remains committed to building up local philanthropic support within the community: even in such difficult economic times, the foundation has received small donations from its board members as well as volunteers and in-kind support. And the plan is to increase grant making to local groups, normally a key function of a community foundation, and to strive as much as possible to devolve decision-making and leadership to its partners.

Beyond the initial hurdle of encouraging community ownership of initiatives, Uluntu will also continue to strive to unlock local resources and assets to address the issues it works on, rather than leaving communities entirely dependent on external sources of assistance. These local assets are about much more than just traditional currency, though, as Inviolatta explains:

Money is in short supply and people in Zimbabwe know how to give, but they also need to know that giving doesn’t have to be financial. Volunteering, helping in the community, and contributing ideas – what if you were able to give in a different way? Borrowing from the words of John Paul II, ‘No one is so poor that he has nothing to give, and nobody is so rich that he has nothing to receive.’

No one is too poor to give and no one too rich to receive – this is what is different about Uluntu’s inclusive and accessible recipe for development, and what moves it away from the survival strategies of the past. As Busani proudly explains: ‘Whatever we have started can be sustained by the communities themselves. Nothing is better than that.’ This is the vision of how independent, self-reliant communities will be built – and, in Zimbabwe, this is the answer that the Uluntu Community Foundation has provided to the question with which it started: ‘What will make us different?’

 


[1] United Nations (2013) Human Development Report 2013: The Rise of the South – Human Progress in a Diverse World, New York: United Nations Development Programme.

[2] An inspiring example of this is the foundation’s successful partnership with women-led groups in Gwanda North and South (referred to in the quotation on page 1). The community in Gwanda North is currently engaged in agricultural projects that include nutrition gardens. These not only provide nourishment to families but also have become income-generating projects in their own right. By selling extra vegetables, the women have been able to raise enough money to buy animals, which in turn can be even greater sources of income. Tracts of the garden have also been sold off to purchase exercise books and pens for children. Inviolatta notes: ‘These women have themselves received, but they have also passed it on. They felt the need to engage in philanthropy themselves and this is beyond the usual sharing they typically do.’ This multiplier effect has had positive benefits for all involved in the community; all Uluntu had to do was provide some initial resources and materials such as fencing, and to arrange for a borehole to be drilled for and equipped.

[3] It is this that led Uluntu to call itself a ‘community foundation’, rather than to opt for another label. As the Global Fund for Community Foundation’s 2012 report on community foundations in Africa, A Different Kind of Wealth, states, by calling itself a community foundation Uluntu has joined a small yet potent handful of organizations across the continent which draw inspiration from multiple sources and blend local cultures, lessons of historical experiences, and analysis of the role and limitations of external development aid as they go about their work. Remember, too, that ‘uluntu’ means ‘people’ in isiNdebele, one of the local languages spoken in Zimbabwe

[4] One such survey, to identify specific problems facing young people and to come up with strategies and action plans to solve these problems, was the Robert Sinyoka case study, which features in Uluntu’s 2012 annual report.

[5] West Coast Community Foundation and the Community Development Foundation of Western Cape.