New GFCF grants in China, Mongolia and India!

A grant for US $20,000 to the Guangdong Harmony Foundation will support a project to map the community foundation landscape in China, focusing on the characteristics, purposes and relationships with other sectors of this emerging set of institutions. Meanwhile, in Mongolia, a grant for US $15,000 will MONES, the Mongolian Women’s Fund to develop an online giving portal to promote local philanthropy. And in India, with a grant of US $10,000 Gramin Evam Nagar Vikas Parishad (GENVP) will be exploring the feasibility of creating a Dalit community foundation in Bihar.

A full list of GFCF grants made in 2014 and 2015 can be found here

Community-based philanthropy and peacebuilding

Members of the Foundations for Peace Network were clear about their message to the wider world of independent philanthropy and development aid when they met in Istanbul over the weekend of 10th – 13th October. Representing a range of locally-based funders from Serbia, Georgia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Colombia, India, Indonesia and Northern Ireland, they agreed that grounded community reach, knowledge and connections were essential for building the relationships that are necessary for effective peacebuilding strategies. Experience shows that grantmaking is an essential calling card, but trust and relationship building is also essential. The importance of mobilizing a diverse, and extensive, range of partners that can share their views about the specific challenges and opportunities in a contested society was also highlighted as an important remit. Conflict transformation needs uncomfortable questions to be asked in order to create space for different views and experiences. Community-based foundations can offer the safe space for this to happen.

The crucial area of mobilizing resources was not ignored, although it was accepted that this can be difficult in the midst of violent conflict when many external funders, and potential internal donors, might prefer to play it safe. From its experience of working in Sri Lanka, Ambika Satkunanathan from the Neelan Tiruchelvam Trust (NTT) argued that this was the very reason that external funders should utilise the insight and local knowledge of organisations such as NTT. Funding partnerships, that might include the potential for a locally-based re-granting facility, were felt to be important.  Shaheen Anams, representing the Manusher Jonno Foundation in Bangladesh, made the point that organizations such as hers had a track record in transparency and accountability which could alleviate some donor fears.

Another message that was agreed on was the importance of offering more than the financial grant.  The added value work provided by community philanthropy in times of conflict ranged from cross-community meetings in order to challenge divisive stereotypes, to introducing new ideas from other societies that have successfully negotiated settlements. The Foundations for Peace Network members have already engaged in peer exchange visits and information sharing around the re-integration of victims/survivors of violence, a topic that is central to many of the members.  Proactive work to ensure that minority ethnic, and other marginalised groups, are given a chance to have their voices heard in the midst of conflict is also important, with Slavica Stojanovic describing the work of the Reconstruction Women’s Fund in Serbia.

The long-term nature of addressing the complex, and often sensitive, issues of peacebuilding was reflected in the final message emerging from the network deliberations; that of the importance of sustainability, which entails local buy-in to philanthropy. Although it was accepted that this will inevitably take time, the fact that community philanthropy was placed on the agenda was itself a powerful message. If good politics is cited as “the art of the possible”, then effective community philanthropy in societies emerging from conflict might well be described as the creative art of the impossible, where vision and values combine to take local ownership of making society better. But then as the Foundations for Peace members know all too well, the concept of the impossible is the last refuge of the unimaginative.

For further information on Foundations for Peace Network (including publications) please visit www.foundationsforpeace.org.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The panelists shared that, to them, intermediaries are:

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

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

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

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

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

We are on the side of humanity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Promoting Bedouin participation in Egypt: new paper examines the role of the Community Foundation for South Sinai

A new paper by Hilary Gilbert and Mohammed Khedr al Jebaali examines the role that one NGO – a community foundation – has been able to play in promoting civic participation by Bedu, a structurally marginalized minority in Egypt, in the wake of the 2011 ‘Lotus Revolution’.

Gilbert and al Jebaali (respectively board chair and programme coordinator of the community foundation) tell the story of the Community Foundation for South Sinai (Al mo’assessa‑t‑al ahliya lijanoub sina), which was established in 2006 as a mechanism for promoting local, small‑scale development among Bedouin communities in Egypt’s South Sinai.

Although the Community Foundation for South Sinai (featured here on the GFCF website) was established with serious and long term aspirations its initial ambitions were, like its funding base, modest: early activities included economic development projects such as olive oil production. However, in January 2011 when Egypt’s massive people‑led revolution swept across the country the foundation – encouraged by local community leaders – saw an unprecedented opportunity to harness this newfound democratic momentum in Egypt’s South Sinai.

Importantly for the global community philanthropy field, the report demonstrates the value of an evidence-based approach to practice, with the foundation’s activities and spending priorities emerging from research and constant contact with community members. As Egypt’s democratic transition enters a period of uncertainty, the mo’assessa continues to grow slowly but deliberately. The authors use a natural simile that accords well with the outlook of the communities with which the foundation works: “we say we have planted a seed, and are watering it slowly so it puts down strong roots. We expect it to grow in time – insha’allah! – into a shady tree that will outlive its founders and support many people.”

Read the paper

Interview with Indira Jena, Founder and Executive Director of Nirnaya Women’s Fund

Nirnaya, a current grantee partner of the GFCF, works with marginalized women of different caste, class and religion, helping them to form self-help groups for their social and economic empowerment, enhances their skill base, promotes entrepreneurship and other livelihoods. It is also in the forefront of educating women and girls thereby creating awareness about their legal and other rights and helps them claim a rightful place in society.

Tribal women and Nirnaya partners in Dumka, Jharkhand, India

The interview, conducted by Gail Sylvia Pullen, is part of a series by the Women’s Funding Network which is aimed at celebrating the diversity of the women’s funding movement. Listen to the interview

 

Interview with Indira Jena, Founder and Executive Director of Nirnaya Women’s Fund

Spotlight on the Dalit Foundation, GFCF grant partner

The GFCF is pleased to announce a new grant for $10,000 to the Dalit Foundation in India to strengthen community-run initiatives within the Dalit community through grantmaking and local philanthropy (asset) development.

The word ‘Dalit’, in Sanskrit, means “oppressed” or “downtrodden”. In Marathi, the language in which the word was first used for social and political mobilization by the ‘untouchable’ communities means “broken” or “broken to pieces”. Dalits are placed at the lowest rung of the caste hierarchy, based on ritual purity and occupation.

Godna art, promoted by the Dalit Foundation

Dalit Foundation, a non-government organisation, is the first grant-making institution in South Asia working for the empowerment of Dalit communities. The Foundation supports individuals, community-based organisations, and networks that work to secure social change and protect the rights of Dalit. Dalit Foundation provides small grants and fellowships towards strengthening the Dalit Movement and nurturing future leaders for the movement. Learn more about the Dalit Foundation.

The GFCF awards three new grants to partners in Asia

The GFCF is pleased to announce its three newest grants to the LIN Center for Community Development (Vietnam), Nirnaya Trust (India) and the Foundation for Social Transformation (India). With its grant, the LIN Center will be focusing on philanthropy development and NGO capacity building around issues facing migrant workers in Ho Chi Minh City, Nirnaya will be working with ten groups of Adivasi (tribal) women on the management of local assets and the Foundation for Social Transformation will be developing a programme targeting young people both as partners and potential philanthropists. For a full list of the GFCF’s grants click here.

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.