“The Story behind the Well”: a new report from the GFCF and Coady International Institute

What are the key ingredients that are required to make “good development” happen and how can they be fostered? The story behind the well: a case study of successful community development in Makutano, Kenya is a new publication from the GFCF and the Coady International Institute. It tells the story of Makutano, a community in rural Kenya, which over the course of the last fourteen years has transformed itself from a poor, inaccessible and arid “outback” into a thriving hotbed of people-led development.

So what were the drivers for this success? Well, as the report describes, there were several. One was the bold vision of a handful of individuals who believed that for development efforts to be effective they needed to be conceived, owned and direct by the very people they were meant to benefit.  Another was the role played by the a fledgling voluntary association, the Makutano Community Development Association, which saw itself as part of a collective and community-wide effort to improve local livelihoods and standards of living. And a third key influence was the enduring support and of a key partner and funder, the Kenya Community Development Foundation, Kenya’s first public grantmaking foundation, which was established in 1997 with a determination to approach development differently.

The report, co-authored by Halima Mahomed and Brianne Peters, draws on field research and interviews with key individuals who were part this process.

We invite you to read the report, share it with colleagues and to share any comments or feedback with us. To read the full report click here.

The Ilha Community Foundation – securing the cultural heritage of an island’s communities

Fishermen at the end of the dayA few weeks back I had the privilege of spending some time in Ilha de Mozambique. I had heard much about this former capital of Portuguese East Africa (as Mozambique was then called), but nothing prepared me for the reality.

Ilha, as it is commonly known to the locals, is a place of contrasts, a place that time and modernisation have left behind. Massive stone buildings – crumbling away before your very eyes, some with trees growing into the walls – dot the Stone Town part of the island; and tiny wattle-and-daub houses, literally divided by the main road, lie packed together, below sea level, in the quarries on the other side, called Makuti Town. Startling ocean beauty and historical artefacts lie side by side with stark poverty, unemployment, absence of basic amenities and lack of control over resources; and rich and diverse cultural history, encapsulated in intricate dances orally transmitted over centuries, is juxtaposed with harsh reminders of what was once a hub for the east African slave trade.

A tree growing within the walls of the building

The island is inhabited by more than 16,000 people, the majority  of whom have no access to the resources, secure livelihoods or decision-making processes on the island. Granted World Heritage status in 1991, Ilha is a place with an abundance of heritage and a huge potential for cultural tourism, but little has been done in this regard. What tourism development has taken place has not been to the economic or social benefit of its impoverished residents.

From this context emerged the Ilha Community Foundation, a local organization spearheaded by Hafiz Jamu, a young but respected religious leader, and supported by Technoserv, an international NGO that works on supporting business solutions to address poverty.

The plan they have is a visionary one – to acquire the architectural heritage of the island as the endowment for the Foundation, and to preserve, restore and use those buildings to  generate material and financial resources that would:


  • develop the island into a tourist attraction through investment in the historical heritag
  • do so in a way that vests ownership and control over the tourism products and services in the hands of local residents
  • generate an income that would be used to help preserve the cultural heritage of the island inhabitants and foster social and economic development


The Foundation has already secured one building and begun to restore it. This building will serve not only as the Foundation’s headquarters but also as a community centre, library, information hub and central space for the various artisan and cultural groups that are part of its membership. In addition, it has secured support for on an initiative to develop a tourism home-stay project and related downstream services, aimed specifically at directing tourism revenues towards the less-resourced Makuti Town.

Renovation work on the new headquarters of the Ilha Community FoundationThe Foundation’s long-term plan includes preservation of historical records and artefacts; reflecting, recording and preserving  the history and cultures of the island’s Makua inhabitants (in a place dominated by Portuguese colonial history); and providing a space through which local voices can begin to be heard and to influence the development initiatives in Ilha.

Ilha CF is a young organization and has a long way to go. But it has very intentionally started off as a broad-based membership organization, including local cultural, religious and artisanal groups, and representatives from local government and non-governmental entities working on the island. The challenges it faces are many but the potential for this Foundation to make a significant impact on the lives of Ilha’s inhabitants is enormous.

African community foundations gather in Nairobi

Representatives from community foundations in Egypt, Ghana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe were among those who attended the first pan-African meeting of community foundations hosted by the GFCF in Kenya in November.

The Nairobi group, gathered for the African Community Foundations Peer Learning and Exchange

GFCF Programme Consultant Halima Mahomed tells all about it:

‘The African Community Foundations Peer Learning and Exchange, with funding support from TrustAfrica and the Ford Foundation, was held in Nairobi on 1 and 2 November 2010, just before the African Grantmakers Network Assembly. The convening saw 34 participants, representing 26 organizations from 12 countries come together to engage in two intensive days of rich and stimulating discussion, interactive debates and learning, learning, learning …

‘A rose by any other name is still a rose? Or not so? Well, given the range of different institutions in the room – community foundations, local grantmakers, national public foundations, and corporate community foundations – we kicked off the convening with a session that asked “What does our tribe look like?” This was aimed at establishing a collective identity within the group, based not on institutional type (or name) but rather on a set of values and principles. Moving the term “community foundation” temporarily to one side, we had a rich (and very creative session) that underscored what the group had in common: these included a shared commitment to community ownership, leadership, trust and assets – as well as transparent, accountable and inclusive systems.

‘We also devoted some time and space to learning from and sharing with each other via small-group peer learning discussions. In kicking off some of these small group discussions we heard about the “tool box” devised by the Lurdes de Mutola Foundation in Mozambique (in which grantmaking is only one part of a comprehensive approach to strengthening local community-based organizations), about the PhotoSpeak tool used by the Community Development Foundation Western Cape as a way of engaging young people and of the ways in which the Urgent Action Fund in Kenya has tackled social justice issues head-on, particularly within contexts that have very skewed gender and power dynamics. Although most of the participants came from African institutions, we were also joined by practitioners from further afield: Black Belt Community Foundation, based in Selma, Alabama in the United States has as one of its most significant assets a network of over 100 volunteer “community associates” who share the foundation’s vision for their communities and ensure that it remains closely connected with the 12 communities it serves; while from Slovakia, Banska Bystrica Community Foundation underscored the importance of valuing and encouraging small individual contributions as a cornerstone of its community engagement and public awareness‑building strategy.

‘The highlight of the convening was undoubtedly the trial of Business As Usual. Apart from the fact that it was filled with enough humour and wit to rival the best “court TV”, the trial provided a space not only to analyse the context of development aid within which we operate but also to critically interrogate and reflect on the fault lines within our own frameworks and practices.  In addition, however, the trial also reflected how a number of local philanthropic institutions are engaging in business unusual and provided compelling and encouraging evidence to help make the case for locally owned and locally driven development paradigms.

‘One thing that this convening has reinforced, and also provided the opportunity to begin remedying, is that we need to begin to develop a knowledge base on Africa’s emerging philanthropic/grantmaking sector.  A wealth of good practice and innovative strategies exists, and yet so little of it is known or documented outside individual institutions. By the same token, there are serious challenges and hard questions that we need to ask ourselves – around our readiness to take risks and bring about real change, and around our commitment to building local philanthropic resources rather than relying on easy external money – but very few spaces in which to critically reflect on these.’

Over the next few months the GFCF will be drawing intensively on the wealth of energy, information, data, stories and personal commitment offered by participants to begin to build such a knowledge base and so help to strengthen the voice, practice and impact of community foundations in Africa.

Frederick Mandara (Morogoro Community Foundation, Tanzania) and Beulah Fredericks (Community Development Foundation for the Western Cape, South Africa)


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.