Community foundations offer disaster recovery lessons: Is anyone listening?

When the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy focused on the role of community foundations in disaster and emergency relief in July 2014, they had in mind the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the city of New Orleans. Albert Ruesga, president and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, asserted that “Katrina’s landfall in August 2005 was a wake-up call for the city leadership. Clearly whatever the foundation had done to serve New Orleans and the region before Katrina needed to be re-imagined.”

Less than a year on, the Kathmandhu-based Tewa women’s fund is helping local women to rebuild their shattered lives in rural villages across Nepal. Tewa, working in partnership with the peace-building organization Nagarik Aawaz, formed an Earthquake Relief Fund Committee in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. Recovery will require “long-term rehabilitation work, where trust and respect is imperative in order to work as partners”, observes Rita Thapa, Tewa’s founder. No one is better situated to make this long-term commitment than community foundations, but they are often left out of international relief efforts.

Rita Thapa (L) in the days following the first Nepal earthquake, April 2015

Positioning community philanthropy to play its part

Rita’s comments reflect findings of the San Diego Foundation, which pointed out that disaster recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. The foundation invested five years of work following a series of destructive wildfires in 2007. It supported community recovery teams to provide local people with a hub to coordinate their work and created an insurance advocacy scheme to help fire-affected residents claim entitlements. After devastating tornadoes in Joplin Missouri in 2011, Louise Knauer, of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, identified the role of the community foundation “as a community anchor – the ‘boots on the ground’ that will be here for needs that linger long afterwards, often when other funding and attention has waned.”

 

A focus on preparedness
An emphasis on the long-term commitment of community-based philanthropy to address issues of reconstruction is currently being matched with a focus on preparedness. The Greater New Orleans Foundation now has a continuity of operations plan in place, and the foundation funds Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOADS), providing up-to-date contact lists for VOADS and their staff.  The importance of preparedness has increasingly been recognized by the UK Community Foundations network, where a number of local community foundations have worked to alleviate hardship during both natural and rural disasters over recent years.

Of course, in Asia, which accounted for 90 per cent of people affected by global natural disasters in 2013, preparedness is particularly crucial. Yet in that region, community philanthropy organizations have limited access to resources.

 

A conversation with people who cannot hear?
Given that community philanthropy organizations show a commitment to the well-being and resilience of their communities, the apparent lack of awareness of their contributions among development and humanitarian relief agencies and bilateral aid organizations is disappointing.

When the Balkans experienced extensive flooding in May 2014, the community foundations Mozaik, Tuzla and Trag didn’t wait to be coordinated by international organizations.  Mozaik’s Executive Director, Vesna Bajsanski-Agic, said that when you get over your disbelief in, and shock about, a disaster, you just have to react. In Bosnia, Mozaik mobilized people it trusted, established points of local contact, and distributed help quickly and effectively, with 30 per cent of the funding being raised locally. Few external agencies even thought to get in touch with the local foundations.

Participating in a recent GFCF discussion, Suranjana Gupta, coordinator of the Global Campaign for Community Resilience of the Huairou Commission, emphasized the importance of flexible resources and local knowledge in building community resilience to disasters. The priorities of local organizations are often quite different from the priorities of national-level programmes, she said.  Rita Thapa agrees.  She describes people in Nepal as survivors, not victims. Tewa is providing direct support in communities, but, as Rita explains: “We have already requested families we give cash relief to, to make a tiny contribution so that these monies can go to places that are even more in need, or come back to these communities in the form of a revolving fund. So far the response has been 100 per cent.”

If this isn’t turning the paradigm of aid and relief on its head, then what is?

Local people are not just survivors, but they are empowered to be donors. When speaking about disaster relief and preparedness at a GFCF seminar in London in May, long-term relief expert Bobby Lambert suggested that we could effectively address community resilience when development agencies think in terms of risk, and humanitarian agencies think in terms of power. Perhaps the story of what is happening at village level in Nepal will encourage both sets of agencies to listen to local people as well.

 

By: Avila Kilmurray, GFCF Director of Policy & Strategy

This piece originally appeared on the Alliance Magazine website.

EFC Conference 2015: What role for community philanthropy in disasters and emergencies?

This piece originally appeared on the Alliance Magazine website.

By: Caroline Hartnell, Editor, Alliance Magazine

Tewa, a women’s fund in Nepal, found itself on the front line when the recent massive earthquakes hit the country, said Jenny Hodgson, GFCF Executive Director. Her main point: that community philanthropy has a key role to play in disasters and emergencies. The occasion: a session called ‘Community resilience in the context of emergencies: The role of community philanthropy’ at the 26th European Foundation Centre (EFC) annual conference, held in Milan from 20th – 22nd May.

So what is this key role? Session participants were invited to think this through in an interactive exercise facilitated by GFCF adviser Barry Knight. A dam has burst in China, he told us, covering a huge and inaccessible area of land; already 175,000 people are dead. Each table was given some Monopoly money for grantmaking and asked to make decisions about how to spend it in the immediate aftermath of the disaster and later, when the first relief efforts were over. While most tables chose to give most of their money to international NGOs or local governments in the immediate aftermath – although even at this stage people recognized that community foundations might be able to help connect them with small local groups that might otherwise be missed by the relief efforts – when it came to spending for the long term, most allocated a substantial proportion of their funds to community foundations. Our table chose to keep most of our money back for the reconstruction phase, giving just 20 per cent to community foundations for the immediate relief phase.

The two speakers, Vesna Bajšanski-Agić of the Mozaik Foundation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albert Ruesga of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, gave us a vivid illustration of what community foundations can offer in an emergency. They know where the good work is, said Ruesga, which the good organizations are, who the good leaders are. They can come up with the best ideas for sustaining efforts; they bring a knowledge of local politics; they are sensitive to mental health needs, particularly the psychological effects of trauma on children – something that the humanitarian system tends to be very bad at dealing with. As local organizations, they have a big stake in the success of their efforts. Also, the donor’s money actually goes to the community affected by the disaster. If you give to a big NGO, Ruesga told us, typically only 20 per cent goes to the local community; the rest goes to the national HQ.

Image courtesy of the Mozaik Foundation, May 2014

Vesna Bajšanski-Agić talked movingly about last year’s floods in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which coincided with the 2014 EFC conference, held in Sarajevo. The Mozaik Foundation was not set up to respond to disasters, she told us. But it turned out that in the worst affected states members of Youth Bank, which is supported by Mozaik, were at the forefront of relief efforts. Community knowledge and links can be activated immediately, said Bajšanski-Agić. People know who needs help and how to get to them. A bridge that had been built through community philanthropy to enable children to get to school more easily was washed away by the river, she told us. It wasn’t on the map so couldn’t be rebuilt with UNDP money, so Mozaik raised the money, of which 30 per cent came from the flooded communities themselves.

Community foundations can undoubtedly play a valuable role after a disaster, but more than one session participant reminded us that investment in disaster prevention is much more cost-effective as well as more effective in reducing human misery – and again disaster risk reduction can be done through community foundations.

Despite the enthusiasm about community philanthropy shown by all at this session, there is at present scant evidence about the potential role of community philanthropy in times of crisis, said Avila Kilmurray, GFCF Director of Policy and Strategy. What the GFCF wants to do is to capture stories and lessons from people who have been through disaster situations and to develop something useful both to donors and to community philanthropy organizations (CPOs) – including practice notes and policy points. If donors were generally as convinced of the value of community philanthropy in disasters as session participants seemed to be, CPOs would be taking their place as central actors in disasters and emergencies the world over.

A field moves together, while ships pass in the night: Nepal convening explores the intersections between community philanthropy and the environment

Food gardens in a Western Cape township, tended by school children and their families, under the watchful eye of an experienced gardener and grandfather. An informal grassroots group-turned NGO in China’s industrial heartland in the Pearl River Delta that helps bring about a tightening up of laws on recycling. Fishermen in Mexico, concerned about depleted fish stocks, restore the local reef thus replenishing their waters and renewing their livelihoods. A rural community foundation in Romania organizes a bike-a-thon to promote a healthy lifestyle among local residents, while taking a stand against plans for a giant wood processing plant in one of the richest forestlands in Europe.  

It was a diverse group of community philanthropy practitioners and grassroots grantmakers that came together recently in Lalitpur, Nepal, for a two-day meeting of GFCF partners that set out to explore the intersections between community philanthropy and the environment. Back in May 2014, the GFCF awarded grants to community foundations in 11 countries. It was part of a new programme focused on the environment, and it was this group of grantees that travelled to Nepal for their first face-to-face meeting. We were joined by a handful of others too from Kenya, China, Bangladesh, as well as a representative of the Nepal office of the GEP Small Grants Programme (UNDP). Our host was Tewa, the Nepal Women’s Fund – and also a grantee under the environment programme. Tewa’s physical location (its meeting and residential facilities), on the edge of Kathmandu, overlooking rice and vegetable fields provideda tranquil and inspiring setting for our conversations (we met and slept in buildings that were built in part through community philanthropy). But the construction sites – new apartments and housing complexes – that have encroached across farmland directly in front of Tewa in recent years were also a stark reminder both of Nepal’s rapid urbanization and of the tensions that frequently arise between environmental protection and preservation versus the drivers of economic development.

The Tewa Centre, Kathmandu

For two days our group worked together, sharing stories and experiences: for some, this was the first time that they had really start to consciously engage around the environment while others were old hands. For example, in Mexico FASOL has made small grants to grassroots groups on environmental issues to hundreds of organizations. For the majority of those present, however, the environment was one of a number of issues around which they were active. It perhaps comes as no surprise then, that our conversations were peppered with words like “holistic” and “integrated”, the sense that social problems rarely stand alone from each other and that there are always connections and knock-on effects that can get lost in an issue-specific or siloed approach to development. The idea of “assets” (meaning money as well as non-financial assets but also natural assets such as forests, minerals, waters) came up too, in terms of mobilization of local (often invisible) assets as well as the idea of stewardship of financial as well as natural assets for future generations. And there was also much agreement around “the power of the grassroots”, the idea that it local communities that are closest to the issues and that mobilized and organized communities can challenge power and create lasting change.

In 2015, the GFCF plans to continue and further develop this programme. The energy of the meeting, the various “A-ha!” moments and the sense that, collectively, the group possessed between them the basis of what could be described as “emergent practice” that set them apart from other parts of the non-profit and philanthropy sector. Indeed, by unlocking local assets, by strengthening local groups through grants and other supports and by building long-term and trusting across a range of constituents, we remain more convinced than ever that community foundations are positioned to act as a buffer and a resource as well play a community leadership or brokering role when it comes to complex and often potentially divisive environmental issues at a community level.

Kenyan, Chinese, Egyptian and Russian community philanthropy practitioners discuss

Over time we expect to produce more detailed reports and studies that establish a baseline for a larger body of work on community philanthropy and the environment. In the meantime, however, here are some of my takeaways from the meeting.

At the level of some of the individual organizations represented:

  • The observation that where community foundations have an established track record in a community, they are well-positioned to initiate community-level discussion and support local action around the environment. In Perm, Russia, for example, the community foundation Sodeistvie had observed that the environment was very low down on the list of local priorities in rural communities where they were active. In one particular community, in which the foundation built up long-term relationships through their grantmaking and other programmes, they felt as though they were well positioned to raise the issue of the environment and engage community members in a series of activities, particularly around recycling (which community members knew virtually nothing about). They now plan to roll out the programme in other rural communities.
  • The observation that community foundations are able to bring together different parts of the community around a particular problem around which no others were engaged. The Tuzla Community Foundation’s grant from the GFCF, for example, was aimed at addressing the problem of the large numbers of stray dogs in the town. Through a series of consultations with NGOs, local government and members of the public organized by the foundation, a multi-pronged programme has emerged to deal with the issue. As a result of this success, the foundation has since found itself invited to take part in other, wider, conversations with local government and other stakeholders about environmental issues in their community.
  • The confirmation that where community foundations have an established base and trusted relationships with a range of stakeholders, they can mobilize quickly and appropriately in the face of an emergency. Again, in Tuzla, following the severe flooding of May 2014, the community foundation was quick to mobilize, providing boots and shovels for the clean-up operation, emergency grants of €200 and larger, €2,000 grants, for bigger initiatives. At a recent GFCF board meeting, the director of the community foundation observed that 74 grants were made to long-term partners in the aftermath of the floods, the kind of rapid response that international NGOs arriving somewhere for the first time would be pushed to achieve.
  • The observation that the environment is not a stand-alone issue but rather cuts across every aspect of community life. Some of the examples that emerged at the meeting included:

– Environment and social justice (exploitation of trafficked children): the Foundation for Social Transformation in Guwahati, India, for example, used its grant to conduct a mapping exercise of grassroots groups working on environmental issues in the region and found that much of the environmental degradation that is taking place in one of the world’s environmental “hotspots” in terms of its rich biodiversity is associated with coal mining and, in particular, the practice of “rat-hole” mining which involves thousands of (normally trafficked) children being sent down narrow tunnels to dig for coal.

– Environment and gender: when Tewa convened its partners (mainly grassroots women’s groups) to discuss the impact of climate change on their lives, it became clear that the environment was not only a poor people’s issue but that the largest impacts were being felt by women, still a highly marginalized segment of the Nepali population.

There was agreement within the group too about two things:

  • Ordinary people often do not see themselves as having a stake in the environment, even though they are the ones that are being impacted (and each organization had a story to share about poor air quality, contaminated water sources, food security etc.). It seems specialist and remote, the terrain of global advocacy groups, governments and policy-makers. On their part, many community foundations – who are also often not specialists – find themselves responding to the symptoms of climate change but that they are also challenged to engage with root causes, particularly when they are confronted with trade-offs between economic development and environmental stewardship.
  • At the same time, community foundations constitute a growing network of local organizations on that are on the ground which are building trust, working holistically, are high in local ownership, are responsive to local needs and able to connect across their community. And yet every organization in the room felt financially vulnerable and expressed a frustration that they often struggled to be understood within their own communities (the idea of local philanthropy is still very new in many emerging markets and developing contexts and grantmaking is also not well-established as a way of working).

The community philanthropy sector has also long been overlooked by international donors (with a handful of exceptions that provide the basis of the GFCF’s own funding) as they too look for answers in the debates around sustainability and resilience.  In 2011 a report, Defining Disaster Resilience, produced by the UK’s Department for International Development noted that:

“Sensitivity and adaptive capacity are determined by the pool of assets and resources that can be mobilised in the face of shocks and stresses. Assets and resources can be social, human, technological, physical, economic, financial, environmental, natural, and political.”

Are we not talking about the same things – community philanthropy and resilience? Are we in fact ships passing each other in the night, singing the same song but in different languages? Isn’t there some linking up to be done here?

Jenny Hodgson is Executive Director of the GFCF

Is your city resilient? Apply to be a part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Challenge

As part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s centennial in 2013, the organization launched its 100 Resilient Cities Challenge, a $100+ million effort to build urban resilience around the world. 100RC aims to help cities build the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses and systems to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience. The first cohort of 32 cities was selected in December 2013, and the 100RC team has been working with them closely ever since.

The application period for the next group of cities has just opened, and municipal government leaders, or local institutions that can demonstrate a strong and collaborative partnership with their municipal government, are invited to apply on behalf of their city. The finalists identified during the 2014 100RC Challenge will be eligible to receive:

  • Funding in the form of a grant to hire a Chief Resilience Officer;
  • Technical support to develop a holistic resilience strategy that reflects each city’s distinct needs;
  • Access to an innovative platform of services to support strategy development and implementation. Platform partners come from the private, public, and nonprofit sectors, and will offer tools in areas such as innovative finance, technology, infrastructure, land use, and community and social resilience; and, 
  • Membership in the 100 Resilient Cities network to share knowledge and practice with other member cities.     

The Challenge application period continues until 10th September 2014. More information and how to apply can be found at the following link.

Local foundations in the Balkans mobilize to support flood-affected communities

Communities across the Balkans are struggling to recover from the May 2014 flooding, the worst in a century after three months of rain fell over the period of just three days. With more than half a million citizens having to flee their homes, and with tens of thousands without drinking water, Bosnia’s Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija compared the destruction to that of the country’s 1992 – 1995 war.

Stepping up in the immediate aftermath of the flooding were several local foundations based across the Balkans including the Mozaik Foundation, Trag Foundation and Tuzla Community Foundation (among others). With boots on the ground, robust networks of partners, and the flexibility to move quickly, these foundations can mobilize quickly, proving immediate relief and timely information sharing in vulnerable areas affected by such disasters.

Only a week earlier, the Tuzla Community Foundation had been awarded a grant through the GFCF’s new grants programme which focuses on the role of community philanthropy organizations and local environmental issues, with a particular interest on how community foundations can help build and foster community resilience. Who could have expected that this issue would arrive so emphatically at the foundation’s door as flood waters rose across the community?

Moving beyond immediate needs, each of these foundations will have a key role to play in assisting individuals, families and communities in rebuilding their livelihoods, and contributing to finding lasting solutions to help those affected recover. To support these organizations in their vital work, please refer to links below for information on how to contribute to the Balkans flood relief.

Mozaik Foundation (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Trag Foundation (Serbia)

Tuzla Community Foundation (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

European Foundation Centre

 

Photo courtesy of Mozaik Foundation

 

“Currency of giving goes beyond the dollar, rand and euro”

  • The answers to local problems often lie within the community itself, says the executive director of the Community Development Foundation Western Cape.
  • Knowing how to tap into residents’ interests and energy, and also change mindsets, are characteristics of an effective community leader.

The familiar phrase that starts fairytales worldwide — “once upon a time” — also triggered the development of a sustainable food programme in South Africa.

Beulah Fredericks, executive director of the Cape Town-based Community Development Foundation Western Cape (CDF WCape), smiles when she recalls how the project started.

After a local community-based organization in one of Cape Town’s townships applied for a $50 grant to cover one month’s operating expenses for a soup kitchen that feeds the poor, Fredericks visited the site, listened to their stories, engaged in conversation and then declined the request.

“A soup kitchen is an obvious solution,” Fredericks told the group.

“But after listening to your stories, I see you are a community that has it in you to move beyond the soup. We cannot give you $50 to buy food for the soup kitchen because next month you will be hungry again and ask for another $50. Why not start a community garden instead?”

Fredericks’ rejection did not prompt disappointment; it inspired local residents.

Beulah Fredericks

One person replied, “Once upon a time we grew our own vegetables right here in our own community.” That simple reminiscence was all it took for the vision to catch on — plus a $600 grant from CDF WCape to build two greenhouses in which to grow the produce.

That was five years ago. Today, the region boasts multiple community gardens that supply more than enough vegetables for the local soup kitchen and school lunches. Surplus food is sold to generate funds for student scholarships. One student’s grandfather receives a stipend from CDF WCape to oversee the gardens, which are located on school grounds. Additionally, students of all ages, even preschoolers, are tending their own family gardens.

Community foundation leaders — locally, nationally and globally — point to projects such as the community gardens as evidence of Fredericks’ ability to see beyond the horizon in pursuit of positive and long-lasting societal changes.

Instead of funding a soup kitchen, she engaged and empowered local residents of all ages to meet their own needs, says Jenny Hodgson, executive director of the Global Fund for Community Foundations, based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

“Beulah brings an extraordinary level of energy and creativity to her work in the Cape Flats,” Hodgson said. “This is enormously important in the communities where the foundation operates — because apathy, hopelessness and despair are often the order of the day.”

Along with CDF WCape’s board and staff, Hodgson says, Fredericks is building an organization that offers opportunities for local people to engage in their own development. Whether it is involving youth in a project linking photography with South Africa’s Bill of Rights, she says, or working with a specific community to overcome barriers and divisions so residents can establish their own community fund, Fredericks’ goal is often the same.

“Beulah has sought both to change mindsets and to tap into local energies, interests and assets that may have lain latent or been disregarded by others,” Hodgson said.

She also praises Fredericks for voluntarily serving as both teacher and pupil in a global network of community development partners.

Fredericks, who prefers the term “community philanthropy” to “community foundation” to describe the grantmaking organization she heads, laughs when people call CDF WCape a field leader.

“If you want to look at us as a community foundation, you can do that,” she said, “but you won’t see us operating in the traditional way.” [Read more about community foundations in South Africa.]

Fredericks’ ability to see things from an alternative perspective and do things differently earned her recognition in 2005 as one of 144 Synergos Senior Fellows from more than 50 countries. One of the many qualities that distinguish these fellows, according to Synergos, is that they “possess a compelling vision about solving complex, systemic problems of poverty, inequity and social injustice.”

CDF WCape strives to involve youth in helping shape the future of their community

The Mott Foundation funds CDF WCape’s work through its Civil Society program, providing five general-purposes grants totaling $400,000, since 1991. By supporting the organization’s work, Mott aims to strengthen its efforts to encourage local giving through a variety of local initiatives, and also help develop a network that advances community philanthropy in Southern Africa.

Fredericks says she believes that answers to local problems often lie within the community itself. One of her roles as a leader is to draw them out from residents so they can give back, especially those who say they have nothing to offer.

“There are a lot of currencies of giving in South Africa. There is time, skills, sharing of resources, and there is money,” Fredericks said.

“We’re bringing in volunteers to help us here because we know that the currency of giving goes way beyond the dollar, rand and euro.”

While Fredericks has shared her knowledge and experiences about community development at international conferences and via Internet webinars, she says her greatest satisfaction comes from working with residents to improve their quality of life in the Western Cape province of post-apartheid South Africa. It is in that same Cape Town region that Fredericks was born, reared and university-educated.

Although she and the organization’s founder, Renier van Rooyen, have been thanked face-to-face by former President Nelson Mandela for the work they do, Fredericks remains humble and focused. For her, there are three entrenched issues still to address: poverty alleviation, youth development and HIV/AIDS prevention.

“I have wanted to resign 99 times,” Fredericks said. “Then, something small but meaningful happens with the young people or in the community, and I see they are so eager to make a difference and it gives me hope to continue.”

Maggie Jaruzel Potter, Mott Foundation

This article is part of an occasional series by the Mott Foundation about the community foundation field and the Foundation’s role in supporting and strengthening it. The series reports on what is occurring in Mott’s major geographic focus areas — Central/Eastern Europe and Russia, South Africa, and the U.S. — as well as providing information about how the field is expanding globally. Mott’s goal is to inform the public about the latest trends in the community foundation field in advance of its 100th anniversary year in 2014

Changing personal narratives as an outcome: guest blog from Janis Foster Richardson

What is more important?  Process or products and outcomes.  This is a question I’m frequently asked by people who are curious about citizen sector investing, with the expectation that I’m going to say process – and the assumption that in the small grants world, there can’t be much “there there” when it comes to tangible products or outcomes.

Janis Foster Richards, Grassroots Grantmakers Here’s how I think about this question:

Ultimately, the product or ultimate outcome that we are looking for in the big thinking on small grants world of citizen sector investing is vibrant, resilient and just communities.  But on the way to that destination – because of the process part of the equation – there’s another outcome.  It’s people who see themselves and their neighbors through different eyes – as powerful, resourceful, and joyful.  And people who know how to get things done, have experience initiating and acting, and are confident that most if not all of what they need is already right in the room – especially when the room is full of people just like them.  It’s a stronger citizen sector with people who see themselves as powerful – not because they are told that they are powerful, but because they have experienced themselves as powerful.

And here’s what comes to mind when I think about the change in how people see themselves – changing their personal narratives – as an outcome:

I remember feeling initially horrified when a young woman from a community I was visiting stood up and said to the group of funders in the room, “I am an outcome”.  She was standing with a nonprofit staff member who was beaming with pride – pride that I interpreted as pride in her agency’s ability to successfully fix this young woman.  I couldn’t imagine embracing the idea that I am an outcome – that I went into an agency’s door broken and came out fixed because of the skilled mechanics inside, like a bum car that went into the shop and came out working.

But as I thought about this more, I realized that I – yes me, personally – am an outcome – the type of outcome that is sometimes invisible in the funding world but is absolutely essential to the community outcome that we’re really after.  How I think of myself has been profoundly changed by the experiences that I have had others in my community through the years.  I have discovered personal gifts that I never suspected were there and were only revealed when I was in relationship with other people who valued what I had to offer and was in a situation that required me to give and grow that gift.  Yes, required.  Possibly because I was the one in the room with a missing piece of a bigger puzzle, and that doing something I cared about meant that I needed to move to the edge of my comfort zone and do something that I didn’t think I could do.  The imagining, planning, organizing and leading up to the product part – what some would describe as the process part – was where a lot of the growth happened for me, with the importance of the product – the cleaned up park, the community event, the neighborhood newspaper, the success at the City Council meeting – as fuel the reward at the end.

I have also been changed because I have seen people reveal amazing gifts that I never suspected were there because I was not aware of the judgements about who they were or what they could do that were clouding my vision. Again, more learning about myself as I was learning more about others.

And, I have been changed by the joy that has helped manage the growing pains of becoming who I am supposed to be – joy that was only there because I was in relationship with others.

I don’t think of myself as a confident person, perhaps because confident, to me, comes close to cocky.  But I know – only because of my experiences with my neighbors – that I have something to offer in spite of my flaws, that I don’t have to have all of the answers, and that any moment might be the moment when I will discover something thrilling about the people around me.  I know how to get something going and how to join in when something is already going – and, using my grassroots grantmaking jargon, see myself as an active citizen and someone who has power that is magnified when I connect with others who share the space that I call community.

As I think more about the young woman who announced herself as an outcome, I can say “yes – you go girl!” instead of “oh no”.  Even though she might have gone in one door to have something fixed, she came out with something else – a fire inside that ignited her courage to be in that room with us and stand up to proclaim that she is powerful in words that she thought we would appreciate and understand – “I am an outcome”.  She was on another path but we ended in at a similar destination.

So when you ask me about product or process, let me ask you:

  • Are we starting from the same place, with the shared belief that the ultimate product that we are after is community vibrancy, resiliency and justice?
  • How do you think about yourself as an outcome?  And what experiences (or processes) along the way have been really important for shaping how you think about yourself?
  • If you’re a funder, are you thinking about the learning by doing part of what you are funding as product-generating, or looking for what you consider to be shorter routes to your desired end?
  • If you are investing in fixing people doors, how are you also looking out for changing people’s narrative opportunities that may also be inside those doors but are hidden away – just because people think that you’re not interested in that type of product?

And, as always, I welcome your comments both on and offline.  Weigh in here or connect with me directly via email.

This blog was first published on Janis’ blog, Big Thinking on Small Grants