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It’s hard to believe that six weeks have passed since almost 400 of us from over 60 countries gathered in Johannesburg – in the heat of the South African summer – for the Global Summit on Community Philanthropy.
At the Global Fund for Community Foundations (GFCF) we are still digesting what came out of the Summit and how we can build the momentum it created, but we are also eager to hear from you.
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A lot can change in a decade. In December 2004, a gathering in chilly Berlin marked an important moment for the global community foundation movement. 162 people – practitioners, funders, researchers – from over 30 countries came together for the first global meeting on the state of the field. The Community Foundation Symposium was organized by WINGS, with support from the Ford Foundation and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.
It will be exactly twelve years since Berlin that a follow-up meeting – similarly global in nature – will be held. Back in 2004, Central and Eastern Europe represented a hot-bed of community foundation development following the dramatic political, social and economic changes that followed the demise of the Soviet Union. There were community foundations in other parts of the world, yes, but in far fewer numbers. It is perhaps fitting therefore, that the Global Summit on Community Philanthropy – to be held 1 – 2 December 2016 – will be taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa, signifying an important and more recent shift in the growth of community philanthropy to include many more countries in the Global South. WINGS, the Mott Foundation and the Ford Foundation are all still engaged in the community foundation field but new actors, networks and supporters have also emerged as part of this expanded landscape. So this time, the hosts of the meeting will include the Global Fund for Community Foundation, the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy and the Southern Africa Trust.
There have been many other developments in the last decade too, both in terms of how and where the field has developed and the backdrop against which these developments are taking place:
- Increased numbers: Numbers alone aren’t everything, but it is worth noting that the grand total of community foundations noted in 2004 was 1,175. The number listed today on the Community Foundation Atlas is 1,838 and that is probably a rather conservative estimate. (Oh and there is another good example of the evolving landscape for community philanthropy: the Community Foundation Atlas, which was launched in 2014, is an enormously rich source of data provided by individual organizations on both the quantitative and qualitative dimensions of the field).
- Evolving definitions – community foundations / community philanthropy: The “community foundation” identity is well-established in certain parts of the world, where civil society is more developed and organized – and where specific groups mean a more targeted set of supports around shared issues. However, in recent years there has been an important shift from a narrower definitional understanding of what defines a “community foundation”, to a broader, more inclusive and perhaps slightly messier idea of a “community philanthropy field.” This “field” is highly diverse, and includes community foundations, grassroots grantmakers, women’s funds, environmental funds etc. all of which share certain characteristics (that include building assets, capacities and trust, to put it very succinctly) and all of which are distinct from both private donor institutions and regular, service delivery or issue-focused types of NGOs.
- Emerging practice: Community philanthropy – with its emphasis on strengthening communities through grants and technical support on the one hand, and on harnessing and building different kinds of local assets on the other – offers both a new conceptual space as well as new models of practice. These include tools like community-level decision-making around the allocation of grant resources, promoting and valuing local giving and other kinds of local assets, and innovative financing models such as community or affiliated funds.
- New actors, new networks: In the past community philanthropy – as a field and as a practice – has not traditionally been part of mainstream development. The creation of the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy, which includes a range of private and public sector donors (including, for the first time, USAID) marks an important moment for the field. Also important is the more recent emergence of “Emerging Markets Philanthropy” and the particular relevance of community philanthropy as a strategy for oiling the machinery of effective local NGO sectors and for new approaches to local giving in low-trust environments.
- Safeguarding spaces for civil society while rethinking aid: The 2015 CIVICUS State of Civil Society Report highlights concerns regarding the recent assaults on civil society – and in particular, the regulatory spaces in which it operates – in a growing number of countries. These have resulted in reductions in foreign funding, or access to foreign funding for civil society activity, in countries such as India and Russia. The report also notes that, despite efforts to reform how development aid is disbursed, it is still the case that little development aid reaches civil society organizations in target countries, the majority still being channelled through Northern counterparts. Concerns around the closing space for civil society have also been raised by funder networks, such as ARIADNE and the International Human Rights Funders Group, as well as by individual Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy members. There is also an urgent need to address the external Northern bias in disbursement and decision-making around development aid. This has started to move up various multilateral and bilateral aid agendas, providing new opportunities to argue for the role of locally rooted grantmakers / community philanthropy organizations in devolving resources and decision-making to actors that closer to the ground.
- New conversations, new issues and linking to other sectors: In recent years, new sets of relationships and partnerships have emerged between community philanthropy and other parts of the development landscape, including international and national development programmes, other parts of civil society, INGOs, local philanthropic sectors, and corporations, to name but a few. Whether it is around community philanthropy in the context of disaster response, as a strategy for facilitating multi-stakeholder development around the benefits derived from mining, new models for sustainability that can support the people-focused programmes of INGOs or strengthening the practice of grassroots grantmaking, the Summit will offer a unique and important opportunity to bring some of these emerging conversations to a broader audience.
Your ideas…your participation
As the planning process gets underway, we welcome ideas for topics, formats, speakers for the Summit. Whether it is climate change, social justice, community development or more of the nuts and bolts of the practical side work, whether you want to participate in sessions in other languages apart from English (Spanish, French, Russian, for example?) or to bring examples of new partnerships with other actors (INGOs, diaspora, extractive industries)… let us know!
We will be sending more formal requests for session proposals and other ideas in the coming weeks. But for now, if you have a burning idea, please don’t wait but send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Our role isn’t to say “Do A, B and C.” We know a fair amount of how to do what we’re doing and we’ve got a fair amount of experience, but ultimately, if we believe that the only people that can build and sustain a community are the people that live and work there, I’m not convinced that what matters is what I tell people to do. What ultimately matters is what people decide is in their best interest. In many cases we’re helping to facilitate that conversation, share information, or community leaders from a neighbouring community may go and share their experience. Jeff Yost, Nebraska Community Foundation, United States
“We believe that everybody is involved in a community, every child, every grown-up is a donor and we believe that every small contribution can become big. And therefore we say that we enable our community members to talk to each other.” Johanna Hendricks, West Coast Community Foundation, South Africa
Our recent webinar looked at how two community foundations – one in South Africa and the other in the United States – are using community (affiliated) funds to build grassroots philanthropy as a development tool and to stay local. Or, as put by Jeff Yost of the Nebraska Community Foundation, how community funds help “push power out the door.”
Missed it? See below for links to the webinar itself, a full transcript, presentations and a set of additional tools and resources.
James Morrison-Knight volunteered at Tewa in Kathmandu from November 2014 – March 2015: he left just a month before the massive earthquake that hit the country in April. The GFCF asked James, who is currently an intern at the European Foundation Centre (EFC), about his impressions of Tewa and their work with women’s groups across Nepal.
GFCF: What were your main responsibilities at Tewa?
James Morrison-Knight: I mainly assisted with various writing tasks: this was a good way for me to be of use to the organization, while also learning a lot about their history, activities, plans, approaches, culture and beliefs. I started my internship by helping to write Tewa’s Annual Report, a task I found quite daunting to begin with. Yet the more I learned, the more motivated I became.
I was given a lot of freedom and encouragement to be creative, so I tried to think of what would be useful for Tewa. I adore photography, so I decided to take many pictures of the centre, the staff and collected existing pictures, which I then pooled together in various albums and created a resource, for them to build and draw from in future.
While I was there, Tewa completed its land and building project – the Sampanna Campaign – which has seen it constructed a training centre, theatre. It was a historic moment for them, as Tewa now has a permanent home. It was exciting to see their vision realized. They also built a monument dedicated to their supporters, with every name carved onto the stones. Another one of my tasks was to create personalized letters to those who donated to the campaign, each including an image of the stone marking their contribution.
GFCF: What did a typical day at Tewa look like for you?
JMK: In the morning the Tewa bus would weave its way through the dusty streets of Kathmandu, picking up staff members. We would drive down the bumpy roads to the calmer area of Dhapakel in the city of Patan, home to the Tewa Centre. Entering the grounds is like stumbling upon an oasis in a desert; a beautiful gem in the surrounding chaotic city. Entering the office, we would be greeted by smiling staff members and hot, sweet cups of chiya (tea). Tewa has a lovely working environment: the staff take their work seriously, yet have fun at the same time.
One of my favourite points in the day was lunch. Everyone would go to the cafeteria, where there would be a small feast lovingly prepared. The food was always incredible, mostly it would be dal bhat, the national dish. I loved the food, and the chef loved my appetite! We would then all sit together outside on the grass. What I enjoyed most was that everyone would be there eating, talking and laughing. It was a totally natural occurrence. They all cared for one another. It’s one of the many examples of the non-hierarchal spirit that is characteristic of Tewa’s work.
As an outsider in an all Nepali organization, initially I was daunted by the language barrier and struggled to fit in. Yet as I adjusted to the cultural difference I realized how fortunate I was to be working in an environment with such wonderful people. The staff are more than colleagues, they are family.
GFCF: How is Tewa working with the communities it aims to serve?
JMK: I see Tewa as a tree. It began from a seed in the mind of the founder, Rita Thapa. Over the past twenty years, through nurturing and care, it has flourished into a tall, beautiful tree. The tree provides seeds for others to grow their own organization. In many cases these seeds that have been cast far and wide have even gone on to produce more seeds.
Although Tewa is a grantmaking organization, their work goes much further than providing funding to grassroots women’s groups. My impression is that philanthropy runs the risk of being impersonal; larger institutions may only know what they are funding through the application forms they receive. For Tewa, it is not simply a grant, it is the forging of a long-standing relationship. Many of those that Tewa have supported have in turn become donors to Tewa. This participatory approach means all involved are invested in the work and Tewa’s roots are the communities they aim to serve.
Over the years Tewa has trained hundreds of volunteers who work on the ground, in communities. They create deep bonds and connections with these communities, spreading the message of Tewa. If Tewa is a tree, the volunteers are the branches and leaves: reaching out, spreading, and helping the organization to flourish. Through these branches and leaves Tewa is subtly creating a movement that is engaging more and more Nepali’s to drive change. Without imposing their beliefs on anyone or seeking attention, but rather acting humbly, with empathy and compassion, they are pursuing their goals with quiet conviction.
GFCF: What, in your opinion, sets Tewa apart from other organizations working in Nepal?
JMK: Nepal was a country congested with foreign aid, and this has only increased since the terrible earthquakes that struck this spring. The most scathing critiques of this aid are that it can tend to overlook citizens on the ground and grassroots work, and creates a culture of dependency within those organizations that do manage to receive the aid. Tewa’s principles seek to counter this.
To date, Tewa has over 3000 donors within Nepal, many of whom are local volunteers. Whilst they do accept funding from external organisations, they do not rely on it: this is quite unique. Many of these local funders also contributed to the construction of the Tewa Centre. What these women have achieved in Nepal, a deeply patriarchal society, is truly incredible.
But what really sets Tewa apart is their grantmaking. They give their grantees room to breathe and make their own decisions. They don’t impose strict guidelines, rules, or demanding financial reports. Grants target the most marginalized women in remote areas, where opportunity is scarce. Although the grants are small, the impact they can have on communities can be great.
GFCF: What do you think may be Tewa’s unique contribution to earthquake relief and reconstruction in Nepal?
JMK: The situation that has been thrust upon Tewa has forced them into a position they could never have anticipated. In the wake of the earthquake people have looked to them for guidance and direction, for solidarity. They have stepped up to the challenge without hesitation.
In times of humanitarian crises there are often gaps that are overlooked in the rescue and relief; Albert Ruesga of the Greater New Orleans Foundation explained this in a session on community philanthropy and disaster response during the EFC’s AGA & Conference. Tewa has decided to specifically focus on where it saw such a gap, and on what it already knows: supporting pregnant and post-natal women, ensuring they have access to medical supplies and care. In its twenty years of operations, Tewa has built extensive networks and developed strong bonds across the country. Through these connections and links they have been able, post-earthquake, to establish what is needed in different communities, mobilizing and moving resources effectively and efficiently, using staff and volunteers.
As the emergency workers begin to leave, and the Nepal earthquakes drop out of the headlines, what happens? Tewa was there before the disaster and will be there long after. This is what makes them unique.
GFCF: What is something you learned at Tewa that you think you will stick with you for the rest of your career?
JMK: Shortly after arriving I was told a phrase by Tewa’s founder, Rita: “ke garne?” Literally translated this means “what to do?” It is a question that does not require an answer. It is a philosophy in Nepal, a way of being.
When presented with a difficult situation of any nature: “ke garne?” It’s a simple thing, in essence it means accepting and surrendering to whatever you are faced with and just getting on with it, trying to do your best with what you have. I hope I never forget that.
2014 saw serious threats to civic freedoms in at least 96 countries around the world. This shrinkage of civil society space, notes the CIVICUS 2015 State of Civil Society report “is no longer something that can be dismissed as a coincidence, or the province of a small group of aberrant states.” As international funding flows for civil society come under increased scrutiny and restrictions, the importance of mobilizing domestic resources and building local constituencies to amplify citizen voice, protect and advocate for social and economic rights becomes more important than ever. At the same time, where international development funding is still playing a significant role, there remains much to be done to flatten power dynamics and to facilitate the kinds of development approaches that are locally owned and locally driven.
In the context of both of these trends, the role of community philanthropy as a strategy for mobilizing both local resources and local voice and as a way of changing the power balance between institutional funders and local civil society organizations, becomes more important than ever. This year’s report includes essays by the GFCF and two of its long-term partners. They are:
- Community Transformation is Local Work: A Case Study of the Dalia Association, Nora Lester Murad, Dalia Association
How can grantmaking begin to repair damage to the social fabric in Palestine, the result of decades of occupation and aid dependence? This essay describes Dalia’s unique approach to funding: “Starting from the premise that Palestinians have the right to control their own resources, Dalia Association stopped focusing on how communities use grants and focused instead on the processes they use to make decisions.” Lessons learned and challenges ahead are also outlined.
- Resourcing for Civil Society: The Experience of an Indigenous Grantmaker, Ambika Satkunanathan, Neelan Tiruchelvam Trust
In her contribution, Ambika Satkunanathan makes the case that in the context of diminishing resources for civil society, the role of indigenous grantmakers is becoming increasingly relevant. This is particularly true in cases where work on human rights and social justice is being supported – the type of sensitive funding that corporate foundations seem to be increasingly distancing themselves from.
- The Case for Strengthening Communities, Avila Kilmurray & Barry Knight, GFCF
Avila Kilmurray and Barry Knight’s essay challenges the pattern of support for larger, more formalized civil society organizations, as opposed to community-based organizations. They make the case for revising current aid architecture in a way that would be more beneficial to all involved: “Bringing together aid agencies with community foundations would mean that both would gain. While aid agencies can bring resources and technical expertise to the table, local donors grasp the layers of complexity that only local people can understand.”
This piece originally appeared on the Devex website.
By: Diana Ohlbaum, Independent Consultant and former Deputy Director of USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives
It’s not big. It’s not shiny. But there is a promising train of sustainable funding for local priorities, and it has been largely missing from discussions of country ownership and financing for development. What is this overlooked and underappreciated engine of growth? Community philanthropy.
Community philanthropy refers to foundations and other social enterprises that are funded and controlled by members of the communities they serve. They raise significant amounts of money locally from individuals and businesses, spend money locally through small grants for worthy projects, and are held accountable by local communities. You can’t get any more “locally owned” than that.
As an example, a women’s fund in Nepal, known as Tewa, has mobilized contributions from 3,000 Nepalese donors to invest in local grass-roots institutions. Its model of emphasizing small philanthropic gifts has taught women how to be responsible donors as well as grantees, and given them the tools to overcome dependency and powerlessness.
Likewise, Kenya’s Makutano Community Development Association undertook a long-term commitment to building community capacity, resulting in the construction of a road, nine dams, 17 wells, 162 pit latrines and a secondary school, as well as putting 10,000 acres of land to productive use.
While international donors, including the U.S. Agency for International Development, routinely look for local organizations that can distribute and administer “umbrella grants,” community philanthropy is something different. These foundations are not the fiscal and programmatic agents of foreign funders, nor are they simply service providers. They are grantors in their own right…
This piece, written by Jenny Hodgson, GFCF Executive Director, originally appeared on the European Foundation Centre website.
As the United Nations prepares to release a new set of Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, which will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), it is perhaps a good time to reflect on the current architecture of the international development sector. The good news is that, according to United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, the MDGs have reduced extreme poverty by half although the benefits have not always been evenly spread geographically and there has been less success on key goals relating to women and children.
However, in the pursuit of poverty alleviation and other global development objectives over the last few decades, the donor community has at the same time contributed to the creation of a global development “industry”. This has turned many NGOs (global and local) into highly skilled proposal writers, budget-jugglers and masters of development jargon, who compete with each other to serve the needs and requirements of external funders.
The impact of international funding has also distorted our sense of time (a five-year development project can be considered long-term) and created lines of “accountability” (a slippery, multi-directional word much bandied about in development discourse) which drive upwards and outwards, and result in hefty reports landing on desks in London, Brussels or Washington, far away from the very people that the development sector is meant to be serving.
Community philanthropy: Offering an alternative model of development
It was this frustration that, 17 years ago, led to the creation of the Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF), Kenya’s first public foundation. KCDF was established by local civil society leaders who were exasperated by what they saw as years of international development programmes in Kenya undermining rather than fostering local agency, in which people were relegated to the role of “beneficiaries” with “needs”, rather than as citizens with assets who could play an active role in their own development. They also saw how Kenya’s rich systems of mutual giving, as well as its growing middle and wealthy classes, were never part of the local development equation and wanted to create a local institution that could both build up the capacities of local organisations and at the same time, harness local assets and resources in new and strategic ways. It is the same frustration that is today fuelling the creation of the Haiti Community Foundation, a project inspired by the perception that despite the millions of dollars in aid being channelled into the country (particularly following the January 2010 earthquake), most of it was going to international organisations, with little investment in building Haitian institutions that could serve people over the long-term.
These are just two examples of a new breed of locally-driven and locally-shaped community philanthropies and indigenous foundations that are emerging around the world. Although this “family” of institutions – which includes community foundations, national foundations, issue-based funds and other grassroots grantmakers – may differ in terms of context and origins, they are all seeking to model new types of philanthropic behaviour and practice by harnessing local resources and traditions of giving, blending them with new institutional forms. They do this in a number of ways:
- By using small grants to support initiatives and build the capacities of grassroots groups, which tend to slip under the radar of most international donors. Small grants are also highly effective when it comes to building up a local donor base in places where public trust in institutions is low: they can be easily and transparently tracked rather than disappearing into institutional costs (nothing symbolises the “mystery” of development and puts local donors off more than the four-wheel drive car!), and they are also proof of the fact that development doesn’t always require big money but instead sustained and targeted support that can catalyse local action.
- By building up a local support base. This is not just a funding strategy (although it certainly changes the power dynamics with external donors when an organisation can bring its own locally-sourced resources to the table) but also derives from the belief that development outcomes are more lasting when people invest their own resources.
- By playing this double role as both a hub for local asset development and a developmental grantmaker, these organisations are able to act as a bridge between different sections of a community, linking resources and needs, as well as goodwill and good ideas. This unique, horizontal “linking” role is one that most other NGOs are rarely positioned – or encouraged – to play, so entrenched are they in issue-based silos (another distorting effect of mainstream development, whereby everyone is a specialist and generalist organisations are seen as “lacking in focus”).
- Finally, these organizations are often rich in social capital. When a community philanthropy organisation in Romania or Nepal has a support base of thousands of local donors, no matter how small the individual gifts, that surely says something about how embedded they are in their community, and how much the organisation is seen as part of that community rather than a construct introduced from above. Although the budgets of these institutions might be small, this aspect of local trust and buy-in is often something that gets overlooked, with international aid directing large amounts of money to competent NGOs on the basis of administrative / proposal-writing / English language capacities.
A changing landscape for aid: What role for donors and civil society?
The emergence of these new types of community philanthropy institutions is happening at a time when issues around ownership, flows and governance of resources are being seen as more critical than ever. As the established architecture for international aid is changing, so is the landscape in which it has traditionally operated. For traditional international donors, whose influence is already starting to diminish with the arrival of new forms of South-South cooperation (which often requires much less in terms of compliance), I would suggest that it is time to do some real soul-searching about the kind of legacy or footprint that they want to leave behind in developing contexts where they have already been active for decades. Some food for thought:
- Think long-term and think holistically (even if just a little!). Of course, numbers matter particularly given the growing preoccupation with metrics in development, but there is also something short-sighted about only concentrating on the tangible, the countable, and the “bang for your buck.” Often, development projects seem to me like someone deciding to decorate just one room in a house, self-contained and beautiful, with all mod cons, but forgetting to check whether the plumbing works, the foundations are intact etc. How about investing in partner organisations so that they can plan for their future as a longer-term social good and so that when you leave, you leave them in good shape.
- Local people-centred institutions matter. International development needs local NGOs but when they are shaped too much by external funding they might not be the kinds of NGOs that local people really want. Local civil society organisations can play an important role in negotiating with other institutional players (state, corporate etc.) but their ability to do also depends on some degree of legitimacy / local buy-in.
- Acknowledge the power imbalances and act! I have lost count of the number of times that I have heard of a staff member in a community foundation who has moved on to an international NGO, where they will no doubt earn a bigger salary and greater prestige. There is something wrong with an aid system where international organisations end up poaching the best local talent and where local organisations are perceived as less “valuable” than international ones.
As the international aid community and its civil society partners reflect on the MDGs and look forward to the next round of development goals, it seems a good time to engage in some critical introspection, as well as some creative thinking. Civicus recently convened a conversation of activists aimed at exploring the extent to which civil society is “fit for purpose” in the context of current global challenges and the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy, which got going last year, brings together a range of public and private donors interested in better understanding how more horizontal forms of asset development can foster more sustainable development and what role international donors can play. These kinds of conversations are both timely and essential if international development is going to engage constructively around real issues of power and ownership.
The Dutch development sector is (modestly) celebrating its 65th anniversary this year. Is it time to retire, or should it continue? And, if so, in what way? With shrinking development budgets on one side of the spectrum and a globally rising middle class on the other, domestic resource mobilisation and claim-making are presented as the future of international development. But what exactly does this approach entail? What are the challenges and opportunities concerned with it? How do we make International development relevant in the years to come? How to Change the Game?
For the next four weeks, Vice Versa, a Dutch journal on international development and the Wild Geese Foundation will be exploring this topic by conducting research, interviews with Dutch and international experts and professionals in the field. In the opening article, Jenny Hodgson, Executive Director of the GFCF, argues that domestic resource mobilisation and claim-making is about more than diversifying an organisation’s donor base in favour of a radically different approach to international development. “In the end, it is about devolving power. The willingness to give up power to local groups”, claims Hodgson. Does this reorientation mean we (INGOs) should completely stop our involvement? “No, absolutely not”, she says. “Especially at this point it is important to invest, both in the capacity to mobilise resources domestically and in the strength of the lobby and advocacy skills of local partners.”
Follow the debate and join the discussion!