Taking a stand while finding a position: Africa’s evolving philanthropic discourse

Africa, as we are often told, is rising. The continent has been dubbed the “next economic powerhouse”, its countries “lions on the move” which include six of the world’s ten fastest growing economies. With this growth has come the arrival of a new set of African foundations on the philanthropic scene, which is becoming both more vibrant and more diverse. New networks – such as the African Grantmakers Network and the African Philanthropy Forum – have also emerged to support the fast-growing sector.

The rapid changes in the African philanthropy scene were brought home to me recently when I attended the East Africa Grantmakers Association conference in Mombasa, Kenya. I had last attended an EAAG conference in 2010 in Nairobi. At the time I was struck by how the conference was something of a mixed bag of different, often un-connected, pieces, the product of an emerging philanthropic sector which was still finding its voice, identity – probably even its constituents. So there was a fundraising master class probably more suited to NGOs than grantmakers or foundations, for example. And most of the examples of African philanthropy that were highlighted were individual, community-level, acts of giving and kindness: all very heart-warming and a good reminder of Africa’s strong traditions of social solidarity, but hard to locate in the framework of a regional network of institutional grantmakers. Overall, with the exception of the inspiring story of the Kenyan Red Cross, which had come through a particularly dark chapter in its existence, marked by scandal and financial woes and had forged a new path to financial sustainability, there was very little discussion of the “big” strategic issues for African philanthropy and its potential to develop a collective voice, harness and deploy resources and exercise influence in the social and economic development spheres.

Fast forward three years and this year’s EAAG conference was back Kenya, this time Mombasa. The theme of the conference was “Philanthropy and Business: is it business unusual?” This time, the tenor of the conversation felt very different, with the emphasis firmly on business models and approaches – impact investing, venture philanthropy, corporate social investment etc. Certainly, there were some interesting questions raised about the need for new ways of thinking that marked a departure from the project-funding paradigm that has characterized the delivery of so much external development aid and which has forced Africa’s civil society to exist on a hand to mouth existence, constantly having to respond to the changing interests of external donors. The case of the Kagiso Trust (South Africa), for example, offered a powerful example of the bold and strategic reinvention of itself that it embarked on 15 years ago when it transformed from being a re-granting intermediary for international donors during the apartheid years to organization which funds its own programmes with dividends generated by its own investment company.

And yet, while I fully accept that there is always room for greater efficient, transparency in the philanthropic sector, I did begin to wonder whether, by focusing entirely on the business side of things, we were missing out on some big and important questions about the role and responsibilities of the African philanthropic sector in grappling with big issues around poverty, equity and rights and in empowering communities to act in in the face of conflicting government or corporate interests.

Philanthropy, or the use of private resources for public good, has and will always been fraught with tensions and contradictions. Can resources earned in regressive ways (low wages or even exploitation of its workers, deals cut in corrupt ways that bypass regulation or legislation etc.) ever really achieve progressive social change? Can corporate philanthropy ever really be more than an arm of a company’s marketing and public relations departments? Concerns about philanthropy as a strategy for corporate “greenwashing”, for example, are particularly pertinent in Africa right now because so much of its economic growth is commodity driven which means minerals extracted from ground under which people live, communities displaced and environmental impacts.

At an excellent panel on social justice philanthropy which was, alas, relegated to a break-out session, Kaari Murungi (co-founder of the Urgent Action Fund for Women – Africa) raised important questions that offered rather a stark counter-narrative to tone of the larger plenary discussions around the need for grantmakers to “step up” to the standards of business in their work. “What shapes in justice and what perpetuates it?” she asked. “In order to understand social injustice, we need to understand power, how it is acquired, how it is used and who stands to benefit.” She lamented the lack of resources and research to enable social justice activists to engage corporates, particularly extractive industries, around issues such as land ownership (and by implication urged an essential role for philanthropy in supporting such efforts). And she highlighted the worrying “democratic deficit” across much of Africa, which created a culture of impunity and allowed those with resources to do anything and get away with it. This was particularly true in the corporate sector, where levels of accountability and good governance were often very low. And yet, in the context of the overall conference, this “side-conversation” (of, it has to be said, the already converted) seemed both extremely important and yet out of kilter with the overall narrative of the conference.

As the African philanthropy sector enters a period of rapid growth, with new players and new resources emerging, some level of tension and contradiction is inevitable – and healthy – not least because different kinds of philanthropic money come shaped by different visions and theories of change.

Kingsley Mucheke, Jane Weru The Akiba Mashinani Trust, Kenya

I very much believe in the power of networks, associations and philanthropy support organizations in helping to advance and shape both the philanthropic discourse and strengthen the capacities of constituents. This is a collective task for all of us who are engaged in the philanthropy field wherever we are. Some closing thoughts on how we do this.

Take a stand: While we wait for the benefits of Africa’s economic growth to trickle down beyond a handful of elites and a growing middle class, issues of poverty and inequity are ever-present. Philanthropy offers a unique position from which to take risks, seed innovation and ensure the voice of a vibrant civil society to hold governments and big corporates to account. Yes, there are new opportunities for African foundations and NGOs to rethink their business model and models like the Kagiso Trust offer great learning, but business solutions in terms of how development is actually done may not always be the most effective. While civil society may want to look for lessons from the business sector, new business-oriented foundations can also look to the work of the African Women’s Development Fund or the Kenya Community Development Foundation for examples of years of good and effective community and economic development work.

Engage in and encourage debates around language so that it helps to connect dots, denote concrete meaning and move us beyond the abstract or the vague: Over the last couple of years, a group of donor organizations have been engaged in a consultation and reflection process aimed at building up a case for community philanthropy as a practice that could enhance development outcomes. The definition of community philanthropy that has emerged out of this process rests on three cornerstones: assets, capacities and trust. In July, two Kenyans became the first winners of the Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize: in awarding the prize, the judges were all impressed by the explicit focus of Jane (Weru) and Kingsley (Mucheke) of the Akiba Mashinani Trust on the most marginalized community in Kenya – landless slum dwellers – and “by the way they have developed a philanthropic mechanism to support transformational efforts by that community”. Jane and Kingsley (who, by the way, wrote the most wonderful blog about his experience) did not nominate themselves: in fact, before they travelled to St Petersburg, Russia, to collect their prize at the Emerging Societies, Emerging Philanthropies Forum, it did not seem that they had ever seen their own work in the context of “doing philanthropy”, so much as “receiving philanthropy” (from foundations that had invested in their work). And yet it so clearly conforms to a form of community philanthropy that is all about building up local assets, capacities and trust. (I’d also be interested to know more about the definition of “community philanthropy” that was used in the EAAG Philanthropy Prize process).

Jenny Hodgson

Moving forward with a Haiti community foundation: Q & A with Marie-Rose Romain Murphy

The GFCF spoke to Marie-Rose Romain Murphy, director of ESPWA, about efforts to establish a community foundation initiative in Haiti

The Haiti Community Foundation Initiative has been gathering steam over the past 12 months. Who is involved in the Steering Committee and what brings them together as a group? Why is a community foundation in Haiti needed, do you think?

The Steering Committee is composed of visionaries and connectors.  It is very diverse as it includes mostly Haiti-based business leaders involved in civil society, educators, civil society activists, religious leaders as well Haitian-American community development leaders.  What brings the members of the group together is their ability to think about the collective good and a profound desire to build a better future for Haiti.  Our team has a genuine desire to help move the country forward.  It’s refreshing!

As far as why is a community foundation needed in Haiti… I can tell you that there isn’t a country that has needed one more than Haiti for many reasons.  Reason number one: traditional economic strategies and traditional international development strategies have failed in Haiti.  Our development process has not involved our communities in the formulation of our development agenda which is very much controlled by international stakeholders.  We have grown increasingly dependent on foreign aid and on cash transfers from our Diaspora.  Reason number two: historically, our society has been deeply divided in terms of class, skin color, politics and religion.  Respected business and civil society leaders will tell you that these divisions are really the root cause of the poor state of affairs in our country.  The Haiti Community Foundation Initiative has been systematically bringing leaders from different sectors and various backgrounds together to work on the development of the foundation.  We are also working on models (regional planning processes) which work with community leaders on setting up their communities’ development agenda.  I also believe that a Haiti-based, Haiti-led, Haiti-beneficial Community Foundation focused on long-term planning, capacity-building, asset development and philanthropy is something that Haiti would really benefit from, as a vehicle for promoting sustainable development and civic engagement.

From your consultations with various communities in Haiti where you and others have presented the community foundation concept, what has the response been? What do people like about the idea that such a structure could be set up in Haiti? And what kinds of concerns have they raised?

ESPWA thought about focusing on the development of a Haiti Community Foundation after conducting dozens of consultations with communities and community leaders from all sectors.  Money was not the first issue on leaders’ mind when it came to challenges related to Haiti’s development; the lack of control and the need for technical assistance and support were.  When we started talking about the community foundation model and its use in Global South countries like Kenya, Mozambique, Brazil, Puerto Rico and Mexico, people loved it.  They welcomed the idea of a bottom-up process, community-led and community-defined process, conducted with respect and dignity, and focused on inclusivity and fairness.  The concerns that are often raised are related to one’s “real capacity” to build and operate a structure which promotes openness, inclusiveness, transparency and accountability.  We are trying to make sure that we live the principles that guide us and that the structures that we establish ward off corruption, exclusiveness, and what we call a system of “moun pa” a Creole expression which means  “your own people” (keeping to you own circle which keeps other people out).

Cacao in Sogepa, Haiti

What do you think it will take for Haitians to give to a Haiti Community Foundation, particularly when there has been so much international money poured into Haiti? What is the proposition that would make a Haiti Community Foundation initiative attractive to Haitians to give?

Haitians want to see effective action driven by commitment, passion and integrity. They also want to see genuine and respected local leadership endorsing the Initiative and working on it.  There is a lot of “talk” and not enough “on the ground action” taking place in Haiti.   We’ve been researched to death.  People talk about us and to us endlessly.  Conferences abound but don’t generate enough meaningful projects which engage Haitians. The Center for Global Development recently produced a report that stated that only 0.6 of the funds raised for Haiti for the past three years went directly to Haitian businesses and Haitian organizations.  It’s outrageous and destructive.   What this figure means is a world of missed opportunities in terms of leadership development, capacity-building and culturally appropriate interventions.

At all levels of our society, we have been mobilizing leaders who are either working hard with us at the community level and/or harbouring great hopes for a better model of development for our country.  The proposition of a solid, transparent and effective Haiti-based, Haiti-led and Haiti-beneficial institution is what will make Haitians give.  However, it is important to note that institutional philanthropy is not developed in Haiti.  Building it will take time, resources, energy and trust.

It seems that a lot of the discussions around development in Haiti often don’t seem to extend far beyond the capital, Port au Prince? How are you and the rest of the steering committee thinking about a structure that would avoid a concentration of resources (and power) in Port au Prince?

We are looking at a national foundation model which will encompass and support decentralized regional funds.  Ideally, the regional funds will be managed by regional committees which will hold the “power” as far as setting the priorities for their region, managing the funds and… raising the funds. 

Anse d’Azur Forum, Haiti

There is a big Haitian Diaspora in the United States which could be an enormous asset to a community foundation in Haiti, particularly in terms of potential resource mobilization, but this is a community foundation in Haiti that we are talking about. How is the steering committee thinking about the role of the Diaspora at this stage – i.e. as a resource to be harnessed while ensuring that the institution remains very grounded in the local Haitian context?

The Haitian Diaspora in the United States, Canada, Europe and elsewhere is very connected to Haiti.  And yes, they could be and, I believe that will be an enormous asset.  We are reaching out to Diaspora groups and associations to partner with them.  The reality is that we, Haitians tend to be very connected to “home regions” or communities whether we live outside the country, live in it or… come back to it.  It is a huge asset which has not been fully leveraged.  The bottom-up process and the community-driven planning process will ensure that HCF remains very grounded in the local Haitian context.  We will also need to be vigilant when it comes to that and be clear about what we won’t do as well as what we will do.

The global community foundation is vibrant but still quite small in numbers in many parts of the world. Where has the steering committee been looking to for advice, possible models and structures? And finally, if people are interested in finding out more about the initiative or even getting involved, how should they get in touch?

We are talking to a number of Foundations such as the Nebraska Community Foundation (which has developed a very interesting system of devolved or affiliate funds) and the Kenya Community Foundation to discuss their experience in details and learn from them.  Our group is also planning a visit to Kenya for an intensive learning experience with the Kenya Community Development Foundation, a friend and supporter of HCFI.   We are also talking to foundations such as the Brazil Foundation to learn about their successful engagement of their Diaspora.  And on Haiti’s doorstep, of course, we also have the Puerto Rico Community Foundation, with over 25 years of experience from which we can learn.  We draw much strength from our growing network of partners, and collaboration is one of our core values as it is essential to meaningful impact.

Where are now? We are working on a pilot program in the Grande Anse, Haiti’s bread bowl and last green reserve- which is very much endangered.  We have an amazing Working Group which has been working relentlessly on a regional planning process in the Grande Anse.  Strategically, we are working on raising funds for the planning and development of the Haiti Community Foundation.  We will also need operations and endowment funds.  Interested people should not hesitate to contact us at info@espwa-haiti.org.  The national motto of Haiti is “L ‘union fait la force”.  Unity begets strength. And, yes, only together will we be able to build a better future for Haiti.

The GFCF made a grant to the Puerto Rico Community Foundation and Espwa in 2011 for an exploratory round table discussion that took place in Haiti in July 2011. It also provided support with facilitation and organization of a follow-up workshop in early 2012.

 

Community philanthropy in emerging markets: building something new for the future

Dramatic shifts in the political and economic landscape of many low and middle- income countries in recent years have resulted in the emergence of a new class of wealthy individuals. This has led to a rapid growth in private and family foundations in many emerging markets. But the benefits of economic liberalization have not always resulted in an equal distribution of wealth, and income disparities have only been exacerbated by the global economic crisis. As social and economic inequality increase, welfare systems are cut and the effects of climate change begin to make themselves felt, poor communities are increasingly finding themselves under pressure. Against this backdrop, a new breed of community philanthropy institutions is emerging. (It is perhaps no coincidence that three of the finalists for the Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize are from the community philanthropy field.)

The phenomenon is global and the institutions diverse in shape and size: community foundations, women’s funds, giving circles and other community grantmakers. Growth has been particularly marked in emerging market economies. ICom, a community foundation in southern Brazil, was established to address growing inequalities in the city of Florianopolis, while the Waqfeyat al Maadi Community Foundation in Egypt seeks to promote community development through the revival and modernization of the Islamic philanthropic practice of waqf. And in Vietnam, the LIN Center (one of whose founders, Nguyen Tran Hoang Anh, is a finalist for the Olga prize) has done much to foster giving for social causes among young middle class professionals as a strategy for strengthening social cohesion in Ho Chi Minh City.

NGO networking event, LIN Center

Building on existing traditions of solidarity
Of course, the concept of community philanthropy is not new. Every country and culture has its own traditions of giving and social solidarity between family, friends and neighbours, whether it is the tradition of burial societies in Africa or hometown associations in Mexico. Community philanthropy has consistently saved and improved people’s lives; where the state lacks the resources or simply the will to provide for its citizens, it has often been the only safety net available. However, while the value of these forms of giving is well understood by those who benefit from them, they tend to be overlooked as marginal and unstrategic by the formal development sector. What is significant about many of these institutions is the way in which they are embedding and adapting existing cultures of giving in their own operation and organization. Two other prize finalists from Kenya, for example, have been behind a new fund which seeks to build philanthropy from the roots of mutual aid in an urban slum.

In our recent report, A Different Kind of Wealth, which provides a baseline study of the emerging community philanthropy field in Africa, Barry Knight and I noted a number of features that distinguish this set of institutions from other parts of civil society. Although this report was specific to Africa, these features can also be applied to many low and middle-income countries. First, they are seeking to draw on local resources and assets, not just as a strategy for funding but also in the belief that development outcomes are more lasting when people have invested in their own development. Second, they are looking to build bridges at many levels, whether between external forms of development support and more local mobilization of communities and their assets, or within different parts of communities, usually by directing the resources they raise to community organizations through small grants. Third, although many of them are small in terms of money they are rich in terms of social capital and trust-based relationships.

Challenging the conventions of mainstream development
A number of factors may explain the recent growth of the field (an average of 70 community foundations, for example, have been established each year for the last decade). Reductions in international aid flows generally, and donor exits from various middle income countries (like DFID’s planned withdrawal from India in 2015), are certainly one factor. As this trend continues, local donors will increasingly be called upon to fill the funding gaps and they will need mechanisms through which to give.

But community philanthropy is not just emerging in response to changing funding patterns. Either implicitly or explicitly, it is also challenging many of the conventions of mainstream development with its issue-based silos, short-term project horizons and upward accountability to external donors, choosing instead to take more holistic, long-term and flexible approaches which can develop community resilience and social cohesion.

Repairing relationships
Community foundations are also filling new spaces opened by the overhaul of state, private sector and civil society relationships which many emerging markets countries have undergone in recent years. The transition from a communist system to a free market democracy in Russia, for example, created new wealth and new freedoms but also produced new kinds of poverty, inequality and distrust. The dramatic retreat of the state, for so long the sole provider, created new expectations of the private sector in the form of corporate philanthropy. Community foundations, the first of which was in Togliatti (whose founder Boris Tsyrulnikov is another prize finalist), emerged as a response, a mechanism that could smooth the mistrustful relationships between those with money and those looking for it. By advising new local donors and managing their funds, community foundations could ease the flow of charitable monies and ensure they were used effectively. And because they were working equally with donors and local groups they were also uniquely placed to foster new kinds of community interaction with new tools like grantmaking. The fact that there are now over 40 community foundations across Russia shows clearly how their introduction to the country in the late 1990s answered a need for new types of bridging or facilitating institutions in the post-communist context. Indeed, in many parts of Russia where independent civil society is still very weak community foundations may offer almost the only spaces for voluntary action.

Meanwhile, in Turkey, TUSEV is currently leading efforts to generate interest in the community foundation concept among a range of different stakeholders (Turkey has one community foundation, established with support from a member of the Turkish diaspora in the US). Many of the right ingredients are in place: there is local money, a rich tradition of mutual support, a growing philanthropic sector and an active civil society. Conversely, much philanthropic giving is one-off, in-kind and unstrategic. When they give, most people prefer to bypass organizations altogether and give directly, while local NGOs struggle to raise local money and there are few tax incentives for giving. Underpinning all of this, however, are much larger concerns about current strains on the notion of ‘community’ in Turkey, in both urban and rural areas, as the country finds itself pulled increasingly in different directions along religious, ethnic, class and political lines.

The notion of an organization that seeks to build trust among people in a community and, by doing so, can strengthen it, is an important one, not least in emerging market countries where public trust is often low because of weak institutions or a history of conflict or division.

Agents and brokers
In practical terms, community philanthropy institutions also have much to offer local donors in these countries, offering economies of scale in their grantmaking and a cost-effective mechanism for managing and monitoring funds. Pooled multi-donor funds can help foster a culture of collaboration and they can also reduce risks (and on tricky social justice type issues which might not find favour with authorities, there may be also safety in numbers). More importantly, they can also provide a direct line to communities. As social inequalities grow, so do the cracks within communities. A wealthy individual may end up far removed from the problems of an urban slum in his or her community and their views may be ill-informed or even paternalistic. Small grants to community groups through a community foundation can offer a way of opening up a conversation with different parts of the community and bringing different perspectives to the table.

ICom, Brazil

So much in philanthropy and development is big – big ambitions, big budgets and big numbers. For their part, community philanthropy organizations around the world offer modest and yet crucially important platforms for engagement and participation, working at the intersections between public, private and civil society sectors and maximizing what they have to offer. Perhaps most importantly, they offer a meeting point where numerous expressions of giving, responsibility and solidarity can come together and move forward in a progressive and inclusive way. In the words of one of our partners in Romania, ‘Community foundations are working from the bottom up; our focus is not about fixing what’s broken but about building something new for the future.’

Jenny Hodgson is executive director of the Global Fund for Community Foundations

This article was first published in Alliance magazine, March 2013. To download the article as it was published, click here.

Regional philanthropy conferences coming up in Cairo and Johannesburg

Arab Foundations Forum Meeting, 16-18 September 2012

As the Arab Region witnesses the organic maturing of demands for social change and social justice, the Arab Foundations Annual Meeting ‘Maximizing Philanthropic Resources in Times of Change and Austerity’ in Cairo promises interesting conversations, reflection and advanced thinking on the role of philanthropy in sustaining this spirit of change. For more information click here.

African Grantmakers Network Assembly, 29 October – 2 November 2012

The 2012 Assembly of the African Grantmakers’ Network (AGN) in Johannesburg , ‘What’s New? Whats Now? What’s Next?’ seeks to ‘explore Africa’s changing landscape, and craft a shared agenda to build the field of African philanthropy for development effectiveness.’ The Assembly will provide a unique opportunity for grantmakers and social investors to explore new trends, exciting innovations and emerging practices in the diverse terrain of African philanthropy.  For more information click here.

Guest blog: The Great Untapped – revolutionizing development through community-based organizations

It was a risky venture from the start: a group of colleagues from south and north, jungle and city, Spanish and English and Kichwa-speaking backgrounds coming together to do something that to our knowledge had not been done in the Ecuadorian Amazonian province of Napo: ask communities what projects they wanted to implement themselves, give them a little bit of money and a lot of practical training to bring the projects into existence, and invite them to help make the process better the next time around.

Learning to graft cacao in community of Canambo

That was the simple premise of Amazon Partnerships Foundation (Fundación Tarpuna Causay), which Ecuadorian and North American colleagues and I founded in late 2008. Going from premise to program was not simple, however, and the lessons we learned revealed not only the source of rampant dissatisfaction and disappointment in development work, but glimmers of opportunity for community-based organizations (CBOs) to bring about a fundamental shift in the nature of aid.

Our experience, as one example among many, suggests that effective development is not simply about pouring more money into CBOs. It’s about flattening the power structure so that community-based organizations come to the table as equal negotiating partners on all aspects of projects, from design to outcome measurements to funding. This shift could help international funders realize the long-elusive increased return on investment, and more importantly, unleash the immense power of communities to change their lives.

Changing the Power Dynamic: A Compelling Reason

From the beginning, we saw no point in joining the overcrowded field of non-profit organizations working in international conservation unless we had a compelling reason to do so. Having worked for years in Latin America, I had seen the same problems we all see in development: lack of services and support reaching communities, lack of community participation, lack of commitment to the projects (both from the community and outside the organization), little or no use of projects, disunity, and community infighting. Beneath the evidence of failed projects, a sense of apathy or sometimes disgust prevailed. Despite the fact that many people in communities would claim they wanted “projects”, those who were not leaders looking for self-aggrandizement or personal gain were often tired of the routine that built up their expectations but left them disillusioned in the end.

Meanwhile, plenty of good organizations were genuinely committed to saving the Amazon rainforest, but many lacked the agility, the access, the time, or communication skills to get to know local populations and figure out where the organization’s and community’s agendas intersected. This lack of understanding contributed greatly to raised and dashed hopes. It also diminished the likelihood that all stakeholders could evaluate the situation from a different angle, to identify the strengths or assets that communities brought to the table and determine how these could be used to meet the communities’ priorities.

Like others who promote asset-based community development, we believed a major problem was that communities were not the drivers in their own development. Organizations that support them, while staying true to their own mission, should collaborate as truly equal partners, which meant changing the power relationships so that above all else, communities determined their priorities and would take responsibility for their own development. Based on that premise, communities would have greater agency in seeking support from NGOs, government institutions, and foundations. Our desire to try to change the power dynamic, to experiment with supporting communities on their timetable according to their self-defined priorities, compelled us to dive in.

Practicing the Community Self-Development Methodology

Through trial and error, the Amazon Partnerships Foundation (AFP) team and our community partners created the Community Self-Development Methodology, which yielded highly positive results. Our intention was to work with fewer communities in greater depth. We established relationships of mutual trust and accountability that would enable us to respond to changes, allow time for the community’s learning curve, and provide a natural give-and-take that helped us understand how to improve our support. Our reach was not extensive; our focus on relationships, training, and learning, however, was intensive.

With a volunteer board, just two staff members, and a small budget, we funded seven projects ranging from rainwater catchment systems to reforestation to organic agriculture practices. We conducted more than 100 workshops on project management for eleven communities, and positively impacted 1300 women, men, and children in three years. More than half of the communities we worked with achieved outcomes based primarily on their own benchmarks that qualified them to submit a follow-on proposal, all of which were approved.  Even more encouraging was that communities were practicing the values our methodology intends to promote: creative problem-solving, greater transparency, and understanding and accountability instead of punishment and finger-pointing.

For example, the community of Campana Cocha, which installed more than 50 rainwater catchment systems and planted 135 trees, has been inspired by their own success to come up with other creative ideas. Before their APF project, most believed that expanding a costly and ineffective piped water system was necessary to meet community water needs; now they want to expand the use of rainwater catchment systems. On land that had been cleared to build government houses, they now want to replant trees and pursue conservation projects that will help transform Campana Cocha into an “eco-community.”

Project Coordinator Patricia Grefa reviewing a community report in Campana Cocha

An example from the community of San Pedro de Chimbiyacu shows how the group explored the implications of transparency in their rainwater catchment project. In a meeting in which community-elected inspectors shared results of monthly visits to determine how well families were maintaining their systems, two women disputed their scores. The inspector explained what she saw on inspection day and that she had a responsibility to record true information. After a spirited conversation about why data collection and verification are important, the entire group concluded that the inspector’s data would stand for calculating the overall maintenance scores for the project. The inspector agreed to do a follow up visit for the two households in question, submitting that data in a separate report.

Resolving conflict through accountability was an important part of the project in the community of Canambo. At a meeting we held with the project committee (elected by the project participants) everyone acknowledged that the outcomes of their organic cacao production project weren’t sufficient to qualify for follow-on support.

We discussed how APF could have helped the community better understand the budget process, and how the committee leaders could have been more transparent with incidental spending so participants would have been more willing to cover unexpected costs. The community president said he wanted to use the project management skills acquired through working with APF to submit a proposal to a different funder, and he requested our technical assistance. Working through problems together, we all left the meeting with a clear understanding of what we could do differently next time, and the relationship between APF and the community was stronger as a result.

The Great Funding Disconnect

While communities were starting to discover their power to meet basic needs and confront climate change, other organizations started to recognize that APF’s relationships with communities could help them find groups to work with. On the one hand, we found this encouraging: communities that had worked with us gained skills, confidence, and clarity about how they wanted to continue improving their lives, so they had greater capacity to make the most of projects with other groups. On the other hand, we were concerned that some of these organizations, which did have a mission of promoting well-being and environmental protection, were circumventing the process of building trust and accountability with communities so that they could meet “community participation” requirements from their funders and guarantee their operational budgets.

The question of how to build genuine partnerships for better results also came up as we worked with international aid agencies, for example, the German Development Cooperation (GIZ)[1]. GIZ in its various iterations has partnered with the Ecuadorian environment ministry for years, helping to secure UNESCO Biosphere Reserve designation for the Sumaco-Galeras national park. The agency recognized the importance not just of gaining international protected status for the park but of supporting communities’ livelihoods through agro-forestry and forest management programs. With the goal of building natural resource management and policy-making capacity so programs can be managed locally and permit the eventual withdrawal of outside support, GIZ has a strategic interest in working with local partners to help execute its outreach and education initiatives. Its budget is structured around these training and technical assistance objectives.

Without question, GIZ has provided valuable financial assistance for some local organizations, including Amazon Partnerships Foundation. GIZ contributed a portion of the budget for our locally filmed documentary on climate change and for the creation of an implementation handbook for the Community Self-Development Methodology. GIZ also helped fund local staff. This financial support aligned with our larger strategic goals: to promote climate change awareness, local leadership, and grassroots capacity to bring about change, and to build a strong local team that could act as role models both for community members and professionals in the local non-profit sector.

While this funding was indisputably beneficial, unfortunately we weren’t able to leverage it in ways that could make the biggest impact. What we experienced with GIZ was similar to what we experienced with other institutional supporters, namely funding parameters that were too restrictive, time-elongated, or reactive to serve the goal of building an organization, not simply executing a project. Despite maintaining a positive and productive relationship with GIZ staff who visited project sites, shared our materials for education and outreach, promoted our projects among regional government agencies, and turned to us to help build liaisons with communities, GIZ did not have a budget mechanism for making a significant investment in our organizational development.

This was a missed opportunity for us, of course, because the difficulty in raising money eventually caused us to scale back our on-the-ground operations and look for other ways to continue implementing our methodology. We believe GIZ also missed an important strategic opportunity not just with Amazon Partnerships, but with the sector in general. With even just a fraction of its resources as an international development agency, it could have invested in cultivating a cohort of qualified, local organizations that foster genuine community-powered development. A network of communities with the capacity to give meaningful feedback on natural resource planning and to meet some of their own basic needs would have helped GIZ accomplish its long-term conservation goals. Those communities would have bought in to GIZ’s vision because they could have taken some ownership of it. CBOs, as the logical and most effective liaison with individual communities, could have played a key role in that process.

Our critique is not intended as a criticism of GIZ or any other institution. International funders (whether private or government) and NGOs must juggle numerous and competing agendas that complicate even the best efforts to build grassroots capacity. But our story suggests that exploring how we can create a culture of partnership between funders (and NGO intermediaries) and CBOs could result in much greater success for everyone.

Real Change, Big Rewards

Community-based organizations are generally characterized by the fact that they work locally, maintain on-going relationships with local people, are led or managed by local representatives, and use local assets, whether monetary, in-kind, or otherwise. Geographically and culturally closest to the people they represent, CBOs have the most insight, most influence, and most agility to incubate, catalyze, or nurture projects. They are at the fulcrum of real change.

The question is: how can we unleash the power of these organizations? Based on APF’s experience, we believe that CBOs:

  • Need the freedom to develop their organizational identity and professional processes. They need the financial flexibility to develop missions that reflect their constituents’ priorities and promote projects that people want.
  • Can benefit from administrative support and training. Larger organizations can share ideas for how to streamline processes, collect useful quantitative and qualitative data, and communicate the grassroots agenda to stakeholders that are farther removed from it. The key is for outside organizations to listen to CBOs regarding what is feasible for local circumstances.
  • Need platforms for exchanging information with other CBOs. These platforms give people the encouragement to turn good ideas into concrete initiatives, which can feed into the development strategy that they have helped create along with institutional or large-scale players.

This doesn’t mean writing a blank check–it means getting to know CBOs and allowing CBOs to know funders, letting go of some of the gatekeeping, and establishing real dialog. It is in everyone’s best interest to ask questions that cannot necessarily be answered with a checklist: What’s really going on on the ground? What are people saying? What are the good ideas? What are the biggest challenges? Where do the communities’ priorities fit within those of the funder?

Just as we witnessed applying a similar philosophy with communities, a relationship-based approach between CBOs and bigger funders helps promote more mutual transparency, better opportunities for qualitative evaluation and impact measurement, and more agility in responding to actual grassroots needs. Organizations like Global Fund for Community Foundations, which has taken this funding approach with Amazon Partnerships Foundation and dozens of others, has ample evidence proving that nurturing the CBO sector in the Global South results in meaningful change in communities–everything from better access to services to increased problem-solving capacity and creativity.

Of course, relationship building takes time and may require a funder to make some structural changes. For large organizations, this may seem like an all-but insurmountable challenge, but testing a relationship-based funding approach in one department, working group, or funding area could help determine how and whether it has organization-wide application.

With so much promise to cultivate bottom-up–top-down development, we should seize the moment to reassess the power dynamic between CBOs and funders. The stakes are simply too high for not re-evaluating business-as-usual strategies, and the benefits could be gamechangers.

Mary Fifield is Executive Director of the Amazon Partnerships Foundation. She is also the author of a blog called Earth in Here 

 

 

 


[1] GIZ is the product of a recent merger of several separate German government agencies, among them DED and GTZ, which were Amazon Partnerships closest local allies.

“How development work can be effective and respectful”: blog highlights the work of the Community Foundation for South Sinai

Development projects for Third World regions. Around the world we are becoming more critical and disappointed with regards to the effectiveness and sincerity of them. But out of criticism arise great, new initiatives that are well thought-out and strive to obtain deeper knowledge of those people truly in need of help. South Sinai Bedouin have one of those: the Community Foundation for South Sinai.”

So begins a recent entry in the Voices of South Sinai blog about CFSS, a partner of the GFCF working with Bedouin in Egypt’s South Sinai region. It continues:

“Sorry to say, but we all know it: big, western development organizations may have the most beautiful intentions, but somehow many of them have big problems making those reality.


Huge amounts of money are put aside for those in need. But what often happens next? Corruption and ignorance make project money disappear in already filled pockets, for example. Or: some projects that are set up are simply a waste of money, as they do not address to the core problems in the deprived society. And then there are projects that are fantastic, but never will finish or run due to, again, local corruption or distorted power balances.”

Read the full blog post

Development projects for Third World regions. Around the world we are becoming more critical and disappointed with regards to the effectiveness and sincerity of them. But out of criticism arise great, new initiatives that are well thought-out and strive to obtain deeper knowledge of those people truly in need of help. South Sinai Bedouin have one of those: the Community Foundation for South Sinai.

New report from the GFCF and Coady Institute: The New Generation of Community Foundations

Community foundations have enjoyed considerable growth in recent years, not only in their number but also in their character. This emergence of a ‘new generation’ of community foundations is occurring within a larger context of other emerging forms of ‘social solidarity’ movements and institutions, including rural development philanthropy, member‑based organizing and other hybrid forms of citizen‑led actions.

 “The New Generation of Community Foundations” has been produced by the GFCF and the Coady International Institute and explores the emerging community foundation phenomenon in the context of disillusionment with conventional channels of international aid.

Dalia Association: A New Generation Community Foundation?

The report draws on the literature relating to community philanthropy, mutual responsibility and the broader social economy, as well as empirical data on the growth of the field, and it provides an analysis of five case examples of community foundations in the Global South as evidence for a re‑conceptualization of their role and potential contribution as catalysts for citizen‑led and socially inclusive development.

Read the report

 

“Let’s embrace the idea that people in poor communities know what they need and need to be given the opportunity to make those decisions for themselves”

I have come to appreciate, over years of peripheral but attentive observation of the work of GFCF, that the poorest communities very frequently give the most as a proportion of their wealth. The contribution of the poor is not only the most generous but frequently better at reaching its target. The GFCF attempts to channel collective help, whether from major foundations or individuals, to poorer communities that have a history of local participation and philanthropy. They have direct and profound interaction with community organizations and foundations. Through the GFCF bigger donations are re-deployed through community foundations that have an immediate grasp of local short and long-term goals and their feasibility.

I have made a small donation to the GFCF because I trust the work they do. I also believe that the dilution of ‘big donor’ influence is crucial to the survival and success of community foundations.  Much as I admire and appreciate the work of many of the larger philanthropy organizations or development agencies, they can be easily swayed by the political and economic trends of the societies where they originate. Furthermore the bureaucratic, administrative and geographical distance between them and those in need can alienate donors who, despite clever campaigns, begin to doubt the value of their donations. Donor fatigue and disillusion are less likely if we begin with the idea that people in poor communities know what they need and need to be given the opportunity to make those decisions for themselves.

Though Africa is generally seen as major consumer of international aid, and mostly a drain on it, it is good to discover that it also has strong philanthropic practices that have much to teach the world about giving. The very factors that make Africa a recipient of aid – poverty, political and social exclusion, corruption and bad governance – have also led to creativity in community philanthropy. In dire circumstances, people develop their own banking and saving systems and invent ingenious ways of managing and financing projects that would be beyond the call of an individual’s capacity or savings. These are often based on the idea that small and regular contributions in cash or kind to a collective project or group can allow the financing or implementation of bigger projects that benefit families or communities. In the histories of the wealthier world, there are many relatively recent examples of how we managed poverty through co-operative banks and buying collectives. These still exist of course and are being revitalized because they make great sense when international banking becomes untrustworthy. To a degree most non-governmental giving, and even governmental giving (via taxes) recognizes that plans and projects can be helped through the subscriptions of many. The difference between poor and better-off subscribers to such efforts may be more of size than systems.

Another difference is that the further we are from the necessity or cause, the more diluted and insubstantial our efforts seem.

Guest blog from Georgina Hamilton, a South African-based donor to the GFCF

 

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.