Meet the West Zone Community University

Graciela Hopstein introduces the West Zone Community University with the enthusiasm of an activist that believes in the power of shared reflection. Created by the Instituto Rio, the first community foundation in Brazil, this may be one of the few examples where a local community foundation has established a university. This, however, is a university with a difference. The emphasis is not on physical infrastructure or elite education. The aim, instead, is to offer open and democratic public space for the production and sharing of knowledge. In the style of renowned Brazilian educator, Paulo Friere, community activists co-produce and exchange knowledge, while benefiting from the workshops, seminars, conferences, training sessions and ongoing discussions that take place under the umbrella of the community university. There is also a focus on creating partnerships with a variety of public, private and civil society entities. What provides a twist to this initiative is the fact that the West Zone of Rio de Janeiro is marked by enormous social inequalities. The priority area for the community university is the growing favelas which shelter some of the poorest communities in Rio.

Instituto Rio is currently providing grant support, alongside the opportunities offered through the West Zone Community University, to a range of community-based projects. Luiz Vaz, long term cultural activist with the House of Love street project, outlined the positive role that drama can play in working with young people who might otherwise be attracted to gang culture. Not only have a number of these youngsters graduated into the professional theatre, but Luis believes in the power of creative self-reflection in the tradition of the famed Theatre of Resistance.  The medium may be giant puppets, but the message is of the streets. The power of culture to embed community identity was also emphasized by Adilson Almeida, who recently received an award in recognition of the work of his organisation, ACUCA.  Extensive voluntary effort is invested in protecting the dance, song and historical environment of what was once a slave community. Located in an area of natural beauty, Adilson is being supported by Instituto Rio to train young men and women as ecoguides in the local environmental project. Youth are also the focus in a cultural centre operated by an ex-gang member turned community activist, who now preaches the art of living in peace in what was a very violent area. Learning to be; to know; to do and to live became his mantra that he now shares with others.

For community activists from the West Zone there is general agreement that people feel safe working with the Instituto Rio – no mean achievement in an area where trust is a preciously guarded commodity. There is recognition that what Instituto Rio provides is much more than the small amounts of grant money available. As Selma explains the support from the West Zone Community University ‘Makes us see things we didn’t see before’. This is the mark of true sustainable development; although there are also grants for re-cycling projects and cooperative craft ventures.  As for the Instituto Rio itself, it wants to create a West Zone Community Fund endowment.  It believes that there is a real opportunity not just because of the forthcoming Olympic Games, but also because this zone of the ‘City of God’ (the film Cidade de Deus was based in these communities) has the will and tenacity to make its own future. Notwithstanding this sense of independence, partners are always welcome. After all, if Instituto Rio can create a university, why not a West Zone Community Fund?Graciela (left) and Avila Kilmurray (second from left) at the University

Community-based philanthropy and peacebuilding

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

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

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

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

For further information on Foundations for Peace Network (including publications) please visit

Local philanthropy of Federal importance: Community foundations in Russia

The growth of community foundations across the Russian Federation is captured in a handy new infographic and a more detailed report, “Local Philanthropy of Federal Importance: Community Foundations in Russia.” This updated information has been brought to the field through a partnership of CAF Russia, the C.S. Mott Foundation and the Russian branch of Evolution and Philanthropy. The report was launched in May 2014 at meetings in both Moscow and Tyumen (Urals Region). Larisa Avrorina, Manager of CAF Russia’s community foundation development programme, explained that the research which identified some 45 community foundations, working across 27 regions of the Russian Federation, probably underestimated the number of such bodies. In reality, there is an additional 13 organizations that are using a community foundation model and approach, although not necessarily identified as such.

Over recent years there has been a clustering of community foundations for support and exchange purposes. The largest clusters were noted as the 15 community foundations in the Volga Federal District; 14 in the Siberia District; and six in the north west District which includes Saint Petersburg.  Interestingly the initial attempt made to establish a community foundation took place in Moscow in the early years of the 1990’s, but this floundered. The Togliatti Community Foundation, which was launched in 1998, remains the longest surviving Russian community foundation in existence, and has acted as a role model to many that were developed more recently.

Seven distinct characteristics were identified from the research as shared by the community foundations studied:

(i) Building social capital (trust and relationships) and a sense of community;

(ii) Acting as centres for local development and fundraising;

(iii) Engaged in promoting civic activism;

(iv) Creating a new philanthropic culture and traditions;

(v) Proactively contributing to a sense of community responsibility and engagement;

(vi) Providing a knowledge hub on local community issues, needs and opportunities; and,

(vii) Offering a neutral space for negotiation and partnership between the local administrative authorities, business interests and community activists.

This latter role is further reflected in the reported structure and composition of community foundation boards: 43% business, 37% community and 20% government representatives.  The majority of business interests involved came from the small and medium sized sector that had a close identification with their local communities.

Local philanthropy, local leadership

One of the current trends identified in the report was the fact that community foundations are emerging not only in urban areas but also in areas of small rural settlements. Out of 18 new community foundations established since 2008, 13 of them have been rooted in rural areas. This development was supported by World Bank investment in a “Local Self-Governance and Civil Engagement in Rural Russia” initiative, which recognised community foundations as a key infrastructural element and helped with the creation of the first alliance of rural funds across Perm Krai.

The importance of credible local leadership was also identified as an important aspect in the creation of a sustainable community foundation.  This can take the form of a single leader of some local standing, or a group of people who have sufficient authority with representatives of local elites to coordinate activities with regard to priority issues, but also have an understanding of the social innovation that is required. Putting in place an efficient organisational framework that has the capacity to mobilize a broad base of local philanthropy is also seen as a prerequisite for positioning community foundations in the area of donor services. This may apply to independent philanthropists, but also to the larger donors in the field of corporate social responsibility and indeed sources of municipal and federal government. Interestingly, while international grants are still listed as a funding source, the resources and opportunities in this area are now rather meagre. A shared challenge for many of the community foundations is finding the funding to meet their administrative and organizational costs, although these on average now amount to only 15% of their overall expenditure.

Priority areas of work

Over 90% of the community foundations support initiative groups in their local communities. This stands in marked contrast to those philanthropic organizations that prefer direct operational programmes. The main priorities for the awarding of grants include funding for organizations working with vulnerable groups and projects aimed at improving the local environment and quality of life more generally. Focus groups and other forms of community consultations are organized to inform the nature of local priorities.  While the standard grants awarded are small in monetary terms, it is argued that they are invaluable for building a sense of community self-esteem and participation. In a number of the remoter rural areas where there are few community-based organizations, the community foundations themselves act as community development centres. A re-invigorated emphasis on evaluation and the assessment of impact has also emerged as a recent trend. The Regional Alliances of Community Foundations have supported collective initiatives to map social well-being and community needs.

The study notes that with the honourable exception of the Ministry for Economic Development, there is still considerable work to be done in raising the profile of community foundation work with other government structures; a task that will require considerable time and effort. Such profile raising could also usefully take place with major corporations. What is important, however, is that there is now a growing evidence base to allow that task to be addressed in a positive manner.

Read the report “Local Philanthropy of Federal Importance: Community Foundations in Russia”, available in English and Russian  

L. Avrorina (ed. L. Tikhonovich) CAF Russia, 2014

Philanthropy in Pakistan: Private energy for public good

Philanthropy is “private energy for public good” and it is particularly effective as a “fuel” for civil society which can drive socio-economic development. So said Dr. Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, Chairman of the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy, speaking in Washington DC in April 2014 and sharing his thoughts with audiences at both the Global Donors’ Forum and at a discussion held at the Hudson Institute. He was joined at the latter by Dr. Carol Adelman, Director of the Center for Global Prosperity, Hudson Institue, and by Dr. Mirza Jahani, CEO of the Aga Khan Foundation, USA.

He also referred to the role of civil society and active citizenship in helping to think through the mantra of democracy and models of governance. However, in stepping up to these critical roles civil society needs to be supported – one area that requires further examination is the interface between civil society and the private sector, which Dr. Kassim-Lakha depicted as “a magic in that space that we haven’t quite captured.”

Commenting on the growth of philanthropy in Pakistan, the point was made that when a comparison is made between indigenous giving and foreign grants, Pakistanis give Rs 20 billion in money, which represents some five times the amount that Pakistan receives in outright grants by way of foreign aid.  Equally it was noted that 28% of all giving in Pakistan is made by people that are earning less than US$2 per day – a model of the generosity of the poor. This ethos of giving was traced to a long established ethos of giving in Muslim countries, although the challenge remains as to how to turn this impulse of generosity into more strategic philanthropy. An important contextual framing for this challenge is the development of an enabling legal and fiscal environment for philanthropy which the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy is currently working on.

In a country where two-thirds of the population are below the age of 20 years, the potential linkages between philanthropy, civil society and active citizenship are clearly critical, with the need to harness the impulse of generosity and translate it into the development of sustainable social assets.  Dr. Jahani emphasized the importance of indigenous philanthropic organisations and developments in this context, making reference to the fact that the recent Spring Meeting of the World Bank linked strategic development to citizen engagement. Mechanisms to facilitate communities to bond together around locally identified needs were recognised as central building blocks in any future partnerships between strategic philanthropic investment and grounded civil society initiatives.

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  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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beulah Fredericks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maggie Jaruzel Potter, Mott Foundation

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

Community Philanthropy with a Social Justice Approach: The Added Value

‘Social justice’ encapsulates the values of justice, fairness and peace within communities. Philanthropy for social justice examines structural arrangements that cause and maintain injustice and unfair treatment and focuses on changing those structures.

The Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace (PSJP) Network is a global network of philanthropy practitioners working to increase the impact of grantmaking for social justice and peace and to shift the narrative in philanthropy to one that understands and embraces the importance of a social justice approach.

A social justice approach to philanthropy respects the role of those most affected by injustice as agents of their own change. While this may be close to the central tenet of Community philanthropy – local ownership of local solutions, not all Community Philanthropy addresses structural issues. However, there are interesting and inspiring examples that show us that where the two intersect and strategies that both deepen community engagement and employ a cohesive approach to address structural and contextual drivers of injustice, there is added value to the change that is brought about.

The Dalit Foundation is the philanthropic arm of a social movement for structural change in the Indian society. It supports grassroots initiatives that address beliefs and practices that perpetuate caste discrimination and unequal treatment of Dalits. Committed to the principles of sustainable and bottom-up change, the Dalit Foundation has recently partnered with the Global Fund for Community Foundations to further enhance community engagement in mobilizing resources for the Dalit Movement. The Prayatna Foundation, a former grantee of the Dalit Foundation and a small community based organization (CBO) covering 50 villages in Barabanki in India offers many lessons in rethinking community philanthropy with a social justice approach.

Prayatna Foundation, India

Prayatna Foundation’s over 5000 members belong largely to the Dalit and Muslim communities and almost all of them fall below the poverty line. Against a backdrop of poverty and traditional beliefs that foster differences between the two communities, the philanthropic content of Prayatna transcends monetary contributions and is based significantly on social capital. Trust, reliability, care/concern and a common ground of affinity resulting from centuries of structural injustices and exclusion are the most important elements in the shared responsibility of the CBO members for their development. The philanthropy of the community here plays an important role in transforming situations of potential conflict to one of collective responsibility.

As the PSJP Network moves forward building connections worldwide in order to deepen and broaden the impact of philanthropy for justice, peace, equality and fair treatment for all, I’m sure that we will encounter many such interconnected lessons for community philanthropy practitioners and social justice grant makers to increase the value, impact and sustainability of their work.

Chandrika Sahai, Coordinator PSJP

For more information on Social Justice Philanthropy and the Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace Network, visit the PSJP Website and PSJP Blog.



Community foundations and youth… a different kind of glue

What do community foundations bring to the table when it comes to engaging with young people? How do they differ from or compare with NGOs that focus specifically on youth?

These were the questions up for debate at a global gathering of community foundations organized by the GFCF in Romania last month. It was the first time that we had brought together a global group of community foundations to discuss their work in the area of youth civic engagement. Data collected from our grantmaking over the last five years had shown us that, although many community foundations would see themselves as generalists by nature (i.e. they work on a range of issues that arise in their communities), there were several issues on which community foundations – regardless of size or geographic location – were particularly active, and youth was at the top of the list.

Today’s young people are faced with all manner of challenges arising from changing demographics (most people in Africa are under the age of 30, for example) and social and economic factors that are putting pressure on jobs, education, healthcare etc. and that often result in the kinds of disillusionment and disengagement that arise from all of the above. At the same it is also true that there is no shortage of civil society organizations run for or by young people.

Given the existence of so many other youth programmes and NGOs, then, why do so many community foundations see themselves as having a role in working with young people? Certainly, there are some fine examples of successful and effective youth programmes that have developed through and by community foundations. YouthBank, for example, is a model that was originally developed under auspices of the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland and has been successfully replicated in other parts of the world, most notably, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and the Middle East. The YouthBank model promotes young people’s involvement in community issues as well as individual leadership development by offering them the opportunity to be involved in the decision making process around the allocation of grants for small-scale community projects developed and implemented by their peers. In Cluj, Romania, volunteers in the YouthBank (a project of the Cluj Community Foundation) are also given the task of raising money locally for these projects.

In South Africa, the Community Development Foundation for Western Cape has found its PhotoSpeak project, which uses photography as a way for young people to express themselves – their feelings, their aspirations and their frustrations about the place they live – to be an extremely effective tool through which to build more meaningful and trusting relationships with young people who may otherwise be overlooked or excluded.

And in Belgium, the enormously successful MyMachine project – which links up the imaginations of primary school children who dream up their “ideal machine”, with the technical skills of design students who produce the blue-prints and then, after a selection process, the machines themselves –  – was developed as a joint collaboration of the Community Foundation West Flanders and two other partners.

There is something indeed unique in the institutional make-up of the community foundation, with its emphasis on nurturing a culture of purposeful giving, and its use of small grants to support a range of local issues and initiatives which allows it to develop multiple relationships, with and across diverse elements of the community and to take the kind of holistic overview of a community which sector or issue-specific NGOs cannot always do. When they enjoy high levels of local ownership and credibility, community foundations – and other similar institutions of community philanthropy – can serve as the “strong glue” that can bridge differences – of race, socio-economics, gender and of different generations. Would the Waqfeyat al Maadi Community Foundation in Cairo, for example, have found itself thrust into a position of community leadership in mediating between the authorities and the families of those (mostly young people) who were shot in Tahrir square earlier this year, if it had not spent the previous two years quietly carving out its own unique cross-community niche?

And so back to the Romania debate…. Amidst some sharp observations, eloquent speeches, and a lot of good humour, some serious points struck me:

–        Through their programmes and structures, community foundations can offer multiple opportunities for youth leadership development and engagement which are quite different from other types of youth-focused NGOs. Young people can be involved variously as donors, decision-makers, board members, grantees, teachers and their actions need not be confined only to “youth” issues but rather they can also have a voice on other, broader community issues (by sitting on a grants selection programme for the environment, or taking a seat on the community foundation’s board);

–        However, we are all prone to sticking to our silos and staying with “our own” (in fact, should we have brought youth NGO representatives to our meeting to inject a more specialist perspective to our generalist discussions? Perhaps our meeting was successful in affirming the roles that community foundations can play in regard to young people and strengthening the global community foundation network, but less effective in terms of thinking about broader coalitions and collaborations…)

–        As an emerging global sector (and I am talking particularly about community foundations in Eastern Europe and the Global South), we need to get better at communicating our work and articulating the nature of the kind of trust-building and community-building opportunities we are engaged in and how that might complements and strengthen the efforts of others;

–         And finally, the question raised in our debate was really a false dichotomy: there are good youth programmes, whose effects can be empowering and transformative and bad youth programmes where nothing in the end and neither community foundations nor NGOs have the monopoly on either. A much better question for us – as supporters and leaders of community foundations –  to be asking ourselves is posed by Linetta Gilbert, writing in Alliance magazine a few years back and it relates to how we can bring about lasting and progressive change in our communities: ‘Do we have the courage and vision to be the glue that brings diverse people together to work towards their shared aspirations for equity, rather than a glue that keeps far too many people stuck in conditions that deny their dignity and deprive them of opportunity and hope?’

Jenny Hodgson