Brazil, and the growth of community philanthropy

Community foundations and funds are increasing in number in Brazil, but are still just the tip of the philanthropic iceberg in this sprawling country of over 203 million people. They are working in a nation of contrasts, with the 2014 Forbes Annual Report listing 65 Brazilian billionaires, while 21.4% of the population live below the World Bank poverty line (2012) and 16% exist in conditions of abject poverty. It is also striking that only three in ten of the poorest 20% of the population are white, but they comprise seven in ten of the richest 20%. This context frames the development of both place-based and issue-focused local philanthropy, as does the legacy of experience and attitudes.

 

The Olympic city

Rio de Janeiro is playing host to the 2016 Olympic Games that will take place in the very area of the city prioritized by Instituto Rio (IR) for its work – the populous West Zone. As the first community foundation in Brazil, IR was established in 2000 and began its grantmaking in 2003. Since that time it has supported 222 projects in 80 community-based organizations. The grants are relatively modest ($2500 – $4000 USD) but they come with an impressive added-value programme of shared learning delivered through the imaginative Community University of the West Zone (Universidade Comunitária da Zona Oeste). The virtual university recognizes the expertise garnered by local activists and creates networks for peer exchange. IR Chief Executive, Graciela Hopstein is the first to acknowledge that local fund development is still a challenge, but given its location it would be a shame if the 2016 Olympics comes to Rio, and leaves again, without directly benefiting both IR and the communities that it is supporting.

Graciela Hopstein (L) and Avila Kilmurray (2nd L) in RioAcross the city, just a stone’s throw away from the linha vermelha, a main route into the city centre, Eliana Sousa Silva has a gleam in her eye as she talks about establishing a community foundation in Bairro Maré. Bairro Maré has a population of 140,000 in a favela that consists of a warren of streets stretching across sixteen distinct neighbourhoods. Eliana is a founder member of the Redes de Desenvolvimento da Maré and has been active over eighteen years in supporting community action in an area that was not even mapped by the municipal authorities. In partnership with the Observatόrio de Favelas local activists in the Bairro took matters into their own hands, carrying out a local census, giving the streets names and the houses numbers, and convincing the authorities to “make visible a population that was invisible.” Other community initiatives focus on education, health, development through the arts and public safety. A community newspaper is delivered door to door, with a circulation of 40,000 copies, on a monthly basis. The challenge for Eliana and her colleagues is how to both keep the community momentum going and how to plan for the long term. The Redes feels that part of the answer may be found in setting up a community foundation that could enable local people to become decision-makers in their own right. “Usually people are waiting – spectators of their environment”, explains Eliana, a local community foundation could be a mechanism to help shift the power paradigm in the longer term. What Eliana now needs is information, ideas and support in taking the next step.

 

An integrated model of community support

Working in Maranhão, one of the poorest states in Brazil, the Baixada Institute was established in 2008 by community leaders in the area. Regina Cabral, an Ashoka Fellow (2010) was a founder member of the Instituto Formaҫāo which was a formative influence in the development of the Baixada Institute. The focus of both the Baixada Institute, as the local community foundation, and the Instituto Formaҫāo, as a development agency, is to work with local communities in the rural areas of Baixada Maranhense that are clustered in the north-east corner of Brazil. The area has a population of some 250,000 and has a history of labour migration and violent conflict over land rights. Regina speaks about the importance of investing in young people, raising their aspirations through education, sport, the arts and skills training. An important area of development has been in agri-ecology, where a combination of technical assistance, seeding grants and encouragement has resulted in pilot income generation horticultural projects, many carried out with black and quilombola (ex-slave) communities. Work over the years has resulted in the opening of fourteen Information Technology centres, with adjoining youth support centres, in rural towns and villages across the region. The idea of the community foundation (Fundaҫão Comunitária na Baixada Maranhense) came out of consultation with both young activists and community-based organizations. The community foundation continues to place a high priority on local consultation.

The Instituto Baixada operates from its own premises and was set up with initial financial support from the Kellogg Foundation. Among its goals is the support of community initiatives that empower local organizations and foster regional development. Fund development is also on the agenda and a donor network (Embaixadeiros Doadores) works to secure local donations. Regina explains that there is still a need for external support particularly given the developmental focus of the work which is seen by some as being at odds with traditional charitable giving. The work of the foundation is underpinned by a network of volunteers, which is found to be as beneficial as donations – although both are welcome.

With its concentration on Baixada Maranhense, Instituto Baixada draws on the networks and community insights built by Institute Formaҫāo, and other voluntary sector organizations, over the years. This allows strong lines of communication between the community foundation and local activists. It also ensures that there is transparency and a sense of mutual accountability in how Instituto Baixada delivers on its objectives. As to the next priority – the Institute Formaҫāo is working with communities in selected rural towns to open seven libraries, located in a range of venues. The Instituto Baixada plans to support this venture by allocating some $42,000 USD to purchase books. A seeding grant awarded to a group of young people involved in developing a community library last year already acted as a demonstration project.

 

Florianopolis – the southern Silicon Valley

ICom was established in 2005 as the second community foundation in Brazil. Working in Florianopolis, the second largest city in the southern state of Santa Catarina, this foundation emphasizes the importance of development support and capacity-building for local community and voluntary organizations. In order to counter public scepticism about the NGO sector it developed a transparency portal which holds detailed information on local organizations. ICom also facilitates training and professional development courses in order to promote institutional growth within organizations. Alongside its developmental objective of strengthening non-profit organizations,  ICom also prioritizes knowledge production and community mobilization that it achieves through its Vital Signs research (adapted from the Community Foundations of Canada model); working with donors and social innovation.

The work with donors is long-term and time consuming, not helped by the complexities of Brazilian tax and fiscal regulations, however, ICom Executive Director, Anderson Giovani da Silva is celebrating a major gift received recently from an individual donor who has been involved with ICom over a number of years. Anderson rules out direct fundraising activities and events as he does not want to be in competition with the local organizations that ICom is supporting. It is the area of social innovation where ICom has made a specific contribution, opening its offices as a Centre for Social Innovation and sharing them with social entrepreneurs. A new start-up 3 D design company currently operates from the space, with Anderson also being involved in raising funding for investment in a high quality movie – featuring four stories of young people using technology for social change purposes. A grant from the Inter-American Foundation is currently supporting the development of this centre. Anderson’s belief in the power of innovative design thinking to progress social change and bring a new dimension to the philanthropy of the future can be seen in ICom’s partnership with the Institute of Volunteering in taking a stake in Social Good Brazil.

The ICom office, operating as a Centre for Social InnovationThis has now spun off as an independent entity but re-invests a donor advised fund with ICom. Both ICom and Social Good Brazil are partners in an annual call for design ideas for products that can address social issues in an imaginative way. Piloted in 2013, fifty social entrepreneurs were invited to participate and receive mentoring through a Social Design Lab; they also benefited from $250 USD seed funding that ICom managed. One example of work supported was an app for use in the case of domestic violence. Participants were initially drawn from Florianopolis, but the popularity of the programme has resulted in it being extended to São Paulo. This may not be community philanthropy as it is commonly understood, but it seems to be a model that is working in Florianopolis, a city that prides itself as a technology hub.

 

New community funds emerging

Two recent developments have seen the emergence of a community fund and a community foundation in the East Zone of São Paulo and southern Bahia respectively, two very different contexts. With a population of ten million, São Paulo is the world’s third largest city, but the Fundaҫão Tide Setubal – a family foundation – concentrated its energies in the São Miguel district of the East Zone. The foundation became particularly known for its programmes of work with young people and investment in family support. Adopting a new approach the foundation decided to establish the Fundo Zona Leste Sustentável as a five year pilot exercise which was inspired by a discussion about community foundations involving a number of local stakeholders. An Oversight Board for the initiative was set up and a Monitoring and Evaluation Board, drawing on expertise from a local university. The Fund itself is focusing on business start-ups and technical support, funding 31 projects to date. Amongst those benefiting is a garbage collectors’ cooperative. One of the three staff members employed by the Fund emphasizes that it is still a community fund rather than a foundation – the jury is still out as to whether it will develop into a community foundation.

Roberto Vilela, working with the recently established community foundation in southern Bahia, is celebrating the fact that a recent grant call attracted 65 applications. The Tabôa Fortalecimento Comunitário was set up in 2013 with initial funding being put in place by Instituto Arapyaū, the World Bank and a foundation established by documentary filmmaker, Joāo Moreira Salles. Tabôa operates in the Uruҫuca region of Bahia which faces challenges of degradation of natural resources, economic inequality and under attainment in education. Consequently the new community foundation is prioritizing the strengthening of grassroots development associations and supporting community tourism projects that benefit local people. As a good grantmaker, Roberto is already thinking about how to respond to those grant applicants that may not be successful in being funded under the current round. He wants the application process to be empowering and is keen to build capacity and learning for local organizations. Decision-making in the community foundation is already participative, with the board currently made up of five representatives from the donors and five people from the local community.

 

A comparative approach to community foundation development

Representatives from the four Brazilian community foundations, as well as from the Fondo Zona Leste Sustentável and Redes de Desenvolvimento da Maré all attended a two-day conference on philanthropy for social justice organized in July by the Brazilian Network of Independent Funds for Social Justice. Joining with a number of other issue-focused funders the gathering recognized the need to create a narrative capable of motivating people to address issues of structural inequality and implicit racism. A follow-on seminar on the specific role of community philanthropy highlighted the important dimension of local engagement that community foundations can offer, although concerns were expressed at continuing difficulties in attracting a mix of donors to invest in this work.

Brazilian Network of Independent Funds for Social Justice, July 2015What became apparent over the course of the seminar is that Brazil offers a fascinating insight into how community foundations can emerge and be incubated through a variety of approaches. The origins of both Instituto Rio and ICom were influenced by the North American model of community foundations, fostered through international contacts and support. Tabôa Fortalecimento Comunitário has developed as an initiative of Instituto Arapyaū with a similar progression route to the Fundo Zona Leste Sustentável, should it decide to pursue this course further; whilst Instituto Baixada shares a sense of rooted local development that also characterizes the plans of Redes des Desenvolvimente da Maré. This latter phenomenon of community foundations, or funds, developing as mechanisms of sustainability for locality-based or regional community development is emerging in other country contexts as well. The comparative nature of the incubation and growth of community foundations in Brazil offers an important opportunity to track both opportunities and challenges presented by these different development paths and to welcome the diversity that is a response to local context.

 

By: Avila Kilmurray, GFCF Director of Policy & Strategy

Growing philanthropy in Mongolia: Q & A with MONES, the Mongolian Women’s Fund

The GFCF spoke to Bolor Legjeem, a board member of MONES, the Mongolian Women’s Fund, and asked her about their efforts to build a culture of organized giving for social causes.

GFCF: Could you tell us a bit more about the Philanthropy Day you organized in November?

Mongolian Women’s Fund (MONES), since its establishment in 2000, has celebrated Philanthropy Day every year on November 15th. For many years, our main goal was the promotion of the concept of philanthropy, with a focus on women’s rights and social justice, and raising funds was a secondary goal. Gradually, after we’d tried different ways of celebrating, from a week-long media campaign, to a big conference of non-profits, and then to a series of public lectures by prominent Mongolians, we came to realize that encouraging and supporting giving is actually the best way to talk about philanthropy.

Bolor Legjeem

In fact, the Mongolian language does not have a direct translation of the word “philanthropy.” The word we use, “buyan”, is closer to the English word “charity”, which is not what we do. So we decided to use the word “philanthropy,” which sounds a bit alien. Actually, the “fundraising for social causes” part of our work sounds alien too. Until 1990, under the socialist state, the communist party was the sole caretaker of social issues. This means that even today the majority of giving by people is channeled through and to personal networks. So you can see that giving for social causes is still novel in Mongolia.

This year, for the first time, MONES decided to extend the usual 1-2 weeks of  our Philanthropy celebration to an entire month of a fundraising campaign. And, this year, we tried for the first time a new way of raising funds, a “100 Leaders Relay Campaign”, which we learnt about from our sister fund, the Korean Foundation for Women. The main purpose of this 1-month campaign was to extend the network of our individual donors by recruiting leaders. Each leader, besides making a donation herself, was to raise money from another 3-5 people from her network on behalf of MONES. In past campaigns, the donors who made donations to MONES were our end goal. This year, we made an effort to mobilize the donors and turn them into fundraisers.

On November 30th, we closed the 100 Leaders Relay campaign and on December 3rd we held a press conference and announced the results of our campaign to public. When we look at the actual results of our campaign, we know that we did not reach our goal of our campaign, as we were able to recruit only 80 leaders, not 100. But, when we look at the bigger picture we see that, although we may not have reached our goal of recruiting 100 leaders, but we were able to encourage our 80 Leaders to bring in additional 300 individual donors. If we’d organized this campaign our traditional way, we would’ve raised money from 80 donors only. By turning our 80 donors into MONES spokespeople and fundraisers we were able to reach out to 300 new donors who, otherwise, would not have been reached. Just to give something to compare, in 2013, the total number of our individual donors for the entire year was a little less than 300. And, with this campaign, we raised money from 380 people in one month. We are grateful and inspired.

GFCF: You say that your fundraising efforts are not solely concerned with raising money. What do you mean?

The fundraiser in me wants to talk extensively about how much more money we were able to raise, how many more dollars these additional 300 donors gave to MONES. As a feminist philanthropist, however, I recognize that we now have 300 more people who are willing to learn more about women’s rights and 300 more potential supporters who will raise their voices for women and girls. From our extensive experience, we’ve learnt that raising money in Mongolia is very closely linked to raising concern. Once you give your hard-earned money to something, you give your support. And, vice versa, if you do not support the issue, you wouldn’t give your money. Every dollar we raise is explicitly connected to the concept of empowerment of women and girls. So, every person who donates money to MONES has an understanding what his or her donation will go to. Extending our donor base is equal to increasing the support to women’s rights and equality.

GFCF: The Mongolian Women’s Fund has been involved in local fundraising for the last 15 years. What advice would you offer community philanthropy peers in terms of effective fundraising strategies – and what would you advise against?

We’ve come to realize that every person is a potential donor. People tend to give, but it is important for people to trust the person they give to.  This is because in the traditional way of giving in Mongolia people usually know the person they extended their help to. So, going beyond the personal network is important, but it is more effective when they know and trust the person who represents the cause. The person could be their family member, their friend, or a public persona they respect and love. So, our big lesson is to build on the existing culture of giving, to extend it and improve it. It took us years to learn this lesson as we thought we could create something new in Mongolia, by bringing something that works in USA or Germany or Nepal and plant it in Mongolia. But, it works most effectively – or at least it has worked for us -when we take the existing culture of giving and lead it to a new direction.

GFCF: You recently attended a conference on women and climate change organized by the International Network of Women’s Funds and Global Greengrants. Why is it important to bring these two issues together?

Mongolia is a country with nomadic pastoralism, where herding families move several times a year in a search of water and pastures. This lifestyle has been preserved for, at least, a thousand years and, today, almost half of the population of 3 million people in Mongolia live in rural areas off their livestock by herding cows, horses, camels, goats, sheep for dairy products, meat, wool and cashmere. This lifestyle is extremely dependent on weather, which has been undergoing noticeable changes due to climate change. Dry summers followed by harsh winters cause the loss of livestock and force nomadic families into poverty, migration. In addition, the boom in mining industry in Mongolia has severely affected many areas as it has encroached on pasturelands.

Women in Mongolia are actively involved in pastoralist lifestyle and they are community.

Grassroots women and women’s groups in rural Mongolia are active and they often more vocal and better organized, their concern often goes beyond their immediate needs and they tend to propose solutions that are locally suitable and can make difference. MONES has supported women’s political participation for the past 7-8 years with a particular focus on rural areas. As a result of its efforts women’s activism in the 5 selected provinces has noticeably increased and women’s representation in decision-making bodies has increased, too. As a result of the increased activism of women and their influence over local-level decision-making has strengthened. One of the major interventions women-leaders undertook was the monitoring of local polices and budgets that affect environment, address migration, employment, etc. and following up on the results. One of the issues that grassroots women’s groups bring up more and more are environmental issues.

GFCF: What would you say are the main opportunities and challenges facing the Fund moving forward?

There is currently no legal legislation in Mongolia that supports or promotes philanthropy. This was the major challenge for MONES, one of the very few national organizations that raises funds from local sources on a regular basis. But, it also helped us to work in a more creative ways to ensure we raise support and money that come from the heart. However, we are happy to share that Ministry of Justice of Mongolia is initiating a bill on charity. And we are proud to share that MONES was invited to participate in this work due to our extensive experience in promoting the culture of philanthropy in Mongolia. As we see it, this bill, when it is approved, will help us to appreciate our donors and recognize their contribution to the society. More importantly, this bill will encourage more people to contribute to the wellbeing of other people who are less advantaged.

Bolor Legjeem is a board member of MONES, the Mongolian Women’s Fund

Call for papers: Inequality, inclusion and social innovation in Latin America and the Caribbean

The International Society for Third Sector Research (ISTR) is issuing a call for papers in advance of its 10th Annual ISTR Regional Conference for Latin America and the Caribbean, to be held in San Juan and Ponce, Puerto Rico from 5th – 7th August 2015. The preceding nine ISTR Regional Conferences addressed issues including: participation and representation; growth and consolidation of civil society; sector cooperation; and civil society self-identity and its responsibility for the development process. This 10th edition will continue to put challenges of imbalance at the forefront by focusing on inequality, inclusion and social innovation, and papers addressing the following themes are currently being solicited:

– Relationship among social inequality, citizen participation, inclusion efforts and sustainability promotion.

– Social innovation for sustainable development with social inclusion.

– Social enterprises, sustainability and new business forms.

– Civil society / third sector institutionalization, training and fortification.

– Democracy, the struggle against corruption, promoting accountability and civil society.

– A changing democracy: linkages between the state, civil society and business for social inclusion and sustainability.

Founded in 1992, the ISTR is an association of researchers and academic centres with associates located around throughout the world. ISTR promotes research and education on civil society and the non-profit sector internationally. The Latin America and the Caribbean Network of ISTR was established in 1996.

The deadline for papers is 28th February 2015. Read more details on the call in English and Spanish.

Latin America and the Caribbean: New report on philanthropy for social justice and peace

Read the report here

US peacebuilding theorist John Paul Lederach talks about achieving “critical yeast” in difficult circumstances, with this arguably being of greater importance than “critical mass.” If the recently circulated report on philanthropy for social justice and peace in Latin America and the Caribbean is to be believed that is exactly what exists: critical yeast. The 32 foundations located and working in the region that participated in this study are mainly public or community foundations. They display a depth of experience that ranges from a focus on women to an expertise in human rights and social activism. A shared concern is shown about the extent of inequalities, lamented by one participant as the “big gap between the haves and have nots”, across the continent. These are foundations that are themselves activist, participative and mission-driven in nature.

The Mobilization of Assets

The importance of mobilizing assets and resources for both grantmaking and organizational sustainability in order to achieve a critical mass of philanthropy is clearly recognized as essential. For most, however, talk of foundation endowments might be the ideal but is often seen as a utopian step too far. The pervasive influence of giving for charitable purposes through the Catholic Church continues to frame the general public understanding of philanthropy. The vogue for corporate social responsibility (CSR) has paralleled this more traditional giving through a proliferation of corporate foundations that promote “private social investment.” Neither of these philanthropic models are felt to address entrenched systemic and structural issues, although the work of community foundations in Mexico and Brazil to influence private sector and individual donors is noted. This work is described as being particularly important given the marked decline in both philanthropic and development aid resources from the Global North.

Efforts to design effective fund development strategies in order to mobilise resources that can support aspects of civil society that promote progressive social change in the region has resulted in some collaborative platforms and alliances. One such is Conmujeres, which involves the Women’s Funds working in Brazil, Chile, Nicaragua, Colombia, Argentina and Bolivia. However the challenge of fund development is still formidable.

“Part of a Process”

What is striking about many of the quotes from locally-based funders contained in the report is a certain sense of humility. There are no grandiose claims about being at the “cutting edge” of development (although many of the survey respondents are) or to assert strategic impact. Instead the emphasis is placed on collective impact between funders and their grantees, with the latter encouraged to be co-designers and protagonists of their own change. Working to ensure that individuals and groups have the power to have a say on issues that affect them is central to what funders for social justice are all about. This was explained by a women’s fund respondent: “We respect the decision of women and their organizations and empower them to define their priorities and use their resources accordingly.” This entails listening and responding to people rather than making them jump through hoops (however strategically crafted) by the foundations themselves.  Another foundation offered the view: “Our partners are a reflection of us: if there is a weakness in their political or external persona that affects us.” For this reason an emphasis is placed on building mutual trust and good communication between funders and their grantees, as well as encouraging peer learning amongst the grantees themselves.

Translating relationship building into effective organizational alliances is reported as being a harder ask. It often requires “paso a paso” (step by step), that can be particularly fraught when the local foundations themselves are struggling to achieve even medium-term sustainability.

“There is a Tremendous Need for Help”

The report, which was issued by the Working Group on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace, concludes with the warning that the relative scale of the community philanthropy institutions involved appears miniscule when measured against the issues that they are seeking to address.  There is the challenge of fund development but also the uneven spread of mission-driven funders across the region. Faced with the problem of diminishing external funding and a local philanthropic culture that tends to shy away from addressing social justice issues, foundations that are committed to social justice and peace have a major task in shifting the accustomed approaches. It is accepted by the study participants that there is an urgent need to hone their messages. As one foundation staff member argued: “Much of the time we are assessing what we do, but not necessarily communicating it, or creating narratives that would convey what we do.” This is an honest critique that may apply to other areas of the globe in addition to Latin American and the Caribbean. It is clear, however, that when the appropriate narrative is crafted – and work on this is ongoing – it will continue to assert the importance of activism and social participation. Community-based philanthropy for social justice and peace in Latin America and the Caribbean may well have its weaknesses, but equally it has the benefit of impressive programmatic experience and commitment that can usefully be shared with others.

For more information on the Working Group on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace, please visit their website at: www.p-sj.org.

Social Good Brazil Summit live stream in English

Since 2012, the Social Good Brazil Program has annually organized a summit to debate and promote the use of technology and new media for social change. During the event, experts, entrepreneurs, opinion makers and great names of social innovation in Brazil and worldwide gather to discuss Social Good. The summit counts on the partnership of +Social Good, a global community formed by innovative people from more than 120 countries.

You are invited to join this global conversation watching the 2014 Social Good Brazil Summit via live stream! The seminar will be held in Florianópolis, Brazil, on 5th – 6th November 2014. For more information on the Summit itself or how to stay tuned from your own computer, please consult the Social Good Brazil website.

 

 

 

 

Final reflections from the EDGE Funders Conference from our three bloggers

Our three bloggers from Vietnam, South Africa and Palestine reflect on the EDGE conference, on engaging with corporations and on how community philanthropy offers an alternative path for sustainable development

Nora Lester Murad, writer and volunteer with Dalia Association, Palestine’s community foundation, Dana Doan, Adviser to the LIN Center for Community Development in Vietnam and Fulufhelo Netswera, Tswera Community Foundation attended the EdgeFunders’ Just Giving Social Philanthropy Conference in Berkeley, CA, where they participated in a session on community philanthropy. They will contributed a series of blogs over the course of the conference (find the others here). 

Dana Doan, LIN Center for Community Development: “A Just Transition Is Only Possible With(out) Companies?”

The second day of the conference plagued me with a constant, badgering question. How can we achieve a just transition if we do (not) involve companies in our efforts? 

The opening plenary for the day started with a calmly delivered speech on all that has gone wrong in our world by the articulate and seemingly disheartened Dr. Walden Bello.  His speech ended with a quote accompanied by a drawing of a man’s face being sucked by an enormous squid, which was intended to represent Goldman Sachs, or perhaps capitalism more generally, sucking the life out of humankind. Despite the recommendations he offered to overcome the gloomy situation that has befallen us all, there was little to be hopeful about when Dr. Bello returned to his seat.

Only one of the three plenary speakers that morning left room for engagement with companies in seeking social and economic justice for workers. Sarita Gupta of Jobs with Justice said, “…we will have to confront corporate power in new and creative ways while wrestling our economy back…”  She advised us to think about the power we have and how to leverage that power. Both Dr. Bello and Ms. Gupta advised that, while the power imbalance remains we must learn how to think ahead of the companies, strategically, “instead of reacting to what could happen, we need to plan around what we know will happen!”

In the afternoon, I participated in the second of three collective discussions where participants, in small groups, are asked to debrief on their experiences during the conference.   At my table, there were eight of us – interestingly, we were all female.  This collective discussion was one aspect of the conference that I particularly appreciated and I took the opportunity to raise questions, including the one that really bothered me on that second day: “Can a just transition ever happen if we do not include companies in the conversations that are taking place during this conference?” 

A couple of members of our group admitted to questioning whether it was better, or not, to go into the belly of the beast to make change.  Several others said that they like this conference specifically because it allows them to talk these issues through with like-minded individuals.  My initial reaction is that we should be talking about how to talk with companies. Following Dr. Bello and Ms. Gupta’s advice, we can use these opportunities to prepare our strategy so that we can be prepared and ready when we do find opportunities to engage with companies. 

After our collective discussion, I attended a breakout session that spoke directly to my question – The Role of the Private Sector in Financing for Social and Ecological Transformation.  The workshop addressed two of my burning questions: Is it possible to work with the private sector to ensure social and economic justice? Does engagement with companies necessarily limit our ability to achieve alternatives to the current system?  I was glad to finally hear form organizations whose strategies included opportunities to work with companies.

Through the breakout session, it became clear that most of the experiences these organizations shared demonstrated reactive and defensive tactics rather than planned strategies. Several nonprofits talked about how they worked with companies who approached them with a desire to work together. The decision to engage was based on the company’s track record and whether both sides’ expectations for the project were acceptable.  Another nonprofit talked about company projects that were causing so much damage to their community that the nonprofit was forced to engage with them. This organization had such a horrifying experience that they can no longer envision the possibility of working in partnership with companies.

On the third, and final day of the conference, I joined Fulufhelo Godfrey Netswela from South Africa and Nora Murad from Palestine in presenting innovations in community philanthropy.  Much of my presentation underscored the role of companies in contributing to local capacity building and empowerment and LIN’s role in facilitating such partnerships to ensure that the community, as a whole benefits.

In Ho Chi Minh City, since Doi Moi and WTO accession, companies have accumulated tremendous resources, which many prove willing to share. LIN Center for Community Development introduces programs that facilitate partnerships with such companies and local nonprofits for shared benefit to our community.  In our mind, if corporate HR Managers, IT Advisors, CPAs and PR Experts coach their counterparts at local nonprofit organizations, it not only helps to build the capacity of nonprofits to achieve their goals but it also helps to build understanding about the choices and challenges companies and nonprofits are asked to make. Such understanding is what I believe can lead to better problem solving.

LIN’s model does not make much sense in Palestine, where companies and their staff are currently less resourced in comparison with the nonprofit community.  In Palestine, it is the international NGOs, the multilateral and the bilateral aid agencies that hold the resources that are needed to build local capacity. But, is there any potential for facilitating true partnerships with international nonprofit organizations to empower local nonprofits and the people of Palestine?  Thus, could or should the wrongdoers in Palestine be engaged to help make things right?

Clearly there is deep frustration and mistrust for the companies and institutions that are perceived to be the perpetrators of what is wrong in our communities or in our world.  What is not clear is how we can solve the enormous challenges of today if we decide to generalize or stereotype companies and institutions and if we intentionally choose not to include them in important conversations about social and ecological transformation.  As Ms. Maria Poblet, from Causa Justa: Just Cause stated during the opening plenary on Day 1, “We need to build unity across differences.” And we will need creativity and imagination to design strategies that build connectivity in order to achieve a just transition.  

Fulu Netwswera, Tswera Community Foundation, South Africa: Lessons for international donors from the community philanthropy field

First of May 2014 was the last day of the EDGE Funders Alliance conference here in Berkeley, CA. There are two observations I make of serious co-incidence about this day and about this conference and they are; one – May Day Rallies will be staged in major cities of the world reminding governments and big capital about the unfairness of the labour system and the sad plight of workers, and two – the theme that ran throughout this conference was that capital and corporates have exploited this planet and humanity to unprecedented and intolerable levels.

Today there is no plenary but only a number of parallel sessions that run till the conference concludes after lunch time. I report specifically from the parallel session in which I participated titled; “Innovations in community philanthropy from Palestine, Southern Africa, and Vietnam: How international donors can help and how they can hurt”. The session presenters were Nora Lester Murad on Palestine, myself on Southern Africa and Dana Doan on Vietnam.

The brilliance of the session was in the facilitation style and skills of Nora who requested all participants through a practical exercise to identify a need and to later give whatever they could in the session room. It immediately became very clear that everyone has a need and everyone has something to offer in life. This, as she explained later, was unfortunately how life is projected at the level of interface between the first and the third world, between international and indigenous/local communities. What is often projected is that local communities have nothing to offer and international/western community has everything to offer. This ideological inclination paralyses the third world and turns it into a passive recipient of grants and donations. Unfortunately still the donated funds are mostly also repatriated back into the very same first world communities that donate through hiring of “expertise”, equipment thereby serving the donor than the recipient yielding minimal tangible outcome.

The three papers that were presented in this session highlighted the following important elements:

 

  • The third world needs less and less “charity” because history suggests that charity and donations (IMF, World Bank, etc.) have over the past failed drastically in alleviating the challenges of the third world;
  • It is important that a new and balanced approach be found and utilised in the interfacing between first and third world. Such an approach should appreciate that indigenous people are the only people who can improve their own conditions, appreciate the knowledge, skills and competence that these communities possess which are central to their livelihood;
  • There is growing distrust of the state and of the third sector, specifically big international NGOs in the third world. The state is distrusted mainly because it is perceived to be corrupt and colluding with big capital against local communities. Third sector players are distrusted because although most of these organisations have worked long in third world communities, local communities generally still do not understand their role nor can they point at their achievements;
  • While there is no state in Palestine, in South Africa and Vietnam the state is unfortunately responsible for pathologies of dependence that goes with welfarism. In the absence of a state in Palestine; big international NGOs have appropriated this role to themselves with negative disempowering consequences; 
  • International community should cease to think that there are homogeneous set of values and principles throughout the world regarding sub-elements of development and recognise that what is important is that which communities clamour to achieve collectively in their quest for self-reliance and self-determination;
  • Elements of commonality between Southern Africa and Palestine are the dispossession of the indigenous people of important livelihood instruments like land and access to clean water, among other things, on which development hinges;

 

The presenters reflected on some examples of “local philanthropy” from the various third world countries, examples which they encourage international funders to consider:

 

  • Strengthening accountability of the third sector in the third world to and in communities in which the third sector operates. These feedback reports to local communities entrenches further moral support and restore confidence in the third sector; 
  • For purposes of instilling pride in local communities, it is important that communities raise their own funds no matter how small. “A shilling a day” Kenyan project was presented as an example that restores community pride and enables communities to demand accountability;
  • Examples of projects that have hallmarks of “economic sustenance” were provided to illustrate the importance of long term community driven and initiated interventions. The Ugandan charcoal project from Masindi Community Foundation was given as a useful and practical example of economic initiative with positive long term results and the LIN (Listen, Inspire, Nature) model for community participation initiative (CPI) for building financial sustainability for the NPOs was discussed.

 

Participants were requested to write on flipcharts important lessons that they take away from the session. These sessions would be typed and shared among the delegates who participated in this session to strengthen the ideology of continuous sharing which is the foundation of philanthropy.

The conference was a very big success. Many papers and practical examples of local and international philanthropy that matters were presented from all over the world. Feedback from interactions with participants suggests that the conference was a mixture of theoretical, philosophical, ideological and practical knowledge sharing. It was indeed one of the most beneficial philanthropic conferences I have attended. 

Nora Lester Murad, Dalia Association, Palestine – Valuable experiences no accident

I’ve been to tens of global meetings and I always find them energizing – both those that inspire and rejuvenate, and those that make be so angry I can’t help but act. I think I have enough experience to say without reservation that EdgeFunders’ Global Social Justice Philanthropy Conference was different than all the rest. For three intense days, funders critiqued the capitalist system from which their institutions emerged, and explored the incredibly inspiring work being done to address global inequality. Since I live and work in Palestine where hopelessness reigns, the mindfulness and intentionality of this group really struck me.

Now, at the airport on my way to return home to Palestine, I am organizing the many contacts I made into piles. I have a list of 19 people who joined a “dine-around” on the topic of Palestine. Few of them fund in Palestine, and a few more of them are exploring expanding their giving to Palestine. Most were just interested in hearing what it’s like to try to do social justice work in a place plagued by long-term oppression and crippling aid dependence.  I won’t be surprised if some of them visit.

I have a list of 13 participants from our workshop on “Local Innovations in Community Philanthropy: Lessons from Palestine, South Africa and Vietnam.” These folks shared their “take away” learning on flipcharts at the end of the workshop, which I will type up and send out. They hung around after the workshop, hugging and smiling, enthusiastic to figure out ways to value local resources through their work.

I have 24 business cards (though there could be some duplicates), most with notes written on them reminding me to send an article or to request more information about some fascinating innovation that I’m sure we can incorporate into our work. It will take days to follow up with them all, time very well spent.

But at the very top of the pile of folks I treasure meeting through EdgeFunders are two people I actually “met” before I came. Dana Doan and Fulu Netswera were speakers on the panel I organized. I was introduced to Dana by our mutual donor, Jenny Hodgson of the Global Fund for Community Foundations. Jenny believed that Dana’s LIN Center in Vietnam had done impressive work that could help Dalia Association’s efforts to expand local private sector philanthropy. She was right. Later, when the opportunity to present a panel came up, it made sense to build on the relationship we’d started with Dana. Fulu was introduced to me by Bhekinkosi Moyo, who was introduced to me by Neville Gabriel, who I met at a Synergos Institute meeting in Namibia several years ago.  Dana, Fulu and I had deep conversations about local philanthropy in preparation for our session. We co-created a format that let us focus on innovations in local philanthropy while recognizing the different contexts in which we work, and that helped us compare and contrast our experiences, leaving space for participants to share too.

It must be noted: Our really useful experience at EdgeFunders was not an accident. Once again, convening and networking funded by northern donors led to opportunities for meaningful collaboration among community philanthropy folks in the global south. I must also thank the Global Fund for Women for the travel grant that enabled Saeeda Mousa, Executive Director of Dalia Association and me to take part in the EdgeFunders conference, and for enabling the planting of seeds that, with our tending, will surely blossom into good things for our communities.

Latest from the EdgeFunders’ Just Giving Social Philanthropy Conference: updates from our on-the-spot bloggers here!

Nora Lester Murad, writer and volunteer with Dalia Association, Palestine’s community foundation, Dana Doan, Adviser to the LIN Center for Community Development in Vietnam and Fulufhelo Netswera, Tswera Community Foundation are at the EdgeFunders’ Just Giving Social Philanthropy Conference in Berkeley, CA, where they will be speaking in a session on community philanthropy. They will contributing a series of blogs over the course of the conference. The most recent blog is at the top.

Nora Lester Murad, Dana Doan and Fulu Netswera, our intrepid bloggers at the EdgeFunders Conference

Wednesday 30th April 2014: Fulu on philanthropy in the context of complex global issues

 Today was another day filled with moving philanthropic experiences shared by foundations here at the EDGE Funders Alliance conference in Berkeley, CA.

The day started with at least three interesting performances. The three poems are inspired by the importance of benevolence and the work of philanthropic organisations all over the world. I realise very much how much it helps to visualise and dramatize important matters than just talk through some often “cold” PowerPoint slides and these plays reinforces an important learning angle:

The first poem presents intricacies and interconnectedness of life all over the plant to which the “well-off” is often oblivious. How important it is to realise that the your refrigerator is stocked with food that is produced of cheap labour exploited by big multinational corporates and that it is polluted by pesticides to which your body would soon falls sick;

  • The second poem was a dialogue between a human and earth. Earth reminds man that they are slowly sliding away from natural existence retreating into their concrete jungles, destroying forests and the little left fresh water sources continually dissing this relationship and fulfilling this void with new found gadgets and toys. Earth reminds man that she will survive with or without this relationship but will mankind survive?; and
  • The third poem paints a scene of two protests taking place at Washington DC. The first protest is Free Palestine movement and the second is Gay Rights parade. The march paints interesting contrast in life priorities and interests. The voices are competing as the two marches move parallel each other towards the capitol shouting free Palestine!….Gay rights now! Towards the end a singular voice emerges in this shouting match; “…Palestine Gay Rights!” These noises all over the world distract us of what in order of priority many may agree needs attention first and by all.

The plenary was equally moving titled, “Strategies for the historic shifts we need”. The panellists comprised Walden Bello who is Philippine author, academic and member of congress; Million Belay director of MELCA Mahiber who is a food sovereign activist from Ethiopia; Sarita Gupta who is executive director of Jobs with Justice and Holly Bartling of the Human Rights and Economic Justice Programme. Important takeaways from this plenary can be summarised as:

  • People do not perpetually tolerate huge and obvious disparities in wealth. The French revolution repeats itself all the time all over the world and we seem not to learn. Will it not repeat itself this time on a global scale? The big question is whose solutions will the general public chose? Will corporate, the rich and middle class retain the privileges that they have when the next class revolution happens? In a highly globalised world that is fast moving towards unprecedented disparities we need to continuously consider that production should firstly benefit local than export markets and capital. Economic policy should thus be subjected to democratic processes and swing away from further corporatisation;
  • Africa and the world are faced with increasing mouths to feed annually amidst disparity in consumption patterns and contrasting increase in climatic change, soil degradation and erosion and poor yield. It seems that everyone has solutions for Africa but no one has genuine interest for its development than just exploitation of Africa and the developing world. The green revolution should therefore recognise the rights of African farmers (mostly women) and their farming methods. Through interventions by international governments and corporations African agriculture has slowly been changed into agribusiness thereby eroding the important cultural elements of farming, water and soil treatment which are long indigenous African traditions. Million gave practical examples of how his programmes are making a difference in the restoration of fish stocks and turning unproductive land into fertile land using traditional methodologies in Ethiopia; and
  • One of the biggest challenge that faces humanity is attaining a livelihood through one’s labour. Trends internationally are that jobs are becoming contingent, part time, contracted thereby minimising the historic value associated with valuable and useful work. In the new forms of labour relations employees no longer negotiate conditions and lack stability and benefits of normal jobs. A variety of Jobs for Justice specifically in the retail sector has led to numerous litigations with giant retailors and their supply chain and logistical feeding industries that are continuously eroding and violating labour rights. Jobs for Justice won a big battle against Wall Mart forcing the industry to ensure that no abuses and exploitation from all its suppliers all over the world is tolerated and workers interests are protected.

 

There were also interesting lessons from one of the day’s parallel session titled “From Transaction to Transformation: why structural racialization analysis is essential for challenging global corporate power”. The discussions led by John Powell, Taj James and Saru Jayaraman flagged the following points:

 

  • The role of government overtime has shifted to protect corporates who are wrongfully perceived to be economic producers than protecting the interests of the general public and workers;
  • Explored how big corporates always get their favourite policies approved by legislature despite public protests because they are able to “buy” and sponsor power acquisition; and
  • Provided evidence proved that continuous expansion of corporate rights shrinks civil and human rights;

 

The political other represent those with no political voice and therefore no legislative representation. As the public gains more rights corporate slowly erode these rights. Example: when the public won the right to vote; the corporate South in America ensured the introduction of new legislative measure like voter ID and no vote rights for convicted felons.

The goal post keeps shifting to ensure the public is on the back foot and corporate interests are secured. There is recognition of the growth in anxiety among the racial other (blacks, Latinos and Muslim). We should realise that we can only deal with the environment and racial prejudices from public policy front and not from the economic (income inequality) front first. We can’t address inequality through tinkering with the economy like the minimum wages. The struggle should be for equitable in ownership across race. Although philanthropy realises the challenges of inequality and marginalisation its response unfortunately is often that we have bigger global challenges to confront like ecology thereby ignoring the root causes of the same major challenges.

Lookout for my next and final report from the EDGE Funders Alliance conference at the Bay in San Francisco FNetswera@gmail.com 

Wednesday 30th April 2014: Fulu asks whose side we choose to be on

Yesterday was an important day for philanthropy worldwide as the second EDGE (Engaged Donors for Global Equity) Funders Alliance conference got underway here in Berkeley, CA.

The facilitator opened the conference with a chorus, “Whose side are you on?”, that forced me reflect on the possibilities of the duality or multiplicity of side that mankind has to consider for and as their personal, social and economic choices for association. Or are there obvious choices really I wonder? How obvious is it to an everyday man the clarity of these choices or are these choices at all? Are the choices as clear either for corporates or is it survival of the fittest in this economic Wild West?

1. To be one with nature or to destroy our habitat as we know it?

2. To continue the capitalist/corporate greed at an all profit or nothing orientation and majority profit for a few?

To complement the chorus; a short video clip (ecology project) by Gopal Dayaneni that educates all about the meaning and importance of the principles of Eco (home) ology (nature/biodiversity) was screened suggesting that man “is/should be” one with nature. However man has taken a greedy path of extractive role by amassing finite earthly resources at a pace unsustainable. 

It seemed by the introduction of the inaugural plenary that philanthropy has chosen its side in this “struggle” by the introduction of the conference plenary titled “components of just transition”. The discussants (Sarah Hobson, Susan George, Kumi Naidoo and Maria Poblet) provided a compelling argument for the urgency of the required “transition” which should be “just” to all humans and ecology. 

Without repeating the entire plenary; among others, were important talk points and deductions:

 

  • There is a flaw in thinking the economy can sustain an infinite growth and mankind has to change that attitude;   
  • Man should consider possibilities of an economy with minimal externalities (pollution, labour exploitation, huge gaps between rich and poor, etc.);
  • Unfettered capitalism leads to inequality. Mankind (neoliberal economists [banks, gas companies, etc.]) have eroded the gains of post-world war (decolonization, women’s rights, universal health care, etc.) and the struggle should be to consolidate some of these gains.

The challenge we all face is global and systematic and small man is largely not able to influence major policies that matter. Kumi Naidoo closed by reminding everyone on the save earth campaign that mankind has already run out of time and that the planet needs no saving because it has the power to replenish with or without mankind.

The big question looms still; whose side are the philanthropic “intermediaries”? Do we realize the existence of the philanthropic movement is an outcome of the same extractionist capitalist system and we are complacent in perpetuation of the capitalist trickle down ideology? Naidoo reminded all that in all of history where mankind won; the struggles were characterized by ultimate sacrifice. It seems that mankind has already started an uprising against corporate and political greed worldwide if one chooses to look at it closely.

Gandhi: “…first they will ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”

The subsequent exchanges in parallel sessions were as cross sectional as they were informative. Lookout for my subsequent reports from San Francisco FNetswera@gmail.com 

Tuesday 29th April 2014: Dana on the vexed question of whom it is that intermediaries serve? Donors or communities?  

The conference started with an adapted version of the union organizing song “What Side Are You On?”  Little did I realize at the time how much that little ditty would affect me throughout the first day of dialogues.

My first breakout session of the day focused on “The importance of intermediaries in advancing social justice”. I choose that workshop because I assumed they would talk about organizations like the one I represent.  Then, somewhere in the middle of the presentations and questions from panelists, I became confused by the way we were talking about intermediaries.

The panelists shared that, to them, intermediaries are:

  • Issue experts and thought leaders;
  • Networkers and collaborators;
  • Making grassroots organizing possible;
  • Helping big donors disburse grants to small organizations;
  • Offering political cover to Foundation staff looking that want to overcome Trustee tendencies towards traditional philanthropy;
  • Important mechanisms for getting resources to the base;
  • Providing technical assistance to grassroots organizations;
  • Giving funders the stories they need;
  • Making it possible for their organizations to seek systemic change;
  • More effective messengers for change; and/or
  • The most loyal and strategic funder partners.

While some of these ideas fit my organization, others did not sit well.

Then Nora Murad, from the Dalia Association in Palestine, which I consider to be a peer organization, asked a question, making it clear that she does not see her organization as an intermediary either. Nora and I had an opportunity to talk for a bit about this after the workshop and, through that conversation, I realized my confusion lay in the fact that the discussion focused on being intermediaries for the funders.

For me and my colleagues at the LIN Center for Community Development, in Vietnam, our intermediary role was constructed to benefit our community. The work that we do and the organizations we support are and always have been determined based on our mission – to improve social outcomes by organizing different stakeholders that desire change.  As such, I really like and better relate to the term and description for Backbone Organizations, as coined by The Greater Cincinnati Foundation and FSG, in a 2012 report.  While we track the outcomes of our small grants, more important to us is how we can build common ground, how we can help to form new partnerships and how we can ensure good communication’s and a transparent process that people can understand and trust.

That’s all just to say that I do know what side we are on.

We are on the side of humanity.

Tuesday 29th April 2014: Nora again, on moving the conversation up a gear and a welcome break from log frames

By mid-morning on Day One, I was already basking in gratitude. Hearing these folks talk about transformation of the global economy, dismantling of power structures that perpetuate inequality, renewing relationships between human beings and the planet—wow! Coming from Palestine where donors talk about inputs and outputs and indicators and where “good practice” is often defined by submission of timely reports, my hope is refreshed. I had no idea that people were still talking about social justice. That people’s movements were still a living aspiration. Then, when the lights dimmed for the showing of the eight-minute film, “The Meaning of Home” I found myself holding my breath. I didn’t want to miss a word or risk spoiling the moment by the banal act of breathing. With powerful visuals, impassioned explanations, the film explained the components of ecological justice in a way that made me want to cheer. And the day got even better when at every opportunity these funders asked themselves, “What is our role in global transformation?” I am inspired!

 Tuesday 29th April 2014: Nora, on being neither a “funder” nor a “non-funder”

A pre-conference meeting preceded the opening welcome panel, and already the contradictions and challenges of defining “community philanthropy” have come to the fore. The organizers of EdgeFunders’ Just Giving Social Philanthropy Conference in Berkeley, CA called for a caucus of “non-funder” conference attendees. Slowly, as the word spread, the small room filled up with an exciting mix of climate justice activists, food sovereignty advocates, indigenous leaders, and others.

It made sense to me that folks who aren’t donors might have unique needs to fully benefit from a meeting primarily composed of grantmakers, but I am not sure whether or not Dalia Association, Palestine’s community foundation, is a “funder” or not. One could say that Dalia is a funder. Dalia is a community foundation. Dalia gives grants. On the other hand, Dalia is not a donor. We aren’t “giving” “our” “money” to others. We are “mobilizing” “collective” “resources” for “communities” to use because it is their “right.”

As the conversation goes on, I’m realizing that the concept of “philanthropy” that is being used is perhaps unclear, or perhaps I don’t agree with it, or perhaps it is in transition. Are the ones who give money “philanthropists” and the ones who give time, expertise, sweat, ideas, passion merely “receivers?” I take the risk to raise this question and it is warmly received, embraced actually. One guy says that all the resources that funders have were actually stolen from others, and that even funders who recognize that the need for massive social transformation may not acknowledge that philanthropy too must change. We’re all in process. What a very exciting conversation…

He Daofeng wins second Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize!

The finalists came from India, Russia (2), Latvia, Brazil and Turkey (2) but it was He Daofeng who was announced the winner of the second Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize on 27th March 2014 at the WINGSForum in Istanbul. The £5,000 prize is awarded annually to an individual “who has demonstrated remarkable leadership, creativity and results in developing philanthropy for progressive social change in an emerging market country or countries.” Last year’s prize winners were Jane Weru and Kingsley Mucheke for their work to build assets among landless slum dwellers in in Kenya.

He Daofeng, this year’s prize-winnerHe Daofeng is Executive President of the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation (CFPA) the first GONGO to become a fully independent foundation and Chair of the China Foundation Center. In his work there and at the China Foundation Center, Mr He has pioneered the use of open and businesslike management methods in China’s philanthropic sector. His work with high net worth individuals as well as more modest givers has helped both to encourage the practice of philanthropy, and to stress the importance of accountability.

In a recent interview with Alliance magazine, Mr He discussed his personal motivation to join the field: “I was a farmer for many years, so I understood the plight of poor farmers. I was also a researcher looking at China’s rural reform in the 1980s and I saw that social reform was needed to underpin economic reform. After Tiananmen Square I thought it would be useless to push for political reform. Rather, we should promote philanthropy and cultivate social self-governance, the civil society spirit and citizen obligation. So social change was the industry sector I chose at the time.”

The “Olga” prize commemorates the memory of Olga Alexeeva, a Russian-born but global citizen who had been a pioneer in the world of emerging markets philanthropy and whose sudden death in July 2011 marked an enormous loss to the global philanthropy field. 

Guest blog: New directions in Southern Human Rights Funding

The next generation of foundations in the Global South will likely be the vanguard of experimentation and learning. A look across the current funding landscape for human rights and justice in the Global South suggests reason for both disappointment and for optimism. For the sake of this review, I put aside official government aid—there is plenty there to discuss—and only look at the smaller world of private philanthropic giving.

Most past criticisms of foundation support for human rights and justice are still relevant. These critiques—apart from the very real problem of simply not enough money—include concern over weak funder strategies, timidity, short attention span, evaluation fetish, poor or no accountability and the absence of centres of research and learning committed to funding rights and justice.

Most funders who express concern about poverty, injustice and the abuse of human rights still employ strategies that that can be described as ‘charity’—funding the provision of services to reduce suffering or an immediate injustice. Although these are important if you are the victim, these strategies are silent on the causes of injustice, and leave them untouched. As a result, charitable approaches rarely deal with the frequently invisible structural sources of injustice, be they legal, economic, political or cultural.

Foundations also often have unrealistically short time frames with internal pressure to fund something new, rather than sticking with the same old problem. However, the exact opposite is necessary if one is interested not only in documenting an abuse, but working to eradicate it. Social change takes time and effort, and often requires strategic evaluation assessment and adjustment. Few foundations, however, think in terms of decades of support, rather than in yearly cycles.

Another problem is foundations’ often misguided efforts to measure success, and their seemingly blind attraction to metrics. To be sure, measuring and understanding success can be a powerful tool for learning and correction. Still, most contemporary evaluative work looks at managerial and financial issues, does not measure social impact, and is deeply burdensome. Few foundations, moreover, have effective learning mechanisms.

Funder accountability is another gaping hole. An oft-cited example is the Gates Foundation, whose assets are greater than the Gross Domestic Product of 40 of Africa’s 52 nations, but is accountable to only three trustees – Bill & Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet – none of whom are African. Most funding for human rights in the Global South is still coming from the North. As a result, this is where donors take most decisions about issue framing and the choice and deployment of methods, frequently without voice from the regions where the work will be done. While care must be taken not to over-regulate foundations and unduly restrict their creative abilities, there remains room for more thoughtful rules about governance and accountability. This is especially true where such enormous power and (what is now public) wealth are unhealthily concentrated in the hands of a few.

What, then, is the good news about global funding for human rights? There are some exciting trends worthy of note, including new funders, different kinds of funders, and new networks to strengthen them.

Over the past two decades, the global foundation landscape has changed profoundly, with many new foundations based in, and indigenous to, the Global South. New institutions like TrustAfrica (Senegal) and the African Women’s Development Foundation (Ghana) now speak to Africa, from Africa. Though still heavily reliant on overseas funding, these groups are increasingly raising money from African donors, including individuals, civil society groups and corporations. For example, several African national air carriers have “donate spare change” envelopes in the seat pockets. More importantly, these African donor organizations offer a different voice in the intra-funder conversation.

Other independent foundations in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East are increasingly visible—though not all are committed to human rights and justice. Several large funds in the Persian Gulf, for example, seem more interested in marketing the donor’s name. But in another exciting example, the Welfare Association in Palestine has shifted over the years from providing services to funding programmes focused on rights and justice. In Israel, the New Israel Fund is under attack by conservatives for its firm support of human rights and social justice. In India the Dalit Foundation is run by, organizes, trains and champions the rights of dalits (so-called untouchables) against remarkable odds.

There has also been a rapid growth of funds explicitly devoted to human rights and justice. Some, like the Brazil Human Rights Fund and the Arab Human Rights Fund, are specifically designed to serve a particular region or, in the case of the Fund for Global Human Rights, to offer grants more broadly. Others like the Astraea Lesbian Fund for Justice , which provides grants in 39 countries, and the Santamaria Fundacion GLBT in Colombia, are among a rapidly growing number of foundations that support LGBT rights, and can be found in almost every corner of the globe.

Another important trend is the growth of community-based funds across the Global South. Unlike their counterparts in the U.S. and U.K., where community foundations are often politically timid, many of these community donor groups help build constituencies among marginalized groups and negotiate for their rights with the state. The Kenya Community Development Foundation (Nairobi), the Waqfeyat al Maadi Community Foundation (Cairo) and the Amazon Partnerships Foundation (Ecuador), among many others, pose a new vision for developing stronger communities. They also challenge many assumptions of outside development aid, such as imposed problem identification and strategies, and lack of community agency. Most mainstream foundations in the U.S. and Europe, as well as most bi-lateral aid agencies, are unaware of this growing phenomenon.

Waqfeyat al Maadi Community Foundation, Egypt

Perhaps the most impressive collection of funds are those focusing on the rights of women and girls. While the Global Fund for Women (US) and MamaCash (the Netherlands) operate worldwide, a rapidly growing number of women’s funds are anchored in national and local communities. From Serbia to Mongolia, and from Bulgaria to Bangladesh, there are almost 50 members of the International Network of Women’s Funds (INWF). This number does not include the women’s funds in the U.S. While many of these funds have very limited budgets, they represent a new movement of philanthropic giving. One particularly impressive example is Tewa, the women’s fund of Nepal, which has raised funds from over 3,000 Nepali donors, most of very modest means. Although large foundations often belittle small donations of this kind, they misunderstand the critical importance of building local power and community ownership. Tewa and the other women’s funds are closely linked to one another by the INWF, and demonstrate a high degree of collective work and joint learning, unlike most mainstream foundations. In some instances, women’s funds form regional coalitions, as in the case of Latin America, to deal with common issues.

INWF is just one of several active funder networks supporting human rights and justice in the Global South. These new networks have a vitality and seriousness of purpose largely missing in the North. Exceptions include groups such as Ariadne in Europe, which has partnered with the International Human Rights Funders Group to work on funding for human rights worldwide. Several issue-based groups (e.g., Foundations for Peace) and location-specific ones (e.g., the African Grantmakers Network) are actively engaging their members in work that deals with human rights, social justice and peacebuilding issues—changing the traditional role of foundation associations.

So, while old problems remain, new funders are emerging with an explicit commitment to justice and rights. They are challenging the dominant philanthropic discourses, and in some instances, are experimenting with radically different practices. In one example of new thinking, a few groups are talking about moving away from sole reliance on foundation support and looking not at discrete grants—but the possibility of tapping small percentages of massive international financial resource flows. Ideas like these point to the role of this next generation of foundations in the South as the likely vanguard of experimentation and learning.

Christopher Harris was Senior Program Officer for Philanthropy in the Peace and Social Justice Program of the Ford Foundation for a decade. He now works as a consultant to foundations, and works with the international Working Group on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace, which he founded. 

This article was originally published on openGlobalRights a new and accessible platform for debate about advocacy strategies, funding, successes, and failures. It is also available in Spanish, French, Portuguese and Arabic.

New on the GFCF website

1. Community philanthropy and power

No matter where they are located, the multi-stakeholder nature of community philanthropy organizations means that they will always have to deal with the tension that arises from juggling donor interests and pursuing social justice imperatives. Indeed, part of their task is to work out ways to successfully build bridges between the twoRead more

From the latest edition of Alliance magazine, Community philanthropy and power.

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2. Tracking the growth of organized philanthropy: is it the missing piece in community development?

From the 2013 CIVICUS State of Civil Society Report

This article provides an overview of the current state of global community philanthropy, with particular reference to the global South. It describes the factors that are driving a growth in community philanthropy, and the key features of this distinct section of civil society and its role in driving community development agendas that are locally formulated. This small but growing field, which emphasises local asset development and multi-stakeholder good governance, may have particular relevance in the context of increased limitations experienced by and reduced resources for CSOs in many parts of the world. Read more

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3. Profile of Uluntu Community Foundation

“What will make us different? The first five years of the Uluntu Community Foundation” is now available for download as a PDF file.