Alina Porumb focuses on values underpinning community philanthropy in Olga Alexeeva Prize Lecture

 

The 2015 Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize was awarded to Alina Porumb, Strategic Philanthropy Programme Director of Romania’s Association for Community Relations (ARC). On the occasion of the Emerging Markets Philanthropy Forum, hosted by the China Foundation Center and held in Beijing from 23 – 24 November 2015, Alina Porumb delivered the Olga Alexeeva Prize Lecture, focusing on the values underpinning community philanthropy in Romania: 

“The Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize is a great honour and a deeply meaningful recognition of my contribution to philanthropy.

Firstly, due to its connection to the memory of Olga: I remember her courageous, clear and strong voice at the international conferences that I attended. She was an advocate for philanthropy, but also for reflecting critically on our work and doing philanthropy well. Olga stands in my memory as a person of high integrity and high standards, as someone for whom half measures are not enough, who is great at identifying the next step and seeing the potential of each situation. I am grateful for the community of philanthropy professionals around the world who took on the responsibility of managing the Award. Though this, they are bringing to surface inspirational leaders and great work in the field of philanthropy globally, expanding the reach of these practices. Thank you for keeping Olga’s voice strong. Thank you for carrying her legacy. Thank you for taking the next step for a community of sharing, learning and appreciation between peers working to expand philanthropy in contexts in which it is not yet mainstream.

Secondly, this prize is meaningful because it can be celebrated among peers. I know that all of you in this room and all those nominated for the award understand clearly the challenges in emerging societies: lack of trust, defensiveness, inequality, poor governance and poor institutional capacity to tackle complex social issues.  But all of you being here are also aware of the great potential that our societies hold in terms of growing resources and talents as well as a genuine willingness and joy to give, be engaged and contribute. All of you here are the optimists in our societies who were willing to see the potential, the process of the glass filling, even when it was not yet half full. But you are also the realists who have to deal with the daily obstacles towards achieving this potential. It takes courage, it takes determination and most of all it takes persistence. Many of my fellow nominees have been engaged in this work for at least 10 years and sometimes longer. I am honored to be part of a community of philanthropy practitioners in emerging societies, one that understands, values and appreciates the complexity as well as creativity of this work.

Thirdly, it is very meaningful to me that this nomination came from the Romanian community foundations, a field that I have helped build and expand. This feedback from the field and the genuine appreciation beyond divides of institutional politics, in a context in which we’re better at criticizing than supporting those who take leadership, was deeply moving to me. Genuine appreciation, like philanthropy, is truly a gift. It cannot be demanded, it can only be offered. Genuine appreciation, like philanthropy, helps build communities and heals the wounds of division and isolation that we feel in our work. It also helps foster and expand the talents inside that community.

The Romanian community foundations movement has grown in the last ten years, from an idea to 15 foundations (and still counting). More than 40% of the Romanian population has now access to a community foundation, and newer ones can base their work on the experiences of other communities.

The success for the community foundations in Romania is not the result of my work. It is the result of many talented and inspiring leaders – both from community foundations, but also from partners, donors and support organizations in Romania and internationally. My role was rather in building and safeguarding a space where all these talents and resources could come together and strengthen each other; a long term perspective that offered inspiration and guidance; and a fierce belief that through steady work, obstacles will gradually dissolve, that even if we don’t yet know how, we will learn to make it through.

I have brought to this work the values of my generation and my cultural space. I was 13 when Romania has changed a long-term totalitarian regime and started with high hopes, but fragile steps, to build itself as a democratic society, learning from the experience of other countries and reconnecting with its own past. But even before this change, signs of freedom were growing stronger in society. I remember vividly my Romanian language teacher and class master who even before the change encouraged us strongly to think for ourselves, when the mode of operation was to learn by heart what other people were thinking. English gave me access to a world of experience in the field of civil society and philanthropy. I was 19 when I translated a workshop on advocacy, 21 when I started a local branch of a democracy NGO, 25 when I led a research on the grantmakers support for NGOs in Romania.

Being a part of the international philanthropic community, I have learned about community foundations being centers of hope, about the need to invest trust and look for leaders who will be there ten years onward, carrying their work with passion. C.S. Mott Foundation, WINGS, Global Fund for Community Foundations, The Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society at CUNY, Center for Philanthropy Slovakia, UK, Canada and US (community) foundations networks have provided opportunities for learning for me and my Romanian colleagues and we are deeply grateful for this support. I listened to professionals around the world, but more importantly I have observed them in action and been inspired by their work and leadership. This way, I could create my own understanding of what good philanthropy practice is. Then I tried it out and learned from what was working and what was failing. Having received all this knowledge and support, there was no choice but to pass it forward, to encourage leaders of communities to find their inspiration and then refine their own understanding through action and reflection. I have recently heard the story of a donor who felt morally obliged to donate for a scholarship because his grandfather had been supported as well to get higher education more than 50 years ago. We know from our experience that generosity multiplies. Each gift we make will motivate others to give as well and each courageous act we take will inspire others too. So please keep doing this good work.

Some highlights of community foundations work in Romania:

  • Over 1.5 million US$ were invested in local communities through more than 1000 grants and 500 scholarships.
  • Over 10,000 donors contributed only in the last year through sport-based fundraising events.
  • Romanians have a strong interest in supporting children and youth and the future leaders, with about one forth of the grants and all scholarship going towards education. Health, social needs, community spaces, culture and environment are the next supported fields.
  • Many community foundations support giving circles and youth-led philanthropy.

All this work comes with a high level of energy and creativity, a drive to see opportunities and find ways to deal with challenges. It also comes with a strong amplifying effect, creating a movement of generous and active people and communities across Romania. Also, beyond these more immediate results, the key success of the program lays in the creation of a sustainable local infrastructure for philanthropy and civil society engagement that continues to expand and diversify its work.

I would venture to say that the success of community foundations is a combination of broad trends in Romanian society and good timing. But the driving force is the quality of the leadership, with generous and committed individuals supporting this work, each in its role, from local to international levels. In the Romanian context, this came through the emergence of a layer of young professionals, educated after the transition to democracy and connected to what was happening internationally through travel, work or Internet. Together with an active choice to stay in their community, to build a family and invest in the future of their children, they have become more aware of the resources they had as well as the need to look for community based (rather than individual) solutions.

My exciting job was to find and support these motivated leaders and offer, through a network of engaged partners and supporters, access to knowledge and flexible financial support, that allowed for local decision-making on priorities. Study trips, workshops and conferences were helpful in knowing local and international practices, but also in building a ‘community of community foundations’.

What is next? While community foundations managed to reach out to mobile and active parts of the communities and engage them in taking leadership to support local needs, there are still many complex issues facing more vulnerable and excluded groups. There are already successful examples of community foundations supporting inter-generational projects, reaching out to rural areas and acting against discrimination of roma, but all these are areas that call for further engagement. There is a need to stimulate communities to look beyond what they know and are familiar with, towards spaces and groups that they don’t yet know so well, to help them bridge their inner divides, build trust and practice the values of generosity and solidarity. Or in the words of Bucharest community foundation, to support all the inhabitants of their community to feel at home.

Why is it important to continue to build philanthropy based on these values? Latest events, many violent and traumatic, have placed a mirror for our societies to help us define how we want to go about building our future. As of last week, Romania has a new government, with the previous one resigning after massive protests sparked by a fire with tragic consequences at a rock concert in a club with the symbolic name of Colectiv (collective) two weeks ago. Over 50 people lost their lives and over 150 were injured.

The fire had such strong consequences due to poor design and implementation of fire safety regulations. After the event, lots of similar places, but also schools, kindergartens, concerts or sport arenas were revealed to be missing the ‘stamp’ of the from fire department, pointing to a systemic problem. The public accused the corruption, but also lack of care from politicians to issues of public safety. Good debates were carried, but there was also lots of anger and collective blaming.

Romania called for better leaders and competent managers, but also for reflection on how each of us contributes to maintaining a public system that under performs. Clarifying the space of society in the act of governance became a central piece of the debate. While Romanian society is no longer patient, these are exactly the type of changes that cannot happen from one day to the other, the type of changes that require long term vision, collective talent and gradual built up that community foundations can aspire to contribute to. There is a need for a long-term, systemic and ‘quiet and long term revolution’ as my colleague from Sibiu community foundation calls our work.

Colectiv fire and the collective wake-up call that it has sparked came in a wider context of tragic violence cause by terrorism and extremism internationally. Within just two weeks, a Russian plane was crashed, a suicide bombing took place in Beirut and a series of killings with automatic guns took place in Paris. Romania had not recovered yet from the emotions of the Colectiv tragedy, but has been horrified to learn about the events in Paris. Some, but much less, found out about the events in Beirut as well. And reactions of solidarity and shock, of fear and defensiveness as well as of prejudgment and discrimination continued as they did in other places in the world as well.

A poignant sign posted in the Romanian debates was showing that ‘we want change, but we don’t want to be the ones to change’. It carries a strong message that more people are ready to stop the blame game and take responsibility. Even if what happens to our world is so far from us that we cannot fully understand or relate to. Even if we feel overwhelmed with the size and complexity of the issues. Even there is not a balanced reflection in the international media of all these events or particularly when these events are reflected differently through the lenses of geography, ethnicity, race or religion. We see how violence and fear lead to more violence, but also to more fear, stereotyping, and closing in. What happens globally is strongly linked with the local and national realities. From all the corners of the world we need to step in to care for the whole world. It is our world too.

Individually and collectively, we need to take responsibility beyond our immediate environment. To practice generosity, solidarity and compassion, the values connected to the understanding of philanthropy as ‘love for humankind’. And practice less acceptance of intolerance. We need to step up our game and really reflect if our philanthropy practice is truly based on all these values. Also to think what we can do to further promote them further, proactively engaging faith based and secular communities, media and IT, businesses and government, friends, families and organizations in making sure that our societies are really based on the philanthropic values of solidarity and compassion. And the more resources we have – access to knowledge, networks, money, time or talent – the more these also come with a responsibility for the whole, be it a community or the world.

In light of these challenges, let me finish with a few questions for each of us individually and for us as a philanthropic community around the world: are our responsibilities and actions at the level of our resources and potential? Or can we do more?  Can we learn more from the practices of others and the reality checks we receive? Can we change to reflect the future challenges rather than repeat what we have successfully been doing before? Can fully activate the generosity, solidarity and compassion of our constituencies? Can we give more consideration to those ‘unsolvable’ issues, the ones that we don’t know how to approach, because they are big and interconnected?

Even if we don’t yet know how, together we can learn to make it through.”

Philanthropy needs to step up its game, fight intolerance, live its values: 3rd Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize winner, Alina Porumb, tells Beijing conference

Alina Porumb, strategic philanthropy programme director of Romania’s Association for Community Relations (ARC), accepted the 2015 Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize at the Second Emerging Markets Philanthropy Forum in Beijing on 23 November.

The core of Alina Porumb’s work in the last ten years has been helping to create an active community foundations movement in Romania. There are now 15 community foundations in Romania, and 10,000 Romanians gave to sports-focused public fundraising events in the last year. “In addition to the numbers,” wrote one judge, “she has been successful at helping people break through the psychological barrier of authoritarianism and having individuals collaborate to work on community problems.”

Each year, the prize winner is invited to give a speech. Before an audience of philanthropy practitioners and supporters in Beijing, Alina recounted how she had been 13 when Romania underwent the transition from totalitarian regime to young democracy. Even before then, she said, “I remember vividly my Romanian language teacher and class master who even before the change encouraged us strongly to think for ourselves, when the mode of operation was to learn by heart what other people were thinking. English gave me access to a world of experience in the field of civil society and philanthropy.”

To her fellow nominees and the rest of the audience, Alina acknowledged that none of this work to nurture and grow new cultures and practices of effective, accountable and transparent philanthropy is easy: “I know that all of you in this room and all those nominated for the award understand clearly the challenges in emerging societies: lack of trust, defensiveness, inequality, poor governance and poor institutional capacity to tackle complex social issues.  But all of you being here are also aware of the great potential that our societies hold in terms of growing resources and talents as well as a genuine willingness and joy to give, be engaged and contribute. All of you here are the optimists in our societies who were willing to see the potential, the process of the glass filling, even when it was not yet half full. But you are also the realists who have to deal with the daily obstacles towards achieving this potential. It takes courage, it takes determination and most of all it takes persistence.”

Fellow nominees and organizers join Alina Porumb on stage in Beijing

In closing, Alina reflected that now, more than ever and at a time when communities are coming under pressure and insecurities are easily exploited phlanthropy need to stand firm in defence of such values as generosity, solidarity, compassion and act against intolerance.

“Let me finish with a few questions for each of us individually and for us as a philanthropic community around the world: are our responsibilities and actions at the level of our resources and potential? Or can we do more?  Can we learn more from the practices of others and the reality checks we receive? Can we change to reflect the future challenges rather than repeat what we have successfully been doing before? Can fully activate the generosity, solidarity and compassion of our constituencies? Can we give more consideration to those ‘unsolvable’ issues, the ones that we don’t know how to approach, because they are big and interconnected?”

The other finalists were:

Read the full speech

Find out more about the Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize

UK Community Foundations conference focuses on leadership

A peace wall visited during the UKCF Belfast conference, © J. DuckworthLeadership that has the potential to transform vision into reality was the theme of the UK Community Foundations (UKCF) conference held in Belfast in September. Over 250 delegates workshopped, master-classed and shook a foot or two at the traditional ceilidh sessions to ground their respective realities. Voices from across the Atlantic, in the form of Paul Schmitz of Leading Inside Out and Rahul Bhardwaj of the Toronto Foundation explored leadership from the community up. The mandatory tour of the ironically named Belfast “peace walls”, in contrast took many of the UK delegates by surprise. How can one translate this stark reality into a vision in this still physically divided society – many asked. “But I thought it was all over”, said another delegate in a startled tone. Well yes – but!

 

Forging European solidarity

A pre-conference session on “Exploring community foundations: Their roles and prospects across Europe” brought together representatives from a range of community foundations in Central and Eastern Europe to discuss an update on the state of philanthropy in Europe. In addition to the growing numbers of community foundations (much assisted by the consistent investment by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation) a number of transformative trends were identified that, while context specific, were seen as expanding the role of community philanthropy. Nurturing participation and building social capital were both high on the list shared by Professor Haralan Alexandrov of the New Bulgarian University. He argued the importance of the sometimes intangible contribution of community foundations, such as offering a responsive, caring approach to community needs as compared to the more rigid bureaucratic practices. He also noted the work of community philanthropy in the area of cultural and community identity, a particularly sensitive topic in many parts of Europe at present. Community foundations are managing to strike a delicate balance between protecting local cultural artefacts and symbols while, at the same time, introducing new concepts and ideas. They are a core factor in empowering communities to “re-invent themselves” in the face of globalization.

Specific examples of current challenges were shared by Johanna Von Hammerstein, CEO of the BὒrgerStiftung Hamburg and by Jasna Jasarevic, Executive Director of the Tuzla Community Foundation. Jasna described the intensive programme of work with 20 different communities that are supported to work together in an inclusive manner; while Johanna reflected on the power of arts and culture to encourage participation. The issue of inclusion was taken up in a sharing of experiences and challenges around the inclusion of members of the Roma community across Europe. Beata Hirt of the Healthy City Community Foundation reflected on her experience in Slovakia over the past two decades, where initially developmental programmes had to be put in place to ensure Roma participation. But while this approach was no longer needed, there are still societal challenges where people fear difference. The recent advent of refugees in Europe was also felt to increase the risk of a popular politics that is exclusionary in nature, although Irene Armbruster, CEO of the BὒrgerStiftung Stuttgart, commented on the number of new volunteers that were getting in touch in order to offer support to the refugee families that are arriving in Germany.

Modelling community foundation support and exchange across Europe, Hans Fleisch, Secretary General Association of the Bundesverband Deutscher Stiftungen (Association of German Foundations) outlined the main pillars of a new European Community Foundation Initiative that will focus on fostering leadership by peer learning and exchanges, as well as raising the profile of community philanthropy in Europe through studies, donor education and advocacy. The initial five year programme of work is being taken forward by the Association of German Foundations, Center for Philanthropy in Slovakia and UKCF, around a six point strategic plan due to be rolled out in 2016.  One aspect of the work will see the design of a European conference for community foundations, to raise greater awareness and support networking across Europe.

UKCF Delegates convene at Belfast’s Assembly Hall, © J. Duckworth

 

Has community philanthropy a role in supporting refugees?

This was the question that was asked at a GFCF Breakfast meeting during the UKCF gathering. Some 20 representatives of community foundations from Romania, Slovakia, Germany, Hungary, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and the UK agreed that there was a contribution to be made, although to be effective it needed to be context sensitive and coordinated with more general civil society responses. Tamas Sasaurszki of the Ferencvaros Community Foundation outlined the current situation in Hungary, which is caught between official political reaction and the practical response of many local volunteers in helping the refugees passing through their country. The fact that the people coming forward to volunteer are often from outside the traditional NGO sector was noted as a potential opportunity for greater participation in the future, but also a phenomenon that community foundations need to be able to respond to. The community foundations in Milton Keynes and Kent, in the south-east of England, described the immediate pressures, including the position of unaccompanied children arriving in their communities.

It was agreed that follow up consultation would be useful in order to share more detailed information and to provide a platform for linking with other philanthropic initiatives. The GFCF has also launched a survey in this regard, in order to map the various community foundations reacting to the refugee crisis across Europe. Indeed, many community foundation activists in Eastern Europe already have direct experience of living through, and organizing, in the face of societal change. This offers a real opportunity to bring vision and reality together through the principle of solidarity.

Avila Kilmurray, GFCF Director – Policy & Strategy 

What can community philanthropy offer a Europe of refugees?

Parc Maximilien, Brussels, Sept. 2015, (Licensed Under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)At a meeting of community foundation representatives from across Europe, Jasna Jasarevic, from the Tuzla Community Foundation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, reminded us that although her country was not a transit area for refugees, Bosnians were experienced in responding to emergencies. “We can identify all available buildings for shelter”, she assured us. The needs of those forced from their home as a result of conflict is still a vibrant memory in many parts of Europe. Indeed, for those of a historical bent of mind, Europe is not all that far removed from generating refugee “crises” itself in decades past. All the more reason that it should adopt a “can do” approach in responding to current needs.

The more immediate question for the community philanthropy field is whether there is a specific contribution that community foundations can make. As place-based foundations they are on the ground in many parts of Europe – including those countries that are dubbed “entry” or “transit” regions for refugees, and other countries that are pivotal points of “destination.” It is true that the financial resources available to these foundations are often limited, yet notwithstanding this, the added value that they bring includes their experience as grantmakers; their transparent procedures and accountability to both their local communities and their donors; their accessible and visible organizational infrastructure; and their “ear to the ground”, picking up local sensitivities and opportunities. Community foundations are generalist facilitators in circumstances where existing civil society organizations may be over-stretched and where there is a need to communicate with a multiplicity of stakeholders.

 

A rabbit in the headlights?

There is, of course, always the danger that the scale and rapidity of the current movement of refugees into Europe can cause caring organizations to throw up their hands in despair of being able to make a difference. Yet the reality is that a number of community foundations in Germany, Croatia and Hungary speak of thousands of new volunteers emerging to ask what they can do to help. This is a real opportunity for civic activism but needs to be responded to in a timely manner. In response to a survey conducted by the GFCF over October 2015 one respondent made the point: “We are too small to make a real difference in financial support for refugee-related initiatives, but we play quite an important role in sensibilization and communication (and add some nuance to the debate) around the subject on a local level, as well as playing a facilitating and motivating role to support local volunteers and/or local support initiatives.” Similarly, a community foundation in Croatia is working closely with the volunteer centre in their community, who in turn organize local volunteers and arrange daily transport to distribute humanitarian aid to the refugees there. The foundation Director makes the plea for more resources to support this work: “Funds for transportation of volunteers is necessary as they can no longer organize transport by their own vehicles or for large groups of volunteers.” A German community foundation describes itself as one of the many players responding to the needs of the refugees that are arriving in the city at the rate of 4000 – 5000 each day.

Community foundation activists are clearly concerned about the very human needs of people who are mothers, fathers, sons and daughters – and not just “refugees.” A number of the GFCF respondents expressed fears about the “lack of empathy” among their local population with regard to the images seen on television screens or the trudge of people through their fields and streets. Negative attitudes are ascribed to a lack of information about the crisis in Syria, but also to a fear of the unknown that can be politically exploited. Certainly there is a recognition of the need to respond to immediate refugee relief, but as organizations with an eye to the long-term it is not surprising that community foundations are thinking through the longer term implications of the current situation. There was equal agreement from GFCF survey responses that while community foundations need to be seen to be taking action through funding and support for refugees now, they also need to focus on the medium to longer term needs of building inclusive communities.

 

Taking the pulse of long-term implications

A community foundation representative in one of the main transit countries for refugees spoke of the “growing split of views, heightened emotions and polarization which prevents rational discussion” in her country.  She called for a “strengthening of the quality of public discourse, argumentation and critical thinking at all levels.” This proposition is supported by comments received from Romania, Hungary and Serbia. There is also a recognition that the task of maintaining community cohesion, and a sense of solidarity, in the destination countries is of particular importance in the medium to longer term. This is an area in which community foundations are uniquely placed to work with local NGOs and community-based groups to make a real difference. There are at least two levels of intervention – on the one hand the macro level discussion of European values; on the other, the lived realities and relationships in those neighbourhoods that refugee families are likely to settle. A UK community foundation, that has previous experience of funding local NGOs working directly with refugees and asylum seekers, makes the point that there is a need for a shared narrative which would allow a much wider dialogue with donors and others who might be wondering what they can do to help.

In addressing these critical long term issues there is also a need for support for those community foundations that are working in particularly difficult political circumstances. One such foundation described itself as feeling “between a rock and a hard place: an openly hostile government that is ready to attack anyone who seems to ‘like’ refugees and our own conscience that says we have to speak up.” Consequently there was overwhelming support for the suggestion that community foundations that are interested/concerned with the refugee issue would benefit from being linked into other European philanthropy platforms and that community foundations would benefit from networking and sharing information on current challenges and opportunities. As such, the GFCF will be hosting a convening on the topic at Philanthropy House in Brussels from 26 – 27 January 2015. 

Avila Kilmurray, GFCF Director – Policy & Strategy

New regional network launched at Russian community foundation conference

Since 1998, when the first community foundation was established in Togliatti, the development of the community foundation field in Russia has been impressive, with 45 community foundations now in existence and an additional dozen or so institutions which could be described as community foundation-like. This growth has been accompanied by the emergence of a variety of networks; indeed the infrastructure supporting the work of Russian communtiy foundations is one of the most developed and robust in the world.

In another sign of the Russian communiety foundation sectors’ maturity and growth, the seventh regional platform of cooperation amongst community foundations in Russia was established in Tyumen (Siberia) on May 20th 2014. Representatives of the Pervouralsk, Nefteugansk, Noyabrsk, Berezovskiy, Tyumen and Sorokino community foundations signed an agreement which brought into being the Ural Federal District Alliance of Community Foundations. The development was welcomed as an opportunity to provide greater regional solidarity as well as offering a network for exchange of information and learning. Two of the member community foundations pledged a sharing of equipment which augured well for the spirit of cooperation.

Each of the six member community foundations is very different, reflecting how community philanthropy can be responsive to local circumstances. The youngest member has been operating for just two years, whilst the oldest – the Tyumen Community Foundation – was celebrating its fifteenth birthday. The Tyumen Community Foundation serves the urban centre of Tyumen in comparison to the dispersed rural area covered by the Sorokino Community Foundation, which relates to village populations of 10,000. Similarly, both the community priorities identified and the resources available cover a wide spectrum.

Larisa Avrorina, Avila Kilmurray & Vera Barova at the 15th anniversary of the Tyumen Community FoundationWhat was evident from the description of the programmes of work of each of the six community foundations was the emphasis placed on civic activism and volunteer energy. Whether it was organising a fundraising charity ball or environmental clean-ups, success depended in local participation and enthusiasm. At least one of the community foundation representatives explained what could happen if activities were organised in the absence of community buy-in – a tree planting initiative failed to attract the involvement of local people and within a week the trees that had been planted were vandalised and uprooted. The learning from this experience was taken to heart. Next time round the local community foundation activists took the time to invest in community engagement.

Each of the community foundations operated programmes of grant competitions, with a wide range of beneficiaries, however they also promoted a number of development interventions often in partnership with local government authorities and with the support of the small business sector. There was investment in children’s playgrounds and hostels for the homeless; also support for clean river campaigns and the rehabilitation of recreation zones. The Pervouralsk Community Foundation responded to the fact that there was no cinema in its area by sponsoring monthly film shows around local villages; and a number of the community foundations supported a very popular Book Exchange project, whereby children could exchange the books that they had read for new ones. In identifying community priorities, reference was made to household surveys and community focus groups as forms of consultation.

The new Ural Federal District and Russian Community Foundation Alliance received expert advice from speakers on behalf of the Russian Community Foundation Partnership, the Perm Alliance of Community Foundations, the Russia Donors’ Forum and Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) Russia, amongst others.  Speaking on behalf of the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy, Avila Kilmurray congratulated the community foundations in attendance at the two day event for their commitment and welcomed the new Ural Alliance. She noted that it was a particularly timely development, given that 2014 marks the centenary of the community foundation movement globally.

Aga Khan highlights need for strengthened global civil society in Ottawa speech

“Increasingly, I believe, the voices of civil society are voices for change – where change has been overdue. They have been voices of hope for people living in fear,” These are the words of His Highness the Aga Khan in a speech to the Canadian Parliament on February 27th 2014, in which he expressed clearly, and in personal terms, many of the values that underpin the work of the Aga Khan Development Network.

He spoke about the pace of change in the world alongside the opportunities and challenges that this brings.  Addressing the Joint Session of Canadian Parliament the Aga Khan made reference to the constitutional reforms adopted by 37 countries over the past decade, with a further 12 countries still engaged in this work in progress.  This has thrown down a gauntlet to good governance and has highlighted the primacy of the task of transforming countries of conflict into countries of opportunity.

The Aga Khan also addressed the divisions and tensions within and between faith beliefs in the world today. Speaking about the contribution of Muslim culture and historical achievement, he emphasised the diversity that exists within the ummah – the entirety of Muslim communities around the world.  Arguing that faith should deepen concern for the world’s environment and for the well-being of humanity, the Aga Khan described the work of the Aga Khan Development Network which is informed by the age old Islamic ethic of the elimination of poverty; access to education and social peace in a pluralist environment.   A focus of hope in translating this ethic into action was identified as the voices of civil society, particularly through the work of non-profit organizations that are working both within, and between, countries around the world.

The Aga Khan Foundation U.S.A. is a member of the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy

Haiti Community Foundation Initiative learns from Kenya

“My visit to Kenya also made a difference for me in how I feel as a person. I felt so connected; our human experience and roots being so similar, we could identify to all the issues at stake. I was also inspired by the refreshing level of humanity and strength of many of the people we met. In a world in which trends are often governed by superficial matters, we need such contacts in our fight for the prevalence of equity en justice. Being in Kenya was like being continuously watered in fountain of inspirational individual and collective stories.”  Caroline Hudicourt, HCFI Steering Committee Member

Hosted by the Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCFD), a team of Haiti Community Foundation Initiative (HCFI)’s Committee Members visited Kenya from July 10th to July 20th 2013.  Thanks to joint support of the Inter-American Foundation (IAF) and the Global Fund for Community Foundations (GFCF), HCFI’s team conducted an intensive visit in Kenya with KCDF whose organizational structure and community-driven approach it sought to learn from through the field study.

Visiting the offices of Makutano Community Development Association

“Why Kenya?” Said Marie-Rose Romain Murphy, Director of ESPWA, the facilitating organization for HCFI: “In terms of development context and culture, Haiti is more aligned with Africa than it is with Latin America…  Also,  fifteen years ago when they started, KCDF had to deal with the same type of environment that we face in Haiti (a history of social division, an unhealthy dependency on international aid, high levels of poverty, communities marginalized from their development process, little/ no history of institutionalized philanthropy).  They built an indigenous institution which adopted values and a structure similar to what we are looking at.  Last year, at HCFI’s Karibe Planning Forum in Haiti, when the resource group of CF leaders from Mexico, Brazil and from Kenya talked about their history, mission et all, people were at the edge of their seats when it came to Janet Mawiyoo (KCDF’s CEO)’s presentation.  It was uncannily applicable to Haiti’s situation.  We needed to learn from people who have “walked in our shoes”.

The five-member team went through a comprehensive learning process of KCDF’s structure, history and operations as they met with the foundation’s staff, board, trustees and grantees.  Field visits with two KCDF partner grantees, the Regional Institute for Social Enterprise (RISE) and the Mankutano Community Development Association (MCDA) coupled with day-long events such as KCDF’s Community Day (a networking event for community partners) and the Fund Builders Forum (bringing together the various funds for reporting, planning and training) gave the Haiti Team an in-depth experience of the construct and long-term impact of a community foundation. 

At the end of August, the HCFI Team will circle back and make a presentation to the Pilot Programme Committee whose fourteen members are anxious to hear about how lessons learned from the Kenya visit and KCDF’s experience will help to set up a strong and effective institutional community foundation for Haiti.

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.

Next Door Neighbours Half Way Round the World: from Minnesota to Perm

Nancy Straw, President of the West Central Initiative in Minnesota, U.S., reports on her recent visit to a community foundations conference in Russia

As much as I enjoy travelling, why would I travel to the last city on the way to Siberia in mid-November?  Perm is 683 miles east of Moscow, the easternmost city in Europe: during Soviet times, the city was closed to foreigners, due to the munitions factories located there.  I did not go just to see a wonderful performance of the ballet “La Sylphide” and tour the museum of unique wooden religious sculptures, although they were delightful.  I was there at the invitation of CAF Russia to attend a conference for foundations and funds based in smaller communities and rural areas in Russia.

Community foundation (CF) work started in Russia in the mid-1990s, with work in more rural areas starting a few years later.  Community Foundations and Funds now exist in many areas and in a wide variety of forms.  Our discussions were centered on topics of interest to the people attending the conference and included fundraising in a rural area, types of projects funded in rural areas, working with others (including local authorities), and what to do when you have very little or no money.

All of my presentations were based on the concepts of Rural Development Philanthropy (RDP). RDP is a community-led approach, developed by a group of U.S. community foundations and community foundation hybrids, which creates locally controlled assets and invests them to strengthen rural places.

Different language, same issues

While the language is different, the issues we deal with are the same.  We have a hard time getting people to volunteer.  We work on social issues such as meeting emergency needs, alleviating poverty, caring for children and improving education.  There are cross generational programmes, environmental programmes, support for the arts and programmes for people with disabilities. We deal with outside influences that are beyond our control.  Companies downsize and we lose jobs in our communities.  Our youth leave smaller communities for more urban areas and do not return.  Incentives for new technology development and its use in cleaning up environmental concerns are supported.  Some schools no longer offer courses in the arts; only the basics of an education due to cost cutting measures.

One of the local presenters commented that government would like to stop paying for some things and rely on philanthropic money in CFs to pay for those services.  Sounds very familiar! We talked about the historic role of CFs in the U.S. and our ability to take more risks than government to try out new service models and programmes.  Once proven, we would ask the government to step in and support those successful programmes over the longer term.  While this may have worked in the past, it happens infrequently today in the U.S. as government funding levels for all services have declined.  Our colleagues in Russia are starting at a time when funding is not available for government to take over support for successful projects, so they may not have the opportunity to do the more risky pilot project work in the same way we have done it here in the past.

There were many operational similarities, too.  Competitive grant rounds with submission deadlines are common.  There are programmes offered which charge fees to help generate income for a fund or CF, and much interest in social venture fund models.  Some funds receive support that cannot be used to pay staff salaries; they deal with a lack of financial support for their organization’s infrastructure and general operations because just like in the U.S.,  some donors want every dollar to go directly to helping people in need.  Several funds have grown organically within their communities, and others have been formed with more of a “top down” approach, with community and government leaders establishing the funds.  Some funds have buildings that house their programmes and also are used for various community activities, others are provided space free of charge, and many of them rent space from others.

Rural areas and urban areas in Russia experience the same sort of tensions that we do in the U.S.  Smaller communities do not have enough human or financial resources to work only within their own community but need to partner with neighboring towns and villages.  Rural infrastructure is not kept up as well as it is in urban areas, and there were comments about roads that are in poor condition in some rural areas.  Rural communities lose their youth to more urban areas for education and more job opportunities, and communities recognize that as a major challenge to their continued viability.  The number of nonprofit organizations can be very low in rural areas, and is more concentrated in cities and urban areas

Key differences

There are some key differences between CFs in Russia and in the U.S.  Frequent changes in local government structure and local leadership can make partnering difficult.  As CFs navigate those changes, they often must deal with the perception that local government controls the funds because the roles of government and CFs are not clearly defined.  If government leaders misunderstand or disagree with work a fund is trying to do they can make things very difficult for them.  Government officials do not always understand how the funds work or the purpose of the funds, which also happens here.

When it comes to fundraising, there are many stories in Russia that tug at the heartstrings.  Programmes that benefit schools, education and children are popular.  Donors everywhere give for a variety of reasons – passion, desire to help, tax savings, or to improve their image in the community. Businesses do not like too many different organizations asking them for donations, and some businesses in Russia are anxious to donate to their local fund to help improve their image.  People are reluctant to ask others to give when they are face-to-face.  There is competition with other organizations that also raise money.

Extractive industries are numerous in Russia: gold mines, diamond mines, oil fields.  Not many of the CFs benefit from those industries unless the companies extracting the resources provide donations to them.  I did not hear of any taxes or other government plans to keep some of the wealth in the local communities after those assets are depleted, and once that wealth is gone to an urban area, it is very unlikely any of it will ever return to the rural area.  There are examples here in Minnesota that could be helpful to those communities, like the Iron Range Resources Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) that receives financial support from taxes on mining.

Due to the extreme distances between communities in Russia, several of the funds have developed in isolation without much influence from other funds or foundations.  This provides a certain level of freedom to develop into the type of fund that is most needed in their area, and they may not be told what they are not “supposed” to do according to traditional CF work.

Learning from each other

There are many areas we could learn from and with our friends in Russia.  How can we all do a better job of telling our stories about our work?  What are the ways we can increase transparency and increase our credibility to obtain and retain the trust of our local people?  How do we decide what NOT to do when there are so many good things happening in our communities?  What can we really impact in a meaningful way with our limited human and financial resources?  How can we overcome turf issues that keep people from working together?  Are our young people receiving the right type of education to prepare them for a career?  How do we deal with the tension between environmental issues and development issues?  What are the most meaningful outcome measures and who pays to gather in information?  What techniques help to assure that your CF is not used like a bank – money in and money out – without strategy and planning?  What are the best ways to hold grant recipients accountable for the use of funds?   What are the most effective ways to engage our partners (businesses, local government, individual donors, nonprofit organizations, schools and universities)?

Working in philanthropy, no matter where it happens, we have significantly more in common than we have differences.  The human desire to help others and to make life better for those who come after us is universal and the hope inherent in our work feels the same everywhere.

While it was cold and snowing outside, the people at the conference surrounded us with a warm, welcoming atmosphere.  I hope my new friends in Russia will continue our communications and I would love to host them on a visit Minnesota.

West Central Initiative is a regional community foundation serving the nine west central Minnesota counties of Becker, Clay, Douglas, Grant, Otter Tail, Pope, Stevens, Traverse and Wilkin. WCI invests resources in our communities for regional success, using the tools of economic development and community development, and by promoting philanthropy. Learn more at www.wcif.org.