Confronting philanthropy’s image problem: does participatory giving offer a way forward?

She couldn’t have put it more clearly:

“Philanthropy means people helping other people…Philanthropy also means corruption: the rich hiding their ill-gotten wealth in foundations and using them to exert political influence.”

The setting was an overheated university classroom at the university in Bogota, the start of an afternoon session on the topic of “Rethinking resourcing of civil society.” I had asked the room, whose audience was made up of a diverse mix of people from NGOs, donors, foundations, and social social movements to take a minute to discuss with their neighbour what associations the word “philanthropy” inspired in them.

Powered by WPeMatico

From tinkering to transformation: why Africa needs a strong community philanthropy sector

The familiarity of the scene was both startling and sobering. A couple of months ago, I joined a field visit to a village in eastern Uganda, a stunningly green and mountainous part of the country, rich in coffee and banana trees. The experience transported me back twenty years to my first proper experience of Africa.

Back in 1992, fresh from university, I had spent a year in a village in the far southwestern tip of Uganda, teaching English (one text-book per ten students) and Health Science (which depended too much, unfortunately, on my rather inadequate chalkboard drawings). I learned how to crochet (and spent many an hour producing intricate seat covers in white and dazzling pink and discussing the relative merits of Uganda village life versus that in large British city with my crochet friends, the school’s secretary and the librarian), attended several weddings in far flung corners of Kabale’s surrounding hills, and wondered why tins of World Food Programme fish were being sold at our local shop. And all against the backdrop of booms of gunfire, that were the sounds of a civil war being fought over the border in Rwanda.

At school, each term a nurse would come to school to check if any of the girls were pregnant. If yes, they were promptly expelled. And, too often, bright students would disappear for weeks on end to return, after a severe bout of malaria, with less of a sparkle in their eyes and less ability in their schoolwork. I also got to see how various government policies played out at village level. Uganda’s World Bank-supported Structural Adjustment Programme was then in full flow: in the village this meant that the school closed and all teaching was halted as “ghost” teachers were weeded out from the pay roll. It was a mystifying process to all of us. In terms of elections, years of brutal civil war and a complete break-down in trust, had led the government to introduce a new, fully transparent system that dispensed with ballot boxes and involved voters actually lining up behind their chosen candidate so that there was no doubt as to the result (and on voting days, there also seemed to be more beer in circulation than usual). Most people seemed to feel it was a more credible process than closed, and often stuffed, ballots boxes.

But what I learnt more than anything during that year was how different the world looks from a position of poverty. Obviously I was a comparatively wealthy foreigner, but as the months went by, I got to understand and appreciate the forces – so often random and unstoppable – that shook and shaped the community: heavy rains wiping out a field or a home, cerebral malaria or AIDS taking away a breadwinner. The effect was to limit people’s expectations, and to foster a sense of passive fatalism, powerlessness, and ultimately acceptance. And beyond that, I learnt how the community saw the forces of “development” – as something wholly external, something “done to” a village, a project or initiative that might seem bewildering to those on the receiving end, but which would be accepted dutifully with the conclusion that “someone up there” must know what they are meant to be doing. 

And here we were two decades later, in a very similar looking village in Uganda. Although the overall story we were there to hear was a positive one (a small grant had helped the community to organize itself through a goat farming project, people who had never really spoken to each other were now working side by side and the women “had found their voice”), it was hard not to feel a sense of disappointment, and by extension, of something close to guilt. There was the deep curtsey of the woman who greeted us, eyes cast down, hand extended in the formal elbow-hold African handshake that is sign of respect although, sometimes, feels like supplication – that the outsiders must automatically be better or superior; the hint of gender dynamics that dictated that the woman stoop so low but not the men; the village school – that looked exactly like the one in which I had taught my more memorable classes on water-borne diseases – more suited to housing cattle than learning, and with a metal roof that would be the cause of an almighty and deafen clatter whenever it rained; stories told of children still being sent home from school because although primary education is free, there are still various hidden fees needing to be paid and parents still failing to manage this.

Don’t get me wrong, the overall trajectory of social development indicators in Uganda is generally positive. Under-five mortality rates are down from 178 per 1,000 to around 60, and there has been a significant reduction of mother to child transmission of HIV. What was striking, however, was how the overall conversation in the village had remained the same: the goat story was a bright spot in a broader scene of stagnation, poverty, and isolation. No one we spoke to could think of anyone from the village who had actually ever left to get work in the nearby town, let alone Kampala.

The term “brief-case NGO” is a well-used shorthand across Africa for the dodgier parts of a civil society sector that is not particularly well trusted. And indeed, in the village, the stereotype rang only too true: its only previous experience of an NGO had left a bad taste – promises had been made, but this was followed either by a change of heart or downright dishonesty on the part of the NGO which was never seen again.

Standing there, watching and listening, I felt a sense of sadness and shame. How could it be this way? I have spent the last twenty years studying, learning about, working in philanthropy and development – a fast-changing field where new ideas, approaches, the next “silver bullet” pop up with an astonishing frequency. Structural adjustment had come and gone. Then there were the Millennium Development Goals and, coming soon, the Sustainable Development Goals. In philanthropy we’ve seen grantmaking and non-grantmaking approaches, the emergence of “strategic” philanthropy, venture philanthropy, impact investing…  And yet, here in this one village, it struck me that fundamentally very little had really changed for people; that an isolated community had never been aware of – let alone been involved in – the lively and dynamic conversation that the rest of us in development have been having.

Of course, critiques of aid are not new and there are some particularly good and urgent ones around at the moment. In fact, it was a meeting to explore ways to demonstrate and advocate for more community-driven approaches to development that had brought me back to Uganda this year (the goats project was the result of a highly engaged grant made by the meeting organizers, Spark Microgrants). For two days, against the stunning backdrop of Mount Elgon, a group of NGOs and a couple of donors had mulled over the contradictions and complexities of development aid, all united in the belief that there had to be better ways to work and that each of the organizations present possessed some component of that “better way”.

I note, with no small sense of irony, that too many meetings in hotel conference rooms can only reinforce the sense of displacement I’ve already described. What is the alternative? (Ideas please! There’s a comments section below). But I am afraid I am going to have to take you to one more conference room before I finish here.

A few weeks’ before the Uganda visit, the GFCF had brought together a group of community philanthropy partners from across Africa in Arusha, Tanzania, to meet and learn from each other and to also to work together to better articulate a development approach that can be more reflective of the interests and abilities of the people it’s meant to serve. So we were joined by people from Egypt, Congo, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Ethiopia, who each represent the various scattered and multi-lingual outposts of this emerging conversation about community philanthropy as an alternative development approach.GFCF Partners convening in Arusha, June 2015

One of the main topics of discussion was around a piece of research that the GFCF has been working on with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund in South Africa. We were interested in testing the hypothesis – often aired but harder to demonstrate – that local grantmakers and foundations bring something distinct to the table; that, beyond money, local foundations can play all sorts of other roles, as mentors, connectors and long-term sources of support; that they can support and help build local organizations which can indeed bring in local people and not just leave the business of development to “experts” (I lost track of how many people had joined savings or self-help groups and contributed to village funds on our site visits to Limpopo for the research, but it was a phenomenal number); that when such local foundations are themselves fundraisers trying to address issues of their own long-term sustainability, such preoccupations get – consciously or unconsciously – passed on to their grantees; and that issues around decision-making and governance – and therefore power – become more important than ever. The kinds of things that might move a community from being passive recipients of development to engaged participants.

We wondered whether we could identify, together, some of that “magic mixture” and if so, whether we would be better able to say why, for example, local African foundations are better than external donors at doing things like reaching deep into communities in meaningful ways, in listening to local people (without the same complications that can often arise from visits from “outsider”) and in building trust. If that village in Uganda had had a ten-year relationship with a local grantmaking foundation (as in the case of the Makutano Development Association in Kenya) would the situation have looked any different?

It is clear that there has to be a fundamental shift in how development is done and it needs to offer a framework that connects people to people, ideas to ideas, concepts to concepts, vertically from communities to big donor institutions and, as importantly, horizontally across communities in all their diversity. Tinkering at the edges of development is fine but what is needed is big change.

We were fortunate to be joined at our meeting by the redoubtable Joyce Malombe, author of the first report commissioned by the World Bank back in 2000 to examine the potential role for community foundations to play in fostering community-driven development, and someone who can be relied upon to bring a conversation down to brass tacks. We asked Joyce to reflect on the current state and relevance of the African community philanthropy field. Here are some thoughts that stayed with me:

 

  • There is nothing more powerful than when people / communities know what it is they want, and can be supported in voicing those aspirations, and building the institutions that can deliver them.
  • That’s the magic so often missing from “development.” If communities are left behind, or out of the mix, development will never get anywhere
  • If we, as practitioners, believe the above, then we have no choice but to make it happen: we need to get better at talking about what we mean with clarity and confidence and at demonstrating what successful community development can look like.

 

Jenny Hodgson, GFCF Executive Director

A field moves together, while ships pass in the night: Nepal convening explores the intersections between community philanthropy and the environment

Food gardens in a Western Cape township, tended by school children and their families, under the watchful eye of an experienced gardener and grandfather. An informal grassroots group-turned NGO in China’s industrial heartland in the Pearl River Delta that helps bring about a tightening up of laws on recycling. Fishermen in Mexico, concerned about depleted fish stocks, restore the local reef thus replenishing their waters and renewing their livelihoods. A rural community foundation in Romania organizes a bike-a-thon to promote a healthy lifestyle among local residents, while taking a stand against plans for a giant wood processing plant in one of the richest forestlands in Europe.  

It was a diverse group of community philanthropy practitioners and grassroots grantmakers that came together recently in Lalitpur, Nepal, for a two-day meeting of GFCF partners that set out to explore the intersections between community philanthropy and the environment. Back in May 2014, the GFCF awarded grants to community foundations in 11 countries. It was part of a new programme focused on the environment, and it was this group of grantees that travelled to Nepal for their first face-to-face meeting. We were joined by a handful of others too from Kenya, China, Bangladesh, as well as a representative of the Nepal office of the GEP Small Grants Programme (UNDP). Our host was Tewa, the Nepal Women’s Fund – and also a grantee under the environment programme. Tewa’s physical location (its meeting and residential facilities), on the edge of Kathmandu, overlooking rice and vegetable fields provideda tranquil and inspiring setting for our conversations (we met and slept in buildings that were built in part through community philanthropy). But the construction sites – new apartments and housing complexes – that have encroached across farmland directly in front of Tewa in recent years were also a stark reminder both of Nepal’s rapid urbanization and of the tensions that frequently arise between environmental protection and preservation versus the drivers of economic development.

The Tewa Centre, Kathmandu

For two days our group worked together, sharing stories and experiences: for some, this was the first time that they had really start to consciously engage around the environment while others were old hands. For example, in Mexico FASOL has made small grants to grassroots groups on environmental issues to hundreds of organizations. For the majority of those present, however, the environment was one of a number of issues around which they were active. It perhaps comes as no surprise then, that our conversations were peppered with words like “holistic” and “integrated”, the sense that social problems rarely stand alone from each other and that there are always connections and knock-on effects that can get lost in an issue-specific or siloed approach to development. The idea of “assets” (meaning money as well as non-financial assets but also natural assets such as forests, minerals, waters) came up too, in terms of mobilization of local (often invisible) assets as well as the idea of stewardship of financial as well as natural assets for future generations. And there was also much agreement around “the power of the grassroots”, the idea that it local communities that are closest to the issues and that mobilized and organized communities can challenge power and create lasting change.

In 2015, the GFCF plans to continue and further develop this programme. The energy of the meeting, the various “A-ha!” moments and the sense that, collectively, the group possessed between them the basis of what could be described as “emergent practice” that set them apart from other parts of the non-profit and philanthropy sector. Indeed, by unlocking local assets, by strengthening local groups through grants and other supports and by building long-term and trusting across a range of constituents, we remain more convinced than ever that community foundations are positioned to act as a buffer and a resource as well play a community leadership or brokering role when it comes to complex and often potentially divisive environmental issues at a community level.

Kenyan, Chinese, Egyptian and Russian community philanthropy practitioners discuss

Over time we expect to produce more detailed reports and studies that establish a baseline for a larger body of work on community philanthropy and the environment. In the meantime, however, here are some of my takeaways from the meeting.

At the level of some of the individual organizations represented:

  • The observation that where community foundations have an established track record in a community, they are well-positioned to initiate community-level discussion and support local action around the environment. In Perm, Russia, for example, the community foundation Sodeistvie had observed that the environment was very low down on the list of local priorities in rural communities where they were active. In one particular community, in which the foundation built up long-term relationships through their grantmaking and other programmes, they felt as though they were well positioned to raise the issue of the environment and engage community members in a series of activities, particularly around recycling (which community members knew virtually nothing about). They now plan to roll out the programme in other rural communities.
  • The observation that community foundations are able to bring together different parts of the community around a particular problem around which no others were engaged. The Tuzla Community Foundation’s grant from the GFCF, for example, was aimed at addressing the problem of the large numbers of stray dogs in the town. Through a series of consultations with NGOs, local government and members of the public organized by the foundation, a multi-pronged programme has emerged to deal with the issue. As a result of this success, the foundation has since found itself invited to take part in other, wider, conversations with local government and other stakeholders about environmental issues in their community.
  • The confirmation that where community foundations have an established base and trusted relationships with a range of stakeholders, they can mobilize quickly and appropriately in the face of an emergency. Again, in Tuzla, following the severe flooding of May 2014, the community foundation was quick to mobilize, providing boots and shovels for the clean-up operation, emergency grants of €200 and larger, €2,000 grants, for bigger initiatives. At a recent GFCF board meeting, the director of the community foundation observed that 74 grants were made to long-term partners in the aftermath of the floods, the kind of rapid response that international NGOs arriving somewhere for the first time would be pushed to achieve.
  • The observation that the environment is not a stand-alone issue but rather cuts across every aspect of community life. Some of the examples that emerged at the meeting included:

– Environment and social justice (exploitation of trafficked children): the Foundation for Social Transformation in Guwahati, India, for example, used its grant to conduct a mapping exercise of grassroots groups working on environmental issues in the region and found that much of the environmental degradation that is taking place in one of the world’s environmental “hotspots” in terms of its rich biodiversity is associated with coal mining and, in particular, the practice of “rat-hole” mining which involves thousands of (normally trafficked) children being sent down narrow tunnels to dig for coal.

– Environment and gender: when Tewa convened its partners (mainly grassroots women’s groups) to discuss the impact of climate change on their lives, it became clear that the environment was not only a poor people’s issue but that the largest impacts were being felt by women, still a highly marginalized segment of the Nepali population.

There was agreement within the group too about two things:

  • Ordinary people often do not see themselves as having a stake in the environment, even though they are the ones that are being impacted (and each organization had a story to share about poor air quality, contaminated water sources, food security etc.). It seems specialist and remote, the terrain of global advocacy groups, governments and policy-makers. On their part, many community foundations – who are also often not specialists – find themselves responding to the symptoms of climate change but that they are also challenged to engage with root causes, particularly when they are confronted with trade-offs between economic development and environmental stewardship.
  • At the same time, community foundations constitute a growing network of local organizations on that are on the ground which are building trust, working holistically, are high in local ownership, are responsive to local needs and able to connect across their community. And yet every organization in the room felt financially vulnerable and expressed a frustration that they often struggled to be understood within their own communities (the idea of local philanthropy is still very new in many emerging markets and developing contexts and grantmaking is also not well-established as a way of working).

The community philanthropy sector has also long been overlooked by international donors (with a handful of exceptions that provide the basis of the GFCF’s own funding) as they too look for answers in the debates around sustainability and resilience.  In 2011 a report, Defining Disaster Resilience, produced by the UK’s Department for International Development noted that:

“Sensitivity and adaptive capacity are determined by the pool of assets and resources that can be mobilised in the face of shocks and stresses. Assets and resources can be social, human, technological, physical, economic, financial, environmental, natural, and political.”

Are we not talking about the same things – community philanthropy and resilience? Are we in fact ships passing each other in the night, singing the same song but in different languages? Isn’t there some linking up to be done here?

Jenny Hodgson is Executive Director of the GFCF

Some thoughts on place-based organizing in Kilimani, Kenya

Irũngũ Houghton is Chairperson of the Kilimani Project Foundation. The following was written on the occasion of the 2014 Council on Foundations (COF) fall community foundation conference.

“We are slowly thinking of leaving Kilimani for other suburbs. Yet, we forget Kilimani is a little Kenya. What we don’t like about Kilimani is showing up in all parts of Nairobi. The line stops here. If we can’t transform this ward, what makes us confident that we will not have to keep running forever?”

Kilimani, Nairobi and Kenya

Kilimani is one of the very few Nairobi neighborhoods in which 43,000 Kenyans can work, school, live, shop and be entertained. Very few neighborhoods have this. Neither higher end Karen, Runda or Loresho can boast this. Kilimani has a very wide selection of restaurants. Lenana road offers one of the best row of restaurants available. It is also a melting pot for several nationalities and ethnic communities ranging from the French to the Chinese, francophone West Africans to the Ethiopians. Kilimani is also a place of innovation, culture, activism and the arts. Kuona Trust Art Gallery, PAWA254, the Nest, i-hub, 3 mice, University of Nairobi, Daystar University and several other places of innovation are all located here. It is home to the President and State House, famous Kenyan musicians Maia von Lekow, Atemi Oyungu, Chris Bitok, Suzanna Owiyo, Justaband as well as photographers Emmanuel Jambo, Nadia Moussani and Rafique among others.

While Kilimani is rapidly becoming a high-density suburb, a melting pot for brand companies and a place of innovation, culture, arts and leadership, it is not yet an integrated neighbourhood. What’s missing? Choice, community empowerment and liveability. Utilities are in danger of being overstrained but there is little dialogue between County planners, developers and residents. Residents remain uninformed on their rights and responsibilities. There is private security everywhere yet we perceive ourselves as insecure. There are regular electricity and water outages and no integrated public information system. As Kilimani grows, the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are increasingly being displaced. There are no skills building or market support for informal or small entrepreneurs and market access remains limited despite growing potential markets. While diverse, we are also a divided community. Most of us are walking complaints and our experience of community is shrinking to our very homes.

While distinctively urban, largely middle income and in Nairobi, Kilimani reflects a predictable future for Kenya. A future where rapid private investment remains unmatched by public investment. High rise families constrained within their flats or calbro compounds behind tall fences and gates. The other Kilimani, hidden communities of domestic workers, security guards, gardeners, taxis and boda boda transporters, are neither properly serviced or integrated in future planning.[i] There are few opportunities left for converting pavement and concrete into green recreational spaces. More significantly, communities don’t get to choose and powerfully create inclusive public spaces around their homes.

An alternative vision for Kilimani

We continue to be inspired by a commUnity where: ‘Karibu Kilimani’ greets people passing through and those to take root, guests and those who work or live here; A bustling public library and theatre, where children ride bikes and families enjoy recreation facilities; Informal service-providers are integrated and inform planning processes; safety and security is an owned responsibility of everyone in partnership with the public and private authorities.  The community is known for its creativity, aliveness, tenacity and neighborliness. People find affordable, accessible and adequate housing and business diversity thrives in Kilimani. And the area rarely experiences violence, crime or a sense of isolation. It is, simply, the community of choice.

Irungu presenting at the 2014 COF conference

Six lessons on building community assets, capacities and trust over 2014

Lesson 1: Residency is not a given, has to be claimed: Despite a 115 year old history, many Nairobians do not see themselves as primary residents of Nairobi.[i] Originally a coffee estate, Kilimani was developed as a white residential area first in the late 1950s and only desegregated in the early 60s. Here anti-colonialist and women’s rights leader Muthoni Likimani would settle and buy a house. 50 years later in 2014 this house is home to The Kuona Trust, the area art gallery and 20 or so Kenyan artists.

From the mama mboga (market vendor) on the corner of Chaka avenue and Argwings Kodhek road to the single bungalow owners on Denis Pritt road, most Kilimanians see themselves as transient occupants. During elections, they will go to ancestral homes country to vote for leaders that cannot ultimately, serve their interests. They will invest their pensions in upcountry homes to retire to.

Nairobi politicians understand this game. They pay residents Kshs 300 (roughly $3) from neighboring low-income, high density communities like Kibra and Kawangware and bus them into this middle income, low density community to vote for them. During the run up to the 2013 elections, the Foundation invited ward, county and parliamentary aspirants to engage and covenant with residents. We also questioned why their posters never had any telephone or email contacts. We challenged them to commit to their aspirations whether we voted for them or not. Few have remained engaged around their covenant. Without the experience of residency, local issues and causes that matter to people cannot be the platform to build the active citizenship envisaged in the constitution of Kenya.

Lesson 2: Appreciative enquiry holds great communal power: Today, Kilimani is home to a mix of Kenyans, expatriates and refugee communities. It is also bordered by Kibra and Kawangware, two large low income areas. From francophone West Africans, Somalis, South Sudanese, Ethiopians to the latest and growing Chinese population, Kilimani is home to many national embassies as well.

Most of the public schools serve children from Kibra and Kawangware. Middle class children have long left the congested Kilimani based public schools for out-of-area private schools. Yet, they and their parents long for convenient green and recreational spaces. Spaces, the public schools have in abundance. Kilimani Primary School Headmaster Gideon Wasike puts it best, “We are both located and displaced in Kilimani”. Kilimani is less a community than multiplicities of communities.

Over 2012-2014, the Foundation has consistently convened the community to map what matters to them and what they would like to create. Some of these “kililogues” have included taking photos of the good, bad and ugly in Kilimani, holding six  breakfast meetings for 55 corporate, not-for-profit and diplomatic leaders and school hall meetings to discuss the Nairobi Urban Masterplan, Solid Waste Management, public safety and community policing. Glimmers of a sense of relatedness, connection and new friendships and contacts demonstrate the power of appreciative enquiry.[ii]

Lesson 3: Trust and solidarity is an online and face to face conversation: Like other urban Kenyans, most Kilimanians do not have a sense of relatedness to the community as a whole. Powerful conversations with the Officer in Charge of the Police Division, our Member of County Assembly, local businesses like Chandarana Supermarkets, Dawda Group of companies, Black Butterfly and Willlart Production Inc and the Management of local malls like Prestige Plaza and Yaya center have unlocked resources for the wider community.

Online we can reliably now reach 1,300 by twitter and 1,000 by direct email. Our twitter account is invariably challenged to take action on a variety of issues from noise pollution from the local bar, potholes, car-jacking and failing streetlights. Our experience demonstrates most citizens are not apathetic. They do want to contribute and make a difference in the community they live and work. What’s missing is the opportunity and platform to meet and act with like-minded people. This is probably the biggest asset the Foundation has. Still largely untapped, the Foundation has to continue expanding and deepening its strategies for enabling relationships of trust and solidarity not only between the Foundation and the community but between the community as well.

Lesson 4: Resident’s action is not only fixing utilities: Caught within a model of private solutions for public problems, most residents remain constrained by the vision of community foundations and residents associations as an alternative to effective County Government. This is both liberating and disempowering. It facilitates civic agency to own and take up the challenge of making communities work on one hand. On the other, it releases County Government from any obligation to provide value for money services in return for taxes and rates collected. It also contributes to the privatization of core services and “user pays” system managed by private companies. Lastly, it feeds a perception that personal choices rather than public policy choices matter.[iii]

Foundations and associations can only be complimentary to local Government. Local Government could work smarter with foundations and associations around citizens’ forums, budget hearings and development priority setting.  Resident Associations and Community Foundations could provide the Nairobi County Government with the much needed intermediary to speak with organized citizens. In so doing, perhaps we can raise the national statistic bar of only 5.7% of Kenyans currently participating in the citizens based forums.

Key to this, as resident Dr Kahare Miano would say, “…will be shifting perceptions of Kilimani residents’ relationship to streets as places’ not just non-places on the way to places.” Fixing public utilities is one thing, but creating new intersections between actors, places and interests could transform the inequalities and divisions between citizens. The community could, one day, say to the Nairobi Governor, “this is what we need done, thanks.”

Lesson 5: Leadership requires imagination, openness, this is a road not well travelled: In a capitalist society like Kenya, critics have mistaken the President’s call for the public to form neighborhood committees as a call to spy on each other. This is consistent with a worldview that keeps us isolated as individuals. It is consistent with the pattern of building cities that exclude each other like in Europe or North America. It is this that reinforces our appreciation of community only as far as our family, compound or ethnic community. The Foundation completely rejects this worldview and embraces the African community spirit of “we are our brother and sisters’ keeper”.

The other challenge the Foundation has faced is the perception that community organizing is essentially for communities living in poverty and marginalization. Middle income neighborhoods don’t need a community foundation so the argument goes. It is precisely the absence of an inclusive and caring community that robs the middle class of the opportunity to provide leadership, share excess assets and influence the world around them.

With 5-6% growth and a growing middle class with disposable income, this robs the country of an important resource. As leading Kenyan musician Muthoni Ndonga noted, “I went to school with the children of the who’s who and the woman who sold vegetables to my mother. The richer parents contributed to ensuring that the school had all the facilities of the private schools. Nowadays, the rich spend a fortune on expensive schools for 1 or 2 children, when they could be impacting on 1,000 children.” The consequence is two Kilimanis and two Kenyas.

Lesson 6: Place based focus yields tangible results: Since November 2012, the Foundation has organized over twenty community events with over fifty partners and scores of residents. The community has responded very well to some events, not well to others. In October 2012, we invited the community to take photos of the community as they went about their daily activities in what we called “picha sauti”.[iv] We got very few submissions but instead requests for us to organize collective photo walk-abouts. These were more successful and we got over 200 photos.

We have learned that it is easier to think in activities rather than new ways of being in the same spaces. Yet, activities are insufficient to transform the community’s relationship to itself in the absence of an iconic victory in an area that is important to residents. Cultivating a common interest and agenda around public spaces is where tangible change can be found. Encouraging agencies to renovate the swimming pool, canteen and library at the Kilimani Primary School provides the best example of the Foundation’s tangible impact over the last year.

Four challenges on building a community and foundation for 2024

If we were building a 100 year old endowed foundation that is be rooted in the Kilimani area, capable of providing community grants and is nationally recognized and influential, what could we do next? Learning from the Google business model, a strategic portfolio would focus 70% on our core business, 20% on programmes adjacent to core and the remaining 10% on radical new ideas.

We could identify one to two programmes that have the possibility of an iconic victory in an area that matters to the community. Earlier in 2014, the Foundation participated in a Master Planning exercise.[v] Possible options include redesigning the Kilimani square near Yaya to ease traffic congestion and support the small business enterprises, finding an alternative to the matatu terminus at the corner of Wood avenue and Argwings Kodhek avenue, securing a more permanent space for the Denis Pritt road and Prestige Plaza markets, ensuring safety for children walking to and from school and lastly, neighbors actions to reclaim the streets outside their homes.

We need to expand and strengthen the Board, staff and volunteers to take leadership in enabling community self-discovery, confidence and action. We also need to create pathways for large and small individual and corporate members and sponsors to give regularly to the programmes we run. This will allow us to take the baby steps towards an endowment and a permanent resource-base for the Foundation. These four steps must occupy the immediate focus of the leadership both in the Foundation and in the community.

Kilimani Project Foundation

The Kilimani Project Foundation started as a garden conversation of residents, educationalists, businesspeople and artists and urban planners in 2012. Critical for its formation was a sense that the physical environment was changing rapidly and this was happening without the vision and voice of the community. Public investment in utilities, facilities and services lagged behind the rapid sprouting of privately developed apartment skyscrapers. Key communities were being physically displaced from the public spaces they had operated from – the street garages, food courts, markets, taxi ranks – at a time when ironically, business opportunities boomed.

Over the last two years, the foundation has supported local NGOs, businesses, associations, artists, doctors, the police service to hold an appreciative photo exhibition, community festival and play, renovate the Kilimani Primary School canteen, library and pool, organize cleanups along Argwings Kodhek road and Milimani Primary School, organize a free public medical camp and an open day at the Kilimani Police Station among other activities.


[i] Many residents still behave as temporal migrants http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Nairobi

[ii] In many ways, left uninterrupted, urban middle income Nairobi development will predictably mirror the current realities seen in North America and Europe where 30-50% of the population don’t know their neighbors well enough to ask for help, interact or pick them out of a police lineup. http://www.macleans.ca/society/the-end-of-neighbours/ There are models of integrated planning we can learn from. See http://pubs.iied.org/17189IIED.html and http://www.huduser.org/portal/pdredge/pdr_edge_hudpartrpt_032213.html

[iii] For more on the future of gated world by 2050 see Joseph S. Nye’s http://forumblog.org/2014/01/2050-can-avoid-gated-world/

[iv] In English, photo voice exercise

[v] See some of the issues generated http://ow.ly/D9riY

[vi] Many of the public eateries where these communities eat together are on road reserves or plots waiting to be developed. There are only toilets at Yaya Centre and Prestige Plaza with the latter recording 14,000 flushes every day. The Prestige Plaza owners speak to this service as one of their biggest corporate contributions to the wider society.

A Snapshot of the Global Community Philanthropy Field: new GFCF report brings together data from its grantmaking and from the Community Foundation Atlas to highlight how community foundations are building assets, capacities, trust

Together, assets, capacities and trust form the backbone of strong, effective community philanthropy organizations and it is these three features that distinguish them from other parts of civil society. So says a new report launched recently by the GFCF. The report draws on data to the Community Foundation Atlas (unveiled in Cleveland at the Council on Foundations Fall Community Foundation Conference in October) from 110 community foundations in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Central and Eastern Europe, as well as insights accrued from the GFCF’s own grantmaking to community philanthropy organizations in over 50 countries.

In three separate sections, the report shows how community foundations are building Assets, Capacities and Trust in their communities and what that looks like in a variety of different contexts, short case studies from Russia, China, Vietnam, Costa Rica and Kenya among others. This framework emerged out of a series of consultations conducted by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and the Aga Khan Foundation, in conjunction with the GFCF, as part of the planning process for the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy, as well as from indicators used by the GFCF in its grantmaking.

The report provides a first foray into the substantial data set accumulated through the Atlas project and the GFCF looks forward to engaging in additional studies – whether on specific geographic regions or on particular issues – drawing from the Atlas and other data sources.

Read the report

Meet the West Zone Community University

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

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

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

Swimming against the tide: Building local philanthropy in Northeast India

Drishana is celebrating; in fact she is ecstatic. As September draws to a close she has reached her fund development target: USD $5,000 from a range of individual donors by means of Global Giving.  The money will open the doors, and meet the running costs for a year, of a Safe House in Aizawl, to provide for women and children that are victims of domestic violence. The project is run by a woman who herself is a survivor. Working across the seven regions that comprise the Northeast of India (Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh) the Foundation for Social Transformation (FST) highlights essential community-based work and engages in an active programme of fund development. But more than this, they are planning for the long-term, recognizing that community philanthropy brings an important new dimension to social action – the ability to mobilize local resources for positive change. This has been the first time that Drishana has been involved directly in fund development. Judging from her smile and sense of achievement it won’t be the last.

Avila, Jenny and Rita meet with FST staff and board

As the crow flies, Guwahati, where FST has its office, is closer to Hanoi than to New Delhi. When we visited it in September 2014 the city was suffering from late monsoon flooding that closed local primary schools and ruffled the coconut trees up into a bad hair day. For areas across this far flung region the unremitting rain brought a number of deaths and considerable disruption through flooding and landslides. This didn’t prevent Gayatri Buragohain (CEO of FST) from bringing us out to meet social activists in Kokrajhar, an area under the control of the Bodoland Territorial Council. Gayatri used the lengthy travel time to explain the importance of the work of the foundation given the complexities of the Northeast region. The related aspects of grantmaking and fund development lie at the heart of her mission, but there is also a strong value base of social and gender justice alongside a society free from want, fear and discrimination.

Building Trust Through Solidarity

In the political and demographic complexity that is the Northeast, there is always a danger that donors fund where it is easy rather than where it is most needed, as Gayatri explains. Sporadic, and multiple, guerrilla movements have long been agitating around demands for autonomy and/or sovereignty based on sub-national identities, bringing them into violent conflict with the Indian state forces as well as other communities, such as migrants from Bangladesh. Some 90% of the border areas are both international and porous, edging up against Bhutan and Myanmar, as well as Bangladesh. Members of the Bodo community spoke angrily about how its language, script and culture were in danger of disappearing. One of their demands is for the building of universities and colleges in their area – this is now happening.

Monisha Behal, Chair of FST, and Avila Kilmurray

Not surprisingly the ongoing violence brings its own challenges. Relations have to be nuanced with a wide range of social organizations that may have very different ethnic and political aspirations. Resources allocated by FST are carefully judged and must be seen to be allocated in an inclusive and even handed manner. The next fund development target, entitled Northeast Rising, is to provide 14 Youth Fellowships on Peacebuilding (two for each of the seven regions) and seven organizational grants to women’s initiatives (one for each region). Inter-regional convenings can then draw out shared issues while leaving space for the examination of difference. The FST Chairperson, veteran women’s rights campaigner, Monisha Behal, recognizes how discussion can build an understanding of difference, if not necessarily achieving agreement. A previous FST partner, Nonibala Narengbam from Manipur, spoke about how “working with FST for one year gave me incredible experience of working with women who lost their loved ones (husbands) in the armed conflict. I also feel that the coming together of these women itself is a process of healing from their traumas. I witnessed women changing from the first time I met and saw them.” This is trust-building, in the most difficult circumstances, from the bottom-up. Sitting on plastic chairs in the mud of a camp for a Muslim community that had been displaced from their homes due to internal area violence the plea was the same: “Who will listen to us?”

Challenges amidst Beauty

From the stately Brahmaputra River to the vibrancy of sub-tropical forests this is a region of environmental beauty. On the basis of a recent bio-diversity mapping, FST Programme Officer, Rashmi, introduced us to the startling fact that the Northeast, which comprises almost 8% of the area of India, has 80,000 species of flowering plants; 836 bird types; multiple forest animals; and 51 forest species. Little wonder that it has been declared one of the 34 environmental “hot spots” in the world. She also charted the adverse impact of pollution, illegal mining and the depletion of both cultural resources and indigenous rights. A creative approach to women’s empowerment through the funding of traditional therapies and medicines is a current priority for FST. There is also an appreciation of the need to fund win-win solutions to the conflict between rural communities and elephants set on following traditional routes. Evidence is being gathered of those approaches that work. Rashmi shares her knowledge of locally based environmental partners that FST can support.

Kangkana, on the other hand, puts her energies into working with young people. Youth development is a key theme that FST has identified and Kangkana works to support a gathering of young men and women that are bubbling with ideas. Drawing from the Assam custom of Husori some of the young participants are already practicing Bihu folk songs and dances. During Bohag Bihu, one of the biggest festivals in Assam, the Husori teams visit homes to perform their dances and bring blessings. In return the household offers gifts and whatever they can afford. This is to be the new fundraising approach that will hopefully bring in resources for the establishment of a YouthBank within FST.

Rita and Gayatri in conversation with members of FST’s Youth Collective

The aspirations and rights of young people are also on the agenda of the activists that we met in Kokrajhar. Youth caught at the sharp edge of political conflict can be the first to suffer. There is talk about holding a conference on children’s rights. This could look at the recruitment of young people as informants by the security forces; it could also focus on the execution of a 16 year old local girl by guerrilla fighters due to accusations that she was an informer. This was all caught and circulated on social media as a stark message to others. Youth and peacebuilding remains an ongoing priority for FST – not just in fund development terms, but also in supporting community-based organizations to challenge and share new ideas locally. An impressive Meghalaya local partner, Prince Thangkhiew, is working to organize regular meetings of a Children’s Dorbar (traditional gathering) to encourage children, and especially girls, to become community leaders in identifying issues of importance.

There for the Long Haul

If navigating the virtual road from Kokrajhar to Guwahati was difficult given cows, goats, geese and the descending dark, equally Gayatri and her FST board members are under no illusion about the difficulties of putting FST on a secure long-term footing. The organization was initially incubated in 2005 and gained the support of the Ford Foundation. Since 2008 it has become registered as a community foundation and has struggled to put in place a fund development strategy. There is a clear recognition that its effectiveness is linked with the mobilization of funds that can support social change organisations and initiatives. Alongside the fundraising campaigns highlighted on its website (www.fstindia.org) there have been fundraising events and increasing contacts with potential donors, local, national and international. Anju, the Finance Administrator, takes a firm line on transparency and accountability to donors. Gayatri acknowledges that such accountability is particularly important in a situation where NGOs may be regarded with a degree of scepticism. She is determined that FST can model its principles of effective social change in such a way that it will make sense to local people. If we were looking for a metaphor we saw it within an hour of landing at the regional airport. A solitary elephant trundled its way down the white line at the centre of the nearby road as a departing jet airliner roared overhead – the traditional and the modern in one frame: FST as a model of community philanthropy in practice able to draw from both the local and the global.

Avila Kilmurray travelled to Guwahati to meet the Foundation for Social Transformation with Jenny Hodgson (GFCF) and Rita Thapa (Tewa, Nepal and GFCF board member) in September 2014.

Community-based philanthropy and peacebuilding

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

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

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

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

For further information on Foundations for Peace Network (including publications) please visit www.foundationsforpeace.org.

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.

When the trouble came to our house: How one Ukrainian community philanthropy organization is responding

Inna Starchikova The last six months have shocked the Ukraine. Unexpectedly, the state met problems with its integrity under the influence of our neighbour, Russia; citizens sought to stop the creation of an authoritarian regime and are trying to restore democracy. And finally, as the world is aware, we have a war in our east territory, leaving the rest of the country to try to solve all of these problems that have accumulated. It sounds like a lot of challenges for the Ukrainian state and citizens because it is. But, interestingly enough, this period of time has also yielded quite a bit of new information about philanthropy – examples and useful models – that can perhaps be used to define the main trends and risks affecting the sector for the next three to five years. Qualitative analysis of all of this information is still waiting to be explored more deeply, but I can already share some early observations:

1. Most NGOs and foundations lost “urgent charity” to social media. During this crisis, the main flows of charitable help from citizens went into bank accounts of individuals (via online donations), largely outside of the foundation sphere and without official records (money-boxes). This was especially highlighted at the local level, where calls for help from within informal networks evoked the greatest trust, and therefore response. People didn’t care at all about the tax implications of such donations. This was the situation we experienced in our city (Odessa), though it was common across the Ukraine.

2. There have been attempted raids on charitable foundations located away from the military zone. Some years ago we tried to discuss this problem, as well as possible mechanisms to counter it, with our colleagues at a national conference, but without success. There have already been several attacks this year aimed at different foundations. One of these raids received wide publicity (not to mention millions of Hryvnia, our currency, for the families of those killed at Maidan) and became a scandal, with members of the Ukrainian Philanthropists Forum getting involved with a team of lawyers.

3. Odd crowdfunding companies for government institutions have emerged. For example, the Ukraine has been left with a very weakened army. Citizens continue to pay taxes to maintain it, despite the lack of investigation or punishment to identify who was responsible for its destruction in the first place. Furthermore, instead of reporting what is happening with the millions of public funds being devoted to the army’s budget, there has been an enormous campaign in the mass media for charity donations to the army using modern mobile channels. In the end, it is likely that the same army generals who were involved in the first plundering have raised millions from patriotic citizens. These kinds of donations carry huge commissions in the Ukraine (more than 30% to business providers), but authorities never seem to mention this in their reports. Such “transparency” raises further concerns regarding possible abuses. There are additional risks associated with charity in the Ukraine, which means there is a need to reconsider conventional ways of providing international assistance as well as domestic help. We have preferred to deal with existing regional partners during this period, who have already proved their competences and capabilities.

On 2nd May there was a tragedy in Odessa, where we live and work, which garnered the world’s attention. Numerous citizens were killed. It was impossible for us to believe that dozens of inhabitants could be killed in this European city; the city was blanketed with confusion and depression. Our foundation provided different support after that, but I think that the greatest help was our psychological support: we returned faith to the people and to the community of thousands of residents by delivering messages and support through social media during the first evening and all night after tragedy. More information on the events in Odessa can be found in the “Report on the Human Rights Situation in Ukraine” published by Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights  on 15th June 2014. It has a large section entitled “Investigations into Human Rights Violations Related to the Violence in Odesa on 2nd May.”

I’d like to offer a few words and some comments which you cannot find in this report. We were also interested in determining the causes of the tragedy with a view to preventing such incidences in the future. However, our goal was not to punish the perpetrators or official groups involved, but rather to check the “state of health” of the whole community. We asked members of the community two closed-ended questions, with the possibility to add comments, as well as their own answers. Below, the findings:

%
Causes of the tragedy: What did you personally do wrong, which allowed the tragedy to happen on 2nd May in Odessa?
I failed to stop a friend who went to earn money for their participation in the meeting 0
I was not on the front lines to prevent conflict 7.41
I previously did not take action around the accountability of authorities 18.52
I did not support the earlier actions that could have prevented the tragedy 22.22
My actions, as well as inaction, could not have led to the tragedy of 2nd May 51.85
Further prevention: What steps will you take to reduce the risk of recurrence of such tragedies in Odessa? 
I will avoid participating in paid rallies and will discourage my friends from doing the same 38.57
I will avoid any mass gatherings 12.86
I’ll be sure to respond to the unscrupulous actions of the authorities 37.14
I will maintain regular contact with authorities 2.86
I will participate in manifestations against the abuse of authority 8.57
I will support activities reputable for me, including financially 0
I do not plan to do anything to prevent the tragedy in the future 0

 

We often try to use such quick instruments in order to accelerate our own internal reflections (and sometimes for proactive engagement). Our foundation developed its own direct “digital channels” to the community with the help and support of the GFCF. This table contains important information for better understanding the current, complex situation, as well as specific roles for community philanthropy organizations (CPO) in the future.

In my opinion, the main role of CPOs is the same as anywhere: to support community development based on a community’s needs and resources. At the same time, situations such as the one unfolding in Ukraine, set specific (not to mention challenging) tasks for CPOs. It is very important for us to understand what can be implemented without our involvement, and what has a high demand but little chance to be realized without our participation. A time of turmoil and change requires crisis management, when we should be focusing our efforts on the changes that the community really needs. We’ve already started supporting the design of a more modern system to encourage better self-government based on IT, mobile technologies, and the concept of direct democracy. This can enforce people’s participation in decision-making at the local level and can also provide new opportunities for monitoring local authorities as well as preventing conflicts. We are going to implement it first with civil society organizations, with an eye to further developing this infrastructure by the time of the 2015 local elections in the Ukraine. At the same time, our region still is at risk of falling back into conflict. We as an organization will therefore be focusing on building our capacity to work with larger humanitarian aid bodies, as well as to deliver conflict resolution services.

We didn’t imagine that the trouble would come to our house. Sometimes it’s scary and sometimes it’s deeply frustrating. However, many people living in Odessa greatly appreciate the place, and with this great, common love we move forward together, inspired to look for solutions even in the most dire of situations.

Inna Starchikova is Executive Director of the Charity Fund “Moloda Gromada” (“Young Community’) in Odessa, Ukraine