Building the future you want to see: What role for community foundations in China?

“Are there community foundations in China?” Over the last few years, as China’s home-grown philanthropy sector has grown dramatically, I have heard a variety of answers to this question. They have ranged from a simple “No”, to “one” to “at least 30”.

Community foundation “head-counts” are obviously helpful when it comes to mapping the growth of the global field. But what is perhaps more interesting is to look beyond the numbers and explore what role local philanthropic foundations might be able to play in China in fostering community initiatives, promoting cross-sectoral collaborations and mobilizing local resources and assets, particularly at a time when China’s rapid urbanisation means that the state is struggling to provide everything for its citizens and when it is also apparently beginning to realise that there may be a role for NGOs (long-suspected by the state), at least in the delivery of social services.

These were some of the questions that were on the table at the first “Local Community Foundations Development Forum” held in Guangzhou on May 29th 2014, and organized by the Guandong Harmony (Community) Foundation (GHF) and Sun Yat-Sen University School of Philanthropy. There was standing-room only at the day-long meeting, which was the first of its kind, and which brought together the leaders of various government charitable federations, independent and community foundations as well as government representatives and students from the university’s civil society and philanthropy departments. En route to the meeting, via Singapore and Beijing, I had been reliably informed a number of times that Guangzhou – which is the centre of China’s huge industrial heartland – has long held a reputation for independent thinking and liberal ideas, “a cradle for reforms and revolutions”. So it was perhaps no surprise that this forum – which provided a first opportunity for foundation leaders and board members to discuss some of the “nuts and bolts” of philanthropic practice such as grantmaking etc., – also touched on global philanthropic trends, namely community foundations and how this flexible form had been adapted and adopted in other parts of the world.

Since 2004, when new regulations on foundations were introduced, Chinese philanthropy has certainly seen a rapid growth. In 2013, the China Foundation Center recorded that were 3,608 foundations in China, with total giving amounting to RMB 29 billion (about US $4.6 billion). When you look at the numbers more closely, however, the picture becomes more complex and perhaps less rosy. There are only 1,400 independent foundations (the rest are so-called “GONGOs” or government-operated non-governmental organizations). And of these 1,400, 400 were established by companies and another 900 by celebrities and academics. This means that although, according to the Economist, China had 358 billionaires at the end of 2013, very few of these rich individuals and their families are setting up foundations. In fact, in terms of charitable giving, China ranks among the world’s worst. According to the World Giving Index 2013, an annual survey by the Charities Aid FoundationChina ranked 115 among 135 countries for donating money and last for volunteering.

So what are some of the barriers to building a culture of philanthropy in China? In a recent interview with Alliance magazine, He Daofeng, executive president of the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation (a GONGO, turned independent foundation), Chair of the China Foundation Center and winner of this year’s Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize for Emerging Markets Philanthropy, shared his views. These included, “selfishness and ideology, driven by market economic mechanisms”, “lack of religious faith and shared values”, the bad reputation of GONGOs and a lack of trusted and independent NGOs.

The legal framework for philanthropy in China has also made fundraising from the public (and therefore fostering a culture of community philanthropy) very difficult. Although groups might be allowed to receive public donations, few are allowed to engage in actual public fundraising without going through a GONGO. And while China has over half a million registered NGOs, according to the Economist, many of these are “quasi-official or mere shell entities attempting to get government money.” Furthermore, although another 1.5 million NGOs are estimated to exist, these are all unregistered, moving them off the radar of most local donors.

My task at the meeting in Guangzhou was to provide a snapshot of how the global community philanthropy field has evolved, from the Cleveland Foundation, and its founder, Frederick Gough, and his bold vision to pool the charitable resources of Cleveland’s philanthropists, living and dead, into a single permanent endowment for the betterment of the city (now valued at US $1.8 billion), to Russia, to Brazil, to Zimbabwe. The Russian experience of community foundation development was of particular interest. Although the two countries have taken different routes in terms of economic and political liberalization, a number of parallels can be drawn when it comes to the development of civil society / philanthropic sector, low levels of public trust and the need to tread sensitively around a suspicious state. While the US is often taken as a main reference point for many things in China, when it comes to community foundation development Russia would seem to be a more relevant comparison at present. Not only are there now over 50 community foundations and community foundation-like organizations in Russia, but the role of bridge-building philanthropy support organizations and membership associations such as CAF Russia, the various community foundation networks and the Russia Donors Forum, in contributing to the growth of the philanthropic sector is clear. In China, such organizations are still thin on the ground.

Jiangang Zhu (centre) with philanthropy colleagues, at Sun-Yat-sen University

Looking forward – fostering an ecosystem for philanthropy

In his comments, one of the meeting hosts, the dynamic, visionary and multi-talented Jiangang Zhu, professor of the School of Sociology and Anthropology at Sun Yat-sen University, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy, director of the Institute for Civil Society and a board member of the Guangdong Harmony Foundation, observed that the community foundation concept represented a “higher level task” for Chinese philanthropy because, unlike private foundations, its multi-stakeholder governance structure required that different “forces” or groups needed to overcome their differences and come together. This in itself has the potential to be quite transformational in China. In addition, he said, it would be important to foster broader networks and support structures for philanthropy so that an “ecosystem” could begin to develop.

 

Guandong Harmony (Community) Foundation: very much a dot on the community foundation map

A “village within the city”, where many migrant workers liveThe day after the conference, a smaller group of us had the opportunity to visit some of the migrant worker groups supported by GHF, which is one of the very few grantmaking foundations in China, making it a “precious” resource, according to one of its board members.  GHF personnel are the first to admit that there is work to be done in terms of strengthening staff capacity, ensuring more community participation in the governance structures and expanding the funding base. But meeting grantees of the foundation, local groups run by migrant workers providing childcare and advice on rights etc, and hearing about how the foundation had provided not just grants but also technical support and advice, had linked them to other groups and brought their issues to the attention of local authorities (all potentially tricky stuff in China), I had no doubt that this is a foundation that aspires to be for the community and of the community in its very essence, which in the end is what community philanthropy is all about.

It will be interesting to see whether emerging organization in the community philanthropy field (the Yangjing Community Foundation in Shanghai is another interesting example) will be able to thrive in the space currently given to them by the authorities and to what extent that space is allowed to expand if government authorities can come to regard community foundations as more of a benefit than of a threat.

Jenny Hodgson

Executive Director, GFCF

Troubleshooting not troublemaking at the first youth community philanthropy global summit

In fact, throughout the course of this one day summit, held 17th June in Chicago, there were plenty of “T” words thrown around: time, talents, treasures, trust, transparency and ties were just some of the others. Organized by the Council on Foundations and the Council of Michigan Foundations with support from the C.S. Mott Foundation, the summit brought together more than 50 youth philanthropy practitioners and enthusiasts from 14 different countries to gain a broader understanding of innovative approaches in youth community philanthropy and to begin building links between these actors.

The morning examined the “what” of youth community philanthropy: various approaches around the world and what strategies are proving to work well (and which aren’t). During the first panel, with speakers from Brazil, Romania, and the US, it became quite clear, quite quickly that the challenges experienced in encouraging individual youth constituencies to contribute their time, talents and treasures resonated across borders. As Anderson Giovani da Silva, CEO of ICom in Florianopolis, noted: “Failures are best when they happen quickly.” But as in real life this just isn’t the case very often, Summit participants eagerly shared and listened to each other’s anecdotes and experiences from the different corners of the world represented, keenly digesting the practical learning from peers grappling with the same issues.

Digging deeper into substance, the ensuing Table Topic Talks (at which point it was impossible not to notice the alliterative pattern running throughout the day) delved into the “how” of the work. What tools are proving to be successful in day-to-day work? Giving circles, YouthBanks, Youth Advisory Councils, crowdsourcing, cash mobs were all explored by those with plenty of experience and lessons to share, and those just beginning to test the waters. A brilliant presentation from Gabriel Marmentini, a student and social entrepreneur working with ICom, succinctly expressed what matters most in online crowdsourcing: trust, transparency and ties. Drawing from his own experiences in Brazil he emphasized that one cannot overstate the importance of being clear in your goals, communicating how funds are being used throughout the process (not just at the end in a snazzy report), and using existing networks to help spread your message and reach new partners.

Challenges around terminology and language recurred throughout the day. Firstly in the use of the word “youth”, as it seemed for as many people as there were in the room there were as many understandings of who we were speaking about when we used the word. Use of the word “philanthropy” was also debated heavily: in some contexts it is somewhat off-putting as it suggests an old way of operating, and doesn’t go far enough in capturing all of the different activities that today’s youth engage in to uplift their communities. Adina Ana Cristea, from YouthBank Romania, stated that she “would rather see people doing things than stopping to define them.” In other contexts, participants noted that using a recognized word such as “philanthropy” offers legitimacy and a greater sense of trust in the value of youth voices.

Afternoon sessions focused on how the field can be advanced more coherently moving forward, and participants offered that further, more regular, efforts should be made to share youth community philanthropy models, best practices, and other information on a global level. Practitioners seem to learn best from exposure to new environments and situations, so mediums should be generated for this exchange – while additional face-to-face meetings, perhaps organized on a regional basis, would serve to keep stakeholders in contact). More difficult questions included: how to raise the profile of youth philanthropy outside of the sector, in order to draw more attention to the field and its potential; how to build greater trust in the value of youth voices (moving away from the stereotypes of troublemaking youth); and, how to ensure voices from different parts of the world, emerging economies in particular, are heard as youth philanthropy grows as a concept.

But despite the diversity of those present, differences in terminology, language, approaches, beliefs, there was one overarching theme emerging from the day: youth around the world are ready to take on the challenge of uplifting their communities. Everyone agreed that the secret ingredient to youth philanthropy, why it is so important, is that it moves away from the traditional sentiment that young people are the future but rather gets them involved in their communities, in giving, in decision-making, not in the future but here and now.

Local philanthropy of Federal importance: Community foundations in Russia

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

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

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

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

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

(iii) Engaged in promoting civic activism;

(iv) Creating a new philanthropic culture and traditions;

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

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

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

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

Local philanthropy, local leadership

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

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

Priority areas of work

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

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

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

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

Community philanthropy: A new model of development

13 December 2013, AsianNGO

It has always been a weakness for many small non-government organisations that donors tend to ‘own’ them and their programmes in the communities where they work. But a new model in development—community philanthropy—is emerging through forms of community foundations shaped by local context.

It could be the new driving force for local communities to more actively and effectively manage their programmes given their sharper sense of ownership, a stronger trust among each other based on common culture and thus, a more personal sense of accountability. “Community philanthropy organisations are organic, rooted in local culture and thus, do not necessarily adhere to the standards of someone else’s notion,” says Halima Mohamed of TrustAfrica.

Although booming only in the last two years, community philanthropy is not exactly a new concept. Between 2000 and 2010 alone, community foundations grew by a staggering 86 per cent, averaging with 70 new institutions born annually. But apart from the traditional values of NGO activities—organised structure, self-direction, an openness of its strategies of engagement and being a civil society institution—community philanthropy takes on enabling local groups to use their own assets and building an inclusive and equitable society guided by local context.

This makes for a reciprocity based on a principle of solidarity, providing for wider public benefits as opposed to that contained or limited to certain privileged groups in the community—whether internally in a community or externally. These benefits transcend traditional tangible results; they also yield trust, community leadership, social capital, sustainability and reduction of the attitude of dependency—factors typically regarded as important yet very hard to measure.

The rise of community philanthropy, mostly through local community foundations, have also been vital in democracy-building, such as the case of Egypt’s Waqfeyat al Maadi Community Foundation; and in changing people’s mindsets, as in the success of the Dalia Association in Palestine demonstrates.

With civil society in Egypt deeply rooted in its history of conflicts and political turmoil, Waqfeyat al Maadi seeks to revive and modernise the concept of endowment to encourage sustainable non-governmental financing and development in the country. To kick-start and support development efforts, the organisation has been working since 2007, a bit before the Arab spring, to close the gap between the rich and the poor in Al-Maadi and improve the residents’ standard of living through social endowment.

Palestine’s Dalia, meanwhile, organised an art competition called ‘Momentum for Philanthropy’ that called for poetry, short stories, videos and photographs from youth entrants from Palestinians across the world. The competition showcased examples of Palestinian philanthropy to change the concept that [Palestinians] receive help but do not give any.

Despite these organisations being small, local people are both taking the lead in the works and are contributing their own resources. At its core, community philanthropy thus harnesses the passions and dedication of local communities to enable their members to help each other even at a personal level—which is very well a natural group dynamic in any society.

In India, the Prayatna Foundation has brought together over 5,000 residents across 50 villages, mobilising Dalit and Muslims to contribute their time, resources and knowledge to work together on addressing housing and unemployment issues, protecting their human rights and pushing for government accountability and social justice. With a history of religious divide between Hindus and Muslims, both groups have now forged connections together to develop the skills of local leaders in bringing real development in their community.

In Nepal, the Tewa Foundation has rallied over 3,000 local donors. Giving has become intimately connected with identity, being an important their culture. It has been a powerful means of bridging the varying interests and patching gaps of differing opinions; but still offering a sense of hope for sustainable interventions that transform their community away from dependency from external aid. The people’s use of their own money to carry out their programmes has thus affirmed the legitimacy of the organisations’ legitimacy.

The alternative model that Tewa presents is grounded in local realities. Despite a troubled history and a deeply conflicted contemporary cultural landscape, Tewa has done away with many of the established hierarchies of gender divide, social classes and the caste system, ethnic divisions and even geography. This shows an empowered civil society with an all-inclusive structure that can be transparent and accountable; as well as trusting and respectful. And global foundations are certainly not one to ignore this new emerging value system.

“Community philanthropy leads to better results for development works. If people feel like they’re co-investors in their own development, bring their own assets to the table and are enabled to govern the works, then they care more of the outcomes and are more accountable in ways that build social capital. The power dynamics are more equal in a partnership setting, not the traditional donor-beneficiary relationship,” says Jenny Hodgson of the Global Fund for Community Foundations.

The Aga Khan Foundation, together with the Mott Foundation, The Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Global Fund for Community Foundations, has rallied partners across the globe—donors and NGO recipients alike—to pursue community philanthropy in their respective scopes of work. They all agree that having local people involved as donors is a game-changer in efforts to build civil society and enhances prospects for sustainability of (external) funding even when the programme has been completed.

“We have worked on civil society for a long time. When people do things for themselves, those programmes have been the most sustainable. Leadership, financial resources and voluntary support are all sustained,” says Aga Khan Foundation CEO Mirza Jahani.

If community-level collaboration has the power to transform societies from within, using local resources and talent, then it’s about time that corporate philanthropy becomes a mainstream development strategy not only for local NGOs and civil society groups. Rather, it is an engagement policy that multi-lateral donor agencies can integrate into their collaborations with NGOs and CSOs, particularly in developing countries. And that programmes should develop the capacities of local organisations’ community philanthropy, making them more effective partners with foundations and development agencies.

The collective and inclusive picture of community philanthropy—as a new model for development and civil society engagement—sends a powerful message for the ‘within group’ and ‘between group’ dynamics in a society. Such a process holds high potentials to resolve, if not avert conflicts—armed or political; builds harmony and frames an equitable point of reference for real development to take place: one that empowers each member of every level of the community. (With reports from the Aga Khan Foundation and the Mott Foundation; image from the Mott Foundation.)

This article was first published on 13 December 2013 in AsianNGO

What Does Community Philanthropy Look Like? New report available

What makes the global spread of community philanthropy organizations so exciting is the variety of forms they take, adaptations to different local contexts, challenges, resources, and leaders. The core similarities matter—all in some way help geographic communities mobilize financial and other kinds of capital for improvement of the lives of residents. But so do the differences. Some have endowments, some don’t. Some are large, more are small. Some call themselves community foundations, others do not. This diversity is one sign of community philanthropy’s flexibility, potential, and rising popularity.

But it also presents a challenge to those who want to better understand and support community philanthropy, especially on a global level. A practice so varied, so organic and tied to local conditions, complicates classification, resists general conclusions, and calls for lots of learning through example. A movement relatively young and quickly evolving, with a limited body of applied research, requires ongoing documentation and study.

So it was that the C.S. Mott Foundation—which has supported a number of initiatives to strengthen and expand community philanthropy—commissioned Barry Knight of CENTRIS to explore the work and develop case studies of eight community philanthropy organizations (seven of which have been GFCF grantees) around the world:

• Amazon Partnerships Foundation (Ecuador)

• Black Belt Community Foundation (United States)

• Bolu Donors Foundation (Turkey)

• Community Foundation for South Sinai (Egypt)

• Fundacion Comunitaria de la Frontera Norte (Mexico)

• Healthy City Community Foundation (Slovakia)

• Instituto Comunitário Grande Florianópolis (Brazil)

• Tuzla Community Foundation (Bosnia)

Read the report

Community philanthropy celebrates 10 years in Latvia

Ansis Bērziņš, Community Foundation Movement in Latvia and Valmiera Community Foundation, describes a recent celebration of community philanthropy in Valmiera.

“Community Foundation Movement in Baltics – 10 years”. This was the title of international conference that brought 120 people from Latvia and ten different countries to Valmiera on 10th October, 2013, to celebrate the anniversary of community philanthropy in Latvia and the Baltic States. It was a moment to evaluate achievements, to discuss future challenges and to enjoy doing good for our local communities.

During the conference social researcher Linda Zīverte presented her case study from Talsi Region Community Foundation. She pointed that higher level of trust and collaboration in the community also brings faster economy growth, which is good evaluation for what community foundations have mostly done in Latvia. Jenny Hodgson, director of Global Fund for Community Foundations, gave insight on global trends in the field and emphasized that philanthropy becomes more and more local because donors want to give within their communities. Other speakers from Latvia, Romania and Belgium shared their experiences and challenges in local giving, fundraising and grant-making.

Rūta Dimanta, Ziedot Foundation

Ten years ago, in February and December of 2003, the first community foundations were established in Talsi and Lielvārde. Thanks to support of Baltic – American Partnership Fund, set up by Open Society Institute and the US Government, concept of locally rooted giving was strongly promoted in the Baltic States, including Latvia. A lot was invested for learning and institutional development as well as for sharing among ourselves. The Association, called the Community Foundation Movement, with 4 members was set up early on, in 2006. Now the Movement has grown to four active community foundations, two associate members and two emerging organizations willing to join the club. So far, 12% of Latvian population has access to community foundations.


Since February 2012, the Movement has acquired a new strategic partner to support its growth. The Boris and Ināra Teterev Foundation, private organization, has given a 5‑year collaboration contract with financial support for operations and capacity building of existing and potential community foundations. Three foundations have attracted additional funding from Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein via EEA Financial Mechanism. This support is fundamental for professional operations and development of community foundations in Latvia.

Despite the fact that philanthropy and giving culture is still only developing, the work of Latvian community foundations has been appreciated by local communities, governments and donors. Foundations are still struggling for survival; sustainability is an issue for all non-profit organizations in Latvia. But having everybody still in the field is success in itself. Here are just some numbers to describe community foundations’ work in Latvia: 2 million dollars raised, 676 grants given to local people, 100’000 and 80’000 dollars endowments reached for two largest foundations each, and countless amount of dollars and hours spent on promoting local giving and meaningful philanthropy.

Additional information: Ansis Bērziņš, Community Foundation Movement in Latvia
E-mail: kopienufondi@teterevufonds.lv

Asian community philanthropy practitioners gather in Shillong, India

In mid-September, a group of community philanthropy practitioners and supporters gathered for a two-day meeting in the hill station of Shillong, capital of the state of Meghalaya, one of the “Seven Sister” states of Northeast India, which is connected to the rest of the country by a narrow corridor squeezed between Nepal and Bangladesh. This part of India is quite isolated from the rest of the country and it has seen decades of conflict and separatist insurgency. The meeting was organized by the Global Fund for Community Foundations and the Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace Network and it was hosted by the Foundation for Social Transformation – enabling north east India.

In 2011, the GFCF convened a meeting of South Asian community philanthropy practitioners at Tewa Women’s Fund in Nepal. The aim of that meeting had been to begin a regional conversation about the state and practice of organized community philanthropy in South Asia, a field which is still quite scattered and disconnected. This time, the geographic net was extended even further: so, in addition to foundation representatives from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka, there were also participants from southeast Asia – Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand.

We asked three participants, Gayatri Buragohain (Foundation for Social Transformation and our excellent local hosts), Nhu Ngo (LIN Center for Community Development, Vietnam), and Amelia Fauzia (Social Trust Fund, Indonesia) to tell us about their impressions of the meeting.

GFCF: Firstly, Gayatri, as the local hosts, how important was this convening on community philanthropy in Asia to the Foundation for Social Transformation?

Gayatri: Northeast India has suffered much over the last few decades due to on-going conflict, both in terms of economic and social development and in the recognition and protection of human rights. Although there are many local initiatives all over the region working to restore peace and support development, it is a big challenge for such groups or organizations to access resources that are needed to support and sustain their work. To fill this resource gap, in 2005 a group of people from the region got together to create the Foundation for Social Transformation as a local philanthropic organization.

Foundation for Social Transformation – enabling north east India [the organization’s full name] is the first philanthropic organization in the North East that has been started by local people and that is exclusively dedicated to giving grants for development projects in the region. However, the concept of ‘community philanthropy’ is quite new in this region. Although community giving has existed in the various different cultures of the region, with community dwellers pooling resources to help one of its members in distress, the concept of organized philanthropy is still at a nascent stage.

For the team of FST, the Asia Community Philanthropy Peer Learning and Exchange came at a time when we were seeking some much needed support. We were happy to organise the meeting on behalf of the GFCF and the PSJP Network and felt a great sense of pride that it was going to be held in our part of the world! We feel it helped us highlight the region on the global “map” of community philanthropy. It was also very helpful for us to see the larger picture of community philanthropy in Asia, meet with others and understand our place in this larger picture. It reconfirmed the need for an organization such as ours. Being located in a geographically less accessible place, and working on very different social context from mainland India, we do feel a little lonely and disconnected. More importantly, we have a very new team on board for whom the understanding on local philanthropy is new. This meeting helped us feel connected, inspired and gave much needed conceptual clarity on local philanthropy.

 

GFCF: Gayatri, Nhu and Amelia, what were you impressions of the meeting, in particular, in terms of the similarities and differences between different institutions and different countries as well as the current state of community philanthropy in Asia overall?

Gayatri: FST has been struggling to survive over the last few years due to a serious financial crunch. We started recovering towards the later part of 2012 following some major strategic changes in the way we function and raise funds. In this meeting we realized that the challenges we are facing are very similar to what many other community foundations are facing, especially when it comes to raising operational costs for the foundation. It also came out from our various conversations that the strategies other organizations have used or are considering are also very similar to what we have adopted or are considering. It was certainly clear that through networking, sharing of experiences, we can share best practices and not reinvent the wheel. A lot of discussions also resulted in identifying possible collaborations which we are very excited about. At the same time, however, we did feel that there were some ideological differences with some tactics of raising funds [in particular, in engaging corporates], but we feel that discussing those helped us to examine and reflect on different perspectives on resource mobilization.

Nhu: We were honoured to participate in such a convening that lets us exchange and learn from other institutions building philanthropy.  Although we come from different countries, our issues and concerns are similar.  This was my first meeting with other community philanthropy institutions in the region.  I was so impressed by the way that we were all so open with each other about our successes, experiences and challenges.  In one group, for example, we were five people from five different countries; when the first one finished talking about his institution’s goal and challenges, most of us said, “Same here!”  Each different institution has different programmes for fundraising and different approaches to serving its local community. 

Amelia: The meeting was very productive and useful for us all to learn from each other on some very practical issues related to community foundations. It is also a great opportunity for everyone to reflect on his or her own organization and to define where it “sits” in the working concept of the community foundation concept.

Previously, I had thought my organization, Social Trust Fund, had a rather uncommon or unusual form, but in Shillong, I found that my institution is not alone at all. There are many similarities in terms of activities, visions, and organizational characteristics (such as grantmaking and capacity building) among the different community foundation-type institutions in different countries. Culture, religion, ethnicity, gender, are all big issues that have caused particular problems across Asia. Because of this, it seems to me that these Asian-based community foundations try hard and are perhaps more outspoken in their missions of pluralism, inclusiveness, and targeting non-discriminative approaches and aims. Community philanthropy in Asia is not yet strong enough in terms of asset and numbers, but it is certainly rising as an important force. It matters because change or transformation should be led and done by the community itself.

Yes, I learnt the importance of grantmaking, community leadership, community money and cause, and capacity building within community foundations, which are very important for growing community foundations in Indonesia. Although the term “community foundation” is not familiar in Indonesia, there are similar types of institutions (although they tend to involve less grantmaking, community leadership and capacity building). I have many ideas as to how to build up my own institution (Social Trust Fund-STF) as well about how to seed and grow community foundations in Indonesia. …In terms of the national context, I think there is an urgent need to transform “traditional” foundations into more community foundation-like institutions.

GFCF: From our grantmaking experience over the last few years, we have observed that although community philanthropy institutions around the world may be quite diverse and operate in very different contexts, some of the particular aspects of their work that bring them together as a distinct cohort include an interest in a) building assets b) building agency of local institutions (often by strengthening them through small grants) and c) building trust across and within different parts of a community. What are your thoughts on this as far as your own institutions are concerned?

Gayatri: I agree with all three points you have mentioned. For FST, it is a top priority right now to build trust within the local community around the notion of civil society and also build assets within the community to support local progressive development projects. It has become important for two reasons. The first is that accessing traditional funds from foreign foundations and donors has become more and more difficult for local NGOs because of both a reduction in international funding and the introduction of new government rules and regulations that restrict access to such funding. Secondly, we feel it is important for people of the region to own the responsibility of development of the region and peace building in the region. There are many local institutions that are doing remarkable work for the region. They need support from the local people to sustain their work. Otherwise they will always find themselves flowing against the tide. So even for us, building assets, building agency of local institutions and building trust are key priorities – all of which need to take place within the framework of a rights based approach.

Nhu: LIN’s approach to community philanthropy indeed seeks to achieve all three of the objectives you mentioned:

(1) We build assets in our community by attracting and pooling resources from as many sources as possible to address the needs in our community.

(2) We build agency of local nonprofits not only via small grants but also by other means, including the creation of organizational development tools, peer working groups, workshops, introductions to skilled volunteers and information sharing.

(3) We are working to build trust across and within different parts of our community by being transparent about our activities, income and expenditures and proactively communicating what we are doing to as many people as possible. We are also trying to support our local non-profit partners that want to do the same.

Amelia: Yes, these three are very important to us. They are inter-related: trust, agency and assets. Social Trust Fund chooses to start from building trust. We are very new organization, almost two years old. Trust aspect is very important to us, and it is explicitly stated as name of our institution. Trust should be started from our internal institution (staff, board, activities) and then transformed to our wider programs and communities. Based on trust, we build agency and we build our assets.

Read more PJSP Coordinator, Chandrika Sahai’s blog here and Drishana Kalita’s (Drishana is a staff member at FST) here. Also on the PJSP Network’s website is an interview with Sumitra Mishra, Country Director, at iPartner India, who talks about the unique and important role of “intermediary” organisations and their “value added” in the process of philanthropic giving

‘What will make us different?’ The first five years of the Uluntu Community Foundation

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? 
TS Eliot, ‘The Wasteland’

The pipe-dream of sustainability …

Sustainability is the issue at the heart of most community foundations – and the environmental meaning of the word is as important as its organizational significance, particularly in a country and a continent subject to increasingly unpredictable rainfall and erratic climatic conditions, both of which compound the physical challenges of securing a livelihood from the land. Add to these natural circumstances a set of economic factors that has laid waste whole communities, seen poverty and unemployment reach worrying heights and gross national product nosedive, and sustainability begins to seem something of a pipe-dream. And then top all that with a political state of affairs that has made your country an international pariah, severely reduced any appeal it might have held for international investors, and threatened to damage the social cohesion of communities themselves – and you have a cocktail of difficulties that most people would run away from.

So the fact that the Uluntu Community Foundation, far from doing so, has recently recorded its fifth year of operation (it was registered in 2008) is impressive enough. That it has done so while keeping true to its founding principles and maintaining the same core of volunteer board members is doubly astounding. In this stony ground, Uluntu has laid down roots and caused branches to grow that show every chance of enduring and flourishing. Just read this, about two gardening projects:

The generous donation to the people of Sinkukwe and Zhokwe has enabled these two groups, managed by women, to start up income-generating projects from their nutrition gardens. The projects directly benefit children – particularly orphans – and the elderly by providing healthy and fresh vegetables, as well as crops each farming season. The gardens have become educational platforms and have helped impart survival skills to the women and their families. Through the income realized from the selling of garden produce, the wardens have further managed to purchase other livestock such as cattle, goats and chickens. In appreciation of the support they have received, Ms Jessie Ncube, Chairlady of the Njabulo group, had this to say, ‘We have been equipped and we will not look back but move forward with developing ourselves.’

Nutrition garden supported by Uluntu CF

How did this come about?

If, at first, …

Uluntu is an emerging community foundation based in Bulawayo, in the west of Zimbabwe. Registered in 2008, it aims to foster and support a type of development driven by local people rather than by external agencies. Indeed, this spirit of a people-centred organization is captured in the organization’s name: ‘Uluntu’ means ‘people’ in isiNdebele, the main local language of Western Zimbabwe.

In the context of much of sub-Saharan Africa, where international development aid has often crowded out notions of local philanthropy, the vision of a local philanthropic institution might be seen to be bold. In Zimbabwe, it feels beyond bold.

Economic, political and personal backgrounds

In 2013, Zimbabwe was ranked 172 out of 187 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index.[1] Hyperinflation, the demise of the ‘zim’ dollar, the crashing of the country’s economy, all created extraordinarily difficult trading environments. And the Matabeleland Provinces (North and South) are some of the poorest parts of Zimbabwe, with poverty levels estimated at 80% and unemployment at 90%. In recent years, local industry has all but ground to a halt, and the lack of economic opportunities in the region has resulted in high levels of migration to South Africa, particularly among economically active young women and men. This is where Uluntu has elected to work.

The Uluntu Community Foundation was not, in fact, the first such venture undertaken by its founding member, Inviolatta Moyo. She had previously worked in the Community Foundation for the Western Region of Zimbabwe, but the foundation had faced its own set of challenges and had eventually come to change its focus: ‘Things started too well previously,’ she says and, when economic circumstances changed, she ended up losing ‘the zeal and direction’ and becoming ‘frustrated and sometimes very confused’. Having always been convinced that community foundations were the way forward, however, she was determined not to be discouraged by this but to see it as an object lesson in how to refine the model for the next attempt.

Two things emerged from this earlier experience: her conviction that rapid growth was unlikely to lead to sustainability and her belief that success would depend on her building up a close network of relationships with others who shared her vision.

Relationships – the building blocks of Uluntu

The issue of trust was a crucial factor here: in a country where institutions have too often failed the people they should be serving, Uluntu would prioritize the building of relationships, recognizing that these can’t be built up quickly or easily and that, to many Zimbabweans, trust is an entirely new currency to be dealing in. As the political and economic circumstances in Zimbabwe evolved, the robust network of people and communities that Uluntu would gradually build up would be what set the organization apart, and what would make it a strong, valuable resource for new partners.

In this endeavour, Inviolatta’s co-trustees, the current board members of Uluntu, were first in terms of importance. They were the ones who encouraged her to embark on a new venture. But their composition and their pattern of behaviour also set the benchmark for the foundation as a whole. The board members were drawn from a range of backgrounds, with an equally mixed experience of national and international experience, and a range of skill sets – journalism, education, commerce, broadcasting and civil service – that guaranteed coverage of all the fledgling foundation’s needs and, combined, related perfectly to its mandate. There was also an equal gender mix but, perhaps more significantly even than any of this, the members were unified by a sense of all being in it together: nobody expected any allowance or stipend for their involvement but instead gave freely of their time and of their resources – hosting meetings at their homes, donating furniture, lending cars or petrol, contributing money to get Uluntu’s bank account opened. This was a shared journey they were all on together, and it was one that they were going to undertake patiently and without compromising on any of their principles. The words of Thomas à Becket in TS Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral were almost made for Uluntu:

The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed, for the wrong reason.

Listening to communities

Patience and the refusal to lose sight of their founding principles lie behind everything Uluntu does and are equally at the basis of its relationships with the communities in which it works. Some funding organizations come into communities with a clear idea of the projects they want to develop; inevitably, the communities pick up on the funders’ agenda and identify either the burgeoning project or the need for such a project, in order to secure the funding. The project may represent the community’s most important need but, equally, it may not. Uluntu likes to think it operates differently. Since relationships are at the heart of its activity, what it does first is to establish a relationship with the community, listening to its representatives and members, waiting to hear from them what their most pressing concerns and needs are.

Initially, formal and informal meetings were held with friends, acquaintances and contacts to begin to identify the priorities and concerns of various communities and groups, initially in the Matabeleland South Province. The board and staff travelled to rural areas to gauge the temperatures of the communities there, and to begin to understand where the energy may be. The communities themselves had to be the drivers of any change they wanted to see in their local contexts: the foundation never saw itself as being the leader of this process, but rather a convener, broker or catalyst for community empowerment – an institutional partner that could help translate vision to reality.

So the Uluntu staff and board would call for and facilitate meetings with the communities involved, and then would simply listen as the ideas and brainstorms began to flow. Given the high exodus of working males from the region in search of employment opportunities in neighbouring countries, many of these conversations were held with females and youth groups.

Prioritizing relationship building, Uluntu was careful to ensure that partnerships and overlapping interests were the opening topics of all discussions – not funding or the promise of money. Busani Bafana, Uluntu’s current Chair, who brings with him a journalistic background and fresh perspective to this work, explains: ‘We put our cards on the table and get to know a community. We have seen other organizations try to come in with too many ideas, solutions and funds, and it doesn’t work.’ As a result of this lengthy, community-driven process, which spanned several years, Uluntu narrowed its programmatic focus to several key areas: education, food security and livelihoods, research, social entrepreneurship – and crosscutting topics such as the environment, HIV/AIDS and gender issues.

Busani maintains that it was not difficult to convince these communities that they should in fact be the leaders of the process: ‘Local giving, no matter how small, makes a big difference in the livelihoods of disadvantaged communities. What is locally rooted is guaranteed to last, because the sense of ownership is stronger and yields deeper commitment.’ And the recipe for the foundation’s success in encouraging this grassroots leadership? ‘Trust is our currency.’

Inviolatta pursues this idea:

When you go to the community without answers, automatically the energy is with the community. They are driving the vehicles they want to move forward. When we get there and listen to them, they are already in the driver’s seat. This instills a sense of ownership and trust and they gradually open up. It may take a few meetings, but then they believe in what you are doing.

It was also critical to relate to these communities and individuals on their terms, linking larger issues back to the familiar realities of day-to-day life, and in doing so encouraging the empowerment of households as development change agents themselves. Inviolatta elaborates: ‘Just ask them: “How have you coped before? How do we add to that?” It’s about addressing poverty from the micro level. This is the taking-off point.’

Funders and authorities – the routes into communities

These communities were accessible only if the representatives of Uluntu could get to them, of course. On a practical level, this was a serious issue, as many communities and projects are more than 100 kilometres away from Bulawayo, and the roads are rudimentary. With no funds to support vehicles of its own, Uluntu had, again, to rely on the goodwill of its trustees and founding members, who offered their own means of transport – and occasionally themselves as drivers! But on a political level, the foundation could work with these communities only if they had the approval of the local authorities under whose responsibility they fell – and here again the importance of relationship building came to the fore.

To have authorization to work in the wards they had targeted, Uluntu had to make several trips to five of the seven Rural District Councils operating in the Matabeleland South Province. These meetings eventually led to the issuing of memoranda of understanding – documents required of all organizations by the government – authorizing the activities of Uluntu in the districts. This arrangement, although a practical complication, creates easy access to communities and allows both Uluntu and the local authority to monitor the situation, which is particularly useful in the event of any conflict.

Last in the network of relationships is the relationship with funders. The ultimate objective of Uluntu, of course, is to be self-sustaining and to enable communities to be self-supporting, too. As Inviolatta puts it:

Local money is important because it means you are investing in your own community. After all, charity begins at home and raising local money is essential when it comes to building local trust, and it also means more local ownership and sustainability. For me, local money is for ever: a well that you can always draw from. Like a well, if it is well constructed, it can go on for ever. People are always there, ready to help, but they need someone to provide a platform through which to give … And communities already have their own assets, probably without realizing it. They work in their own small way on a day-to-day basis and manage their own economies in absolutely fascinating ways. What Uluntu does is add value to what already exists.[2]

If the goal of the journey was to get to a point where communities could sustain the projects which Uluntu’s support had enabled them to start, the community foundation had to source funds itself. To do so would not be easy, because just as Uluntu was determined not to impose on communities the projects it thought they should be doing, so too it was adamant that funders should not be able to dictate to it the programmes they thought it should engage in. This was dramatically to limit the pool of potential supporters. Yet, once again, the determination of this approach and the patience with which the foundation was determined to build its system of operation ended up attracting the interest of like-minded funding organizations that were happy to work in the way Uluntu proposed. International funders such as the American Jewish World Service, Global Greengrants Fund, the Global Fund for Community Foundations (GFCF) and the African Women’s Development Fund have all been in sympathy with the process Uluntu is engaged in, and all have been happy to invest in the process rather than to insist on project outcomes overnight. Inviolatta is quick to acknowledge the debt Uluntu owes these organizations:

Each of these external funders has been a huge strength in our ability to be able to leverage other sources of support. It would not have been possible for us to move our dream forward without these funders. The grants have cut down our otherwise long lead-time to start collaborative projects with communities … we have moved a notch higher in fulfilling our vision.

Important though the support of international funders may be, Uluntu was also aware of the dangers of a community foundation operating in isolation and without local or regional support. As a fledgling organization, what it needed was the experience and advice of other organizations operating in a similar field and in the same broad geographical region. To this end, Uluntu deliberately sought out other foundations as partners and has formed invaluable partnerships with the West Coast Community Foundation and the Community Development Foundation for the Western Cape. Within the broader region, it has also made a point of joining larger networks such as the Southern African Community Grant Makers Forum (on which the executive director of Uluntu sits as secretary of the board), the African Grantmakers Network, and the Worldwide Initiative for Grantmaker Support (WINGS). Synergos has also been an important source of support. These combined partnerships have been able to provide Uluntu with vital input in terms of knowledge processes and ideas on development initiatives.

This intricate network of relationships – within the foundation itself, with the communities it supports and works with, with the local authorities, and with regional and international funders and supporters – has already consolidated Uluntu’s position so that, despite the currently difficult economic and political conditions, Inviolatta and her colleagues are quietly confident that they have reached a stage where they can move forward. As Busani puts it: ‘Our slow growth has paid off. I’m glad we didn’t try to expand in 2008: we would not have succeeded but would have collapsed. Development really means raising funds slowly, building relationships and trust and moving ahead slowly.’

Starting points

What Uluntu started with is a set of values and principles, not an idea of the organization’s form or function.

‘What will make us different? It’s because we care’ is how Kingsley Dinga Dube, one of the founding board members of the Uluntu Community Foundation, used to define the work of the organization in the early days of its existence.

Founding principles

The premise on which Uluntu’s original staff (the same as are there today) began the foundation in 2008 was an absolute rootedness in the community and a belief in communities’ power to solve their own problems – a shared vision of a local Zimbabwean philanthropic grantmaking institution which could foster and support a type of development driven by local people rather than by external agencies.[3] Their belief that every person has something to give and that individuals should be put in charge of their own futures was unwavering and was, they felt convinced, the bricks on which independent, self-reliant communities would be built.

Patience and transparency – Uluntu’s early stages

Building the board

Uluntu started with seven citizens from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city, the founding members of the organization. With no office at their disposal, these members met where they could and established a pattern of working that has remained unchanged. Their first significant decision was to take their time, not to jump in at the deep end with solutions at the ready, but to complete a multi-year strategic plan, and carry out thorough baseline surveys to better focus their programming[4] – to move in an informed direction. This notion of patience comes up constantly when speaking with Inviolatta, who compares it with the tight timelines of more-traditional development projects: ‘We know that quick results often don’t last and that process is everything.’ According to her, a good part of the burgeoning institution’s first three years of existence was spent ‘lying low’, populating the board and learning to work together through regular meetings and intensive hands-on workshops.

Board members – drawn, as already stated, from a range of backgrounds (all of them relevant to Uluntu’s work) and featuring an equal mix of men and women – immediately recognized that the shared journey they were on required a different attitude from that of many other boards in NGOs across Africa, where compensation of board members has become standard practice. No member expected a sitting allowance or stipend in return for their time, efforts and personal expenses; on the contrary, the foundation saw its board members as assets rather than overheads. Significantly, the board also followed Inviolatta’s lead when it comes to patience and persistence, and recognized that the proper establishment of a community foundation was not something that happened overnight, or even within a year or two. Here, as elsewhere, the principle of doing things correctly rather than quickly has been the cornerstone of all Uluntu’s activities since its 2008 founding.

One of the extraordinary things about Uluntu – and no doubt a key element in its success – is that the same staff that began with the foundation in 2008 are still there today: its volunteer board members continue to pour themselves (not to mention their own resources) into the organization’s work. That fact alone is proof of an institution that truly values, and is truly valued by, the individuals who are fortunate enough to be involved in it.

Building the governance structure

The board also recognized that at the heart of any future successes there would have to be a robust governance structure, with dedicated individuals at the helm of the foundation’s leadership. Busani speaks about the significance of small indicators – such as conducting an annual external audit of Uluntu’s finances – that send the right message to the foundation’s partners about transparency and accountability: ‘So that when someone decides to invest in the organization, they will not have questions or doubts. They will invest in us because we have gone beyond the basic standards.’ Uluntu has developed key governance instruments and provided a record of them in policy documents for finance, administration, human resources, grant making, and the roles and responsibilities of the Board. These documents, prepared in line with internationally accepted practice, have been reviewed by an independent consultancy firm, which offered this service pro bono.

Moving forward

Uluntu has had to overcome, and continues to grapple with, enormous logistical challenges to go about its work. For the first couple of years, the foundation operated on very modest resources, working out of Internet cafés, and then from a makeshift office in Inviolatta’s house, all the time depending on volunteer labour and the moral and material support of its board. In 2009, a small planning grant from the GFCF helped support some start-up costs, including basic office equipment, board development and strategic planning. More recently, the foundation has become more established; it now has three staff members and operates from a modest two-room office in a Bulawayo suburb. The move to a permanent office has been a milestone, but it is not without its share of headaches – power outages and water shortages continue to be recurring challenges. And, as mentioned earlier, the distances between the Uluntu office and the projects it supports are considerable, and the roads leading there perilously unpredictable!

On top of these physical logistical difficulties, many of the groups and communities that Uluntu works with do not have bank accounts, which means that the staff has to be somewhat creative in how it transfers its support. When working with the women active in the nutrition gardens, for example, Uluntu negotiated reasonable prices for related equipment and materials directly with suppliers, and then purchased these items directly on behalf of the communities. (This is a useful strategy even when working with groups with bank accounts, as high banking transaction costs can significantly reduce the relatively small amounts of money being moved.)

From these early days, and having spent time putting down roots and building trust at the community level through some initial projects in rural communities, Uluntu has more recently been able (with the support of the international grassroots funders named elsewhere) to develop a number of key programmes around youth development, education, food security and livelihoods. In 2011 and 2012, with support from the GFCF, Uluntu staff and board members participated in three joint learning events on youth civic engagement with community foundation peers in South Africa,[5] and a global meeting of GFCF partners in Romania. The GFCF has provided support for Uluntu’s institutional development and its youth programmes to the end of 2013.

Youth civic engagement peer exchange

The Uluntu Community Foundation Annual Report 2012 gives the most up-to-date accounts of Uluntu’s activities in the fields of education, young people, research, and food security and livelihoods. Despite a difficult economic environment of constantly rising costs of living, enlarged budgets and reduced funds, the foundation remains upbeat. As Inviolatta relates in her director’s report:

In spite of all these difficulties, we came out winners, as we were able to reach out to the communities that we needed to get to. For an organization as small as ours, to enable an entire community and their livestock to access safe drinking water was a great accomplishment. This was a year affected by a severe drought that saw thousands of livestock dying in the entire region. The drought threatened human life and wild animals as well. How good, then, to our ears, to hear one villager remarking, ‘What would we have done without this borehole? Both us and our livestock would have all been wiped out.’

The world outside … the world inside

Uluntu is already exploring ways of growing its global network, with a view to enticing well-wishers, friends, and donors to establish a Friends of Uluntu network that can help the organization set up an endowment fund outside Zimbabwe, while the country’s financial situation stabilizes. A similar project is needed inside the country, to grow the elusive local funding from corporates and individuals, particularly aimed at the building of an endowment. Uluntu is not naïve about the difficulties surrounding this and, more widely, about bringing the issue of philanthropy to the attention of the public and potential supporters. Further down the road, this might call for a specific role for the country’s middle class, which was effectively wiped out following Zimbabwe’s currency devaluation in 1997 and political events since 2000. In the meantime, Uluntu stretches the modest resources at its disposal to achieve maximum impact. In 2012, the foundation granted $7,500 US dollars, but naturally hopes this figure will increase as the organization builds non-restricted funds.

A model for the future?

After its first five years, Uluntu is cautiously optimistic about what lies in store for the institution, as well as the future of Zimbabwe. Part of the organizational strategic plan is to develop the foundation further, but Busani is quick to note that Uluntu is wary about the speed and scope of organizational growth, and he recognizes the importance of maintaining Uluntu’s core values and ideals: ‘We are willing to wait for things to happen. We are in this for the long haul.’ Inviolatta agrees: ‘We aren’t thinking of a community foundation with hundreds of staff, many offices, or with a large international budget. Everything should remain low-cost and should add value to what is already being done. The last thing we want is for the community to feel that we are inaccessible because we have become this huge corporate.’

Consolidating funding and building an endowment is an ambitious goal for the foundation, but as Inviolatta cautions: ‘This should be grown internally in Zimbabwe and should not be entirely from the outside. We have to make our own people believe and act on philanthropy.’ Uluntu is firmly committed to this goal, because local philanthropy is a powerful catalyst for development change. But it is equally determined to bring together local and global philanthropists so that they may learn from each other, identify shared areas of interest and develop partnerships (these partnerships might also include government departments and agencies, and other organizations engaged in community development). ‘It is only when we work together,’ Busani says, ‘that we can win the war on poverty.’

As the foundation looks forward, it remains committed to building up local philanthropic support within the community: even in such difficult economic times, the foundation has received small donations from its board members as well as volunteers and in-kind support. And the plan is to increase grant making to local groups, normally a key function of a community foundation, and to strive as much as possible to devolve decision-making and leadership to its partners.

Beyond the initial hurdle of encouraging community ownership of initiatives, Uluntu will also continue to strive to unlock local resources and assets to address the issues it works on, rather than leaving communities entirely dependent on external sources of assistance. These local assets are about much more than just traditional currency, though, as Inviolatta explains:

Money is in short supply and people in Zimbabwe know how to give, but they also need to know that giving doesn’t have to be financial. Volunteering, helping in the community, and contributing ideas – what if you were able to give in a different way? Borrowing from the words of John Paul II, ‘No one is so poor that he has nothing to give, and nobody is so rich that he has nothing to receive.’

No one is too poor to give and no one too rich to receive – this is what is different about Uluntu’s inclusive and accessible recipe for development, and what moves it away from the survival strategies of the past. As Busani proudly explains: ‘Whatever we have started can be sustained by the communities themselves. Nothing is better than that.’ This is the vision of how independent, self-reliant communities will be built – and, in Zimbabwe, this is the answer that the Uluntu Community Foundation has provided to the question with which it started: ‘What will make us different?’

 


[1] United Nations (2013) Human Development Report 2013: The Rise of the South – Human Progress in a Diverse World, New York: United Nations Development Programme.

[2] An inspiring example of this is the foundation’s successful partnership with women-led groups in Gwanda North and South (referred to in the quotation on page 1). The community in Gwanda North is currently engaged in agricultural projects that include nutrition gardens. These not only provide nourishment to families but also have become income-generating projects in their own right. By selling extra vegetables, the women have been able to raise enough money to buy animals, which in turn can be even greater sources of income. Tracts of the garden have also been sold off to purchase exercise books and pens for children. Inviolatta notes: ‘These women have themselves received, but they have also passed it on. They felt the need to engage in philanthropy themselves and this is beyond the usual sharing they typically do.’ This multiplier effect has had positive benefits for all involved in the community; all Uluntu had to do was provide some initial resources and materials such as fencing, and to arrange for a borehole to be drilled for and equipped.

[3] It is this that led Uluntu to call itself a ‘community foundation’, rather than to opt for another label. As the Global Fund for Community Foundation’s 2012 report on community foundations in Africa, A Different Kind of Wealth, states, by calling itself a community foundation Uluntu has joined a small yet potent handful of organizations across the continent which draw inspiration from multiple sources and blend local cultures, lessons of historical experiences, and analysis of the role and limitations of external development aid as they go about their work. Remember, too, that ‘uluntu’ means ‘people’ in isiNdebele, one of the local languages spoken in Zimbabwe

[4] One such survey, to identify specific problems facing young people and to come up with strategies and action plans to solve these problems, was the Robert Sinyoka case study, which features in Uluntu’s 2012 annual report.

[5] West Coast Community Foundation and the Community Development Foundation of Western Cape.

New report makes the Case for Community Philanthropy!

Community philanthropy can be a powerful force for strengthening civil society and building on local initiative, according to a new brief released jointly by the Aga Khan Foundation U.S.A. (AKF USA), the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Global Fund for Community Foundations, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. The publication, entitled The Case for Community Philanthropy: How the Practice Builds Local Assets, Capacity, and Trust – and Why It Matters, makes the case that increasing local ownership and local accountability leads to stronger communities and should be a main focus of development aid practitioners.

The community philanthropy approach works at the grassroots level by looking at local assets – financial and otherwise – and by building capacity and trust for addressing community needs and priorities.

The case statement crystallizes an understanding gathered in recent years. Last year AKF USA and the Mott Foundation released a report, based on a series of collaborative consultations in North America, Africa and Asia, that explored how community philanthropy has worked around the world to help build local capacity. Amid increasing public interest, those foundations, along with the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have supported development of a Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy.

The new publication synthesizes trends (one form of community philanthropy organization – community foundations – grew by a remarkable 86 percent from 2000 to 2010), the rationale, and views from experts. It addresses the role that donors can play in a community-driven practice. “It’s a challenge for outside funders investing a lot of money to expect programs to be sustained,” notes Shannon Lawder of the C.S. Mott Foundation. “From our experience, the work does continue when you’ve supported community philanthropy. It works.”

 

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.