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

Adapting YouthBank to South Africa’s West Coast

YouthBank has a huge potential in South Africa, says Jeremy Maarman, Grants Manager at West Coast Community Foundation. He tells the GFCF about the last two years of WCCF’s YouthBank programme, about its experiences so far, and where he sees this heading.


GFCF: WCCF completed its first year of YouthBank activities in 2013 – how did this differ from WCCF’s past activities with youth? What about YouthBank is different/interesting?

Jeremy Maarman: In the past WCCF focused mainly on funding youth projects through our Grants Program. This meant that the engagement with young people was really limited seeing that we did not interface directly with the youth. With YouthBank, the foundation was able to have a more hands-on approach to young people and also the relationship was more as equal partners. This was the biggest difference between our past activities with young people and the functioning of YouthBank. YouthBank is different because young people are not only the recipients of the development interventions but the YouthBank projects puts them in the position of active players in community development.


GFCF: Who were the youth that WCCF involved and what do you think they gained from their experience?

JM: The youth we identified were all from the Bergrivier Municipal area and we recruited them by engaging with the local municipality as well as the local high schools. The young people involved in YouthBank gained immense knowledge on community development and how they themselves can play a role in their communities. As part of the YouthBank project young people also gained knowledge about active citizenship and that the strength of a democracy lies in the responsibility that citizens take to not only keep public representatives accountable but also to themselves take ownership of development.


GFCF: Was it difficult to introduce the concept of philanthropy, particularly to young people? How has the broader community reacted?

JM: Philanthropy is a word that is not used in everyday vocabulary on the West Coast. Therefore WCCF introduced youth philanthropy by explaining what it “does” and not what the definition “is.” We realized that bringing development “words” (like youth philanthropy) to the communities is further alienating people from realizing that in actual fact African communities have been sharing their talents, skills and treasure with each other without ever using words like philanthropy to define their actions. The broader community are starting to see young people as real assets for development and are also beginning to realize that young people do become enthusiastic about and involved in projects if they are given the power to decide what they “can” and “want” to do.


GFCF: What were the lessons learned for WCCF during this first year? As WCCF expands YouthBank activities into two additional communities in 2014, will the programme be adapted at all?

JM: We learned a very critical lesson: trying to replicate projects as blueprints from other countries (like Westernized countries) is not the best strategy. We also decided to engage with school-age young people, similar to YouthBank projects in Europe, however we quickly found out that the South African education department are not very open to having non-profit organizations engaging with children via the school. The reason for that was that schools were just more focused on getting through the curriculum, and didn’t necessarily want to be seen as adding extra activities to the burden on students. We also found it very challenging to move the grants from YouthBank during that latter part of the year due to the school examination period – it became very difficult to get hold of the YouthBank members.  

The biggest adaptation of the YouthBank project in 2014 lies in the fact that our recruitment strategy is now focused on out-of-school youth who are unemployed. We are hopeful that this strategy will allow for more active participation by members. This is a very significant adaptation as it is also very different from how YouthBank is implemented in other parts of the world. We however believe that we need to be conscious of the local conditions and what works best for us in South Africa.


GFCF: How important has it been for WCCF to be connected, through Youth Bank International, to other community foundations running their own YouthBank programmes? How important has it been that it is a community foundation that has led this work?

JM: Connection with other community foundations running YouthBank in other parts of the world gave WCCF a frame of reference for what works and what does not. YouthBank International also makes WCCF part of a community of actors in youth philanthropy. The importance of having YouthBank implemented by a community foundation gives the community foundation another avenue through which we can make grants and also to explore how best to bring young people into philanthropy. This, I believe, is groundbreaking work for a community foundation as youth philanthropy still needs to be defined in a way that is understandable and applicable to different conditions and this can be a really exciting niche for community foundations.


GFCF: What do you think it is about YouthBank which resonates across communities in all regions of the world? Do you think the concept has the potential to spread in Southern Africa?

JM: The notion of young people as active players in community development resonates with all people in all cultures and countries because it is a globally held truth that youth are the leaders of the future; in order to sustain development it is important to bring young people into the fold as soon as possible. The transfer of leadership skills to young people is also a very important issue that is gaining recognition. Finally, the point is that organizations too often lose contact with young people because they don’t deal with them as equal partners, but merely as recipients/beneficiaries of development interventions. Such an approach leaves young people feeling apathetic and uninterested all over the world. I absolutely think that YouthBank has the potential to spread in Southern Africa as it is a project that puts young people in a position of power.

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.

Call for applications: Emerging Leaders International Fellows Program for community foundation professionals

The Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society at the City University of New York is seeking young community foundation professionals from around the globe to join its 2014 fall International Fellows Program, to be held Monday September 22 – Friday December 12. Individuals should apply who:

  • Aim to strengthen community philanthropy and place-based grantmaking organizations
  • Want to increase the sector’s impact in their local community
  • Seek networking opportunities with third-sector colleagues worldwide
  • Aspire to lead the community philanthropy sector in new directions

The final deadline for applications is June 13 2014. For more information and how to apply, visit the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society’s website.

YouthBank International introduces its new identity and new digital magazine

Says Vernon Ringland, Executive Group member and YouthBank International Coordinator, “At YouthBank International we are looking forward to a promising, dynamic and invigorating 2014. With a renewed spring in our step, we are putting into action the projects that we have developed and refined in 2013. This year, after building solid foundations, we are ready to set up our stall and showcase the fruit of our collaborations and internal work within and outside our network.”

YouthBank ‘supports projects designed and run by young people that address issues and concerns relevant to them and their community.’ They do this via over 200 YouthBanks in 26 countries across Europe, parts of Africa, and Central Asia… from South Africa to Romania; from Bulgaria to Kyrgyzstan; from Ireland to Turkey.

Learn more about YouthBank International’s new identity and its new e-magazine.

YouthBank International – Think Big from Daniel Kendall on Vimeo.



Cluj Donor Circle – a new way of engaging the community to support youth initiatives in Romania

Simona Serban, Executive Director of the Cluj Community Foundation, reports on the first Donor Circle event on Youth in Romania

We had a full house of exceptional people and a level of generosity that surpassed all expectations. Together we numbered more than 60. Together we donated 25.500 lei (around US $7,500) for three projects supporting educational values-based projects for youth, promoting entrepreneurship and capacity-building.

On 20th November 2013, the Cluj Community Foundation organized its first Donor Circle on Youth Civic Engagement in Cluj, the first of its kind in Romania. The idea of a Donor Circle is to bring people together at live crowd-funding events to raise vital funds, transform lives and create lasting social change.  

Cluj Donor Circle

Our event was organized in affiliation with the Founding Network UK, in partnership with the Association for Community Relations and with the support of the Global Fund for Community Foundations.

It brought together a community of donors and organisations working with young people. Participants included young entrepreneurs and disadvantaged youth; international private funders and local donors, the “Share” local youth Federation and many other partners.

“The atmosphere was electric and everyone was so enthusiastic about being able to give a relatively small amount which together could have a big impact on making our city a better place through investing wisely in our young people. It’s amazing how a well thought out framework can help us achieve so much in such a short time!”  Bita, Cluj Donor Circle member

Three teams of young entrepreneurs will STEP UP and benefit from mentorship to implement their ideas. 14 youth will practice their powers of expression at ACTitude – Impromptu School and 17 youth will Edu Practic(e) the jobs they would like to learn.

STEP UP is a project developed under Cluj HUB concept, in which young entrepreneurs’ teams are helped by mentors to develop their own initiatives from idea to prototype over a three-month period. The project will target skilled young people with initiative and audacious ideas regarding technological entrepreneurship. Three teams will have the opportunity to go through steps which will bring them closer of implementing the idea and bring together resources in order to become sustainable businesses. Ten mentors are prepared to offer the support they need through weekly sessions and trainings. They were granted US $1,600 raised from local donors.

ACTitudine – Impromptu School is a project initiated by another local NGO, Dreams for Life. The project advocates for the development of a alternative learning space for young people that fosterspersonal development and community engagement. Two trainers Dreams for Life and two actors from the Create.Act.Enjoy Theatre will work with ten youngsters between 18 and 26 years old by using non-formal educational techniques and impromptu theatre techniques. They were granted US $2,000 in cash and $1,500 in-kind donations.

PracticalEdu”, a project of Danis for Managerial Development Foundation, aims at supporting disadvantaged youth to learn crafting from the energy and building local business’ employees. The young people will take part in activities of business and entrepreneurial education such as trainings and consultancy for developing sustainable business plans but also growing into financial independents adults, responsible for themselves and their families. They were granted US $2,500.

“I wish to acquire as much knowledge as possible in this field. My main incentive for being part of this program is proving my parents and my friends that I am skilled and responsible to be financial independent.” (Vlad, project participant)

Not only did the donors give, but they also engaged in conversations centered around the projects. Education was raised as a topic. People discussed the importance of giving young people the opportunity to learn practical skills and develop abilities that are shaping their future professional and personal life.

Most importantly, it was fun! The potential to extend the Circle was also clear as more donors expressed their interest in becoming members.

“I was impressed with the generosity in the room and the fact that so many people felt like I do that together we can make a difference in our city.  I didn’t really expect this because so many people are pessimistic about the future. Even though I’m not, you don’t hear many people agreeing that we can make a change. It touched me and I was thinking what a smart group to invest in the future by investing in the youth!” Maryam, young donor

From one on one conversations to social media, we have found the whole process of organising a donor circle event to be very rich: it allows us to open up conversations about philanthropy and collective giving, about engaging young people in social change and as a way of acquiring new contacts and cultivating relationships. Most exciting of all has been the opportunity to witness the diversity of reactions and feedback from those of participated. We learnt a huge amount from this event: the future has a collective author and we love being able to promote it!

Over the last five years the Cluj Community Foundation has awarded 1 million lei (US $300,000) to 150 projects and 130 scholars. And now we have introduced a new approach to fundraising through the Cluj Donor Circle (CDC). Twice a year, groups of donors who will be a part of the future CDC Network will promote projects from different areas and will gather to support them during the CDC events.

Video highlights of the event can be found here

Many thanks to our Donors and Partners, including the Funding Network, UK, the Association for Community Relations, Share Federation – Cluj Youth European Capital 2015 and the Global Fund for Community Foundations.

Simona Șerban – Executive Director, Cluj Community Foundation

Engaging young people in philanthropy – webinar presentations now available!

Earlier this year, we invited Anderson Giovani da Silva, from ICom, Brazil and Lubica Lachka from Nitra Community Foundation, Slovakia to talk about their work with young people in a webinar which formed part of the GFCF’s ongoing Youth Civic Engagement grants and learning programme.

The two presentations are now available on our website.

Watch Anderson Giovani da Silva present “Conecta: playing for change”, a web-based game aimed at engaging young people in the life of the community 

Watch Lubica Lachka’s presentation on the Young Nitra Philanthropists


Grants awarded in 2013

View Grants Awarded 2013 in a larger map

Eastern Europe and Central Asia

Covasna Community Foundation, Romania, US $8,000 (October 2013) Strengthening community awareness of and engagement in environment issues

Ferencvaros Communty Foundation, Hungary. US $10,000 (August 2013) Institutional development of start-up community foundation

Local Community Development Foundation Stip, Macedonia. US $8,300 (June 2013) Youth Civic Engagement

Tuzla Community Foundation, Bosnia. US $9,000 (June 2013) Youth Civic Engagement

Valmiera Community Foundation, Latvia. US $6,900 (June 2013) Youth Civic Engagement

Ungheni Community Foundation, Moldova. US $9,000 (June 2013) Youth Civic Engagement

Cahul Community Foundation, Moldova. US $8,000 (June 2013) Youth Civic Engagement

Cluj Community Foundation, Romania. US $7,500 (June 2013) Youth Civic Engagement

Nitra Community Foundation, Slovakia. US $8,000 (June 2013) Youth Civic Engagement

Moloda Gromada, Ukraine. US $8,000  (June 2013) Youth Civic Engagement

Penza Community Foundation  Civil Unity, Russia. US $8,200 (June 2013) Youth Civic Engagement

Latin America and Caribbean

Espwa (for the Haiti Community Foundation Initiative). US $10,000 (August 2013) Study visit by Haiti Community Foundation Initiative to the Kenya Community Development Foundation

Fundación Comunitaria de la Frontera Norte, Mexico. $10,000 (June 2013) Youth Civic Engagement

Icom (Instituto Comunitário Grande Florianópolis), Brazil. $ 11, 687 (June 2013) Youth Civic Engagement / conference participation

Middle East and North Africa

South Sinai Community Foundation, Egypt. US$6,400 (June 2013) Youth Civic Engagement

South Asia

Foundation for Social Transformation: enabling north-east India. US $15,000 (May 2013) Institutional development of FST as a local philanthropic foundation

Sub-Saharan Africa

Kilimani Project Foundation, Kenya, US $13,250 (November 2013) Institutional development and start-up costs for emerging neighbourhood-based foundation in Nairobi

Community Development Foundation Western Cape, South Africa, US $9,140 (October 2013) Community engagement around local environment issues

Community Development Foundation Western Cape, South Africa. US $10,870 (June 2013) Youth Civic Engagement

West Coast Community Foundation, South Africa. US $10,000 (June 2013) Youth Civic Engagement


News from the field: Growing social justice philanthropy, weaving strong communities in the Arab Region and a new blog on community driven development from Amazon Partnerships

“How can we grow the practice of philanthropy for social justice and peace?” asks a new report from the Philanthropy for Social Justice for Peace Network. The report draws on interviews with a 24 philanthropy practitioners from different parts of the world and data collected from a survey of many more. “You’ll hear a fascinating and at times provocative array of answers, reflections and further questions. Some talk about the relationship between social justice and economic development. Others call for a greater emphasis on indigenous philanthropy. Some speak to what is common among practitioners of social justice philanthropy, while others discuss geographic differences. Risk emerges as a key obstacle, networking as a key opportunity”.

Read the report  How Can we Grow the Work?


A new report from Naseej Foundation (a GFCF grantee in 2012) tells the story of the organization’s 8-year journey to establish itself as a catalyst for and promoter of youth civic engagement in communities across the Arab region. Naseej (its name translates as “the act of weaving”) was established in 2005 as the joint initiative of the Ford Foundation and Save the Children, with the objective of making grants to respond to the growing needs of youth and communities in the region. Over the years, it has used grantmaking, as well as other asset-based tools to “weave” an integrated approach to community youth development. At the heart of its work lies Naseej’s believe that the young people and communities all have capacities, strengths and rights that external agencies must acknowledge and build upon if their interventions are to be sustainable in the long term. According to one of its supporters, “Most of the time, when NGOs plan and run programmes, they work in one area: something that is very artificial and one-dimensional. In fact, it is the very opposite of how life works with everything connected to, touching and reacting to everything else… Naseej, the act of weaving, is a human ecosystem, connecting all parts, working song, art, drama, economic and social development, giving young people tools and confidence to imagine, plan and create their futures.”

Read the report, Weaving our Fabric in the Arab World


Another GFCF partner, Amazon Partnerships Foundation, has launched a new blog on community-driven development. From 2008 to 2012, the Amazon Partnerships Foundation collaborated with indigenous Kichwa communities in Napo Province, Ecuador on a local grant-making model aimed at supporting local initiative and local leadership. Using its Community Self-Development Methodology, APF provided small grants for projects designed and implemented by communities, as well as grassroots training to help them develop project management skills and define and advocate for their vision of sustainable development.

In 2013, APF is redirecting their efforts from on-the-ground community work to knowledge sharing. “Eager to join the growing global conversation about the need for community-driven development as a more successful alternative to conventional top-down approaches, we launched Amazon Partnerships Online, which offers stories, data, resources, and fresh perspectives to support communities’ power to define their future…This exciting new phase for Amazon Partnerships arises out of our core belief, which has developed through several years of on-the-ground collaboration: communities, not funders or other outsiders, must be the drivers of their own development and offer the greatest hope for a vibrant, healthy future for people and our planet. Through our blog of international contributors, our materials, and links to other outstanding organizations and thought leaders, we aim to help connect grassroots leaders, funders, volunteers, aid workers, and others to good ideas and inspiring strategies from around the world.”

Visit the Amazon Partnerships blog and find out how to join the conversation.