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Community philanthropy – the best hope for women’s rights in Nepal…and for all of us

This piece originally appeared on the Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace (PSJP) website.

Rita Thapa

The recently published PSJP paper on Individual giving in India, Russia, the Arab region and Brazil is a timely reflection for us in Nepal. Individual giving has always been a part of Nepali communities mainly through our religious and cultural traditions. In the absence of a strong state presence (particularly historically because of geographic isolation and limited communications), people have built tracks/trails, rest houses, temples, water management systems and stepped in when disaster struck anyone anywhere. This is still true. But growing urbanization and modernization fuelled by processes of globalization, which is now increasingly infused with consumerist and materialistic values, such traditional forms of philanthropy are fast diminishing.

However, over almost 25 years now at Tewa, we have demonstrated that modern forms of community philanthropy can be cultivated and may even thrive. Tewa conducts about a dozen fundraising events in the local communities every year to ensure that the annual fundraising goal of approximately $30,000 USD is met. The donors who participate are largely Nepali women/men of all class and social strata who are now seeing from their exposure and interactions with grantee women that their support goes directly to women’s groups all over Nepal, and makes a huge difference at the local level. Still, this is no easy feat – it means mobilizing hundreds of members and volunteers which is excessively time and energy consuming. Every penny of the money thus raised goes into grantmaking. In recent years Tewa has received matching grants from feminist foundations/funds to what they raise, so that the volume and size of these grants could increase. During times of heightened conflict (2000/2001) the Tewa board decided to invest its endowment in a land and building project that incrementally came to fruition during 2012 – 2017. Today Tewa owns an organic, aesthetically pleasing residential and meeting facility, which helps generate partial income for Tewa’s ongoing running costs.

As the PSJP paper notes about the regions it covers, fundraising from individual donors in Nepal too for right- based causes is challenging, but Tewa grants given as per the grantee’s felt needs span a very broad spectrum including rights based activities. Largely here, it is still easier to collect money for building temples, religious events, disasters, or a children’s or elderly people’s home. If fundraising for rights-based issues or initiatives is difficult, raising funds for women’s empowerment is even more so! No surprise then that Tewa continues to be the only women’s fund in Nepal.

However, even in Nepal, irreversible transitions have been made. Now, with a republican federal state; significant out migration for better work opportunities; the increasing participation of women in the public/political space; and accessibility to technology; the way that philanthropy is perceived and practised here may also change in the next 20 years. With wider access to technology and, importantly, more trust (which has been largely eroded in an aid-driven and a war-torn country), I hope that eventually the time and energy now required for local fundraising can be used for programming!

But for this to happen we all need to change – here, and all over the world. We will need to humanize and fuel the altruism in philanthropy, own our interdependency, recognize that we all inhabit the one planet earth and that, therefore, we all have a role in everyone else’s and the environment’s well-being. And wherever we may be located, and however deeply entrenched our patriarchal upbringing, we can strengthen and sustain ourselves and each other despite our diversity and gendered identities, through the wholehearted practice of community philanthropy. This may yet be our best bet!

By: Rita Thapa

Rita is a noted feminist activist who founded and led Tewa (1995 – 2001) and Nagarik Aawaz (2001 – 2009) in Nepal. She currently serves as Chair of the GFCF Board.

 

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