From dependency to ascendency: the Zambian Governance Foundation embraces local philanthropy

28 Mar 2018

At times you harbour an idea for so long that when you finally put the idea into action you ask yourself why it took you so long. Why did it take us long? This question lingered on our minds as we – the Zambian Governance Foundation (ZGF) – launched our new Zambian philanthropic journey.

This was on 15 March 2018, when, in partnership with the GFCF, ZGF organized an event to mark the launch of our new direction – themed “From Dependency to Ascendency” – at the Alliance Française in LusakaThe event attracted 150 participants, representing a rich and diverse group of stakeholders coming together to deliberate and foster conversations on effective and people-led sustainable approaches to development. We were also lucky to be joined by organizations from across Africa who have been – or who are considering – similar journeys (including the African Philanthropy Network, Community Foundation for the Western Region of Zimbabwe, Foundation for Civil Society, Fundação MASC, Kabale Municipality Development Foundation, Kenya Community Development Foundation, TrustAfrica, and Uluntu Community Foundation).

The main question we were asking was: how can we #ShiftThePowerZambia? To delve into this, we shared our new report on giving trends in Zambia, and also introduced the concept of community endowment funds: a “new” way of thinking about local asset building for durable development. Infused with warmth and positivity, the launch was also characterized by music, dancing and singing (including a #ShiftThePower themed rap, performed by ZGF staff). Marking that this was truly something different, the ever-energetic Barefeet Theatre entertained guests upon arrival. Motivating quotes covered in African materials were hung around the venue, while other portions of the walls were covered with local translations of the word “giving.” Lighting up the room was an eye-catching banner stitched in African print wording that read #ShiftThePowerZambia. Meanwhile, the fresh aroma of roasted groundnuts, cassava and sweet potatoes kept participants salivating as they waited for the event to kick off. All of this is to say that our launch was not a typical experience where people mix and mingle over fancy snacks and beverages at a flamboyant location. Rather, the whole set-up brought a strong sense of authenticity, and sent the message that we are “proudly Zambian.”

Speaking at the event, one of ZGF’s founding members, Rueben Lifuka, noted that support to civil society in Zambia has been decreasing – reflected by the steady withdrawal of bilateral agencies and INGOs. Thus, the time is now to prepare for the moment when traditional development aid will no longer be available at all. He called on the audience to reimagine how we approach our work: “We believe that building local capacities in a sustainable manner is not done through short-term funding cycles or short-term projects, and, although we do not think that we have the magic formula, we think supporting local organizations requires a very different approach. We need to refrain from creating expensive projects with a short life span and overly ambitious objectives, which cannot be sustained because citizens have no stake in them. If we emphasize the importance of citizens’ power in the local development process, we contribute to right-sizing projects the community has decided it wants to work on. By doing so, citizens will have an interest in something they have co-created and they will more likely be supportive of it in the long-term. This is because they are co-investing in their own development.”

While applauding ZGF for beginning this new journey, Jenny Hodgson, GFCF Executive Director, pointed out that the current systems for development are clearly not working: “In the community philanthropy space, we have seen real innovation: participatory grantmaking, the creation of community funds, and the creative blending of local resources with external resources, to name but a few. Donors are starting to ask about the resources that already exist in communities, and then building on that. I am very excited to be here as this revolution arrives in Zambia. We call it #ShiftThePower and we wish the Zambian Governance Foundation all the very best on their ambitious journey!”

Further speaking to the power of building local philanthropy, ZGF Board Chairperson, Beatrice Grillo, remarked that generating resources locally not only offers an organization essential options for its own sustainability, but it also provides a significant sense of independence. She further explained the practicalities of how ZGF is going to establish our new community endowment funds, which – most importantly – will enable communities to set their own priorities for their own development.

Walking the talk, throughout the launch participants made donations in cash and in-kind, which will be directly channelled back into ZGF’s first community endowment fund, focussed on the Rufunsa district. These funds will become part of the community’s permanent endowment, which will be further invested to achieve long-term capital growth, and which will be pooled back into community initiatives for collective benefit. After Rufunsa, we have similar plans to work with additional communities in the vicinity of Lusaka, as well as one community in Chisamba.

As noted above, the launch was capped off with the ZGF staff performing our #ShiftThePowerZambia rap song, which we had composed together. The infectious song got everyone in the room chanting, “Are you ready Zambia? Are you ready to #ShiftThePower?” From the enthusiasm and collective appetite for change that was built at the launch, my guess is that yes, we are ready!

By: Tarisai Jangara, Programme Specialist – Communication, Zambian Governance Foundation

A launch characterized by music, dancing and singing

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