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#ShiftThePower: The Rise of Community Philanthropy, Part 1

The following article is cross-posted with permission from Alliance magazine. Based out of the UK, Alliance magazine is the leading global magazine on philanthropy and social investment. This article is cross-posted with permission.

Part 1 of 2

In this special feature on community philanthropy, we propose a new paradigm called "durable development." This involves shifting power closer to the ground, giving agency to local people and their organizations on the principle that they should have greater control of their own destinies. The growing field of community philanthropy has much to contribute towards such a paradigm shift because it marks a distinct break with many of the conventions—and resulting distortions—of mainstream development. The "three-legged stool" of community philanthropy combines asset development, capacity building, and the strengthening of trust between multiple local and external stakeholders. Durable development follows John Ruskin’s maxim—"when we build, let us think we build forever."

In 2010, we wrote a report called Beyond the Poor Cousin? The emergence of community foundations as a new development paradigm. The essential message was contained within the title. Despite its potential and the emerging evidence base that supported it, community philanthropy was either unseen or ignored by the big players in development aid and institutional philanthropy. Local people mobilizing local resources for development processes was largely regarded as supportive of, but not as essential to, effective development—a niche or boutique feature of the development landscape, but a long way from being a retail, let alone a wholesale staple.

The Rise of Community Philanthropy

How things change. Six years later and community philanthropy no longer languishes in the shadows. As the external environment for civil society and donor funding undergoes dramatic changes, community philanthropy and its emphasis on local resources and local accountability has assumed a new relevance as a central pillar of a framework for effective development shaped by new principles.

There is now a Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy, a Community Foundation Atlas, chairs in community philanthropy at two universities, and recognition among key funders that the aid architecture needs to change. At the same time, the language of "localization" among funders and International NGOs (INGOs) also suggests a growing focus on strategies that shift power closer to people on the receiving end of development.

This progress has been accompanied by the rapid growth of the community philanthropy field globally over the last two decades. The growth has been organic and hence somewhat messy and unorganized, characterized by the nuances of local context and by emerging community philanthropy practice and values. It has also marked a healthy loosening of tight definitional ties to the U.S. community foundation model—signifying a shift from the close relationship of siblings to that of a larger extended family.

Although there is still work to be done to strengthen a common narrative that captures both the essence and diversity of the field, there is a new enthusiasm among different stakeholders to unite in pursuit of a shared purpose. The basis of the common narrative is the "three-legged stool" framework of assets, capacities, and trust, as identified by an analysis of data collected through the Global Fund for Community Foundation’s grantmaking. Applying 20 indicators measuring bonding, bridging, and linking social capital to GFCF grant partners—which include a mix of community foundations, women’s funds, environmental funds, grassroots grantmakers, and public foundations—shows that these three factors are of central importance.

This edition of Alliance coincides with the Global Summit on Community Philanthropy—an event that marks the coming of age of the field. The meeting will bring together 300 people from over 50 countries, including the community philanthropy field in all its diversity, a range of public and private funders, and others from the broader development space, to consider how we can shift the power and create durable development.

The End of Aid?

#ShiftThePower: The Rise of Community Philanthropy, Part 1The context of international aid is shifting. As Danny Sriskandarajah points out in his article, the days of rich Northern countries delivering large amounts of official development assistance (ODA) to poor countries in the global south are numbered.

This may be no bad thing. Only 1 percent of official aid goes directly to the global south, with the remainder being passed through northern-based intermediaries. A similar pattern is found among foundations. So, while money flows to the South, power remains vested in the North.

As Jennifer Lentfer points out, such an approach does not work. For decades the money flows from the North have provided resources for development but have ignored, subsumed, or done harm to already existing mechanisms for mutual accountability. Projects have come and gone, but have disappointed every time. Hilary Gilbert notes in her article drawing on work in Sinai: "... people the world over are tired of being told what to do by 'experts' who don’t understand, tired of seeing money poured away."

It is now clear that the idea of project-based sustainability is an illusion, merely fostering an elite of skilled proposal-writers and supporting an NGO sector that has been hard-wired to exist on a hand-to-mouth basis, with organizations crossing their fingers that the next grant will come in and always at the ready to adapt their work towards the latest donor interest. This has produced an NGO sector whose orientation is upwards and outwards towards their external donors, leaving them with weak local constituencies. In the meantime, local people who are marginalized stay marginalized. The result is 50 years of failed development projects.

Donors themselves are recognizing the need for change. Some practical examples of changes can be seen in USAID’s "Local Systems Framework" and in the UK’s Big Lottery Fund’s vision of "People in the Lead." In his article, David Jacobstein from USAID says: "There are many places where staff are experimenting with these ideas and our updated guidance provides a new opportunity for principles related to community philanthropy to be mainstreamed." The Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy is a group of diverse funders who are trying to get to grips with these issues by deepening their understanding of community philanthropy as a field and asking questions about how external donors can develop programmes and apply resources in ways that foster—rather than undermine—more bottom-up approaches.

Lighting a Candle

While donors get their act together, local people are not necessarily sitting on their hands. In her article, Larisa Avrorina describes how in southern Siberia, an area with no big business, no money, low incomes, and a faded sense of community, a musical event sparked off collaborations between different organizations and resulted in the formation of a community foundation. "It’s like lighting a candle," she says.

Similar developments can be found in other contexts. In Latin America, Luz Aquilante describes how the Women’s Fund from the South recruits supporters for women’s rights work through direct person-to-person outreach on the streets of Argentina. Andrés Thompson describes how community philanthropy is modernizing the Latin American concept of philanthropy and its associations with beneficence, charity, and social assistance from the church. In Palestine, Aisha Mansour describes how the Dalia Foundation has inverted the power pyramid in philanthropy by making grants the community wants through a participatory decision-making process with the community: difficult work, but deeply significant in a context where development aid has created a heightened sense of disempowerment and voicelessness among local communities.

A New Approach


#ShiftThePower: The Rise of Community Philanthropy, Part 1Individually, these examples from Russia, Latin America, and Palestine may seem like one-off feel-good stories. Collectively, however, they symbolize a new approach to development, sharing as they do the assumption that all communities possess assets, ideas, and a readiness to engage. What tends often to be missing, however, is the "spark" to make that happen. Similarly, they are all illustrations of what occurs when you choose to reach deep into communities and engage multiple views and voices through conversations, events and small grants to local initiatives.

Rather than working through a handful of strong professionally-managed NGOs to deliver programmes—which looks cost-effective on paper—community philanthropy organizations deliberately seek to build up multiple local groups around issues that affect them in a networked way that devolves resources (and so power) to the very local level. Rather than every member of the community having to subscribe to a single overarching vision or objective, this strategy allows community philanthropy organizations to engage with multiple different perspectives and to reach the most marginalized parts of the community, whose voices are often lost. As Wendy Richardson points out, this is a model of shared power described by one grant partner of the Global Fund for Community Foundations: "We don’t work on troubled youth, we work with troubled youth." Such an approach builds capacity, it develops assets from within a community, and—above all—it builds trust between different parts of a community.

Such durable development is in sharp contrast to the project-saturated mindset in which outcomes are measured within finite resources and timeframes and measured in a logframe. It is time for us to rid ourselves of the illusion that three-year projects using outside resources can unravel complex inequalities and system failure. Addressing such problems requires the patient creativity of people involved in the local systems to build what they want from resources they already have and what else they can muster. External resources must be applied in accord with local people’s plans, not according to a blueprint laid down in Washington or London.

Another important dimension of this development relates to the growing trend towards devolution and local self-governance, and the extent to which community philanthropy can be seen as a strategy for facilitating communities to take a more active role in local decision-making, particularly in contexts where local government itself lacks capacity. In Kenya, note Irungu Houghton and Constant Cap, there are growing calls by public interest campaigners to embrace strategies that involve the mobilization of both public and community resources to tackle systemic causes. The Kenya Community Development Foundation’s Pamoja4Change programme, as described by Caesar Ngule and Janet Mawiyoo, views resource mobilization by community-based organizations as a critical part of a process that strengthens communities’ ability to make claims on government to deliver services.

Part 2 of this post will be published December 21, 2016.

#ShiftThePower: The Rise of Community Philanthropy, Part 1#ShiftThePower: The Rise of Community Philanthropy, Part 1Jenny Hodgson is director and Barry Knight is adviser, Global Fund for Community Foundations. Read the original article on the Alliance website.

Topics: Community Philanthropy
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