Tracking the Growth of Organised Community Philanthropy: Is it the missing piece in community development?
It’s time the mainstream development sector listened more closely to the voices – quiet, passionate, credible and deeply-rooted – of local community philanthropy. These small institutions are routinely overlooked by large donors, but they are an essential part of what development, globally, is trying to achieve. In recent years local indigenous institutions of community philanthropy around the world have finally begun to merge their voices and demand attention, but it’s a slow process. This article provides an overview of the current state of global community philanthropy, with particular reference to the global South. It describes the factors that are driving a growth in community philanthropy, and the key features of this distinct section of civil society and its role in driving community development agendas that are locally formulated. This small but growing field, which emphasises local asset development and multi-stakeholder good governance, may have particular relevance in the context of increased limitations experienced by and reduced resources for CSOs in many parts of the world.
New institutional forms, old traditions of solidarity
The concept of community philanthropy has always been with us. Every country and culture has its traditions of giving and mutual support between family, friends and neighbours. This includes the tradition of burial societies across different parts of Africa and hometown associations in Mexico. Community philanthropy has consistently saved and improved people’s lives, for example by covering medical bills, school fees and funeral costs. In contexts where the state lacks resources or simply the will to provide for its citizens, community philanthropy can be the only social safety net available. However, while the value of these forms of giving is understood only too well by those who benefit from them, these deeply embedded, trust-based, support systems have tended to be overlooked or considered to be marginal and un-strategic by the formal development sector.
In recent years, however, a new generation of community philanthropy institutions – including community foundations, women’s funds, environmental funds and other types of multi-stakeholder foundations – has begun to emerge in a range of low- and middle-income countries across the global South. From Ecuador to Thailand and from Egypt to South Africa, these institutions – which often bear a family resemblance to community foundations in the global North, but are by no means mirror images – are seeking to model new types of philanthropic behaviour and practice by harnessing local resources and cultures of giving and blending them with new organisational systems and forms.
The emergence of these new types of institutions is happening at a time when issues around ownership, flows and governance of resources are being seen as more critical than ever. As the established architecture for international aid is changing, so is the landscape in which it has traditionally operated. These transformations are shaped by the retreat of the state, the renegotiation of social contracts within states, the impact of the global scramble for mineral wealth and other natural resources, and the emergence of a new class of mega-wealthy and a growing middle class in many parts of the world traditionally seen as poor.