Tracking the Growth of Organised Community Philanthropy: Is it the missing piece in community development?
Promoting local ownership and leadership
These new philanthropic institutions are quite diverse in nature and are quite responsive to their specific context and circumstance. Nevertheless, they are alike when it comes to their particular approach to development, which combines assets and community development with the promotion of local ownership and leadership. So the Waqfeyat Al Maadi Community Foundation in Egypt, for example, is working to promote community development in Cairo’s suburbs through the revival and modernisation of the Islamic philanthropic practice of waqf (or endowments). In another example, the LIN Center, in Vietnam, works to foster giving for small grants to social causes among young middle- class professionals as a strategy for strengthening social cohesion in Ho Chi Minh City.
A report published in 2012, A Different Kind of Wealth, provided an initial baseline study of the emerging community philanthropy field in Africa. The report identified a number of characteristics that distinguish this set of institutions from other parts of civil society. While the analysis was specific to Africa, these characteristics also tend to apply in other low- and middle-income countries where community philanthropy institutions are emerging.
First, these organisations are seeking to draw on local resources and assets, not just as a strategy for funding, but also in the belief that development outcomes are more lasting when people have invested in their own development. In this context, small grants to community groups and local organisations are also a distinguishing feature of these organisations, often combined with a long-term approach (which may include the creation of long-term assets such as endowment funds).
Second, they are seeking to build bridges at many levels, whether between external forms of development support and more local mobilisation of communities and their assets, or across different stakeholders within a community.
Third, although many of them are small in terms of money, they are rich in terms of social capital and trust-based relationships.
As discussed further below, what is so distinctive about this particular type of institution is this blending of grant-making with active civic engagement and asset mobilisation in the spirit of mutual responsibility across a range of different issues. But this approach, which is often about process and intangible outcomes, such as building trust or building confidence, also means these organisations can tend to be overlooked within the broader context of civil society, where a focus on specific issues, tight project timelines and programme delivery orientation are often the established conventions.
Understanding the context: global trends and local action
The experience of the Global Fund for Community Foundations (GFCF) of supporting the development of the global community philanthropy field through small grants, technical support and convening has highlighted the importance of individual leadership in the establishment of these organisations, which are almost all one-off hybrids in their communities, countries or even geographical regions. But there are larger factors at play, which can also explain the recent growth of the field.
Global forces such as economic recession, migration and climate change are making themselves felt at community and neighbourhood level. As social and economic inequalities increase and states continue to retreat from the provision of basic services in many parts of the world, local people are becoming increasingly active in addressing their concerns.
The growth of community foundations and their peers can be seen in this larger context as forms of social solidarity movements and institutions that seek to promote citizen-led development.  Hybrid organisations are emerging in a new social economy, which includes social enterprise and member-based organising in cooperative and co-op-like organisations, all of which are framed around ideas of mutual responsibility.