Tracking the Growth of Organised Community Philanthropy: Is it the missing piece in community development?
In a similar vein, community foundations can also be seen to be filling new societal spaces opened by the overhaul of state, private sector and civil society relationships, which many low- and middle-income countries have undergone in recent years. In Russia, for example, there are now over 40 community foundations nationwide, all of which were established in the last 15 years – evidence, it would appear, of the need for new types of bridging or facilitating institutions in the post-communist context. In many parts of Russia where independent civil society is still very weak, community foundations offer key spaces for voluntary action.
Similarly, in Turkey, efforts are currently underway to generate new interest in the community foundation concept among a range of different stakeholders. Many of the right ingredients are in place: there is local money, a rich tradition of mutual support, a growing philanthropic sector and an active civil society. And yet, much philanthropic giving is one-off, in-kind and un-strategic. When people give, most prefer to bypass organisations altogether and give directly, while local CSOs struggle to raise local money, with few tax incentives for giving. Underpinning all these developments, however, are larger concerns about current strains on the notion of community in Turkey. In both urban and rural areas, the country finds itself pulled increasingly in different directions along religious, ethnic, class and political lines.
The notion of an organisation that seeks to build trust among people in a community and, by doing so, to strengthen that community, is an important one, not least in those emerging economies and developing countries where public trust is often low because of weak institutions or a history of conflict or division.
Reductions in international aid flows to many countries are another important factor that is affecting the landscape for civil society funding more broadly. This suggests that local donors will increasingly be called upon to fill funding gaps and they will need effective and transparent mechanisms through which to give. These mechanisms may also be different from those traditionally required by large international donors. And as the global scramble for natural resources intensifies, extractive industries are increasingly required to make socially responsible investments, which can generate long-term benefits for communities. New models of community-owned and community-controlled endowment funds – such as the Newmont Ahafo Development Foundation in Ghana, a “corporate community foundation” established by the mining company for the long-term benefit of the community – are likely to become increasingly common and will require new systems of transparent and accountable governance.
These institutions are emerging not only in response to changing funding patterns. Either implicitly or explicitly, they are also often challenging many of the conventions of mainstream development with its issue-based silos, time-limited project horizons and upward accountability to external donors. Instead they are choosing to take more holistic, locally responsive, long-term and flexible approaches, which in turn enhances community resilience and social cohesion. It is perhaps worth noting how many of these institutions have been founded by individuals who have previously worked in large international development organisations and have deliberately stepped outside them in order to pursue alternative, more locally-rooted models and approaches.
When Tewa, the Nepal Women’s Fund, was established in 1996, for example, it was framed explicitly as an alternative to externally-formulated, top-down approaches. In this regard, local philanthropic contributions from the community have been an essential cornerstone of Tewa’s institutional make-up, increasing ownership and flattening traditional donor-beneficiary hierarchies. In a similar vein, the Fund has consistently adhered to the principle that only local money is used in its grant-making. Similarly, the founders of the Kenya Community Development Foundation, one of Africa’s largest community foundations, were also keen to ensure that it would mark a shift away from short-term projects, which were in effect delivered to communities, and towards a more participatory, locally-driven approach.
Community philanthropy and mainstream development: Parallel universes?
The last two decades have seen considerable investment in the development of community foundations and their community philanthropy peers in different parts of the world by a handful of institutional funders (mostly private foundations, with the C.S. Mott Foundation playing a particularly important role). Although this investment has certainly helped to strengthen the sense of a shared identity within the field, there has been limited crossover into the world of mainstream development initiatives. The terms ‘community philanthropy’, ‘local foundation’ and ‘community foundation’ have limited mileage beyond specific platforms and funders, while the word ‘endowment’ is most commonly applied to private foundations and mortgages. ‘Grant-making’ too often carries undertones of a functional financial transaction rather than an empowering and often transformative development tool. A problem of language may need to be overcome, in the first instance, if there is to be a successful linking of development discourses.
Notions of measurement and size can also be problematic. In the context of growing preoccupation with observable results, metrics and measurement in development, where success is often defined by a project’s scalability, much of the global community philanthropy field stands in danger of becoming invisible and its impact immeasurable when conventional frameworks are applied.
Most of the institutions that make up the global community philanthropy field as a whole are small, both in terms of money and people. In a survey of 50 organisations based in Latin America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe that was conducted in 2010, with exception of a handful of organisations that had annual budgets that exceeded US$1million, most operated on less than US$65,000 per year. When it came to grants made by these organisations, most were in the range of US$350 to US$2,500. By the standards of many conventional development budgets and programmes, these amounts may appear to be so small as to render these institutions statistically meaningless or insignificant.
And yet what if a different set of measures were applied to this picture? How can the potential multiplier effect be measured in terms of social capital and trust when a community foundation’s entire budget has been raised locally? Further, how can the investment in time spent building relationships be measured, ensuring high standards of management and grant-making to retain that trust with the community, which may include multiple local donors? And while a US$500 grant to a local organisation might seem high in transaction costs, how can the changes be measured that might be brought about by that grant? These changes may be in terms of strengthening the capacities and building the confidence of a group that is so small it is off the radar of other donors and programmes. In the context of the familiar refrain about Southern CSOs and their limited capacities to absorb aid money, is there not a role for local intermediary institutions, targeting appropriate levels of resources, which can foster local development rather than engulf it?