Community Philanthropy Can Shift Power to Local Communities

Sixty countries were represented at the first ever Global Summit on Community Philanthropy in Johannesburg, South Africa, last week under the rallying cry to #ShiftThePower to community giving in development processes.

Organised by the Global Fund for Community Foundations (GFCF), with local partners CIVICUS and the Southern Africa Trust, the Summit on December 1 – 2 brought together community philanthropy organisations, public and private donors and other civil society actors from across the globe

The Summit represented a landmark moment in the development of the global community philanthropy field – which is made up of a diverse range of local institutions including community foundations, women’s funds, environmental funds and grassroots grantmakers.

“The global community philanthropy field has seen dramatic growth in many low and middle income countries over the last decade or so,” said Jenny Hodgson, Executive Director of the Global Fund for Community Foundations and the Secretary of the Africa Philanthropy Network (APN) board of directors.

“These institutions form an important part of the growing sector of organized philanthropy in parts of the world traditionally regarded as beneficiary rather than donor countries.”

Hodgson said that because community philanthropy institutions tend to be made up of multiple stakeholders in a given community (including non-profits, community groups, local businesses etc.) they are uniquely positioned to promote both citizen participation and local cultures of giving by ordinary people and not just the wealthy.

“These institutions use small grants as a way to get resources to local organizations which are often overlooked by larger donors and parts of the development sector,” she added.

Other members of the APN board were among the delegates of the Global Summit in Johannesburg.  The Summit reflected on the state and relevance of community philanthropy as an alternative to traditional top-down development aid, which is often dominated by international NGOs and more short-term in nature. In Africa, where the development landscapes have been dominated by decades of external aid and yet where strong systems of solidarity and reciprocity (such as stokvels, merry-go-rounds and just neighbours and families helping each other) have always existed – if overlooked by “big development” – this topic is particularly relevant. Mapping, highlighting and growing a strong and diverse philanthropic sector across the continent is a focus of the APN.

“The exclusion of communities from their own development processes and the power wielded by large actors were themes that surfaced during the course of the two days,” Hodgson noted.

Drawing on the diversity of the sector, the Summit programme featured a variety of short lightning talks from community philanthropy practitioners working in different and contrasting contexts – including China, India, Brazil, Mexico and the United States, as well as from the growing African community philanthropy sector. APN board member Janet Mayiwoo, CEO of the Kenya Community Development Foundation, Africa’s biggest and most established community foundation, reflected on the changes local development sectors need to make to drive their own development, starting by casting off the language of “beneficiary” and “recipient” which fosters mindsets of passivity and dependence.

In his keynote address Ambassador James Joseph suggested that community philanthropy – with its emphasis on empathy, compassion and trust as well money, – offered a glimmer of light in what he called the “dark times” that the world is facing on many fronts.

He warned against the arrogance of “donors” and called for a kind of leadership in philanthropy and development that “risks chaos” rather than “imposes order” and that is driven by a sense of justice and equity.

“Charity is good,” said Joseph, “but justice is better,”

The Summit also included the award ceremony for the Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize for Emerging Markets Philanthropy. Now in its fourth year, the prize was created in honour of Olga Alexeeva, widely considered to be the driving force behind the development of Russia’s philanthropy sector following the end of Communism who died suddenly in 2011. Past winners have come from Kenya, China and Romania. Five of the seven finalists– from South Africa, Brazil, Singapore and Mexico – were present in Johannesburg for the ceremony.

This year’s winner was Bhekinkosi Moyo, Executive Director of the Southern Africa Trust and Chair of the APN.

In accepting the prize, Moyo said: “We need to consider what shifting the power means for us as community philanthropists. It is a motivation for us to be more creative, disruptive and imaginative.

“This is a community award in the spirit of Ubuntu, it is for all those who have provided the space for this work to manifest itself,” he added.

The APN is a regional network that seeks to raise the profile, voice and practice of philanthropy across the continent, as a critical tool for progressive social change.