Interview with Barbara Nost: Executive Director for the Zambian Governance Foundation (ZGF)
Can you please tell us a bit about yourself and your organisation?
I was brought into Zambia in January 2009 to set up the Zambia Governance Fund as it was called then, which was designed as a multi donor pool fund set up in support of local organizations to become more influential in the national development debate. ZGF’s unique journey began when a group of bilateral donors, namely, Department for International Development (DFID), Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and Irish Aid came together in 2008 to discuss a more coordinated manner of channeling money to civil society organizations. At that time, the practice of independently supporting CSOs in different ways created a duplication of work and kept transaction costs high. Donors committed money to a pool fund and the DANIDA volunteered to facilitate an international tender for the management of the newly created Zambia Governance Fund. The newly set up fund faced some initial challenges, the most pressing being the lack of a legal identity that enabled it to operate independently. Through a process of deliberation, it was determined that the fund would become a company limited by guarantee of five Zambians who volunteered to establish the Zambian Governance Foundation for Civil Society.
However, ZGF has been on a journey of inner transformation driven by the urge of redefining its reason for existence as a foundation, sparked by various developments and events. In 2012, the ZGF board and founders made a strategic decision to allow the Foundation to incrementally change its operations by transforming the organisation from an entirely donor funded platform to an organisation that is more independent from donors and therefore more self-sufficient and sustainable in the medium- and long term. This led us to introduce community philanthropy as a second pillar of work with the help of the Global Fund for Community Foundations in 2017. Since then, we have been trying to incrementally increase activities in this field through supporting community led development in Zambia through our own funds and with support from the Global Fund for Community Foundations. Because of that we have managed to attract new donors, including the Mott Foundation, to support us in this journey. This is our story in a nutshell.
How would you describe the philanthropy sector in your context? What are the main trends and challenges?
Since I have been in Zambia the landscape has changed significantly; donor funds are decreasing in Zambia probably because of the fact that Zambia was classified as a low middle-income country by the World Bank in 2011. Old actors started to disappear and new actors started to come on board. We also saw the SDG Philanthropy Platforms being set up in 2016 and philanthropy organisations like Ford Foundation, Hilton Foundation, Lumos Foundation and Co Impact developing an interest in Zambia. We also saw the emergence of private sector foundations in the mining sector. Local civil society organizations do not know how to navigate in this space, because there isn’t sufficient information and it is very difficult to keep track of those changes if you do not read every newsletter, newsfeed and update that comes your way.
What are you doing now as an institution in promoting African philanthropy or community-led development?
We have introduced community philanthropy as our second pillar of work, which has not been as prominent as I would have liked it to be due to the limited resources we have had available in the beginning. Our intention is to move away from implementing bilateral donor programmes towards supporting community philanthropy. In addition to our traditional work, we are trying to support community-based organizations and communities to drive their own development and help them become for self-reliant. We conducted two studies, one in 2018 on local giving in Zambia through which we tried to understand local giving patterns amongst individuals in Zambia. In 2019, we launched the diaspora philanthropy study which explored how Zambians in the diaspora perceive their role in supporting development in their home country. In 2019, we also established a network of likeminded individuals and organizations who support the community-led development and subscribe to the philanthropy ethos in Zambia. The network is called “Ngovu Ni Bantu” which means power is people. We have been meeting for the past one and half years regularly to discuss joint activities and events and we are currently in the process of opening up the network to new members and developed membership criteria. It is the network’s intention to spread the word that community development does not always have to be funded from outside, it can and must be supported from within Zambia. We also developed new models of working with communities and community-based organizations which is different from how we used to work in the past. We introduced conducting a community asset mapping and developing community profiles in each community we work in. We support communities to build their capacities and we help them with finding solutions to their own problems. We also help them source their own funds and make use of their own resources that exist in their own communities. We need to communicate that the community-led approach is actually working and show the civil society community that this is the only sustainable model.
How can philanthropy encourage innovation at grassroots level?
We find that there is a belief that civil society as well as community development depends so much on external foreign resources and this has really impacted negatively on local CSOs. CSOs tend to be more focused on pleasing the donor rather than the communities they work with or the constituencies they serve. This behavior reinforces the belief that community development has no chance in Africa and that it can never emerge from within communities. It created a dependency syndrome that we see everywhere, even in the communities we started working with. At the beginning of September, we launched the inauguration of the hammer mill in one of the communities we work with. The communities have built their own shelter and ZGF contributed by fundraising from staff, board members and friends. At the launch, I was the only white person and a young man from the youth group walked up to me and said “So what can we expect from you next?” This dependency syndrome is in existence everywhere, people are still of the belief that everything has to come from government or other external sources. I think organizations like ours can change the way civil society work. We need to make an effort to select initiatives that are truly community-led, to change the approach of how we select local organizations and start building relationships with local organizations differently. If you do not have strong relationships with organizations and communities we will not change mindsets. For example, the community in Namanongo we have been for almost three years sees us as their brothers and sisters. They trust us, they know that we are reliably coming back every week or every other week. We need to build the body of evidence to prove that community-led development is something that is possible without donor funding.
Do you believe philanthropy support organisations (PSOs) can improve and expand the available data on philanthropy?
I think they can. However, we do not spend enough time on collecting data and creating a body of evidence because we are busy with our internal operational affairs. What we need to do is to collect and document lessons learned, support learning, data collection and dissemination. I think we need to ditch log frames and use more innovative measuring tools such as outcome harvesting. The outcome harvesting method that we have introduced for our local philanthropy work helps us harvest the outcomes that were not anticipated and that we never thought of. The difference is that this method helps you harvest the outcomes from the perspective of the people. The log frame methodology has absolutely no place in community led development.
How is being a member of APN strategic for your work or the work of any member on the continent?
Strategically it is very good to be part of APN, because it helped us connect to other likeminded organizations. We also feel being part of something that is bigger and beyond us. It also offers us getting to know new perspectives. It has been very interesting to see what pathways our friends in Bulawayo, the Community Foundation of Western Region of Zimababwe or our friends at KCDF in Kenya have chosen and what they struggle with in their specific context. It helps us being part of a community which is very important for us. The first time I felt being part of the APN community was in March 2018, when APN members came to Lusaka to attend our big launch event of our Zambia local giving study. This was the first time that I met with organizations that speak the same language. It was truly inspiring.
Is Africa’s philanthropic sector changing and evolving on the continent? If yes, how?
The philanthropic sector has changed and there are some worrying trends. For instance, big private sector firms set up their own foundations and start fundraising for their own projects that should have been funded by their mother company. How does such an entity dare to enter the local resource mobilization space? We need to question this approach. The other concern is how corporate social responsibility is understood and implemented in Zambia. We as CSOs don’t know the rules of the game. Members of the APN community need to demand more transparency from the private sector and why they hesitate to support local African civil society. A positive trend is that there are community-based organizations, but they are off the radar of funders and the corporate sector and no one pays attention to them. They do not have a marketing structure similar to heavily funded NGOs and INGOs and become invisible to the outside world.
In your work, how do you address power structures that perpetuate poverty and marginalization? How are you already working to put the shift the power into practice?
I think the best way is to talk about it as often as you can, make it a topic through your communication work and work differently, create a new system that makes the old system obsolete. Firstly, I think we need to build some sense of solidarity amongst ourselves as a community of likeminded organisations by reminding ourselves and the organizations we work with that without solidarity, which is the cornerstone of community development, we are not going to move forward. Secondly, I think we need to help communities understand that they can change their lives without external support and help develop some sense of self-reliance. This is not about providing technical assistance or giving out grants, it is about creating a mind shift change amongst people so that they become more proactive and co-investors in their own development.
In a changing development landscape what are some of the strategies you are exploring as an institution for sustainability?
I think sustainability is a very big term. It can mean credibility, legitimacy or financial sustainability. If your organisations has created lasting impact in the communities you work with, then you become a credible and legitimate partner in development for the same communities. This is an important part of creating a sustainable institution. If there is no response from the people you serve and work with, then your work has no value and you basically exist for yourself. Some NGOs exist for themselves and their operations are often questionable. As for financial sustainability, we have used various strategies. First of all, we needed to diversify and have a diverse mix of funding streams. Currently, ZGF cannot operate without grants, but we are also generating income from service contracts that help us sustain our operations. We need to become much stronger in raising our own resources from the private sector or high net worth individuals. We also need to become much stronger in supporting local resource mobilization in Zambia, helping local organizations to raise their own resources.
What is an inspiring quote that you would like to share?
The one I like most is a quote from Ghandi. “Be the change you want to see in the world.”