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March 17, 2010

Global Fund for Community Foundations recognizes, validates “doing things in different ways”


By MAGGIE JARUZEL POTTER

Started in 2006 as a three-year pilot project by the World Bank Group, WINGS (Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support), and the Ford and Mott foundations, the Global Fund for Community Foundations (GFCF) was created to support community foundation development in transitioning and developing countries. During the pilot phase GFCF was hosted by the European Foundation Centre in Brussels and a Management Committee was appointed to oversee its programs and operations; the organization became independent in 2009. [To read a related Q & A with GFCF Director Jenny Hodgson and GFCF Board Member Avila Kilmurray, click here.]
As the community foundation concept is shared internationally, board members of the Global Fund for Community Foundations (GFCF) are getting a giant geography lesson.

“One of the things I like about serving on the Global Fund board is that I still have to reach for my Atlas to find out where some of these applications are coming from,” said Avila Kilmurray.

In addition to serving on GFCF’s board since it became an independent organization in 2009, she also is director of the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland.

Rural Development Fund
Photo courtesy of the Rural Development Fund (Kyrgyzstan)
While GFCF’s mission is to support local philanthropy by making small grants to community foundations in emerging economies and developing nations, it also is the organization’s responsibility to practice “due diligence,” or investigate potential recipients before grants are made. Staff does this by checking references and asking questions through the many networks they have developed internationally.

GFCF Director Jenny Hodgson acknowledges this can be challenging: “We could be called ‘a high-risk grantmaker’ because we can’t put boots on the ground in all these countries.”

But the due diligence process reduces risk tremendously, she says. Those investigations, like all of GFCF’s work, are done from a virtual office; Hodgson is based in Johannesburg and her GFCF colleague, Vadim Samorodov, works in Moscow.

While the GFCF doesn’t need a presence in the countries in which it funds, being place-based and visible is critical for community foundations and community philanthropy organizations, Hodgson says.

“In areas of the world where international agencies are a big part of the funding picture – the World Bank, U.N., and U.S.A.I.D. – the missing piece is the role of the local donor organizations and institutions,” she said.

Kilmurray agrees and says she finds it interesting to learn about the community foundations and philanthropy support organizations that apply for GFCF funding – and also the countries in which those organizations are based.

For example, she discovered a creative and lucrative local initiative that grew out of a project sponsored by the Rural Development Fund (RDF) in Kyrgyzstan, an organization that aims to identify and revitalize traditional knowledge and agricultural practices.

In Kok Oirok, a rural village where RDF provides support, residents are planting poplar trees as a way to generate long-term income to meet community needs. Native to the region, the trees are inexpensive to plant but increase in value as much as 150 percent in one decade. The initiative raises funds while allowing residents to practice natural resource sustainability in areas of the country that have been deforested.

What is a community foundation?

  • An indigenous grantmaking institution that accumulates financial resources from a variety of donors (including local individuals and companies, Diaspora populations, government bodies and international funders).
  • An institution that, when possible, pools sufficient resources to develop a permanent asset base in the form of an endowment.
  • An institution in which local people and groups respond to local challenges.
  • A grantmaker that provided funds to local groups to empower them to address a range of local needs, such as education, poverty alleviation, youth and women’s programs, health, community development and others.
  • A bridge builder that helps create links between different sectors, particularly when there is a climate of public distrust in institutions.
  • An advocate that takes a leadership role with local or national authorities on sensitive social issues.
  • A steward that accumulates and pools resources for the public good – for today and in perpetuity, and distributes those resources in an open and transparent way.

    Source: Global Fund for Community Foundations
“Community philanthropy brings recognition and validity for doing things in different ways, which is important,” Kilmurray said. “With the Global Fund’s networking opportunities, people are learning from one another.”

For Hodgson, this is an exciting time to be in the community foundation field. She says the concept is quickly spreading worldwide – with lots of connections being made between people who share a desire to improve lives and communities.

“The timing is right in terms of the emergence of these institutions and also some of the thinking that is happening around social justice and community philanthropy,” Hodgson said.

Since GFCF was created in 2006, the Mott Foundation has supported it with five grants, totaling $655,000. These grants were made to the Belgium-based European Foundation Centre, GFCF’s fiscal arm, through the Special Initiatives-International focus of Mott’s Civil Society program.

Overall, the community foundation field is being invigorated by new philanthropists with big ideas, Hodgson says.

This is evident at the Akuapem Community Foundation in Ghana, which evolved out of the Akuapem Forum, a series of seven major community meetings during a three-year period that included people from the public, private and nonprofit sectors.

The Ghana community foundation recently received a $10,000 GFCF grant for institutional development. It is among the first community foundations in the country and also in West Africa. One of its six focus areas is building and strengthening women’s economic empowerment – increasingly viewed as a social justice issue, Hodgson says.

Nana Oye Mana Yeboaa, one of the founders of Akuapem, is a banker, diplomat and a community leader. As the former deputy governor of the Bank of Ghana and also the former Ambassador of Ghana to Belgium and Luxembourg, she is one of those new philanthropists.

“We had to be true to the spirit of the Forum, which is to be all inclusive,” Yeboaa said.

“We also had to be strong, credible and high profile to be able to include policymakers, [tribal] chiefs, policy implementers and other leaders in the community. Above all, we had to be accountable.”


Photo courtesy of Akuapem Community Foundation (Ghana)
Ghana was one of many countries to receive a grant during GFCF’s most recent funding cycle in December 2009. To date, GFCF has awarded grants totaling $2.2 million to 121 community foundations and philanthropy-support organizations to promote and strengthen local philanthropy in 41 countries. In addition to Ghana, countries that received grants in December include Azerbaijan, Ecuador, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Mozambique, Palestine, Tanzania and Thailand.

Community foundations are springing up in several places in Thailand. Among the first was the Phuket Community Foundation (PCF), officially launched in 2007. Phuket is the country’s largest island and is often called “paradise on earth” by tourists because of its tropical weather, white sandy beaches, and crystal-clear water.

But for residents who must regularly venture beyond the tourist areas, there were ongoing and important challenges to address, local leaders said. These included alleviating poverty; preserving the island’s environment and its architectural and historical heritage; improving public health, education and safety; and promoting arts and culture.

So, after investigating the community foundation concept, Hodgson says, they determined it could be a viable vehicle to help tackle these tough issues. In 2007, the foundation received two GFCF grants. One was for $15,000, which paid the expenses for U.S. and Thai consultants to advise the new foundation’s leaders.

The second 2007 grant, for $30,000, helped PCF meet the match required for a challenge grant from the Netherlands-based Van Leer Group Foundation. It also was used to help develop the foundation’s board, and conduct a mapping project to assess the community’s strengths and weaknesses.

Then, in June 2009, PCF sent two board members – along with others from Thailand and Vietnam – to participate in a study tour in eastern Slovakia; it was organized and funded primarily by GFCF.

Study group members met with staff of the Prešov and Bardejov community foundations, visited their locally funded projects and learned firsthand about the day-to-day operations of the two organizations.


Photo courtesy of Phuket Community Foundation (Thailand)
“It was absolutely clear from what we saw that 90 percent of the success of the two community foundations in Slovakia was because they had dedicated, outgoing, intelligent, organized, and articulate directors who believed passionately in what they were doing,” said Piyarat Kulvanich, PCF’s board treasurer who traveled to Slovakia.

Upon returning from the trip and reporting the value of having a full-time director, PCF hired its first full-time staff person, she said.

In addition to informed and engaged staff, community foundations – as well as GFCF – need strong boards, says Rita Thapa, GFCF’s Nepali board member. She recently donated money to GFCF and encouraged her friends, family and colleagues at non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to do the same. In all, their efforts raised $1,000 (72,300 rupees). That’s quite a feat, Thapa says, because it is tough to raise funds in Nepal, a nation transitioning toward stability following a 10-year armed conflict.

“In an increasingly interdependent and interconnected world, Nepalese understand the value of their gifts and the power it carries to make the world a little bit better,” she said.

Hodgson is excited about the donation, especially because it was the first money to go into GFCF’s new bank account and symbolizes the importance of residents actively engaging in their own community’s development – as both donors and project participants.

Yet, as critical as it is for community foundations to generate local income to meet local challenges, they provide something in addition to money, she says.

“Communities need local institutions that are sustainable, not just from the financial angle but sustainable in that they are long-term institutions,” Hodgson said. “They are there and they are not going away like an NGO project might. That’s where community foundations come in.”