- New report on community philanthropy available online
- Community philanthropy leverages effectiveness of international aid
- Asset-based strategy builds civic engagement
Barry Knight, author of a new report, “The Value of Community Philanthropy,” recently visited the Mott Foundation’s offices in Flint, Michigan. In an interview with writer Ann Richards, Knight discussed the report and the ways in which ordinary individuals in communities across the globe are taking the lead in developing new models of giving and resource-sharing that are transforming how philanthropy works at the local level. Executive director of CENTRIS (The Centre for Research and Innovation in Social Policy Ltd) in the United Kingdom, Knight is an adviser to the Global Fund for Community Foundations, which along with the Aga Khan Foundation USA and the Mott Foundation, provided support for the development and publication of the report.
Mott: Early in the report, you note that having local people involved as donors “is a game-changer.” Can you expand on that statement?
Knight: I believe we are in the midst of a philanthropic revolution of sorts — people in communities across the world are recognizing the value of their own money. They are looking for ways to build local assets and economic value that is not dependent on outside funding. That process — in which people are willing to come forward and take charge of their own affairs, their own future — also contributes to the sustainability of civil society because it requires the development of relationships and trust.
There’s been an upsurge of this type of activity — an explosion actually — in countries across Asia and Africa that have long been dependent upon foreign aid. And it is changing the way in which people interact with foundations and international aid agencies. By contributing their own money, they meet as co-funders rather than passive recipients of aid. They bring the dignity and respect of a partner to this process. It is a completely different relationship.
Mott: What are some of the indicators that community philanthropy is taking off and what needs to happen to encourage this practice?
Knight: During the past 12 months or so following the Arab Spring, there have been 971 demonstrations and protests in cities across the globe. There is a vitality — something different in the air — that indicates people — especially young people — are no longer satisfied with the status quo. They are demanding more local ownership and accountability. Community philanthropy is part of that paradigm.
There is a fairly low level of understanding about community philanthropy at present, which is what prompted the development and publication of the report. Further research and conversations are needed, particularly with bilateral and multilateral funding agencies. We need to map successful activities, support pilots, and strengthen the existing regional networks and infrastructure that supports community philanthropy. The Global Fund for Community Foundations is positioned to take this work forward, as is noted in the recommendations at the end of the report.
It also is important to showcase some examples of community philanthropy. Two of the best known of these are the Kenya Community Development Foundation in Nairobi, and Tewa in Nepal. These organizations are emblematic of the proper way to conduct business — they are open, transparent and they have devised ways of funding that are not simply project oriented. They believe that local people should be at the heart of resolving their issues. They are attempting to build the processes and leadership that will result in a permanent base of support for their communities. And they are building permanent funds that will enable them to tackle root problems in their communities.
Mott: In the report you note that community philanthropy can leverage the effectiveness of external funding. How does community philanthropy add value and what needs to happen to encourage this collaboration?
Knight: If the desired outcome of development aid is helping communities build economic value that will free them from dependency on outside funding, a new relationship — a marriage of sorts — must be forged between those giving and those receiving aid. Right now, community philanthropy is trying to set up a first date that will result in that marriage.
Community philanthropy is not a competitor of development aid. It offers large funders the opportunity to work in conjunction with people who understand and are willing to be accountable for resolving their own problems. It offers a way to fund with, not over, local communities.
To broker this marriage, practitioners of community philanthropy need to take evaluation and data collection more seriously and learn to speak the same language as big donors. The field needs to get better at communicating its accomplishments. One of the big challenges going forward will be figuring out how to structure community philanthropy in a manner that ensures it will continue to retain its vitality — its ability to connect with people and to mobilize them.
Community philanthropy and development aid inhabit very different worlds. Going forward, support will be needed to help bridge these two worlds.