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August 07, 2012

Community foundation concept circling the globe


  • Community foundations established in Central/Eastern Europe and Russia in the late 1990s are strong and helping similar organizations in the “Global South.”
  • In the future, more community foundations are likely to develop in African, Middle Eastern and Asian nations.


This article is part of an occasional series about the community foundation field and the Mott Foundation’s role in supporting and strengthening it. The series reports on what is occurring in Mott’s major geographic focus areas — Central/Eastern Europe and Russia, South Africa, and the U.S. — as well as providing information about how the field is expanding globally. Mott’s goal is to inform the public about the latest trends in the community foundation field in advance of its 100th anniversary year in 2014.

When Jenny Hodgson talks about the development of community foundations internationally, she can do it with a voice of authority. That’s partly because there are finally enough numbers to make comparisons about the similarities and differences between community foundations worldwide, says Hodgson, executive director of the Global Fund for Community Foundations (GFCF). She has worked in the international philanthropy field and collected data about it since the 1990s — almost a decade before she joined GFCF in 2007.

During the past five years, Hodgson’s firsthand knowledge about the field of community philanthropy (including community foundations) has come from making more than 150 grants to non-governmental organizations in 45 countries.

Often times, she says, people in non-Western countries react similarly upon first hearing of the community foundation concept.

“They are skeptical,” Hodgson said. “What if you had been living in an environment where there was little trust in institutions and governments because there was no transparency — where everything was done behind people’s backs — then you hear about a way to involve people in local decisionmaking? In these places, community foundations seem like a rather radical proposition.”

But once citizens discover that positive changes are occurring elsewhere due to community foundations’ leadership, their skepticism is often replaced with a desire to begin developing their own community foundation, she says.

That was the case in Mexico, says Karen Yarza — executive director of the Fundacion Comunitaria de la Frontera Norte (Community Foundation Frontera Norte) in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico. She says several foundations like the one she leads have benefited from the work of Centro Mexicano para la Filantropia (Mexican Center for Philanthropy), a Mott Foundation-funded umbrella organization that has raised awareness about how community foundations differ from traditional charity.

Global Community Foundation Growth Chart“In Mexico, people are accustomed to being given things — food, clothing, blankets — from churches and the Rotary and Lions clubs without having to do anything,” Yarza said.

“But people are seeing that community foundations are different because they ask citizens to participate in making decisions; they promote the voices of the local people. Community foundations are by the local people and for the local people.”

In the 1970s and 1980s, Mott funded the growth and development of more than 200 community foundations throughout the U.S. Then in the early 1990s, the Foundation started funding the field internationally. This was done primarily through Mott’s Civil Society program funding areas of Central/Eastern Europe and Russia, and South Africa. Through its Global Philanthropy and Nonprofit Sector focus area, the Foundation has expanded its geographic support of community foundations to include Australia, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, United Kingdom and elsewhere.

In addition to funding national support institutions, such as the Mexican Center, Mott has provided funds to organizations that promote the community foundation concept worldwide, such as the Worldwide Initiative for Grantmaker Support (WINGS) and GFCF. Both organizations have helped develop the field by conducting research and sharing their findings broadly.

Every two years since 2000, WINGS has produced a Community Foundation Global Status Report that provides a snapshot of the field. Since the dawn of the 21st century, the field’s greatest growth has been in a region called “the Global South.” 1

Dragon Boat

The Phuket Community Foundation hosts dragon boat races as a fundraising activity.


Photo courtesy of the Phuket Community Foundation

In fact, since its founding WINGS rotated its office from one member nation to another (U.S., Canada, Belgium and Philippines), but it established a permanent office in the Global South (São Paulo, Brazil) in 2011, making it easier to keep a finger on the pulse of philanthropy in the region, says Helena Monteiro, WINGS executive director. She is increasingly connecting with philanthropy networks, including those serving community foundations, in Latin America, Asia and Africa, Monteiro says.

Meanwhile, GFCF’s focus also has been to develop the field outside North America and Western Europe, says Hodgson. Based in the Global South (Johannesburg), GFCF makes small grants to newer foundations, such as ICom, the first community foundation in southern Brazil, which was established in 2005. ICom, located in Grande Florianopolis — a metropolitan area with more than 750,000 residents —addresses issues resulting from the region’s rapid growth in the past decade, including increased poverty in ever-expanding shanty towns.

GFCF also offers peer-to-peer learning experiences, such as the March 2012 Webinar in which 52 people from 18 countries discussed YouthBanks. 2 The event was led by staff from the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland in Belfast, and the Cluj Community Foundation in Cluj Napoca, the second most populous city in Romania.

Additional GFCF grants have been made to several community foundations to provide opportunities for young people to participate in initiatives to improve their communities while building their own skills in democratic decisionmaking through the YouthBank program.

Funded organizations that operate YouthBanks have included the Al Maadi Community Foundation in Egypt, Kok Oirok Community Foundation in Kyrgyzstan, Dalia Association in Palestine, SIMAG Foundation in the Philippines and Uluntu Community Foundation in Zimbabwe.

These latter community foundations can be seen as “second-wavers,” says Hodgson. Many of the “first-wavers” — those created in the 1990s in Central/Eastern Europe and Russia after the fall of communism, those created in South Africa following the legal end to the apartheid system, and those created outside the Western world in the early 2000s — now are viewed as democratic institutions with strong local leaders who have proven track records for being transparent and fair, she says.

Some of the older non-Western community foundations, such as the Community Development Foundation Western Cape (CDF Western Cape) in South Africa, are approaching their 10th anniversary. With their age has come wisdom, Hodgson says. Later this year, staff of the CDF Western Cape plan to travel to Cairo, she says, to participate in discussions about community philanthropy, which will be hosted by the Arab Foundations Forum.

“It is no longer the Global North as teachers and the Global South as learners, but a richness of South-to-South sharing,” Hodgson said.



1 The Global South includes most, but not all, countries located in the Southern Hemisphere.

2 Youth Banks are community foundation programs comprised of young people who jointly decide what issues they will address in their communities and how their grantmaking funds will be divided.