Community foundations aim to spark homegrown development in Ghana

A large crowd gathered to celebrate the April 2021 launch of the Mafi-Kpedzeglo Community Foundation.
A large crowd gathers to celebrate the launch of the Mafi-Kpedzeglo Community Foundation — the first of its kind in Ghana. Photo: Pure Trust Social Investors Foundation

For many people throughout Africa, cultural philosophies like “ubuntu” (I am because you are) and “harambee” (all pull together) make generosity and giving a way of life. Habib Haruna, head of the Pure Trust Social Investors Foundation, said this is especially true in the West African nation of Ghana, where the country’s first community foundation opened its doors earlier this year.

“We normally come together to find a common way of solving our problems,” Haruna said. “At the family level, community level and national level, you usually see people come together to form an association, a club or something to solve some problem. But then they move on. We saw the community foundation as a more structured and formalized way to bring all the separate interests together for everyone’s benefit.”

The 2021 Charities Aid Foundation World Giving report ranked Ghana the sixth most generous country in the world — one of four African countries to appear in the index’s top 10 for the first time. Moreover, the World Bank recently elevated Ghana’s economic status to “lower-middle-income country,” a move that highlighted the country’s rising income levels.

Haruna said Ghana’s growing economy and relatively stable political environment paved the way for a vibrant civil society sector. But he added that, while nonprofits in Ghana are eager to serve the needs of communities, most still rely on dwindling international funding. He said, “We asked ourselves, ‘What happens when donor funds end, and how we can bring citizens into the process of financing development?’ We learned that many who give funds to NGOs from abroad are individuals that contribute $10 or even $1 to do good in our country. We thought we could also do something of that sort from within, so that was how we started thinking of community foundations.”

Dr. Ben Ocra, president of the Ghana Philanthropy Forum, added that government officials also are eager to see Ghana become more self-sufficient and less reliant on foreign aid.

“We have this mantra of ‘Ghana beyond aid,’” Ocra said. “Our government is working toward the possibility of Ghana becoming independent of (international) grants and other aid. That enabling environment from government gave us a green light to move forward.”

Haruna and Ocra worked together to introduce the community foundation concept in eight regions of the country. The Mafi Kpedzegblo Community Foundation, in the Volta region, was the first to launch in April 2021.

Alexander Roosevelt Hottordze, a member of Ghana’s parliament who represents the Volta region, expressed excitement about the community foundation’s potential impact.

“This community foundation is going to stimulate a spirit of common ownership among my people,” Hottordze said. “And when there is ownership, there is sustainability. With donor fatigue and the slowdown of NGO activity because of lack of funding, I think it will be a great thing for people to mobilize their own resources.”

The new foundation currently has a five-member board of directors, and the local chief — the traditional community leader — will serve as the organization’s patron. Ocra said the foundation’s priorities are hiring a manager and working with the community to identify the issues that should be addressed first.

Along with the evolving government position on development aid, Ocra credited communities’ increasing experience with democracy and the COVID-19 pandemic with helping to successfully promote the community foundation concept in Ghana.

“COVID lockdowns provided a good example for us to explain how community foundations can help build sustainable resources if communities are no longer receiving funding from outside,” Ocra said.

The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation made a grant to the Pure Trust Social Investors Foundation to help jumpstart efforts to expand community foundations in Ghana. Haruna and Ocra said at least 15 communities have expressed interest in the concept, and they hope to have another six community foundations operating by the end of the year.

“I see community philanthropy growing and gaining momentum in Ghana,” Ocra said. “Through the pandemic, we’ve seen many challenges that tested our spirit of giving, and interest (in philanthropy) grew. We’re really excited about where we are going.”