Q&A: Expanding Community Philanthropy in Africa

A group of masked people hold a large banner.
The Pure Trust Social Investors Foundation works to promote the community foundation concept throughout Ghana. Photo: Pure Trust Social Investors Foundation

The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation has a long legacy of supporting community development by promoting community foundations as local leaders of positive change. As people slowly begin to emerge from the turmoil of the pandemic, local communities still continue to face ever more complex global problems. Mott believes community foundations are poised to help address these persistent challenges and lead their communities toward resurgence and lasting growth.

In this Q&A, Program Officer Mamo Mohapi discusses how Mott is working to strengthen local efforts to expand the community foundation field in Africa and promote development solutions that center unique community needs and respect local voices.

Mott: Tell me about the Mott Foundation’s history of supporting community foundations in Africa.

Mamotshidisi Mohapi headshot.
Mamo Mohapi. Photo: Cristina Wright

Mohapi: Mott partnered with a group of foundations in the late 1990s to introduce the community foundation concept in South Africa. That joint effort helped to launch 10 community foundations in the country, and the Foundation continued to support new ones that emerged once the partnership concluded.

Our experience in South Africa provided vital lessons that have helped to shape how we support the expansion of community foundations to other African countries. We learned that, for a community foundation to be successful, it needs local leadership and input.

Mott: How do community foundations in African countries compare to their counterparts in other parts of the world?

Mohapi: Each community foundation is a reflection of the community it serves, so no two are exactly the same. But they all have certain attributes that are similar, no matter where you find them. At their core, community foundations are simply a sustainable way to harness local resources for local change. There are many stories of communities across Africa and other parts of the world successfully pooling resources to respond to an issue that impacts their lives. From building a bridge to buying additional school furniture and building huts for teachers so they can live closer to school, these efforts were a success because communities came together and used their own resources to address issues that were important to them. As an institution that is created, led and resourced by the community, community foundations can spark lasting change from within.

Mott: Why is now a good time to help expand the field to other communities in Africa?

Mohapi: Many people across the continent feel voiceless in much of the development work that is done for their supposed benefit. Often, decisions about what is good for them are made by external powers who control the financial resources, with little input from communities. People are looking for ways to carry out development that truly center community needs and focus on principles of “ubuntu” (I am, because you are) and “harambee” (all pull together). We believe that community foundations can lead these efforts to unlock local resources and find development solutions from within.

Mott: How is Mott working to help make it happen?

Mohapi: Mott provides funding to community foundation support organizations (CFSOs) in Ghana, Kenya and Zambia, which pilot community foundation development initiatives. CFSOs ensure that the concept is structured and introduced in a way that respects local contexts. The essential roles of CFSOs are to create awareness and build consistent messaging about the value of a community foundation, and to identify places that have the potential to successfully build and maintain one. CFSOs also help to keep the process on track and provide the necessary tools and technical support to enable the communities to lead the work. In addition to providing financial support to these organizations, Mott also supports networks that bring together people from all over the world to learn from each other’s experiences with community foundation development.

Mott: Are you seeing progress in those countries?

Mohapi: Yes, we’ve already seen some exciting progress. In April, a Mott-supported partnership between the Pure Trust Social Investors Foundation and the Ghana Philanthropy Forum led to the launch of the first community foundation in Ghana — the Mafi Kpedzegblo Community Foundation, located in the Volta region. The two organizations worked together to introduce the concept to communities in eight regions of the country, and there are encouraging signs that several more community foundations will take root.

Mott: What’s your ultimate vision for African community philanthropy?

Mohapi: Our vision is to see more people in Africa actively involved in their communities, giving their time, treasure and talent to better their communities. Also, to have communities that can build local resources to improve peoples’ lives and institutions that can help make sustainable change.