A journey to community philanthropy


IN 2011, Zambia was classified as a low-middle-income country and this had many economic and other implications. Among the most visible implications was the progressive withdrawal of international aid, a trend which has continued unabated since 2011 despite the fact that more than 60 percent of the Zambian population live below the poverty line.
Against this backdrop, the establishment of the UN SDG philanthropy platform in Zambia created some optimism that private and philanthropic sector organisations could be brought on board, and that new actors would bring new perspectives on how development is conceptualised and operationalised to jointly meet the SDGs.
While we consider this development as extremely positive and timely and while there is much focus on philanthropy for community, limited attention is paid to community philanthropy or philanthropy by community. We think community philanthropy as a philosophy for community-led development needs to enter the mainstream development debate in Zambia.
Community philanthropy is a new world for us. Our first encounter with it was when our board chairperson, Beatrice Grillo, met the Executive Director of the Global Fund for Community Foundations Jenny Hodgson, during the international civil society week in Bogotá. This led on to our participation in the first ever Global Summit on Community Philanthropy in Johannesburg in 2016.
The global summit was an eye-opener, helping us have a more positive outlook on what development actors can do to counter the challenges presented by a fast-changing aid landscape. We were intrigued by the underlying concepts, the new approaches and the different interpretations of community philanthropy.
What also caught our attention is how community philanthropy practitioners diagnosed the various aspects of traditional development aid structures and funding flows as being inadequate to bring about lasting positive change at community level. The analysis and the frank testimonies of individual civil society leaders and advocates hit a nerve.
We had been feeling increasing uneasiness with the delivery of traditional aid and found ourselves, as a civil society support organisation, caught up in something we no longer want to be part of: a system we believe is flawed where there is a power imbalance between donors and recipients, and inadequate structures and funding procedures. It stimulated organisational soul searching and raised the question, what do you do to challenge the system while still benefitting from it?
The summit gave us an opportunity to learn from the many creative approaches employed by grassroots NGOs and community foundations. While many community foundations have emerged in different shapes in other continents, we also realised that community foundations in Africa continue to be few and far between. Particularly, one community foundation, the Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF), caught our attention because of the similarities to our aspirations towards greater donor sustainability, their approach to community-led development supported by community endowment funds and the separation between community foundation and investment arm.
The emerging debate on community philanthropy in the African region resonated with ZGF’s ambition to become more self-sufficient and sustainable not just because of dissatisfaction with traditional development financing, but also because of the underlying principle of acknowledging community assets as an indispensable part of successful local development processes.
We thus applied for a first GFCF grant to conduct a study on local giving patterns in Zambia, inspired by the LIN Center’s study in Vietnam.
In 2017, we attended KCDF’s 20th anniversary celebrations in Nairobi. We were most inspired by how KDCF has introduced the notion of community endowment funds in the Kenyan context. From our perspective as a local grantmaking and capacity development organisation for Zambian CSOs, KCDF’s community endowment fund experience resonated with us. Thus, we saw this construct as an opportunity to transform our grant making function and infuse the notion of community endowment building as a way of giving community members the space to be decision-makers and co-investors in their own development processes. We applied for another GFCF grant to help us establish a community endowment fund, modelled on the KCDF approach and, in early 2018, we started preparing for our interaction with the first community to assess their interest in working with us to jointly establish a community endowment fund.
The findings of the study, Beyond Giving: A study of local philanthropy in Zambia, revealed a mixed picture on local giving dynamics and how local giving plays out in practice. Despite the strong family ties that exist in Zambia, most of the giving actually happens in the Church, and ethical use of donations is considered a key factor in giving. What was also apparent from the study is that organised and networked philanthropy has the potential for growth if families and individuals channel their resources through formal philanthropy. Breaking the dependency syndrome, which is long rooted in the African culture, has to start at the family level, which in turn will enable the growth of philanthropy in Zambia. Local communities have talent and potential that should be appreciated, thus giving should be done in ways that enable this potential to be realised.
The launch event of the report in March this year did two things. First, it rekindled the debate on the role of community and community philanthropy in bringing about positive change. Second, it was an important opportunity to bring the topic of local philanthropy to the fore in an environment in which civil society actors like us are having to redefine their roles to remain relevant.
The event attracted representatives from the wider African philanthropy community and while all of us had our own specific perspectives with the notion of community philanthropy, there was one common denominator which confirmed that we were in the same boat: the realisation that African communities have to be the centrepiece of any meaningful change. In the words of R Buckminster Fuller, ‘You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.’
Barbara Nöst is Chief executive officer at ZGF. The article was co-authored by ZGF communications specialist Tarisai Jangara.

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