During the 1990s and 2000s, community foundations spread across entire regions — such as Europe — with multiple institutions established in individual countries. However, during the past decade, a single community foundation, or sometimes a few of them, have started appearing in countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. According to Jenny Hodgson, executive director of the Global Fund for Community Foundations, these emerging grassroots grantmaking organizations need guidance from field experts, small pots of financial support, connections with the broader field, and opportunities to learn from others.
Our niche is that we see the field through a global lens, and we are not just a grantmaker. We use grants to build relationships with organizations.
For example, two associates of the LIN Center for Community Development in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam learned a lot when they joined community foundation leaders from Thailand on a 2009 study tour of community foundations in Slovakia. Organized by the Global Fund, the multiple site visits enabled LIN leaders to see the day-to-day operations of Slovak organizations and experience firsthand the value of adapting the community foundation concept to the local culture.
On that tour, LIN discovered we had more in common with community foundations in Slovakia than those in nearby Thailand,” said Dana Doan, LIN’s founder and strategic advisor. “We had a socialist past like Slovakia, so we both have to overcome an overall distrust of putting people’s money together in a shared pot. However, we have advantages over Slovakia because we have more companies in Vietnam to tap for support than they have there.”
The cross-learning continues. In 2013, local leaders from Haiti took a similar fact-finding trip to the Kenya Community Development Foundation to guide them in the early phases of developing a community foundation.
Why Kenya and not a country closer to Haiti?
In a word, “context.” Marie-Rose Romain Murphy, a member of the Haitian group, said Kenya’s situation is “uncannily” similar to Haiti’s.
“We needed to learn from people who have walked in our shoes,” she said.
While all new community foundations need strong boards, transparent financial systems, and plans for sustainability, no two organizations are the same. But they can learn and adapt from others, Hodgson said.
Hence, the starting point for all of the Global Fund’s work is to recognize the importance of the local circumstances in which a specific organization operates.
“Context is everything,” Hodgson continued. “It’s really important to not make assumptions about what will, and will not, work.” What works well in some places — the United States or the United Kingdom, for example — might not work at all in Haiti or Kenya. Consequently, there’s a need for a broad network that promotes connections across borders.”
Created in 2006, the Global Fund was a three-year pilot project initiated by the World Bank, Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support (WINGS), and the Mott and Ford foundations. It became independent in 2009 and today is based in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The Global Fund provides small grants, ranging from $5,000 to $15,000, to community philanthropy organizations in Egypt, Haiti, Macedonia, Nepal and other countries in transition or in the developing world. Unlike most other grantmakers who support projects or programs, the Global Fund’s grants aim to strengthen the organizations themselves, resulting in grants to fund peer exchanges, build endowments, provide staff training, and serve as incentives to secure matching grants.
“Our niche is that we see the field through a global lens, and we are not just a grantmaker,” Hodgson said. “Every time we make a grant, we build a relationship with an organization and play a role in supporting that organization’s development.”
Through its work, the Global Fund has helped other funders understand that the community foundation is but one of many forms of effective community philanthropy. To that end, in 2013 Mott and the Aga Khan Foundation USA were joined by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the U.S. Agency for International Development in creating the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy. This collaborative project aims to advance the understanding and practice of community philanthropy. It is managed by the Global Fund, which also is implementing its three broad areas of activity: