South Africa

Meeting Community Needs with Local Philanthropy

A handful of successful community foundations exist in South Africa because local leaders adapted the concept to their culture and conditions, secured local support, and empowered residents to address community challenges.

The Richards Bay-based UThungulu Community Foundation (UCF), South Africa’s first such institution funded by Mott, is celebrating its 15-year anniversary in 2014. It is one of three Mott-supported community foundations in the country that has succeeded by adapting the concept to the culture of South Africans, who value education and training as much as monetary support.

Key Lessons


undefinedBalance Local Buy-in and External Support

undefinedInclude the Whole Community

“We are empowering people of all races to improve their own lives by teaching them new skills,” said Johanna Hendricks, CEO of the West Coast Community Foundation in Cape Town. She said the harm caused by decades of inequality during the apartheid years is still evident in most of society, which has prompted community foundations to regularly address this reality through their grantmaking.

After the election of Nelson Mandela as president, resident participation became essential for South Africa to move forward as a nation. Consequently, as early as 1994, international funders introduced South African leaders to the concept of community foundations, which can serve as vehicles of the people and for the people to address local issues.

We are empowering people of all races to improve their own lives by teaching them new skills.


Johanna HendricksCEO, West Coast Community Foundation

“Because I was a businessman, I understood the power of the concept immediately, but not everyone did,” said Louis van Zyl, then-CEO of the Zululand Chamber of Business Foundation and founding chairman of UCF. “Simply put, I saw it as an instrument that could address the complex and changing needs of our communities.” He, along with other South Africans, participated in a learning tour of U.S. community foundations in 1998.

Meanwhile, the South African Grantmakers’ Association had received financial support in 1997 from three international grantmakers — the Ford, W.K. Kellogg and Mott foundations — to help develop 10 community foundations through a pilot project. As a participant, UCF, like the other emerging community foundations, received a lot of financial support from these funders.

From its start in 1999, UCF understood the importance of securing funds from South Africa-based donors while most others in the pilot project remained dependent on overseas support. Since its founding, UCF has made grants totaling 3.9 million rands for school scholarships, teen activities, preschool education, community gardens and much more.

Today, few of the other pilot-project institutions exist. With the advantage of hindsight, many people, including Christa Kuljian, former director of Mott’s South Africa office, say the lack of local buy-in and the abundance of external support is largely to blame.

“Such a high level of funding from international donors without matching funds from local donors left these institutions very exposed,” she said.

Still, the community foundation concept is spreading organically, albeit slowly. In addition to UCF and the West Coast Community Foundation, there also is the Community Development Foundation Western Cape, based in Cape Town. It is led by CEO Beulah Fredericks, who said, “The answers to local problems often lie within the community itself, and community foundations, which are local leaders, need to draw them out from residents so they can give back.”