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What are some of the “big questions” that community philanthropy practitioners and researchers around the world want to explore?

This was our own “big question” when the GFCF and Johnson Center on Philanthropy (JCP) at Grand Valley State University launched a global call for proposals on community philanthropy that connected research and practice back in March 2016. For the GFCF, the research programme is one of a number of activities that formed part of the lead-up to the Global Summit on Community Philanthropy in South Africa in December. For the JCP, home to a chair on community philanthropy since 2015, it provided a chance to assess the pulse of the global conversation on community philanthropy and start examining ways to strengthen links between practice and academia. 

We received over 50 research proposals, from Brazil to Bangladesh and from Spain to South Africa. Although not scientifically representative, the proposals were certainly reflective of the state of the global community philanthropy discourse. It was clear, for example, that there are parts of the world (in particular, parts of Asia and Africa), where the idea of organized community philanthropy is not as well established as others. Similarly, there was a strong correlation between the sophistication or ambitions of research ideas and the existence of an established, or at least an identifiable, community philanthropy sector (however it defined itself), as indicated by at least one flagship institution.

The research topics fell into various clusters – some very local in their scope, others national, regional and even global. Below, we offer a sense of the scope and variety.

Local asset mobilization – a defining characteristic of community philanthropy - was the focus of a number of proposals. Topics ranged from the very pragmatic (tools and mechanisms, for example, that could facilitate local giving) as well as more cultural or anthropological questions about traditions of giving and solidarity and the extent to which they can be drawn upon in building modern systems of giving.  Some of these focused on particular country contexts (Ukraine or Mozambique, for example) and others focused on specific communities (for example, middle-class residents in a Nairobi neighbourhood, community members in the Aberdares area of Kenya, and Dalit communities in India).

Other topics that were proposed included impact investing, which seems to be of particular interest among community foundations in the United States and Australia, community philanthropy in the context of other blended or hybrid models of local asset mobilization and governance, and the application of legal frameworks around giving.

There is a lot of talk on the theme of disruption these days – how it can be both navigated by civil society and how civil society organizations can themselves be disruptors. It was interesting to note a few proposals that touched on these kinds of ideas, as well as larger ethical questions about how apparently positive behaviors by and in relation to community philanthropy can also have disruptive effects on others. How do corporate philanthropic investments in local communities, for example, compare with tax advantages granted to corporations at other levels? To what extent are community foundations building new philanthropy, or are they disrupting or interfering with giving that might otherwise go directly to local non-profits? And finally, what implications does the “closing space” for civil society have both in terms of stimulating new strategies for collective giving and cross-border giving?

Ultimately the selection process was a challenge as neither the GFCF nor the JCP expected such an outpouring of proposals. The criteria for selection included: a clear connection to the goal of strengthening the connection between research and practice; a viable proposed scope of work for the resources requested; and, a clear articulation of the need for funding. Faced with such a large pool of proposals, concepts that were very exploratory rather than clearly articulated were set aside for further reflection rather than immediate funding. Putting together a diverse mix of projects from around the world exploring a variety of questions and issues facing community philanthropy leaders was the goal. It is hoped that  these initial projects give rise to an ongoing effort to strengthen community philanthropy research. Both the GFCF and JCP are committed to continued work in this area in the months and years to come.

A total of 13 projects have received funding support in this round so far: one more is under discussion.

  • Middle class, public interest impulses and active citizenship in Africa – a case study of Kilimani neighbourhood, Nairobi, Kenya (Kilimani Project Foundation)
  • Traditional philanthropy and its potential to influence community giving in the 21st century: The case for Kikuyu in Kenya (Ngaatho Community Foundation)
  • Building social justice philanthropy in Brazil (Network for Social Justice Philanthropy)
  • Growing individual giving: learning from experiences in Serbia, Czech Republic and Romania (Pact Foundation, Romania)
  • Understanding local donor motivations for collective giving in urban Romania (Community Foundation of Odorheiu Secuiesc)
  • Learning from global best practices on governance and decision-making among womens’ funds for application in Palestine (Dalia Association)
  • Exploring community philanthropy’s added in values in building local leadership within highly marginalized communities in India (Santosh Samal /EFRAH)
  • Leadership in community philanthropy, including succession: networks, community grantmakers, community based structures (Southern Africa Community Grantmakers Leadership Forum)
  • Community philanthropy in the era of back donor diversification: a first look at the African continent (Susan Wilkinson Maposa / SACGLF)
  • Growing cross-race, cross-class giving in the United States: what lessons do Giving Projects offer community philanthropy? (Headwaters Foundation for Justice)
  • Growing local philanthropy and constituencies to address gender-based violence in Argentina (Florencia Roitstein, ELLAS)
  • Southern funders’ response to the closing space for civil society (Global Greengrants)
  • Mapping corporate giving of multinational corporations in comparison to profits made in Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico Community Foundation)

 A full list of activities supported so far in 2016 can be found here.

« Cross-movement organizing in Mexico leads to new resources | Main | GFCF welcomes two new donors »

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