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Community philanthropy? I didn’t know I was doing it! CASA talks #ShiftThePower with grassroots partners in Brazil

CASA Communities workshop

Community banks, revolving loan funds, micro-credit funds. When these terms popped up time and again in discussions with grantee partners in Brazil, the CASA Socio-Environmental Fund[1] started noticing an interesting trend. While many of the groups it was supporting weren’t necessarily using the term “community philanthropy” to describe their activities – indeed, they had never even heard of it – many of them were employing exactly the principles and spirit of community philanthropy in their work, particularly around the mobilization of local resources.  

It was this “Aha moment” that led to the creation of the “CASA Communities” initiative (see video here), which the GFCF supported with a grant in 2017. Through the project, and using a research methodology that was both qualitative and quantitative, CASA sought to identify and map some of the different strategies and practices around local asset mobilization and community investment among its grantees. A group of these partners then came together for a series of workshops aimed at introducing the idea of community philanthropy as both a global force and as a strategy to build local power and voice through local, self-organized, asset mobilization. Importantly, CASA is documenting the process, which it believes will have a broader relevance for community philanthropy practitioners in Brazil and beyond.

Why is this so powerful? The workshops helped these groups to see themselves as part of a larger global movement and to locate their various resource mobilization efforts in the context of other conversations about how the organization of resources and power at the local level can offer an alternative to top-down development approaches. The process also validated local systems of giving and solidarity, with participants receiving advice on strategies for making such efforts more successful and meaningful. The workshops also made clear that a community philanthropy approach is as much about building local constituencies, connections and awareness of issues as it is about raising funds.

Maria Amália Souza, Founding Executive Director of CASA

The CASA Communities project was deliberately framed around the idea of “community philanthropy.” In Brazil, the term “philanthropy” remains problematic for many in civil society, more associated with charity than social justice, and the language of “private social investment” has tended to be used in its place. And although there are a handful of community foundations in Brazil, neither the term nor the concept are well-known among broader audiences. “Community philanthropy” – as the dynamic interaction of asset development, community strengthening and trust – therefore, offered a framework to engage people in a different conversation, which was neither about great wealth nor specific institutional models, focused instead on community empowerment and voice.

The project has also been a game-changer for CASA itself. As a regional grassroots grantmaker, CASA has always had a strong network of individual local environmental actors across South America. But what this process has achieved is a new level of connectedness and purpose with the CASA family based on solidarity. In 2018, and with the support of the Inter-American Foundation, CASA will embark on a process to replicate its own model of grantmaking across six South American countries. The goal is to help establish in-country, independent grassroots socio-environmental grantmaking structures that have the potential to increase the flow of resources for local communities, both by tapping into local funds and by engaging new international partners.

Watch the CASA Communities video (Portuguese language with English subtitles)


[1] CASA was established in 2005 by a group of environmental activists with the objective of targeting small grants to, and strengthening networks of, grassroots environmental NGOs across South America. Over the last 12 years CASA has granted over US $6.5 million to over 1,450 projects in 11 countries across the region. The “gap” in system that CASA has sought to address has been the lack of resources reaching front-line NGOs and community based organizations. 

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