BvLF works with African community foundations to increase impact

Tanja van de Linde and Monica Mutuku

Strategic choice number 4 in the Bernard van Leer Foundation’s new strategic plan refers to ‘Impact beyond the project level’. BvLF is beginning to work with community foundations in Africa as a way to seek greater impact for its early childhood development programmes. At present it collaborates with community foundations in Zimbabwe, Kenya and South Africa. The Kenyan partner is the Nairobi-based Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF).[1] What does this partnership involve, and why is BVLF choosing to work with community foundations in this way?

The BvLF partnership with KCDF began in mid-1999. With a grant from BvLF, KCDF supports capacity-building at both organizational and community levels for BvLF partner organizations implementing early childhood development programmes. Underlying this collaboration is a belief that however well thought out a particular sectoral programme may be, its effective implementation and sustainability will depend upon factors such as the strength of the local community and of the organization implementing the programme.

Joint capacity-building

So far, the two foundations have collaborated in supporting three Kenyan community-based organizations. BvLF supports interventions directly related to early childhood development, such as creating awareness in the community, establishing community-level early childhood development committees and training teachers, caregivers, community health workers and traditional birth attendants. KCDF’s support is broader, including general community mobilization, organizational capacity assessment, and support to meet needs identified in that process such as strategic planning, board development, and staff and community training. It also arranges exchange visits with other communities and provides equipment such as computers, photocopiers and generators.

All three of the community organizations involved have carried out significant community mobilization exercises, and these are beginning to enhance interest in all their activities, including early childhood development. Last year, a joint workshop on resource mobilization was organized for all KCDF grantee partners – both those receiving BvLF support for early childhood development and others involved in diverse community development initiatives. This provided a unique opportunity for sharing of experiences by organizations working in various regions of Kenya.


But why work with KCDF rather than one of Kenya’s many capacity-building NGOs – especially as much of KCDF’s work is delivered through consultants that BvLF could have contracted directly anyway? KCDF certainly has a broader community development vision and better access to a wider range of target audiences than project partners that work exclusively on early childhood development at the grassroots level, but why go to a community foundation to find this broader vision?

One thing that BvLF greatly values about KCDF is the intensive capacity assessment process that it goes through with its partners and the fact that the three BvLF partners were incorporated into a larger group of CBOs and NGOs with different areas of expertise, as a result of which a lot of cross-fertilization has taken place.

Another big advantage of working with a community foundation over an NGO that specializes in capacity-building lies in the leverage or lobbying capacity a community foundation can have with local authorities or policymakers. If, for example, the community foundation has invested in school buildings or housing for teachers, it will be easier for them to lobby for waiver of school fees for AIDS orphans going to that school.

With a community foundation, there is also the possibility of extending the partnership into the grantmaking area. This year BvLF is trying out re-granting of programmatic grants through KCDF for the first time. The idea behind this is that it will be mutually beneficial for the BvLF partner, who is already benefiting from KCDF’s institutional capacity-building programme, and KCDF, who will be directly monitoring ECD interventions. However, as it is a new experience for all partners involved, it will need to be reviewed on its merits at the end of the grant period.

1 BVLF’s other partners are the Community Foundation of the Western Region, Zimbabwe and the Western Cape Foundation for Community Work in South Africa.

Tanja van der Linde is a Programme Specialist at BvLF. She can be contacted at
Monica Mutuku is Director of KCDF. She can be contacted at


Established in 1997, KCDF aspires to increase the effective participation of people in the development of their own communities. KCDF’s vision – ‘all Kenyans giving and working together with permanent resources for equitable development’ – emphasizes both the importance of participation in development processes and the critical role of sustainable resources or assets in the elimination of poverty.

BVLF is a private foundation operating internationally. It aims to enhance opportunities for children aged 0 to 8 years growing up in circumstances of social and economic disadvantage.

For more information about KCDF, contact the Director at
For more information about BvLF, visit the website at

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