Taking philanthropy to where communities are

Susan Wilkinson-Maposa and Alan Fowler

The priority of ‘community’ in community philanthropy is seldom realized. A social action research programme in southern Africa, the Community Grantmaking and Social Investment Programme (CGSI),[1] explored ways in which this might be addressed. Based on this research, we argue that vertical philanthropy (aided change) and horizontal philanthropy (self-help and mutual assistance) should blend, and that the onus rests with grantmakers to adapt and accommodate how they work, integrating what poor communities know and do about getting resources to where they are needed.

Alan FowlerLocal knowledge, relations and leadership are unique features of community philanthropy, but positioning community at the centre of community philanthropy is neither easy nor straightforward. As a grantmaker in one CGSI workshop observed: ‘Grantmakers don’t start where communities are. We expect them, whether they are here or there, to come up to that level. But we don’t go to the level of communities.’

We suggest that applying some of the features of horizontal philanthropy – as some community foundations and trusts have done – can take grantmakers closer to the ‘traditional or embedded’ ways that poor people help each other, giving the community element a more prominent place in thinking and practice. As a programme officer in Maputo, Mozambique put it: ‘When you are closer to the vertical, you are building organizations, and when you are closer to the horizontal, you are building communities.’

Becoming more horizontal in behaviour

Over the 2006-08 period, three community philanthropy organizations in South Africa – Greater Rustenburg Community Foundation, Ikhala Trust and DOCKDA Rural Development Agency – each agreed to change one aspect of their own behaviour to explore how they could adopt ‘horizontal’ behaviour into their ‘vertical’ view of change. In collaboration with 11 community-based organizations and five communities, three demonstration cases, ranging from three months to over a year in duration, were carried out, in the areas of programme design, grantmaker-grantee relationships, and monitoring and evaluation. What did this mean in practical terms?


The Greater Rustenburg Community Foundation altered the design phase of their programmes. Members of the community created a ‘map’ of their self-help and mutual assistance networks. This included the external assistance available from, for example, local business, churches, and government and non-government organizations. The community thus located their own contribution within the broader help available, identifying the types of assistance that were easy to access and those that were more difficult. The mapping process raised community awareness of what they could offer but, as significantly, it provided the foundation with a new way to see resource pockets and gaps that were previously not visible.

The grantmaker–grantee handshake

Ikhala Trust, a grantmaker in the Eastern Cape Province, addressed the grantmaker–grantee relationship. To craft a new ‘handshake’ and alternative to the traditional giver-receiver interaction, a calculation was made of the ‘equity’ that a community brings to the grantmaking table. For example, local associations determined the amount of help – cash, number and type of in-kind contributions, and number of voluntary labour hours – they received from members of the community in the previous year. A financial value was calculated for each individual association, the totals providing an overall impression of what the community had contributed to its own development.

Immediately the community began to see themselves differently. Many associations began to use the technique in their organizations and even introduced it in church and at home. One member of an association said: ‘This makes us more confident to approach funders – we don’t feel like beggars’. Another said: ‘We can use this information to build from the inside out … to strengthen ourselves.’ In addition, where a funder (for example, the European Union) requires the community contribution to be stipulated on project/grant applications, the community can provide ‘data’ as well as anecdotal evidence to strengthen its case. The director of the local development forum remarked: ‘In our fundraising, we can now point to our local contribution or local income with confidence because we have a value for it. We no longer thumb-suck our own contribution.’  

For their part, Ikhala Trust continues to explore ways to leverage this information in their fundraising to attract external resources to the community by ‘matching’ and ‘investing’ in what the community does for itself.

Monitoring and evaluation

Monitoring and evaluation was the focus of the demonstration case involving DOCKDA Rural Development Agency. Realizing that development assistance often ‘assumes least harm’, DOCKDA set out to test the effect that external support has on the quality of self-help. Does it support, distort or diminish it? Using the most significant change (MSC) technique, three home-based care workers from a local association collected stories from other workers as well as from patients and their families. The stories revealed the likely effects of external assistance on the ability of people to help themselves. For example, does the weekly presence of a home-based care worker encourage and support the neighbour to continue to provide care and even enhance its quality? Or does the assistance of what is often perceived as ‘a nurse or social worker’ displace this help as someone else is now doing the job?   In this case what was demonstrated was the potential to stimulate and strengthen care for the ill, such as washing and providing blankets, as well as the potential to create a dependency on food parcels.

A new development indicator

The implicit intention of any development intervention is for a community to become better off when the intervention finishes and the community has to fall back on its own resources and abilities. We believe therefore that a new development indicator should be introduced: namely, the effect of an intervention on the quality and quantity of self-help.

How can those responsible for the intervention help improve self-help? Community trusts and foundations can become more ‘horizontal’ by valuing and taking on board community knowledge, relationships and leadership. This involves a shift in institutional mindset, operation and power relationships.

And the implications don’t stop here. Back donors, too, can promote horizontal alternatives by investing in a new type of learning agenda. As a matter of priority, the development community needs to create the space to test out and demonstrate how advancing self-help can deepen development performance and mutual self-empowerment. Pilot initiatives with this intention would be a modest start.

Susan Wilkinson Maposa is director of the CGSI programme. Email susanwilkinson-maposa@telkomsa.net
Alan Fowler is the programme’s senior adviser. Email alanfowler@compuserve.com

1 The programme was based at the Centre for Leadership and Public Values, Graduate School of Business, University of Cape Town, South Africa. It was funded by the Ford Foundation.

Comment  Pamornrat Tansanguanwong

The article illustrates an excellent way for development actors to respond better to the needs of local communities. ‘Community-driven development’, in which local communities identify and prioritize their needs, not only maps where needs, potential and resources lie but also increases the sense of community awareness and ownership. Donors can then partner with the community according to their needs in order to maximize effectiveness. This approach empowers local communities and takes grantmakers closer to the community, thus strengthening philanthropic partnerships.

The horizontal philanthropy approach could also be useful to community foundations. In Thailand, for instance, emerging community foundations are trying to position themselves among many other philanthropic actors in the country. An emerging community foundation in the Satun province of southern Thailand is using a similar approach to involve different development actors in the process of mapping community needs, potential and resources. The process also helps Satun Community Foundation to strengthen its network among the 20 participating communities.

The process of taking philanthropy to  communities requires adjustment on both sides. Experience from Thailand shows that implementing the process, especially in remote areas, would need capable facilitators and planning to ensure the equality of all parties concerned and avoid ‘elite capture’, while leadership and management skills need to be provided to local communities.

In reality, not all grantmakers would be able to engage at such a micro level, especially donors that support themes that cut across communities or even countries. To assist the blending of horizontal and vertical philanthropy, the development of a database of communities and their needs, as well as the resources available within and outside the area, is essential. In addition, a network through which communities and development actors can share both good and bad practices and experiment with pilot activities should be encouraged. The learning forum would also help with the database of needs and resources, practical tools for designing programmes, and with relationships between partners, as well as the monitoring and evaluation of programmes. Community foundations could help facilitate this process.

Pamornrat Tansanguanwong is a social development consultant working on participatory community development for the World Bank office in Bangkok, Thailand.  Email pamornrat@gmail.com

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