Community foundations are key to sustainable communities
UKCF 2022 went global. Participants from all continents came together with UK community foundations to reflect on the future of a world that keeps surprising us. A global pandemic, economic crises, climate change, migration, an emerging energy crisis, and war – in Ukraine and in many other places around the planet – all took us by surprise.
The conference was both an insightful event and an essential wake-up call. It was insightful as it touched upon multiple challenging topics affecting our communities today. Some of these topics include deepening cleavages between political leaders, public institutions, and communities; the future of urban and rural spaces; growing inequalities; an impressive pandemic response in local communities; the difficulty of articulating and implementing decolonial practices and processes; the transition from grantmaking to more equal partnerships; the continued importance of endowments for organizational stability and independence in increasingly volatile political contexts, and, above all, the growing challenge of ensuring the sustainability of our communities.
The conference was also a vital wake-up call. It showed that the challenges we confront in local communities are not just local anymore. They are increasingly and, by now, primarily global. The implications are substantive for the global community foundations movement in at least two ways.
First, communities find themselves increasingly alone in front of global challenges that bring a radically transformed reality for all of us. Digital transformation, including AI, not only reshapes communications, economics, and job markets. It also profoundly reshapes human behaviour. Climate change is bringing an increasingly violent nature with more frequent natural disasters. Emerging global powers are challenging the status quo. They are shaking the basis of the current multilateral system, commencing to generate war – as is shown by the Russian war against Ukraine – and global instability not seen since the days of the Cold War.
While all these challenges are mostly generated outside our local communities, their impact is not. The influence of global challenges is felt deep inside our local communities. Therefore, a second implication relates to community foundations that perceive themselves as local organizations. In addressing the local impact of global transformations, community foundations need to re-imagine themselves, develop their capacity to understand global issues and rely on the European (ECFI) and global movement of community foundations as a critical resource for learning and inspiration.
Community foundations can be part of the solution as they stand at the intersection of knowledge, financial, human, and community assets. Furthermore, community foundations should make the work unfolding in local communities much more visible globally to inspire and get recognition. That can happen through being mentioned in the national and EU Voluntary National Reviews, participating in the High-level Political Fora on Sustainable Development and national SDG-related events.
Will community foundations stand up to this test and grow their capacity to guide local communities in navigating the emerging global challenges that drive local transformation?
One can hope so, as although they are local mechanisms, community foundations are part of a global movement. They are or can become well-connected with relevant actors locally, nationally, and globally. Above all, their profound connection to local communities is unique and special – possessing the ability to stimulate individual and collective choices, community foundations could lead and support communities in their actions to enhance sustainability.
Dr. Stefan Cibian is co-founder and executive director of the Făgăraș Research Institute, where he is also leading the Center on Global Affairs and Postdevelopment. He is a board member of the Romanian Federation of Community Foundations, the Association for the Practice of Transformation, and Țara Făgărașului Community Foundation.