First of May 2014 was the last day of the EDGE Funders Alliance conference here in Berkeley, CA. I will make two related observations about this day and this conference. One, May Day rallies in major cities of the world will remind governments and big capital about the unfairness of the labour system and the sad plight of workers. Two, the theme that ran throughout the conference was that capital and corporates have exploited this planet and humanity to unprecedented and intolerable levels.
On this last day I took part in a parallel session titled ‘Innovations in community philanthropy from Palestine, Southern Africa, and Vietnam: How international donors can help and how they can hurt’. The session presenters were Nora Lester Murad on Palestine, myself on Southern Africa and Dana Doan on Vietnam.
The brilliance of the session was in the facilitation style and skills of Nora, who requested all participants through a practical exercise to identify a need and to later give whatever they could in the session room. It immediately became very clear that everyone has a need and everyone has something to offer. However, what is often projected is that third world local communities have nothing to offer while the international/western community has everything to offer. This paralyses the third world and turns it into a passive recipient of grants and donations. Unfortunately the donated funds are mostly repatriated back into the very same first world communities that donate through hiring of ‘expertise’ and equipment, thereby serving the donor rather than the recipient and yielding minimal tangible outcome.
The three papers that were presented in this session highlighted the following important points:
• The third world needs less and less ‘charity’ because history suggests that charity and donations (IMF, World Bank, etc) have in the past failed drastically in alleviating the challenges of the third world.
• It is important that a new and balanced approach be found that appreciates the knowledge, skills and competence of local communities and recognizes that only these communities can improve their own conditions.
• There is growing distrust of the state and of the third sector, specifically big international NGOs in the third world. The state is distrusted mainly because it is perceived to be corrupt and colluding with big capital against local communities. Third sector players are distrusted because local communities generally do not understand their role and cannot point to their achievements.
• While there is no state in Palestine, in South Africa and Vietnam the state is unfortunately responsible for the pathologies of dependence that go with welfarism. In the absence of a state in Palestine, big international NGOs have appropriated this role to themselves with negative disempowering consequences.
• The international community should cease to think that there is a homogeneous set of values and principles throughout the world regarding development and recognize that what is important is what communities clamour to achieve collectively.
• Elements of commonality between Southern Africa and Palestine are the dispossession of the indigenous people of important livelihood instruments like land and access to clean water.
The presenters reflected on some examples of ‘local philanthropy’, which they encouraged international funders to consider: ‘A shilling a day’ Kenyan project which restores community pride and enables communities to demand accountability; a Ugandan charcoal project from Masindi Community Foundation, an economic initiative with positive long-term results; and the LIN (Listen, Inspire, Nature) model for community participation initiative (CPI) for building financial sustainability for non-profits.
The conference was a big success. Many papers and practical examples of local and international philanthropy that matters were presented from all over the world. Feedback from interactions with participants suggests that the conference was a mixture of theoretical, philosophical, ideological and practical knowledge sharing. It was indeed one of the most beneficial philanthropic conferences I have attended.
Fulu Netswera is the chairperson of Tswera Community Foundation.
This was first published by the Global Fund for Community Foundations.