In many ways, the closing panel of the 2017 annual EFC conference took participants back to where it began. Brendan Cox cautioned that the philanthropic community will likely fail if we it try to build global solidarity before we work to achieve it at the local level. The four speakers on the closing panel testified to this truth.
They each challenged the EFC community to confront the power relations inherent to their work, and warned against top-down, pre-scripted frameworks for building solidarity as an outdated and ineffective philanthropic model for social transformation.
As an alternative, the speakers shared compelling stories of community-led philanthropy, in which solidarity is built from the grassroots up.
When Bolor Legjeem, Executive Director of MONES, the Mongolian women’s fund joined a climate protest with her colleagues in Ulaanbaatar, she didn’t think she would stay long. It was 25 below zero, and she was (rightly) afraid of freezing. But she was kept warm by fellow protesters, including young company executives and elderly grandmothers, who served hot tea throughout the frigid day.
Through this experience, MONES recognized the diversity of community members who share in the struggle to protect the environment and support their economic livelihoods in Mongolia. Now, MONES works across traditional community divides to partner with stakeholders from different sectors, including politicians and company representatives.
In all of its work, MONES works to build an understanding of social and gender justice with donors and grantee partners. In this way, the solidarity of the community builds the agenda, the power, and the resources for philanthropy.
Local funds, including women’s funds and community foundations, are often leaders in pushing the edge of philanthropy. Whether it is developing participatory grantmaking models, funding marginalized groups, working across movements, mobilizing local resources, or providing flexible, core, long-term funding, local funds around the world are pursuing different models of what philanthropy can and should be.
When communities invest their own resources and define the priorities and strategies for realizing change, solidarity is woven into the process of community philanthropy – it is both a means and an end.
But in this community led paradigm, what is the role of ‘northern’-based philanthropic institutions? Resources, financial and otherwise, are still needed. But so is a transformation of donor-grantee relationships, and a more holistic approach to philanthropy. Foundations should leverage all tools of influence and power at their disposal to advance strategic goals, including endowments and political clout.
For Bolor, local and global partnerships are critical to advancing solidarity. She called upon the power of international solidarity through the international sisterhood of 38 women’s funds, all members of Prospera.
While the women’s funds in the Prospera network are bound by shared values, each takes a unique approach to their funding, fundraising and advocacy, depending on the context in which they operate. Through the network, women’s funds from Georgia to Nicaragua can learn from one another’s successes and failures, and support each other with in times of need.
This international solidarity of women’s funds would not be possible without the support of international foundation partners, who provide opportunities for women’s funds to meet, learn from one another and to engage with other movements to build alliances and strengthen their work.
For many women’s funds, local resource mobilization is an ongoing process, and international funding is critical to strengthening these strategies.
What does courage for solidarity look like? How can philanthropy take the lead? From reporting requirements to indicators and definitions of success- we must confront the biases in ourselves and our institutions.
We must take risks, and step into new roles. To launch this transformation, institutional philanthropy should learn from and partner with local funders.
Augusta Hagen-Dillon is Program Officer at Prospera, International Network of Women’s Funds.
For more on solidarity, listen to our Alliance Audio podcast: Solidarity & Philanthropy.