This is the last in our series of responses by contributors to the March issue of Alliance to John Kania, Mark Kramer and Patty Russell’s ‘Strategic Philanthropy for a Complex World’. We published these articles throughout last week – starting with Kathleen Cravero’s on Tuesday, Avila Kilmurray’s on Wednesday, Ambika Satkunanathan’s on Thursday and Rana Kotan’s on Friday. Tomorrow we will publish an article drawing all the threads together.
I was not aware of these debates, but the issue very much resonates with the work of the community foundation in Bosnia and Herzegovina because of the complexity of the problems we face every day in our transitional, post-war, politically and economically torn society.
As Kania, Kramer and Russell say, foundations (and I add especially community foundations) are better suited than other NGOs to make progress against complex social problems, because they work on a long-term basis, isolated from political and other pressures.
We have invested a lot of efforts to become strategic in our activities and grantmaking but it seems that our strategies were always realistic about complex circumstances, insecure living conditions, multiple problems within the legal system, post-war damages, the social problems of economic development, closed factories and private businesses, etc.
In such environments, it is hard to measure outcomes if the strategies are too rigid and focus on one or two problems and agendas. I very much like Henry Mintzberg’s scheme of emergent strategy into which we fit completely, as a community foundation that is deeply rooted into local circumstances. Having in mind all the complex problems within Bosnia and Herzegovina society, we were aware from the beginning that we cannot make accurate predictions about the expected results of our interventions in the community.
We have always worked strategically – but as in Mintzerg’s scheme we had an ‘intendant’strategy that had to emerge over time and be shaped up to the changing reality (for instance, improving the quality of life in the Tuzla region by encouraging vulnerable groups such as youth and women and the unemployed in rural areas to participate in community life, convene people to press for better policies and public services, and encouraging local people to invest in their community and civil society).
There have been so many events and changes in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the last 10 years (like electoral changes, demonstrations against government at all levels, horrible floods, changes in the law unfavourable to non-profits and philanthropy development, etc) that have made us abandon or adapt parts of our strategy. This might be because of actions taken by government or other organizations or because our aims could not be realized because of political circumstances. In these circumstances we had to adapt the time-frame or completely abandon certain strategies or evolve them to meet the changed circumstances.
The debates will not change our approach because I think that we have
all elements that are needed for measuring the impact of our work (which perfectly fits with both strategic and emergent philanthropy theories): we have clear goals; we do research; we approach problems in a strategic way, involving many stakeholders in problem-solving activities; we do evaluations and learn from the results. We expect our grantees to work in the same way.
Jasna Jašarević is executive director of Tuzla Community Foundation, Bosnia and Herzegovina.