In amidst the political uncertainty of Brexit and proroguing parliament the UKCF Community Foundation conference brought inspiration, hope and positive challenges to the movement with an array of community foundations coming together from across the globe at Glasgow Caledonian University. In the words of one attendee: ‘It’s a pretty full on timetable and you get bang for your buck in terms of learning and information exchange.’
The theme of the conference has been ‘empowering communities together.’ One of the key buzz terms has been #shiftthepower and lots of seminars and conversations, some uncomfortable and challenging, have been around how far are foundations willing to go to truly empower communities beyond place based grant making. I co-delivered a workshop with Community Foundation Northern Ireland on this issue and the feedback highlighted the work already being done to be community leaders and to shake up power dynamics but also the barriers including trust, resources and resistance to change.
In the words of Jeff Yost from Nebraska Community Foundation, the best thing to do with power when you have it is to give it away and give it away quickly because there isn’t a zero sum of power; it’s infinite.’
Northamptonshire Community Foundation has started to shift power through facilitating a food poverty network campaigning on policy change at the national and local level to tackle food insecurity. London Community Foundation has developed a young people-led panel impacted by the Grenfell Towers tragedy to give away the money that will benefit themselves and their peers. Community Foundation for Northern Ireland has developed a ‘circle of change’ model bringing together donors, community changemakers and experts by experience (beneficiaries of projects) to have difficult but meaningful conversations to find commonality, appreciate other people’s personal stories and to collaborate on making grant awards, breaking down barriers in the community and healing divisions.
In discussion with colleagues, the feeling is that philanthropy should provoke uncomfortable conversations about privilege and inequality. Endowments are important and money is a key tool to helping effect change by funding grassroots civil society but it’s one of many tools.
Community Foundations have power and a platform to change people’s lives, arguably by helping communities realise that they had the power all along, they just didn’t know it. Equally there is a challenge to staff members and trustees of foundations to review work practices and culture in order to best impact meaningful social change in local places and communities.
I look forward to seeing further development and work across the network to #shiftthepower.
Rachel McGrath is Deputy CEO/Grants Director of Northamptonshire Community Foundation