Where small becomes big: how local philanthropy benefits transitioning society


Jasna Jašarević


Tuzla Community Foundation has become an important vehicle for change in a challenging environment suffering the effects of war.

An event hosted by the Tuzla Community Foundation earlier this year. Photo credit: Tuzla Community Foundation

Being the first and still the only active community foundation in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), I am constantly reminded of how we started, hoping to inspire my colleagues and peers all over the country to establish community foundations in their own town or region. In 2002, while attending a Youth Bank training organised by the EFC in Brussels, I had the privilege of meeting 12 community foundation executives and staff members from all around the world. I was inspired by different community foundations’ practices and models that were all similar, but also all unique and I started discussions with community leaders in my hometown Tuzla to establish the first community foundation in BiH. At that time, the region of Tuzla in the north-east part of BiH, was still suffering the effects of the war of 1992-1995. We lacked everything, especially promising political and community leadership with ideas of how to mobilise local resources and rebuild our country from scratch. We lacked financial resources but also people with the ideas, knowledge and willingness to give their time for the common good. Establishing a community foundation seemed like the only logical goal to pursue. Looking back 20 years later and with 1500 grants distributed, I realise that we had taken on an important work. We were creating the groundwork for cherishing important values that were somehow forgotten.

Bringing community foundation approaches home

As Tuzla city alone had more than 600 NGOs which were mostly dependent on international funding, we had to think about ways of finding local resources to support such a vibrant civic sector. I and the group of funders I was working with thought that a community foundation model could fit the bill. From my EFC training and other courses like the Senior Fellowship Program at the City University of New York, I learned that civil society is in the same difficult position all over the world and that community foundations need to be very brave and decisive in finding funds from local and from international resources. 

An event hosted by the Tuzla Community Foundation earlier this year. Photo credit: Tuzla Community Foundation

We used a variety of fundraising tools, starting with donation boxes at the shopping malls and later offering services to local businesses, we learned to run thematic and donor-advised funds to support local initiatives. These experiences led us to establish the first crowdfunding platform in our country (http://www.doniraj.ba) which opened up new opportunities for transparent fundraising for all the great civic initiatives we couldn’t fund ourselves.

Improving the philanthropy ecosystem in our country starts with unity

The increasing number of people in economic difficulties in my country makes it irrational to claim that we have a stimulating environment for philanthropy development. Additionally, the word ‘philanthropy’ needs legal recognition to improve philanthropic giving, which the Tuzla Community Foundation is working with the recently established philanthropy forum to accomplish. The philanthropy forum is also working with national and private foundations and relevant public institutions in BiH to build a platform to improve the country’s philanthropy ecosystem.

Endowments that serve community in perpetuity

An event hosted by the Tuzla Community Foundation earlier this year. Photo credit: Tuzla Community Foundation

Still feeling the same energy and dedication as almost two decades ago, we are looking into the possibility of building a community endowment in the form of the Community and Philanthropy Centre that will become a symbol of hope for civic sector in its work of building with the other two sectors a better and more democratic society in the country. The Centre will become home not only to Tuzla Community Foundation but also to all other progressive civil society endeavours.

Philanthropists standing in solidarity

An event hosted by the Tuzla Community Foundation earlier this year. Photo credit: Tuzla Community Foundation

As the number of our local donors grows every year, we are happy to look back and celebrate the initiatives we have supported as well as all those who selflessly invested their resources into community development. Earlier this year in the spring at our second Philanthropy Evening we were delighted to bring those donors together and commit to cooperation in the future. After the Covid-19 pandemic and a heartbreaking war in Ukraine, it seems that people are standing together to protect our small victories more than ever before. The solidarity that was celebrated at this cultural event affirmed the values we have always cherished and we can now proudly say that we are definitely no longer alone in this endeavour.

Jasna Jašarević is director of the Tuzla Community Foundation.

Editor’s note 7/11/22: The word ‘civil’ in reference to war was removed in the first paragraph at the request of the author’s organisation.

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