Managing natural resources: how far can community philanthropy go?

Mary Fifield

The need for thoughtful, holistic, democratic stewardship of natural resources has never been more critical. Community philanthropy can play a big part in the management of large-scale natural resources, but it faces challenges in doing so. What can be done to help it overcome obstacles and to amplify its power in this role?

Two community foundations, the Newmont Ahafo Development Foundation (NADeF) in Ghana and a newly forming trust in Malawi's Shire River Basin, provide insight into both the challenges and opportunities for communities to build collective ownership of assets and ensure appropriate, democratic governance of natural resources. A look at three key areas – decision-making, small donor investing and sustainability planning – illustrates how community philanthropy could succeed at a larger scale.

Shire River Basin, Malawi.

Unlike institutions funded and managed by corporations and transferred to communities later, in these examples communities are principal decision-makers from the outset. NADeF, with a US$13 million endowment from gold revenue, was established through an agreement between Newmont Mining and ten communities affected by mining activities in the Brong-Ahafo region. Six of the nine board members are elected community representatives; the elected board chair is a community member nominated by Newmont. A social responsibility forum of more than 40 people represents all stakeholders and approves NADeF's budget and development strategy. Community-led sustainability committees identify funding priorities. The NADeF board is considering a special investment fund for past scholarship recipients and a donor-advised fund for Ghanaians abroad. While the amount of revenue may be small, the act of investing instils a sense of shared ownership.

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