USAID embraces community philanthropy

David Jacobstein

In September 2014, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the largest bilateral donor in the world, joined the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy. The main purpose of joining was to generate greater understanding of the dynamics that sustain civil society, but USAID also recognized in community philanthropy the importance of trust, assets and capacity to foster sustainability; the emphasis on local leadership and empowerment; joint discovery of what works; and the subtle shift in power when we partner with organizations that hold their own resources.

Sustainability of development results is central to USAID’s mission. It has invested significantly in pursuing local ownership and sustainability through the Local Solutions initiative, which aims to support societies that plan, implement, and resource their own development which is inclusive and accountable. That effort was buttressed by the publication in 2014 of Local Systems: A framework for supporting sustained development, which views sustainability as stemming from the actions of an interconnected set of actors who jointly produce a development result. Very recently, USAID revised its official guidance to staff, making sustainability through local ownership a core principle in the design and implementation of our development programmes.

The Local Systems Framework, and its incorporation into USAID principles of project design, has reinforced the need for USAID officers to devote greater attention to dynamics of local ownership of development efforts. This creates a great vantage from which to apply a community philanthropy voice, which speaks powerfully about trust and relationships within a community and how those influence its ownership of development efforts to benefit that community.

For example, in Kenya, the Yetu programme is exploring ways of leveraging local fundraising, taking the core principles of community philanthropy and applying them to a wider set of civil society partners. More broadly, similar precepts are part of USAID’s emphases on self-reliance and resilience in food security and health programming around the globe.

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