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The Global Reach of Community Philanthropy

Gabriela Boyer*

By Inter-American Foundation on Comment

The first time concerned advocates came together for a worldwide summit on the global community foundation movement was back in 2004 in Berlin. There were 162 participants — community philanthropists and the organizations that support them along with academic researchers — representing 33 countries in this landmark gathering to examine the current and future issues facing community foundations. A staff member of the Inter-American Foundation (IAF) was there along with a handful of community foundation leaders from Latin America. 

Although it has been more than a decade since this modest gathering, when we landed in Johannesburg in December 2016 for the follow up meeting on the state of the field, it was clear that the idea had definitely gathered steam. Or to put it better, as Karen Yarza, former director of a Mexico-based IAF grantee partner noted, “What a difference 12 years makes.”  


Marcy Kelley, an IAF senior staff member (second from left), with Bernie Dolley of the Ikhala Trust and
women from Zanoncedo.

The latest Global Summit on Community Philanthropy with the hashtag #ShiftThePower brought together 360 participants from 62 countries over three action-packed days of plenaries and smaller sessions. Yarza shared her thoughts at one of these smaller meetings organized by the IAF with former and current grantee partners from Brazil, Mexico, Uruguay, Haiti and Costa Rica.

“Here in Johannesburg we see that we are 35 leaders from Latin America, and IAF, C.S. Mott Foundation and Community Foundations Leading Change staff ...we have country-level and regional networks and a lot to contribute to the Global North (as networks of foundations),” Yarza said.

posterA Global Movement at Local Levels
Organized around Eight Pillars of Good Development, the Summit focused on shifting philanthropy toward people-based development; and bringing a broad range of philanthropic and development institutions to work together. The message reached an audience of over 35.8 million via social media platforms like Twitter, according to the Global Fund for Community Foundations (GFCF), the organizer, an IAF grantee partner and host of the conference. At one point, the GFCF indicated, #ShiftThePower was trending in Canada, Kenya, and South Africa.

The overarching message was clear: community philanthropy is a growing movement around the world. James Joseph, U.S. ambassador to South Africa in the 1990s, emphasized that community philanthropy includes social justice and summarizes the main principles as strong social, intellectual and reputational capital, prioritizing local assets, and generating local financial capital. These themes resonated with us because recently the IAF prioritized community asset mobilization as a strategic priority.

Halfway around the world, the Global Summit served as a good reminder of our own institutional history in funding community philanthropy in Latin America and the Caribbean. The message of bottom-up development has been in the IAF’s DNA since its creation in 1969. In the 1990s, the IAF gambled on strengthening indigenous philanthropic institutions with grants awarded to Mexican community foundations in the states of Oaxaca and Guanajuato. Initially, the IAF funded these community foundations, not solely because they were philanthropic institutions, but because they had a strong presence, were locally rooted, and promoted local development with the government and business sectors. 

The IAF then joined other international donors in Mexico in funding the Centro Mexicano para la Filantropia to establish and strengthen community foundations in Mexico. This resulted in more resources for bottom-up development, new connections, greater outreach to grassroots organizations and the beginning of a community philanthropy movement in Mexico that today is a network of 15 local foundations.

Local philanthropic institutions in Latin America have not developed exclusively in Mexico. IAF supports several of these organizations, for example an association in Costa Rica that raises funds from visitors and local businesses to finance small grants supporting community-based initiatives. Others include a group in Brazil that links NGOs to develop social initiatives, and a first-of-its-kind foundation in Uruguay that manages a small grant fund while encouraging community participation in the programs. These community foundations have shared experiences, and some have embarked on joint projects. A selected group had an active role at the Global Summit.

A group of boys and girls communicate social messages through song and dance

Our Cousins in South Africa
Our trip to South Africa included a visit to two C.S. Mott Foundation grantees. One, the Ikhala Trust, embraces the approach of asset based community development — a practice discussed and highlighted at the Global Summit. Under the guiding principle of “start with what you have; build with what you know,” Ikhala Trust trained 130 organizations and funded about 20 of them from 2015 to 2016. Bernie Dolley, a woman of endless energy and contagious enthusiasm, and her passionate colleague Vuyokazi Sanzana, invited us to Idutywa in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, to visit the community-based organization Zanoncedo (Coming with Assistance).

Zanoncedo provides home-based care to those living with HIV AIDS, offers youth development programs and promotes food security in rural areas by planting vegetable gardens. The Trust trained Zanoncedo staff in asset based community development. Mandiesa Dukashe, founder of Zanoncedo, married early at the age of 19 and divorced soon afterward. Mandiesa contracted HIV from her first husband and then dedicated her life to HIV/AIDS treatment and to contributing to her rural community’s improvement.

The community welcomed us with song and dance. Children and young teens communicated social change messages like saying “no” to early marriage through dance. One girl danced with a boy and rejected a dramatized marriage proposal with a theatrical slap. Site visits in South Africa reminded us of the importance of networking across continents. 

Keeping the Momentum
We came away from this conference with a clearer understanding of how to promote and support the development of community philanthropy around the world — and we hope the world doesn’t have to wait another decade for further discussion. Thankfully in  Latin America the momentum for empowering locally rooted grantmakers is already established. In July, the GFCF and the IAF gathered in Uruguay with advocates and philanthropic leaders throughout the hemisphere to think through a common platform for community philanthropy in Latin America. In the coming months and years we will be working with our grantee partners to further that momentum.

Through a cooperative agreement, the IAF and the GFCF are supporting activities to train, strengthen and interconnect Latin American and Caribbean community foundations and social funds, enabling them to learn and apply best practices in similar institutions in other regions. We are carrying out action learning and research activities on the mobilization of local resources and best practices in governance and grantmaking, to contribute to a larger regional agenda on community philanthropy.

In some ways building networks becomes as important as the funding. This was echoed by Yarza during the conference when she said: “We can thank the IAF and C.S. Mott Foundation not only for their donations but for their connections.” This also goes to show that contributions from small donor agency like the IAF can go a long way. This was driven home by the fact that the seminar’s audience of over 350 people ranked the IAF among the top five organizations worldwide that provide technical support, research and policy analysis, and advocacy to the community philanthropy field.


Gabriela Boyer is the foundation representative for Nicaragua and for community asset mobilization initiatives in Mexico at the IAF.

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