Shifting the power? An alternative to ‘big aid’ in community philanthropy

While new to the community philanthropy world, I have been an advocate for change in the international aid system for nearly 10 years.  After living in one of the highest recipient per capita countries of the international aid system, I appreciated the damage that formal aid can reap on a country and its civil society.

After over 20 years of international aid dumped into Palestine, we have witnessed a bloated and distorted economy, with a growing gap between the small clan of elites and the growing population of poor, and a weakened civil society unable to mobilize its own resources for its own development waiting for the next handout or project.

In most cases, these handouts and projects provide band-aid relief without addressing the core issues and priorities of the local community.  In my discussions with fellow community philanthropists from the South, most agree that an alternative is greatly needed to ensure durable development in our countries.

Community philanthropy is the alternative!  The community philanthropy framework asserts that every member of civil society is a giver.  In this paradigm, there are no donors and beneficiaries.

Rather, we are one community with different resources and we mobilize our resources to support our community priorities.  If we – community philanthropy activists and professionals – truly believe in this construction, then why are we spending our valuable time at the summit discussing how to influence and change the international aid system.

Do we really believe that the big AID actors from USAID to DFID will change their practices and contribute their resources to indigenous communities on the ground?  Is it even feasible for a bureaucrat in Washington DC to manage a portfolio of small donations distributed to local communities all over the world?!

Rather, perhaps we need to focus our efforts on creating an alternative; developing our community philanthropy system.  Here are some thoughts:

  1. Defining community philanthropy
    Community philanthropy is still not widely understood.  Our efforts should focus on better defining the meaning of community philanthropy.  Community philanthropy can mean many things in various contexts.  However, the principles are similar across the spectrum.  Those who are on the outside do not understand.  Perhaps our role should be to better communicate what community philanthropy is about so that we can increase our family of community philanthropists while ensuring clarity amongst ourselves.
  1. Measuring the real value
    We continue to preach small money with big impact.  But it is not just about the money!  A focus on money undermines the true value that community philanthropy brings to the table.  Ambassador James Joseph commented that we place too much emphasis on financial resources, whereas we should be focusing more on the non-financial resources.In community philanthropy, it is the community resources combined that brings durable development.  We must better value our community resources.  If we are able to measure community philanthropy, we will surely learn that there is nothing small in value in what we do to ensure positive impact in our communities.
  1. Developing a mechanism for the Global South
    There is too much focus on obtaining the financial resources of the Global North.  But I am not sure if the big funders from the Global North are able or willing to contribute towards our community controlled development, where we set the agenda, not them.  Are the big AID donors ready to shift the power?  One of the participants asserted that we do have resources in the Global South.The issue is developing a mechanism to better mobilize these resources to serve the priorities of our communities.  Perhaps at a future meeting, the participants can focus on creating such a mechanism where we expand community philanthropy throughout the Global South and ensure strong mechanisms to mobilize and disseminate resources as needed by our communities.

The Global Summit provided a much needed forum for community philanthropy activists and professionals.  The discussions started must be continued in other forums and work groups.

Rather than focus on influencing the power structures that have caused much of the harm in our countries, we must be more creative and collaborate to develop an innovative solution.

The solution is community philanthropy.

Aisha Mansour is chief executive of the Dalia Association Palestine.