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Between infatuation and discomfort: funders and Community Based Organizations

September 20, 2010

This post started as my personal notes from the Grantmakers without Borders conference earlier this year where I was one of the speakers and had the privilege of getting to listen to and connect to great minds from the progressive funding movement.  I’m choosing to post it in raw notes format because at this rate, I’ll never have the time to digest the notes into a more coherent form….

Between infatuation and discomfort: of funders and Community Based Organizations

Horizontal philanthropy–a reference to how the poor help each other–is strong across Africa. Indeed there are indications that orphaned children get 90 percent of their support from their community, including their extended families.

Horizontal philanthropy comes mostly in the form of Community Based organizations (CBOs)  Indeed it is at the CBO level that the rubber meets the road for aid and development work.

At the same time, community-based organizations (CBOs) have not gotten the attention that they deserve.  The dynamic between CBOs and funders is a two-edged sword:

On one hand there is the valorization of ‘scaling up’ and magnified impact means that many CBOs fall entirely by the wayside.  At the same time there’s been a move among funders to fund the small projects and then continue their funding practices in ways that keep CBOs small.

Part of the challenge is of one of perceptions because larger funders never talk about how they carry out their work through community organization.

The language used to address community-based organizations is skewed because there is an amplified voice about the about lack of capacity at the CBO level yet rarely a celebration of their strength and impact. Another problem is that funders focus on urban spaces and fear to venture into rural spaces. According to one contributor to the conversation at GWOB, “Funders don’t recognize the civilization that is thriving in rural areas, yet they always want to build on civilization that already exists”. This preference for urban spaces fails to recognize the real contributions and potential of community-based organizations especially in rural areas.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. September 20, 2010 7:45 PM

    Right on! I can only sigh as I follow all the coverage of the goings-on in New York this week (U.N. MDGs meeting, Clinton Global Initiative). The web of local organizations and grassroots initiatives, still largely undocumented and unrecognized around the world, offers an opportunity for sustainable and large-scale responses to relief and development that even the most comprehensive and impactful white-in-shining-armour efforts may never be able to accomplish.

    Yet the sad reality continues; community-based organizations are not the drivers of development, nor the setters of priorities, nor the controllers of resources. While local non-profits may lack the accountability mechanisms and sophisticated procedures that would make them more recognizable or esteemed, they have important competencies that distinguish them from other civil society actors and may make them THE vital missing link to sustainable change for people in the developing world.

    There are certainly issues in working with local groups that will challenge the sector. But when will the policy wonks, so-called “experts” and donors finally come to appreciate community-based organizations’ strengths, such as their resourcefulness, flexibility and community responsiveness that IS worth cultivating and learning about? And that is inherently sustainable?

    It’s time for a dose of humility in the sector to acknowledge the vision, structure, and impact that grassroots activists and community leaders in Africa do have. Let’s all commit ourselves to supporting community-based organizations in Africa to mobilize themselves, to discover their resourcefulness and courage, and to carry their voices and visions to challenge our shared global inequity.

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