Stories of resilience

 

  • Civil Society in Latin America makes its way into sharing economy

    This article is part of the #StoriesOfResilience series, coordinated by CIVICUS to feature groups and activists on their journey to promote better resourcing practices for civil society and to mobilise meaningful resources to sustain their work.

    In June 2017, the civil society organisations (CSOs) that are part of the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) Hub of Innovation for Change(I4C), a global innovation network supported by CIVICUS and Counterpart International, launched a sharing economy platform to find alternative resources in a moment when international cooperation weakens in the region. The platform, called ComuniDAS, facilitates the exchange of services between Latin American CSOs, but its enormous potential is also seducing the private sector and CSOs outside the region. In May, the initiative won the popular vote award at the SID-Washington Innovation Competition 2019, and will soon be replicated by the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Hub of I4C.  

    Gerardo TorresWe spoke with Gerardo Torres, spokesperson for ComuniDAS, about their journey creating this platform, its challenges and strengths.

    How did the hub come across with the idea of creating ComuniDAS?

    The idea was born in 2016, when 45 CSOs got together to set up the LAC Hub of Innovation for Change. We were discussing the main financing challenges for CSOs in the region and how to address them, and we ended up speaking about sharing economy. This subject was resonating internationally and according to Times magazine, it was one of the 10 ideas that would change the world. In Latin America there were some success stories of sharing economy, such as a platform created in Chile after the earthquake, through which the affected communities organised to collect resources and buy items of common need; there were also various environmental initiatives. Thus, we saw the opportunity to map our needs, strengths and things we were each good at with the idea of ​​exchanging these resources under the sharing economy model, strengthening solidarity between CSOs and then attracting solidarity from other sectors.

    What resourcing challenges for CSOs do you want to address with ComuniDAS?

    We identified three main challenges. First, more financing alternatives are needed because international cooperation – a major source of resources for civil society – is withdrawing from the region to focus on other areas of the world. We also noted that the more traditional CSOs, such as those founded in the 1970s during civil wars and focused on human rights, have difficulty establishing alliances with the private sector without feeling that they lose their autonomy. Finally, according to the World Giving Index, Latin America and the Caribbean has one of the weakest philanthropic cultures in the world, which is reflected in the low solidarity within the CSO sector, which hardly shares knowledge or resources despite the fact that many organisations have great strengths and capacity to do so.

    What advantages and difficulties have you faced to implement a project with innovative concepts for the sector?

    We found a lot of interest both in the topic of sharing economy and in having civil society leading innovation projects. This facilitated obtaining support, advice and tools from experts in the field, such as the renowned Albert Cañigueral, from entities that are promoting sharing economy, such as the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and even from the private sector.

    We found several difficulties. In the beginning, we thought that the platform could be based merely on solidarity, so that a large CSO with more resources and capabilities would help a small CSO in exchange for another service. However, in practice, the success of these exchanges lies in ensuring trust and reciprocity among the members, so that they provide the promised services and on time, which we had no way of doing. Another challenge is to avoid widening the gap between the strongest CSOs that have something to exchange and ability to participate in this type of innovation initiatives and the smaller ones that have needs but may not be able to offer something in return. Having the right technology for the platform has also been difficult because there was not something ready to use in the region, so we’ve had to develop it.

    How have you addressed the need to ensure that reciprocity and trust?

    There are mechanisms such as allowing users to publish reviews and ratings of members with whom they have exchanged services, but these are not enough. We checked out how private sector platforms have dealt with this and found an online platform promoting symbiotic economy in the United States, called Simbi, which allows members to accumulate virtual credits for services provided and exchange them for various services of other members of the community. This caught our attention because it would allow the members of ComuniDAS to offer a service and save their credits if they do not need to receive a service in return immediately, it would also be more useful to attract private companies that operate with precise parameters. With this idea in mind, we are developing a social currency that will mark a new stage for ComuniDAS. At this moment are matchmakers between users, but the exchanges occur outside the platform; with the social currency everything will happen within the community.

    Regarding the second challenge, how could smaller CSOs with urgent resource needs benefit from platforms such as ComuniDAS?

    A platform like this does not solve urgent needs such as paying operating expenses, but it can make it easier for these CSOs to explore alliances that help them continue to fulfil their mission. We are trying to attract support from the private sector that is suitable for grassroots and CSOs working on more abstract issues such as human rights, and we are promoting the value of social return. We are also thinking about how to make the bridge between large, tech-oriented and hybrid CSOs exploring social entrepreneurship – which are the ones capitalizing more on funding from large donors – and those small and grassroots CSOs that have the advantage of reaching populations and sectors that the “coolest” CSOs do not reach. We don't have everything solved, but we’re looking for options. Making innovation inclusive is a challenge for the entire sector.

    ComuniDAS won an innovation award and will soon be replicated in the MENA region. What strengths have facilitated this success?

    First, the fact of being a regional and innovative effort created and led by civil society to seek alternative resources to international cooperation. We are moving from the idea that donors have to finance us, to promoting a model in which CSOs capitalize their own resources, know how to sell their proposal and demonstrate value outside the sector, which requires not demonizing profitability, promoting transparency and accountability and having a strategic plan. This has allowed us to establish successful partnerships with the private sector, municipalities and other actors. Another strength is that ComuniDAS’ technology adapts to the needs of the sector because it was developed by CSOs; and since it’s open source, it can be replicated as it is being done by the MENA Hub, which will launch the platform in about four months. Our dream is that in the future there will be global exchanges, for example, between CSOs in Honduras, Egypt and other countries. This would multiply resources and solidarity for civil society in the world.

    Get in touch or join ComuniDAS through theirwebsite.

     

  • Collaboration as currency, key to stop FGM in 5 communities in Nigeria

    FRENCH

    This article is part of the #StoriesOfResilience series, coordinated by CIVICUS to feature groups and activists on their journey to promote better resourcing practices for civil society and to mobilise meaningful resources to sustain their work.

    Director

    Today, Dolapo Olaniyan, Director of The UnCUT Initiative, shares why collaboration could be the new currency for civil society organisations that are facing funding constraints.

    Last February, five communities in Asa village, located in the Osun state, South West Nigeria, unanimously and publicly agreed to stop Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) – a harmful, cruel and extremely discriminatory practice recognised internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women, but that is still common in some countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. This is a big victory in a country where FGM affects 25% women (aged 15-49). It was also a victory for us at The UnCUT Initiative, an organisation focused on ending female genital mutilation across high risk communities in Nigeria by 2030, as the public “abandonment ceremony” was the culmination of work started in October 2018.

     

  • Delivering emergency help for targeted activists is easier said than done

    FRENCH 

    By Lesego Moshikaro and Yessenia Soto

    This article is part of the #StoriesOfResilience series, coordinated by CIVICUS to feature groups and activists on their journey to promote better resourcing practices for civil society and to mobilise meaningful resources to sustain their work.

    Imagine you lead a non-profit feminist organisation in Egypt.

    IMG 4328Your work involves empowering women and lobbying the government to respect and protect their rights. In repressive Egypt, the authorities don’t like what you’re doing, and they want it to stop. So, they attack you – hitting you with a travel ban, freezing all your assets and charging you with receiving illegal foreign funding for your civil society organisation (CSO), which could lead to life in prison if you’re found guilty by Egypt’s notoriously biased courts. In aggressive and threatening interrogations, officials pressure you to shut down your CSO ‘voluntarily’, or things could get worse for you. 

    Photo: Activists, civil society organisations and emergency fund managers during the “Resource the resistance” convening at ICSW 2019.

     

  • Dominican Republic: Big Opportunities, Bigger Challenges for Civil Society Domestic Resourcing

    This article is part of the #StoriesOfResilience series, coordinated by CIVICUS to feature groups and activists on their journey to promote better resourcing practices for civil society and to mobilise meaningful resources to sustain their work.

    AddysThe term sustainability is being used maybe more than ever by civil society organisations (CSOs) in Latin America and the Caribbean, as they are feeling increasingly challenged by constant changes in the funding architecture that supports the region. First, the global financial crisis that engulfed the world a decade ago significantly reduced international aid - the main source of funds for most of the sector. Then, the new realities of their developing economies have also taken a toll on the amount and type of funds CSOs can access. Last, but not least, the rise of populism in many countries is further threatening funding. Under these circumstances, more and more CSOs wonder if they will be able to secure a future.  

     

  • Ghana: “People want CSOs to stay and thrive, not to shut down”

    FRENCH

    This article is part of the #StoriesOfResilience series, coordinated by CIVICUS to feature groups and activists on their journey to promote better resourcing practices for civil society and to mobilise meaningful resources to sustain their work.

    Omolara WACSIThe West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) has been tirelessly promoting the sustainability of civil society organisations (CSOs) for the last five years, after seeing valuable CSOs in this region having to close doors due to financial constraints.

    CIVICUS spoke with Omolara Balogun, head of the Policy Influencing and Advocacy unit at WACSI, about their efforts to support the resilience of CSOs in West Africa, which include conducting relevant research and establishing collaborations with regional and international actors, including the Affinity Groups of National Associations (AGNA) supported by CIVICUS, to raise awareness, disseminate knowledge, build capacity and advocate together for better conditions that help civil society sustain their work and thrive.

     

    How did WACSI become involved in advancing the sustainability of CSOs in West Africa?

    Our interest began in 2014. We noticed a clear change in the aid and development landscape, specifically dwindling funding to the civil society sector by traditional aid givers. Previously, WACSI had enough resources to deliver its services for free (capacity building, advocacy support, research and documentation of civil society’s work, etc.). However, when donor funding started to decrease, that ‘free’ approach was no longer sustainable. We decided to request for a small contributory fee for attending our capacity building trainings, but, to our surprise, many people and organisations could not afford it. We heard recurrent complaints about donors giving less funds, having stricter funding conditions, increasing projectisation of grants, and unwillingness to provide ‘core funding’ to cover organisation’s overheads/administrative costs and staff development. As this trend continued, our interest increased, and we decided to facilitate a sector-wide debate about the sustainability of CSOs in West Africa.

    One of your first steps was doing research about the financial situation of CSOs in Ghana. What were the key findings?

    The same year, we received seed-funding from STAR-Ghana and commissioned a pilot research on “The State of Civil Society Organisations’ Sustainability in Ghana,” published in 2015. The research engaged different categories of CSOs to identify and understand who was striving, surviving and thriving in terms of financial, operational, intervention and identity sustainability. The results showed that the minority of CSOs were thriving in all areas and these were the ones with sustained access to international traditional funders. The majority were just surviving with enough funds to cover their administration costs and run activities in the present, but unsure of what would happen tomorrow; if they will get new funds or grant to run activities, keep relevance etc. Lastly, a significant amount were striving to even complete implementation of ongoing projects, pay rent or salaries. In fact, we saw partners with an amazing mission and recognized interventions in peace and conflict areas, who had to close doors.

    Findings revealed that CSOs suffer sustainability challenges in diverse areas. Some suffer identity crisis, as they’ve dumped their original mission, vision, strategy, partnerships and settled unto another, chasing after money in available areas. At a sector level, the competition over the little funds between CSOs increased, weakening collaboration opportunities and reducing collective impact. Not addressing these dynamics possess a major threat of extinction to many more organisations.

    The conversation about sustainability of CSOs has now gained ground in the region. How did WACSI help engage different actors in a positive and proactive agenda?

    We developed a comprehensive sustainability programme to engage diverse CSOs in systematic dialogues between our sector, local and international donors, and the government about our sustainability threats, prevailing challenges and opportunities, and to design a robust capacity strengthening programme for all CSOs, especially those surviving and striving. Engagement in the Ghana pilot phase has been positive. The loud feedback is that people want CSOs to stay and thrive, not to shut down. Donors, communities, constituencies, the private sector and even the government recognise the work and value that we bring to the development sector. They are all interested in CSOs’ sustainability.

    WACSI received support from the AGNA network to establish national dialogues on domestic resource mobilisation, how has this helped your efforts?

    The support from AGNA has been instrumental in engaging CSOs, donors, the private sector and, soon, government authorities to explore what is needed to enable domestic resource mobilisation as an alternative source of income to support CSOs’ financial sustainability.

    The dialogues with CSOs allowed us to map their main sources of income, see what options they could explore to diversify their resources, and what skills, knowledge and tools are needed. Promoting more local philanthropy and pursuing the social enterprise model (some CSOs are already trying this) were strong options. However, there are many challenges: most CSOs have operated under charitable models for decades and are frustrated with this change , others highlight the lack of capacity in the sector to explore new avenues, while some advocacy, human rights and policy-centered organisations say that generating their own income goes against their focus, mission and identity.

    We spoke with private sector representatives to understand how they define their Corporate Social Responsibility and foundations strategies and how CSOs can access part of those resources. We learned that private entities largely focus on impact investments, therefore, to access private funding, CSOs must build business skills, understand their sector, develop a profit mentality, and find ways to provide visibility when partnerships are established. Furthermore, CSOs must make a stronger case to educate and convince private entities about the role of civil society in facilitating social stability, justice, peaceful and enabling environment that allows companies to do business without impediments.

    We also had honest conversations with “traditional” donors (bilaterals, multilaterals, embassies) about their funding cuts, changing priorities and stricter conditions, and expressed the sectors’ concerns about the increasing use of intermediaries (such as northern consulting firms) that pushes local CSOs to play secondary roles as subgrantees and represents waste of money for CSOs. In feedback, the represented donors explained that these changes are government decisions aligned with the foreign policy agendas of the home countries. It was also mentioned that the majority of CSOs are unable to access available funding due to lack of capacity to absorb or push for innovative ideas in the proposals. Thus, civil society must invest in strengthening its capacity and accountability systems to improve their chances to access traditional and new funds.

    What will be the focus of the dialogues with the Government?

    We’ll speak mostly about legislative frameworks needed to enable the environment for domestic resource mobilisation. First, to remove laws that are repressive and against the operational and financial sustainability of CSOs and, second, to advocate for a comprehensive legislation that allows them to diversify their income base without legal contradictions or bottlenecks. It’s important to have a legislation for social entrepreneurship adapted to CSOs because, with the prevailing law, CSOs would lose their non-for-profit status and registration if they engage in profitmaking services or mobilise certain funds, or can be requested to register social enterprises as profitable companies and pay taxes on profit before rechanneling to charity. We also need tax incentives to promote local philanthropy for CSOs. Finally, we have to discuss how the government can directly provide more resources to CSOs and stop competing against us for traditional funding, as donors sometimes prefer giving money to governments than to CSOs because they get more visibility.

    Social entrepreneurship is becoming trendy, but can it really be an alternative for most CSOs?

    This possibility is more suitable for organisations focused on service delivery. It is harder for CSOs working in policy influencing, advocacy and human rights to sell services, and they are the most worried about compromising their mission and values by generating income. This is a challenge we must address collectively - these organisations are the ones promoting critical social changes and should be sustained.

    What are the key next steps to advance the sustainability agenda?

    Fixing the conflictive legislation about social enterprise, creating tax incentives and promoting resources (like seed capital) so that CSOs can venture into social entrepreneurship are key steps. For CSOs, the priority is to build knowledge and capacity in social enterprise, innovation, impact investment, and corporate partnerships, and change the charitable mindset to start working viable plans for income diversification. Additionally, to mobilise local resources and support, we must focus on building relationships with the constituencies that we represent – most of which have been neglected after years of prioritizing the donor agenda. People will find it difficult to support civil society if they cannot connect with our mission, vision, work and the value that we bring to improving the living conditions of citizens.

    WACSI is walking the talk too. Please, tell us about your efforts to generate alternative resources.

    WACSI has adopted an asset-based approach to help us cut costs and generate income. For example, we’ve been renting our conference rooms and interpretation equipment to other organisations at subsidised rates, and we are saving thousands of dollars in translations in the last 3-years thanks to a partnership with the Ghana Institute of Languages, through which their students participate in a one-month immersion programme with WACSI to gain work experience while help us with translations and interpretations. These initiatives are not enough to stop WACSI from seeking external support, but it is a bold step in the right direction.

    Get in touch with WACSI through theirwebsite orFacebook page, or follow@WACSI on Twitter

     

  • Innovative 15-year old activist driving social inclusion movement in India

    This article is part of the #StoriesOfResilience series, coordinated by CIVICUS to feature groups and activists on their journey to promote better resourcing practices for civil society and to mobilise meaningful resources to sustain their work.

    blog Naman

    In January 2019, around 600 people celebrated a unique event in Vadodara, western India. They gathered to play percussion instruments in public, but they were not musicians, in fact, most of them had never played a musical instrument before. Half of them were differently abled* children and youths and the other half were abled peers. They achieved perfect symphony in just a couple of minutes, amusing their families, friends and over 80,000 participants of the Vadodara International Marathon.

    The event, called the ‘Divyang Dost Drum Circle,’ was organised by a group of students led by 15-year-old activist and tech enthusiast Naman Parikh, founder of the DivyangDost Foundation (DDF), a web-based movement and social enterprise promoting social inclusion of differently abled people (called ‘Divyangs’ in India) through friendship, music and technology.

    “Differently abled individuals receive financial and educational aid, but they are deprived of emotional support and friendship, especially from abled children,” explained Naman.

    To help change this issue, Naman created an app that facilitates social connections between differently abled and abled youths and children (called ‘DivyangDosts’).

    The app operates as a sort of supervised Facebook and friendship-matching platform, connecting differently abled and abled youths and children, and NGOs that serve this population in India. Users create a profile, are matched with other users in their area, can befriend and coordinate meetups to spend quality time over educational, sports and leisure activities. ‘DivyangDosts’ can upload pictures and videos of their meetups with ‘Divyangs’ on the platform, gain cumulative points and be rewarded with certificates, medals and trophies as recognition for promoting social inclusion. Additionally, DDF organises large public gatherings, like the drum circle, to provide more spaces for inclusion.

    DivyangDost Foundation has positively impacted almost 500 differently abled children, while 27 NGOs and almost 600 abled youths have joined the movement. Surprisingly, Naman started all of this with a visionary idea, creativity and the power of non-financial resources.

    Thriving without money – how?

    Achieving such impact may seem very costly but, for almost two years, the foundation thrived without funding. Naman invested his own time and technology skills, mobilised the support of valuable volunteers and mentors, established collaborations with NGOs and reached out to local media to promote their work.

    “Knowing your context, connecting back to your roots and your own past experiences can help you see what alternative resources you can use and how to find them,” explains Naman. Having been a volunteer in different social projects in the past and being a student in the present, he was able to find members, volunteers, mentors and build alliances at school, in his community and through the organisations he met and helped before.

    The young activist also emphasises the power of technology. “Young generations see technology as a powerful platform where we can promote change without focusing only on doing field activities, which can be more costly. I think technology is what allowed this project to amplify in a short time and without initial funding,” added Naman.

    Blog Drum Circle

    Divyang Dost Drum Circle 2019 

    Adapting to change

    When the DDF decided to organise the drum circle and other public events, money became a need. Believing in the power of technology and collaborations, Naman and his team set up an online crowdfunding campaign and asked local media to help spread the message. They raised almost USD 10,000 from that single campaign – more than what they needed for the first event.

    “One of my mentors once told me that running a nonprofit doesn’t mean you won’t hold profit. You will and have to learn to deal with it,” highlighted Naman as he recalled how they went from having zero funds to holding a small financial surplus.

    Since DDF continues to operate with minimal organisational costs, this surplus will be used to expand their services. They are creating an online marketplace where differently abled users can order and buy assistive technology directly from suppliers, at a lower cost.

    Naman acknowledges that this will require a bigger financial investment. Therefore, they plan to reach out to high profile investors who can help with funds and mentorship, and to experts and people working in social inclusion and technology, who can provide expertise, volunteer work and connections. Public giving will continue to be a strong pillar of their funding strategy and, why not, they may even apply for traditional grants in the future.

    “We [activists and civil society organisations] have to be more adaptive and not resist change. Needs change and we have to change too,” said Naman. He knows that having a larger and steadier flow of financial and non-financial resources will be key not only for this expansionary phase, but for the entire sustainability of the foundation’s mission. To achieve this, they are consolidating their concept, building plans for the next two years and have put more focus on demonstrating impact. DDF’s dream is to find support to scale their work at a national level.

    Get in touch with DivyangDost Foundation, member of the CIVICUS alliance, through theirwebsite and follow theFacebook,Instagram andTwitter accounts.

    *Note: Regarding the terminology, the DivyangDost Foundation specifically uses the words “abled” and “differently abled” instead of “people with disabilities” or “disabled,” and we are running a local campaign in India to remove that label while addressing this population.

     

  • Key Lessons from Testing Non-Traditional Development Approaches in Malawi

    By Dinah Sandoval & Alexis Banks,Root Change

    This article is part of the #StoriesOfResilience series, coordinated by CIVICUS to feature groups and activists on their journey to promote better resourcing practices for civil society and to mobilise meaningful resources to sustain their work.

    Real change happens when local communities are in the lead—leveraging their assets, ideas, and expertise to implement solutions to their own problems. Unfortunately, too often, development initiatives bypass local communities and local resources in designing and carrying out programmes. At Root Change, we aim to break this pattern within the development sector. Our recent work with the USAID-funded Local Works programme has given us the opportunity to test alternative approaches to the traditional development model.

    Over the course of two years, we teamed up with the innovative thinkers at Keystone Accountability and the leading Malawian civil society organisation Youth and Society (YAS) to convene two social labs in Malawi. The labs brought together diverse local stakeholders to create, test, and reflect on short-term experiments to address local challenges, while improving trust, voice, and accountability at a local level.

    This work surfaced critical insights about the importance of listening to communities before engaging, developing partnerships based on trust and mutual accountability, and creating an environment for communities to recognise and leverage local resources. Below, we share the key lessons that we learned from each approach.

    Listening Tour

    Group 3 meeting Malawi

    To gain an understanding of the climate around foreign assistance and development in Malawi, our work began with a listening tour with 120 diverse stakeholders throughout the country. We asked the simple question: "What does it feel like to be on the receiving end of aid?"

    Participants voiced frustration with the “extractive” nature of endless surveys, needs assessments, and field visits. Most could not recall a time when results were shared and explored through dialogue and reflection and some believe that these learning and evaluative exercises are simply ways to validate the power holder’s pre-existing agendas.

    From the listening tour, we identified four recurring development “traps”:

    1. restrictive financing that has created dependence;
    2. lack of established channels for constituent engagement and feedback;
    3. capacity development efforts that ignore complexity; and
    4. extractive measurement practices that prevent communities from benefiting from data they produce.

    A Local Partnership Based on Mutual Accountability

    The idea to convene the social labs was born out of the listening tour. However, the feedback we had received made it clear that we needed to radically rethink the way we, as international NGOs, engaged with local actors. We needed a trusted local partner and an alternative partnership model.

    YAS was nominated by many during the listening tour as a dynamic local change maker with a deep and trusted social network in Malawi. Unlike traditional, highly directive funding relationships, Root Change and Keystone Accountability sought to establish a partnership with YAS built on respect, mutual accountability, collaborative decision making, financial transparency, and dignity. YAS was involved throughout the entire decision-making process: facilitating programme activities, creating tools and engaging as an equal partner in budget and project planning discussions. The "value of radical equality was present in our partnership and in the social lab," confirmed YAS founder, Charles Kajoloweka.

    In order to create a partnership based on mutual accountability, we needed to develop a new set of skills. The teams at Root Change and Keystone Accountability had to develop a comfort with letting go of control, engaging authentically, genuinely believing in the capacity of the local partner, and accepting that there are many ways to achieve our shared goals.

    Social Labs & Micro-Action Grants

    Two social labs were launched – one in Rumphi in the North and another in Mulanje in the South – through a 5-day design workshop that convened representatives from civil society, district governments, community leaders, and citizens. Over 60 people participated in each lab to identify local problems, design, and test solutions through two-month experiments called micro-actions. They formed 11 teams to lead micro-actions ranging from incorporating citizen feedback into local government decision making, to drafting a citizen charter to hold local NGOs accountable for the projects they implement. Every two months, teams came back together to reflect on the results of their micro-actions and learning, and iterate on their designs.

    Each team received US $500 micro-grants to facilitate transportation and meetings to carry out their micro-actions. We did not require teams to submit traditional grant reports, rather short feedback surveys were used to enable discussions among lab participants about the use of funds by the entire social lab. Through these discussions, the lab itself surfaced and resolved issues of misuse and distrust related to the grant, building internal accountability.

    The Changemaker Innovation Challenge

    Citizen voice group

    Throughout the experimentation process, the social labs’ teams encountered a systemic and cultural challenge created by the foreign aid system: demand for allowances (or monetary compensation). In the beginning, teams struggled to engage community members in their micro-action activities because community members requested allowances to participate.

    To tackle this problem, the teams decided to crowd-source a solution: they published a solicitation in the national newspaper to identify innovative ideas to increase participation without allowances, and called it the Changemakers Innovation Challenge. Of the many submissions from throughout the country, three winners were selected to join the lab and test out their recommendations. All three proposed to engage community members in the entire lifecycle of the micro-action experiments, from project identification to implementation. They argued that involvement was critical to fostering transparency, accountability, and ownership of the experiments, which they anticipated would drive greater participation. Their approaches are being tested and the initial feedback indicates that the demand for allowances is no longer a substantial obstacle. “That tells you that we have solutions locally,” said Kajoloweka.

    Through Local Works, we have had the opportunity to explore alternative models of development that surface and leverage local resources. While reflecting on the social labs' sustainability and its participants, Kajoloweka said “today they are no longer ‘participants’, today they are active players, they are the owners of the social lab. They have even opened their own bank account and started putting together their own resources into this initiative."

    Get in touch with Root Change through theirwebsite or follow@RootChange on Twitter

     

  • Lack of funding slowing down young African changemakers

    This article is part of the #StoriesOfResilience series, coordinated by CIVICUS to feature groups and activists on their journey to promote better resourcing practices for civil society and to mobilise meaningful resources to sustain their work.

    YALFNever before have there been so many young people in the world, reports the United Nations. There are 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10-24 on our planet, who are increasingly taking action to drive change, development and innovation for themselves and their communities. They are also loudly expressing their discontent with Governments, corporations and other power holders who have failed to effectively address many of their needs and challenges. But while they are many and daring, young people still lack the resources, recognition and spaces to reach their full potential as agents of change.

     

  • Mexico: Beyond a trend, community philanthropy has been essential to build people power

    This article is part of the #StoriesOfResilience series, coordinated by CIVICUS to feature groups and activists on their journey to promote better resourcing practices for civil society and to mobilise meaningful resources to sustain their work.

    In Latin America there is a strong tradition of generosity and solidarity among neighbors, communities and people who do not hesitate to join efforts and resources to help an individual or solve collective problems. What we now call community philanthropy has always existed in many places, although informally. But in the last decades, community philanthropy has been formalised with the establishment of community foundations that have become a pillar for civil society and development.

    Mexico is the country in the region that has more community foundations. The majority is consolidated and leads community philanthropy efforts, strategic social investment, development work and even humanitarian action. For example, after the devastating earthquakes in 2017, many foundations were key to addressing the emergencies and rebuilding affected areas. Their work is widely recognised, they enjoy strong legitimacy amongst communities and have the trust of national and international donors.

    Comunalia is an alliance made up of 14 community foundations from 13 states of Mexico, which has been supporting and strengthening their work for nine years. We talked with Mariana Sandoval, Communalia’s executive director, and Ixanar Uriza, former vice president*, about the importance of these foundations and community philanthropy for Mexican civil society.

    What are the characteristics of a community foundation that differentiate it from other philanthropic foundations?

    Uriza: These are community-led foundations that mobilise both local and external resources to invest them for local benefit through loca civil society organisations (CSOs) and members of the communities. They are characterised by covering one specific geographical area; having expert knowledge about the characteristics and needs of their community; being leaders and defenders of those interests and priorities and being able to establish alliances with other actors to promote the common good.

    There is great interest around the world in expanding community philanthropy. How have these foundations in Mexico managed to position themselves as a solid and legitimate channel to mobilise resources for local civil society?

    Sandoval: Their reputation and legitimacy have been built after many years of work. Some members of Comunalia have been operating for more than 20 years. The key is that these foundations are more than a fund intermediary – they are an expert source of knowledge about the social context, needs and priorities of the communities. This builds trust: the communities know that the foundations are truly looking after their agenda and that we guide external donors on these priorities. On the donor side, they see community foundations as the best advisor to help them recognise the most relevant areas for social investment and to establish alliances with local CSOs. 

    CSOs in Latin America are facing numerous attacks and restrictions. How can community foundations help them address these challenges besides the financial ones?

    Sandoval: Apart from being advisors, filters and liaison points between donors and local organisations, community foundations play a key strengthening role. Many foundations work with civil society groups that are not formally established and provide them with technical assistance while they consolidate. Established organisations also consider community foundations a foothold where they can get help for different challenges, becoming strategic allies. In addition, since the foundations are dedicated to mobilising resources, CSOs can focus on doing their field work, improve it and multiply their impact. However, our current challenge is offering more and better support in influencing public policies to improve the environment for CSOs in Mexico.

    Could one say that community foundations have empowered civil society in Mexico?

    Uriza: These foundations have not only strengthened civil society, somehow, they have also enabled it to grow. For example, the Malinalco Community Foundation started supporting projects ten years ago when there were no CSOs in this municipality, and now there are 23. The presence of the foundation helped to awaken civil society there.

    Are community foundations ahead of the “shift the power” to communities’ trend that has gained ground in the last few years?

    Uriza: Community philanthropy has always existed in Latin America; it is a pre-Hispanic practice. The idea of ​​shifting the power to communities has become a trend recently, but for community foundations it has always been our working methodology – we have never conceived the idea of ​​mobilising and granting a fund without first listening to the community and prioritising their needs and interests. 

    What new goals do community foundations have for Comunalia?

    Sandoval: As mentioned before, we must strengthen the support in advocacy and influencing public policies provided by the foundations to the CSOs, something that is more relevant in the face of increasing threats to the civic space. Most of the foundations are already doing great work mobilising and managing resources, but we know that it is not enough in this context, especially for organisations working on social justice. Some foundations are advanced in this advocacy role in their territories, but many still need to develop it further.

    * Ixanar Uriza was Comunalia’s vice president at the time of the interview.

    Contact Comunalia through theirwebsite and follow theirFacebook andTwitter accounts.

     

  • With mentoring and incentives, CSOs venture into raising key resources and support at home

    FRENCH

    By Yessenia Soto, Community Engagement Officer on Civil Society Resourcing, CIVICUS

    The Change the Game Academy provides classroom training on local fundraising to CSOs.

    It’s something that many in the development and civil society sector have been painfully aware of for several years now. But the reality is hitting home harder than ever.

    Official Development Assistance (ODA) – government aid designed primarily to promote the economic development and welfare of developing countries – is steadily decreasing. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development recently announced that ODA fell almost 3% from 2017, with even larger reductions for developing countries. As foreign aid has long been a significant source of funding for southern CSOs, this news reminds us that civil society can’t rely on it in the long term, so, those who haven’t started diversifying their resource base, should do it now.

    “There will be an end to foreign funding, at least as we now know it,” said Robert Wiggers, manager of programs and policy development at the Dutch Wilde Ganzen Foundation (WGF), during one of several panels about the financial sustainability of civil society held at the International Civil Society Week convened in Serbia from April 8-12. At ICSW, various organizations shared why and, most importantly, how CSOs can leverage more support, money and other resources in their own countries and communities to face financial pressures and gradually lessen dependence on ODA and other foreign aid.

    “This is more than a funding alternative, highlighted Wiggers. “CSOs that mobilise their own resources locally get closer to their communities and the people they serve, gain independence from donors, have more control of their own development and feel even more empowered to hold their governments accountable.”

    There is a wide consensus about the power of local resources to boost the financial sustainability, legitimacy, ownership and independence of CSOs. Even in a world with endless supplies of international assistance, weaning civil society off it should be the goal. But how can a small community organisation or one that has always relied on foreign aid start fundraising “at home” and on their own?

    Agencies, associations, and foundations like the WGF are providing special training, mentoring sessions, online learning platforms, campaigning support and even dedicated grants to prepare CSOs for this journey. And the results are encouraging.

    For example, the WGF partnered with the Smile Foundation from India, the Kenya Development Foundation and Brazil’s CESE, to create the Change the Game Academy, an innovative blended-learning program specially designed for civil society organisations that provides both online and classroom training on local fundraising, lobby and advocacy to hold governments and duty bearers accountable through civic participation.

    The classroom training is delivered in a total of six months by local certified trainers. It includes individual coaching sessions to implement a fundraising plan and uses materials adapted to country contexts. The online platform contains 11 interactive modules of e-learning available in four languages, plus 40 toolkits and 88 inspiring success stories, all freely accessible and free of charge.  

    More than 800 small NGOs and community based organisations have been trained through the Change the Game Academy in fourteen low- and middle-income countries. They intend to implement this initiative in four more countries this year.

    In the Balkans, there is a similar initiative called the Sustainability Academy, created by the SIGN Network, a group of indigenous grantmakers who support the sustainable development of local communities and civil society. This academy focuses mostly on CSOs at a grassroots level, which have an annual budget of less than 10,000 euros, on average.

    Their training program covers strategic planning, financial sustainability, networking, local fundraising techniques and campaign development, and is delivered in three modules over six months. At the end of the third module, the organisations receive small technical grants to implement their fundraising campaigns for four to six months. When the campaign is over and they meet their goal, the SIGN Network provides 100% matching grants.

    “We have had very successful examples where, through our training and accompaniment, small organisations managed to fundraise even half of their annual budget and developed relationships with many local donors,” said Biljana Dakic, director of the Trag Foundation, a SIGN network member. “And most of them consolidated their causes and work in their communities, which brings invaluable support.”

    Since 2014, the Sustainability Academy has supported over 100 CSOs in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro.

    CISU - Civil Society in Development, an association of Danish CSOs with members engaged in development work in Asia, Africa and Latin America, is also providing knowledge, training tools and assistance for local resource mobilisation in these regions. Additionally, they offer a co-funding modality through which the local CSOs can access 4-year grants if they leverage a small percentage of the total grant, explained Souad Bourrid, advisor at CISU.

    Together, these opportunities have been key to reducing the initial resistance and fear that keep some organisations from exploring and testing new resourcing avenues.

    “Many organisations still think that the only way to get funds is applying for donor grants. So, when we approach them about leveraging local support, they are skeptic and don’t believe is possible. But those who receive the training and try it, see how many more doors open to them and end up very thankful for the push,” emphasized Bourrid.

    Besides strengthening skills, many civil society networks and coalitions (including CIVICUS) around the world are also advocating the need to create or improve other crucial conditions for facilitating the mobilisation of domestic resources for civil society, including legal frameworks and incentives for local philanthropy, establishing alliances with the public and private sector, and promoting policies to support the financial sustainability of CSOs.