Community giving as a vehicle for democracy: Practical experiences from Palestine

Open submission by Aisha Mansour, Lina Ismail, Nermin Hwaihi and Rasha Sansur, Dalia Association

In just the last 24 hours in Palestine, we have witnessed a morning of Israeli soldiers invading a Ramallah area refugee camp leading to live fire on unarmed young people, and an evening of the Palestinian Authority security officers violently suppressing what was supposed to be a peaceful rally in downtown Ramallah to support the lifting of sanctions from our brothers and sisters in Gaza. Security forces used stun grenades, gas bombs, ammunition and physical beatings, all to prohibit the community from exercising their right to expression for change. Such events are happening more frequently. Public space is shrinking in the militarised neoliberal world we live in, including in our own country. Add to this the impact of 70 years of Israeli occupation, including more than 20 of those years implementing a failed peace process and receiving a flood of international aid, and you will find multiple factors at work to erode what was once a very active civil society in Palestine.

The Dalia Association was established in 2007 in response to this situation and to help mobilise local resources for community-controlled development. In order to develop a strong community and a free civil society, the people must be in charge. Our programmes focus on the community itself, mobilising its resources, to address its own issues and priorities. There is no need to wait for foreign donors for support. Our country is abundant in resources. We had forgotten this, but now we are remembering it. Active citizenship is the by-product. Through active citizenship, communities can create their own reality for sustainable and lasting development. They can do so while developing a strong local economy, maintaining their cultural heritage, knowledge and skills, caring for their ecological and social environment, achieving food sovereignty, and ensuring a basic standard of living for all. In this paradigm, we are all givers. This is our democracy.

Community-controlled grant-making

In Dalia’s community programmes, the community decides, on the basis of its priorities and needs, where a grant should go and how it should be spent. This is the result of a public voting process during open meetings to which everyone in the community is invited to participate. In these open meetings, community members vote on the most suitable initiative to be implemented. To be selected, initiatives should support a community need, use local resources, whether material or immaterial, and ensure no harm is done to the environment and the social context of the community. The grant is then provided accordingly.

A practical example in Southern Hebron

Through our Women Supporting Women programme in Southern Hebron, an area under constant threat of demolition and deportation by Israeli colonisation, women selected two initiatives to support their local economies, while preserving their cultural heritage and the health of their communities. One grant supported the development of a small agroecological farm in the village of Tiwani, providing organic produce for the local community while supporting women farmers to generate an income and protect the land from further colonisation. The second grant was given to a small women-led enterprise to produce yarn from the natural wool available and preserve a cultural heritage of wool threading and natural dying techniques from local herbs and plants. As a result of this initiative, women were able to revive a traditional craft, protect the environment and generate income for themselves through the sale of their products.

The women involved recognised what was needed in their area. They knew what resources were available. And they were keen to revive a traditional craft that was practised by their older people. No external body would have been able to identify such necessary initiatives for this community.

A practical case of community-controlled development in the north of Gaza

The aim of the Ibda’ Youth Programme is to empower young people to identify, select, and implement creative and sustainable economic solutions for their communities, using local resources. Despite the blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has lasted over 10 years, the lack of material resources and the prohibition of movement of people and products in and out of the Gaza Strip, the young participants of this programme developed innovative local economic solutions to serve their needs in the current situation. One example includes a group of young female fashion designers who yearned to create their own clothing line. In Gaza, most clothes are imported, including from China, Israel and Turkey. Despite difficulties in importing materials, these young women recycled clothing and created their own designs and brand, called Diala Style. Through this brand, local clothes became available in Gaza and the young women created a social enterprise that is friendly to the environment and provides a local option for women across Gaza.

Democratising giving

Dalia’s Fun-raising Toolkit

At Dalia, we aim to revive a local tradition of community giving, or, as we call it, Al Ouna, our indigenous aid system. Al Ouna (‘aid’ in Arabic) is a collective and participatory form of giving. When there is a need, the entire community contributes with their resources. Palestine was and still is an agrarian community, and people are used to helping each other during harvest season. We take this approach in the work we do as we mobilise the community to support initiatives and solutions that are beneficial to them. In order to facilitate more community giving, we have come up with the Fun-raising Toolkit. The toolkit lists suggested activities for people to mobilise their communities to fun-raise for Dalia and generate more income to support local community initiatives and Dalia’s community programmes. The reason the ‘d’ was dropped in fundraising is that we believe that when you are passionate about something, you give your best and enjoy it - thus you are having fun. For example, a local youth alumni group held a FIFA PlayStation tournament and donated the proceeds from ticket sales to Dalia’s community programme. Participants had fun while contributing to social change. This is democratising community giving! All are welcome to join. It is not only for the wealthy segment of society.

Dukkan

Dukkan - ‘store’ in Arabic - is our second-hand shop, aimed at providing an additional opportunity to democratise giving while generating income to support our work. In today’s consumerist world, everyone has more stuff than they need in their homes. We ask folks to donate their gently used unneeded goods so that we can sell them. Proceeds support our community programmes. In Dukkan, anyone can be a donor. Donors also shop at Dukkan, as there always good deals and valuable finds. For instance, Mo, our long-time IT specialist volunteer, continues to give Dalia his time, supporting us with his IT expertise, while donating his unneeded goods to Dukkan and shopping on a very regular basis at Dukkan, where he finds toys for his two growing children.

Bringing the social to media

Beyond our programmes and activities on the ground, social media is a tool that we use to raise awareness and encourage consideration of an alternative to the current paradigm. In our communication strategy, we aim to portray Dalia’s mission and vision as a community foundation, and this entails bringing stories from the communities we work with. In other words, we try to give ownership of the stories to the individuals and communities with their initiatives. We let them tell their stories, using social media. We feature them in our newsletters, so more members of the community can join their efforts and support them. This, we believe, will ultimately achieve our mission of an active civil society that controls the development of its choice. In addition, as many Palestinians live in the diaspora, we make an effort to include them by live-streaming our events on social media; as a result they feel a connection to their homeland and their communities.

In conclusion

Community giving is our vehicle for creating a new democracy. The community philanthropy framework asserts that every member of civil society is a giver. In this paradigm, there are no donors and beneficiaries: everyone is equal and is equally welcome to our table.