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“Solidarity, transparency and trust”

Updated: Apr 24, 2020

Sometimes I’m so far down in the weeds of SIA emails and conversations with grant partners that I lose track of the larger vision of exactly how we are working for change in the world. Yes, we are giving grants and helping communities move toward self-sufficiency. But this can be done in so many different ways.

I wrote a few weeks ago about the “human connection-centered movement of Spirit in Action.” This week, a new article by Dana R.H. Doan on community philanthropy gave me a larger framework for thinking about our work.

Doan differentiates between community foundations, which are organizations, and community philanthropy. “Community philanthropy is both a form of, and a force for, locally driven development that strengthens community capacity and voice, builds trust, and most importantly, taps into and builds on local resources, which are pooled together to build and sustain a strong community.”

Me with the SIA Africa team meeting to review our programs and discuss how to make them more transparent, fair, and democratic. (Left to right: Dorcas Okoti, Canaan Gondwe, Wambui Nguyo, Samuel Teimuge, Tanya Cothran, Barbara Deal, & Dennis Kiprop Naomi Ayot)

Spirit in Action’s dedication to listening to our grant partners, building relationships, and funding grassroots-led community programs are examples of this community philanthropy.

Practices of Community Philanthropy

The article also lays out seven practices of community philanthropy that put into words what I see us doing with Spirit in Action:

Socially embedded: Listening to community needs and building on what is there. “Start with what you have,” is something that SIA mentor Samuel Teimuge says whenever he meets with eager entrepreneurs.

Prioritizing relationships: Taking time to sing, eat, and pray together. Connecting chicken farmers in different parts of Kenya and getting them to work on solutions together.

Visiting Uganda was all about building relationships and spending time in the village – dancing, drinking chai, and talking together.

Co-producing: Giving voice to our partners and working together on evaluation. We make sure our grant report forms include questions that help the organizations improve and reflect, and we do not include questions waste time.

Pooling of resources: Recognizing the huge value that community members bring to successful grant projects. Local resources such as bricks, volunteer labor, leadership and shared food for training sessions all help SIA partners thrive in their grassroots efforts.

“Big international NGOs just drive through with their tinted windows,” Naomi of Uganda told us. Walking through the village is one small way we prove SIA is there to collaborate and listen to local viewpoints.

The other practices are: Focus on root causes, Honest, intentional, neutral conveners and facilitators, and Enlightened leadership.

I was grateful to lift my head up this week and see how SIA is part of the community philanthropy movement, and how we can do even more to focus on systematic change and to stay curious and creative in our approach to fighting for justice in eastern and southern Africa.

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