Emmanuel Waiswa Opinion: Unlocking Local Philanthropy, Growing Local Giving

Emmanuel Waiswa Opinion: Unlocking Local Philanthropy, Growing Local Giving

Across the globe, numerous efforts towards poverty eradication continue to shape most of international and local discourse, writes Emmanuel Waiswa. 

On the African continent, there have been a number of different efforts – by international organizations and national development agencies – to support the eradication of poverty and exclusion of rural poor communities.  Even after a lot of funding into the sector, there are increasing threats to progress. From being confronted with the worst humanitarian crisis – the refugee cause, to the effects of climate change – the need for development financing has never been more pronounced.

Whilst demands for more investments increase, development financing continues to be driven by externals, often with less knowledge and understanding of local realities. This carries a risk of making local development vulnerable to political and social economic circumstances in developed communities.

Similarly, governments in the developed community leverage development financing to influence affairs in recipient countries. Overfunding of non-priority areas, offering false paradigms to development are common effects of such funding. The structural adjustment programs are a classical example of this fault. Economies that had not even been constructed were ear marked for reconstruction support through the Bretton Woods Institutions. These institutions had been established for reconstruction of western economies in the aftermath of war.

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Most of the African economies were still trying to situate and not suitable for adjustments. The faults of an externally driven development agenda are also numerous. Firstly, foreign development distorts local knowledge, undervalues its relevance and does not facilitate bottom up accountability – making it hard for corruption and misuse of resources to be mitigated. Since often rural villages do not contribute towards such initiatives, they do not see the need to follow up or hold implementing agencies accountable.

Secondly, the multiplicity of local needs may not also be addressed by sector specific, restricted funding and time bound programming. International Development agencies are more concerned with the latest trends and innovations, the next project and grants than creating robust mechanisms to reduce demand for the former. Related to the same, is the creation of a dependency syndrome.

Externally financed development makes it hard for rural poor economies to build up and make use of social capital and to mobilize local resources needed to overcome local challenges. They need not to. This self-imposed responsibility makes it hard for any organization to mobilize sufficient resourcing to address complex and integrated development work – no wonder, the sector continues to demand for more resourcing, even with less progress. Also, local staff, paid low salaries and living from one contract to another, cannot develop its full potential – the ones who have managed to acquire skills and become highly professional and engaged, often begin to work for international agencies leaving their local organizations without strong personnel, which further exacerbate dependency on external support.

Local resources, as There has been tremendous revolution in development and a lot of emphasis being placed on a on the need for local participation in development and shift towards a development with dignity – emerging from the opportunity for the poor to self-determine. Similarly, there are brave community based leaders and foundations emerging with unusual ways of tackling the need for development financing and devising pathways to tapping into a wealth of community resources, to which money is just part. These often grassroots and community foundations are reaching out to the African spirit of Ubuntu and oneness to liberate their communities from development victimhood.

Even though they at times leverage external resources, they are keen on building and enhancing a culture of local giving, easing the burden on civil society to always be worry of the next grant and rather invest the same passion and motivation into enabling villages mobilize local resources and offering trusted stewardship for such resources.

Examples of such foundations include; Kenya Development Foundation, Dalia Foundation in Palestine among others. By pooling resources into local funds, these foundations are able to respond to locally prioritized needs. There is strong evidence to suggest that once supported with skills and tools, often referred to as poor communities can mobilize resources and work towards their own development. There are numerous examples of local financing, fuelling community initiatives. Programs that seek out community contributions – in-kind and monetary reap the sustainability dividend. When consulted, valued and engaged in resource mobilization, communities members often feel invested in the success of the project and are keen to provide support for project implementation even when finances are low.

They equally ring fence local hard earned resources against corruption and misuse. Locally mobilized resources also address a multiplicity of needs and often require less funding compared to when implemented by an agency.

Success of campaigns to donate for the sick, contributions in churches and social cover towards funeral expenses – all of which are common in Uganda illustrate the untapped potential and case for local giving towards local challenges. While working at Spark MicroGrants, I witnessed villages in Rwanda, pool resources to pay for health insurance for those who cannot afford to pay such premium. A village in Eastern Uganda on the slopes of Mount Elgon pooled resources to build a permanent structure for an elderly widow. These small gestures of giving should not be undermined and to be organized towards collective action processes. How to Unlock Local Giving While there is evidence on the need and efficacy of local development financing, it calls for a structure and capacity building to enable communities to envision their villages and mobilize local resources towards a local agenda. Similarly, supporting communities to pool resources usually takes time and skillful facilitation – both of which have been downplayed by mainstream development and often not resourced. Locally mobilized resources are at a risk of coming under strong local pressure from politicians, government employees and other influential people in the communities.

Enabling decision making to be inclusive and transparent may address the challenge and this too requires skilled facilitation to open up power and privilege. Technology and use of SMS offers instant access to community finances and eases transparency. Asset based programming is critical in enabling communities build confidence, trust and social capital – critical elements to local resource mobilization. Every community has a wealth of resources, which should be trigger points for affirming their potential and capacity to drive their own development. Teaching poor people to identify as victims does not seem to be very effective and needs to be disbanded.

The writer, Emmanuel Kivanyuma Waiswa is a development professional with over 8 years experience in Development management in East Africa. He has worked with Spark MicroGrants as a Country Director and Partnerhio Advisor. He is currently poised on exploring how to build local community philantrophy through a grassroots grant making foundation.


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