The following presentation was made by Christopher Harris at the first international meeting of the Network of Independent Funds for Social Justice, in Rio de Janeiro, held from July 8 to 10, 2015. The meeting gathered funds, foundations and activists from a number of countries to discuss the steps needed to construct a collective strategy to strengthen the field of philanthropy for social justice in Brazil and Latin America more widely.
Thank you Ana. I have been asked to give a global tour of philanthropy for social justice in only 15 minutes. Please fasten your seatbelt and get ready for takeoff.
Before we look globally let’s take a minute to understand better what we mean by “philanthropy for social justice.” It has several necessary components:
Not infrequently, people ask me how community organizations can become independent of international funding. Part of the answer, I believe, lies in reformulating the question.
“Independence,” is a smokescreen. First world countries that claim to be independent are often dependent on the natural and human resources of the global south. Even donors who claim to be independent because they have endowments are hiding the fact that their resources were taken through exploitation of workers and sometimes from war.
Instead of asking how we can become independent, I suggest we ask how we can achieve “dignified interdependence” – a system of relationships that acknowledges that we are all givers and receivers and that recognizes our value to one another.
Here I propose six possible steps that civil society and community philanthropic organizations can take to become less dependent on international funding and more dignified in their interdependence:
1-Act as if you are poor
After the 7.8 Earthquake of 25th April, 2015 and a few significant others which followed, all of us had to go into relief work. Although this was a new on the job learning for many of us, we used our common sense and a sense of urgency recognizing how most the affected people had suffered multiple major losses. The two organizations I founded in Nepal Tewa – the Nepal women's fund, and Nagarik Aawaz for peace, decided to work jointly with a synergistic approach. The earlier 2 weeks were spent in grounding systems, values, and our approach. These were premised on a hypothesis that when disaster/s of this magnitude strike, people are taken off their balance and they suffer great losses. This will temporarily paralyze, numb, or traumatize them. But essentially they are the same as any of us. Their values and principles remain the same if not further honed. Their inherent altruistic nature or goodness cannot change. We decided to serve with the same respect that was due to them earlier and not reduce them to be VICTIMS.
Nepal is reeling from the immediate effects of the earthquake that hit the country on 25th April 2015. As the immediate emergency response gets underway and in the reconstruction that follows, it will be crucial for local needs and voices to be taken into consideration and that grassroots groups are part of efforts to rebuild, strengthen, and expand sustainable development in Nepal's rural areas.
‘A Life Lived on the Edge: An Account of the First Ten Years of the Foundation of Social Transformation’ is a new resource produced the Global Fund for Community Foundations. It tells the story of a community foundation in the North-east of India, of the conditions that necessitated its birth, its vision, its struggles, how it came to almost close doors and its slow recovery and renewed direction.
A new phenomenon is unfolding in Brazilain civil society – a new breed of indegenous grassroots grant makers is emerging that supports the movemnet for human rights and social justice in the country. Ten of these foundations are united in the Network of Independent Funds for Social Justice (NIFSJ)- Brazil or Rede de Fundos Independentes para a Justiça Social. Their aim is to increase funding for social justice, gender and racial equity, socio-environmental and community rights.
We spoke to Cindy Lessa, coordinator of NIFSJ, about the aspirations of the network for building a new philanthropic culture in Brazil.
PSJP: How is the philanthropy practiced by members of your network different from the dominat philanthropic trends in Brazil?