The question of how to make development aid more effective is a challenging one. A major issue is that most development aid is an external intervention. In current debates about international development aid, terms such as “shifting the power” and “localisation” suggest a future with local people having decision‑making power over their destiny, working with but not for external development actors who are there to support, not to lead. A crucial aspect of these debates is the participation of community beneficiaries, leading to increased local ownership and a higher level of sustainability.

When most people talk about community development in Papua New Guinea, they are talking about foreign aid. However, in February and March of this year, I had the opportunity to study a different type of community development work – work involving a domestic donor, the Digicel Foundation (DF). This type of work is sometimes referred to as “community philanthropy”, an overarching term for development approaches that emerge from communities or countries where the work is undertaken. While it differs from aid, it has important lessons for aid work. The work I studied was also an exciting example of a new type of civil society in action in PNG.

In particular, my research focused on the sustainability of DF’s projects. The topic of my research was a community grant-making program operated by DF, a corporate foundation that was established in 2008 and is active in the philanthropic sector of PNG. The reason for doing research in PNG, and specifically with DF, goes back to my work as founding CEO of DF from 2008 to 2012. My belief, formed during those years in PNG, is that sustained project benefits are crucial.

What I wanted to learn now was the factors that contribute to sustainability in the context of community-led development interventions. So I undertook a master’s degree in Anthropology and Development Studies, with my thesis research focusing on the question “What factors contribute to the sustainability of the projects in DF’s Community Grants Program in PNG?”

Read the full article about community philanthropy by Marina van der Vlies at DEVPOLICY.