For centuries, communities in Latin America and the Caribbean have been practicing reciprocal assistance. Strengthening mutual trust, pooling assets, and building capacity helps people adapt to changing conditions and opportunities, and forms the basis for a growing global practice called community philanthropy that seeks to achieve lasting results that matter to communities, local civil society organizations, and donors.

Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities have evolving, vibrant practices of mutual community support passed down through generations, from tequio or faena in Mexico to minga/minka in Ecuador, Peru, and parts of Colombia. Acknowledging and accounting for the in-kind resources (volunteer hours among others) that grassroots organizations bring to an initiative can generate dividends for communities. As shown in the following examples, drawn from my work with grantees of a federal foreign assistance agency called the Inter-American Foundation (IAF), nonprofit organizations often tap into those traditions and their local assets to make lives better for community members.

Donors, domestic and international, are beginning to recognize these ancestral practices as part of the community’s co-investment. Grassroots organizations know that capitalizing on these ancestral practices, rather than changing them, helps them articulate better to others that these traditions are essential for their initiatives to be effective in the long run. Community members are ready to invest extra hours of their own time or offer their land to showcase more sustainable agricultural practices, for instance, for others to adopt adequately.

For millennia, traditional customs, such as tequio in Mexico and minga in the Andes, have brought together members of the community to harvest crops or build buildings. Donors understand that accounting for peoples’ trust and local capacity built over time and their ability to mobilize local resources for a common purpose shows a level of cohesion and pride that can influence the quality of life of those living in resource-poor communities. Recognizing these assets can also alter power relations and raise expectations for self-reliance. It holds out the promise that an initiative launched through more formal philanthropy will continue to exist into the future because it may become embedded within community practice.

Read the full article about honoring Indigenous ancestral practices by Gaby Boyer and Circe Peralta at Johnson Center.