The international development, philanthropy, and aid sectors are on a long overdue transformation journey. 2020 was a catalytic year with seismic events like the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement pushing toward more fundamental change. The consequence of these events reaffirmed what many already knew: that global structural power imbalances were not only unethical but also hindering the effectiveness and efficiency of durable and responsive societal change.

These moments provided real-time, powerful testaments to the world that communities are experts in their situations and are best placed to design and implement their own solutions. They are the first and last responders in any given crisis or emergency. Unlike international partners, community organizations and leaders cannot simply leave when a situation becomes challenging. By centering community organizations and leveraging their distinct advantages, the subsequent locally driven interventions and solutions are likely to be more responsive, equitable, contextually relevant, adoptable, and sustainable.

Despite global commitments, funding data is disappointingly trending backward, with only 1.2% of international humanitarian aid going to local NGOs in 2022; a far cry from the 25% committed by the Grand Bargain.

Rebalancing funding dynamics

In 2021, a group of organizations with like-minded values created a consortium to pilot a new way of funding and partnering with the common goal of putting communities at the center of the work and equity at the center of our relationships. The consortium partners are the Center for Disaster Preparedness (CDP) Philippines, GlobalGiving, the Global Fund for Community Foundations, and the Nonprofit Finance Fund. Together, we launched the Assets, Agency & Trust initiative and supported the creation and implementation of the Abot-Kamay Community Solidarity Fund (ACSF), a locally led grantmaking mechanism.

CDP co-designed, fully managed, and implemented the ACSF, with strategic support from the consortium of global partners. The model demonstrates a locally led, innovative partnership approach aiming to reach marginalized communities often overlooked for or unable to access funding. The fund aimed to better understand the community-led change landscape in the Philippines, and to elevate, connect, and strengthen local ideas and efforts with a view toward long-term sustainability.

In practice, this means CDP took end-to-end ownership and leadership of the fund, informed by the community partners they work with. Every aspect was led by CDP’s knowledge and insights into the culture, context, and Filipino communities—from the design of the call for proposals to the community-centered grant selection process, due diligence, and monitoring and evaluation.

Of course, national funds are not unique. What we were able to achieve with ACSF was the ability to reach grassroots organizations that USAID (and GlobalGiving) would not be able to traditionally partner with or grant funding to due to vetting requirements, language, and digital capabilities. So a key benefit of this model is that it enabled USAID dollars to reach local communities and for those community organizations to determine the use of funds without outside bias or control.

What would we recommend to rebalance funding dynamics? A focused investment on regional or national ‘hubs’ that can house Community Solidarity Funds. These ‘anchor’ entities are safe, trusted, accessible, and effective at providing long-term support for community organizations. And they can support contextually appropriate practices to distribute funds.

Read the full article about philanthropy for humanitarian aid by Seema Kapoor and Catherine Gordo at GlobalGiving.