In our civil society programs, we highlight the public and private energies that come together for the public good. A key part of that approach is supporting community philanthropy, which means working with communities to develop local solutions to local problems. An example of our approach is a Global Development Alliance with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Kenya entitled the Yetu Initiative; Yetu means “ours” in Kiswahili. This is the first post in a series centering on that partnership, and looking at the essential pillars of community philanthropy: assets, capacity, and trust. The work of supporting community philanthropy underlies much of our approach to civil society and building capacity in the communities we partner with. This post is by Megan McGlynn Scanlon, a senior Civil Society officer at the Aga Khan Foundation in Washington, D.C.

I had the privilege to join Aga Khan Foundation USA’s programs and partnerships team and the global AKF civil society practice in late 2016. Several months into working with the Aga Khan Development Network, I continue to be impressed with how civil society is at the core of the Network’s ethos. One of my most exciting discoveries has been our central and innovative focus on community philanthropy. AKDN’s work builds the local sustainability of civil society by strengthening organizational and sectoral Assets, Capacity, and Trust, with a goal of improving the quality of life in that place. That work regards local assets as not just financial but including time, energy, and in-kind contributions.

It’s an honor for me to join in our decades-long history of work in this area, which started long before we used the term community philanthropy, and links to the Network’s core values of self-reliance, volunteerism, and shared knowledge. These values are embodied in our founding role in institutions such as the Kenya Community Development Fund, the Pakistan Center for Philanthropy, and our grassroots work with water user groups, community development committees and other local organizations in different parts of Africa and Asia.

Those values are also reflected in our founding membership in the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy, which sponsored a one-of-a-kind Global Summit on Community Philanthropy in December 2016. Being able to join that remarkable gathering of practitioners from around the globe helped form my understanding of AKF’s unique approach of focusing on various aspects and modes of philanthropy. It also showed me that AKF is playing a key role in a larger, global movement.

An initiative that emerged around the same time as GACP is the Yetu Initiative.  This exciting partnership, co-funded with the United States Agency for International Development, tackles the whole ecosystem for Kenyan community philanthropy. Like all of our community philanthropy work, Yetu works to build assets, capacity and trust of local civil society institutions. It brings the strands of building the enabling environment for philanthropy together with the efforts strengthening local organizations – along with attention to research and data. Yetu encompasses the Yetu.Org e-philanthropy platform, blended learning courses that grow skills for local fundraising, and ensuring there are local resources to support Kenyan civil service organizations (CSOs) as they grow local assets.

Speakers at the launching ceremony of Childline Kenya in Nairobi.

Speakers at the launching ceremony of Childline Kenya in Nairobi.

So far the initiative has led to Kenyan CSOs raising significant amounts of money and in-kind support. I was lucky enough to be visiting Nairobi in April for the launch of Childline Kenya’s “Shine a Light” campaign, a months-long effort to raise awareness and funds for the organization’s work around child abuse and support for vulnerable children. That media event kicking off the national campaign brought together a mix of CSOs, government, and private sector representatives that would be unusual were it not for AKF’s involvement and usual cross-sector attention. The room at Nairobi’s Intercontinental Hotel, which had provided the room at a reduced rate to support the Childline Cause, was packed with Kenyan journalists, businesspeople, government officials and child abuse advocates – all enthralled and engaged with the stories and research presented by the speakers. As of this writing, the ongoing Childline #ShineALight campaign has raised over US$8,500. This number is especially impressive given that this is Childline’s first national campaign and part of a new approach for Kenyan CSOs.

There is much more to come — for example, a community philanthropy “boot camp” for 15 CSOs that the team held very recently — I’m waiting eagerly to hear more about how it went and how we can use that innovative approach moving forward.

Megan McGlynn Scanlon is senior program officer for civil society with the Aga Khan Foundation.