As a part of the annual InterAction Annual Forum in June 2015, Aga Khan Foundation organized a panel discussion on “Digital Donations: Innovative Technology for Local Philanthropy.” With a group of interested development professionals, the panel discussed local philanthropy as a sustainable, long-term source of support that reduces dependency on traditional donors and uses technology to support the growth of local philanthropy. Jenny Hodgson, Executive Director of the Global Fund for Community Foundations, moderated the panel and the participating panelists represented a range of backgrounds: Chris Doten, Senior Manager for Technology and Innovation at NDI; Kevin Conroy, Chief Product Officer at GlobalGiving; and Mark Cunningham, Senior Director for Development and Government Affairs at TechSoup Global.

In their discussion, the panel emphasized the importance of local philanthropy as a tool to link community service organizations (CSOs) with local communities and get away from traditional models of development that are ultimately unsustainable. Technology can facilitate local philanthropy as it provides CSOs with new ways to connect to communities and platforms for donation.

The panel also explored how the turn toward local philanthropy and use of new technology requires that CSOs find new ways to tell their stories that connect with different audiences. Additionally CSOs need to build trust locally at the same time as they build capacity. Without trust, e-philanthropy is unlikely to work. While technology can be a powerful tool for civil society, Kevin Conroy noted that it is not a silver bullet. Adding additional platforms for philanthropy needs to be done alongside building and maintaining person-to-person contact.

In my work on civil society with AKF, I’ve come to see local or community philanthropy as an essential part of building the assets, capacity, and trust that support a thriving civil society sector. Supporting communities to explore technology that helps engage their energies and express local priorities – that is a worthy effort. I look forward to sharing what programs with that aim, such as the Yetu Initiative, do next.

Sarah Allibhoy was the 2014-2015 Programs Fellow at the Aga Khan Foundation U.S.A.