“Why community philanthropy?” asked Nick Deychakiwsky, program officer for the C.S. Mott Foundation, at the start of an event hosted by the Aga Khan Foundation Canada on June 4 in Ottawa. Titled “Local Assets for Local Needs: Community Philanthropy in Action,” the panel discussion explored the ways communities mobilize local resources for their development priorities. As Deychakiwsky and others noted, community philanthropy is not a new phenomenon – but there is renewed interest in its. In a wide-ranging conversation, participants discussed examples of how Kenyans and aboriginal peoples in Canada have taken the reins for decisions affecting their communities, and how outside development agencies might support them.

The community philanthropy approach works at the grassroots level by raising capital, often from local stakeholders, for addressing needs in the community or priority activities that benefit the community as a whole. Community philanthropy has become an important focus of effort for the Aga Khan Foundation U.S.A. (AKF USA), which in partnership with the C.S. Mott Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the U.S. Agency for International Development is supporting a Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy.

The event was live streamed via webcast and included tweets from the staff of AKF USA, watching in Washington, DC.

Janet Mawiyoo, CEO of the Kenya Community Development Foundation, described the experience of Kenyans taking steps to “resolve simple but very important problems” on issues like education, and how even poor communities can mobilize assets. Mawiyoo offered the example of a remote community in southern Kenya near the Maasai Mara Wildlife Reserve. She described how families contributed to the effort to create local schools using whatever they had – including a sheep or a cow. She outlined how the Kenya Community Development Foundation guides such local groups to grow sustainably from the very start.

Indeed, the building blocks of assets, capacity and trust became a refrain during the conversation. “Trust is at the core of everything we’re talking about ,” observed Mawiyoo.

“Exactly right, Janet,” tweeted Dr. Mirza Jahani, CEO of AKF USA in response, “you need to be there – where they live – and be accessible.”

The Ottawa event discussion looked at core questions, ranging from the nuts and bolts of exit strategies to the larger issue of creating an architecture for supporting community philanthropy globally. One questioner asked how the participating agencies might work with governments so that local organizations can access funds and establish themselves.

Victoria Grant, interim director of the Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal People in Canada, spoke about how that group emerged from a need to get the voices of native groups heard in decisions affecting them, and to reassert the values of collective action that have defined its member groups.

Natalie Ross, program associate for AKF USA, sketched the recent history of the Foundation’s effort to better understand and support this renewable resource that occurs “indigenously and organically” around the world, and outlined plans for the emerging Global Alliance. “Community philanthropy is not a silver bullet,” she noted, “but it can be an arrow in our quiver.”

Ross added that pooled learning on what has worked, such as the experiences of the Circle and KCDF, will be important for the new alliance, and for deepening and growing the practice. And that will help create momentum for further action.

“As people work together, citizens become more willing to engage and take ownership,” said Nick Deychakiwsky.

You can watch the archived webcast here.

In Washington, DC on June 12, a related event entitled “Fresh Approaches to Building Assets, Capacity and Trust: Community Philanthropy in International Development” will be held at the Society for International Development (SID), organized by Aga Khan Foundation U.S.A., C.S. Mott Foundation and Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Please visit the SID website for details and to register for that event and advance the conversation.