Global Social Change Philanthropy - Development at the Grassroots
Grassroots means the groundwork or source
Social change philanthropy demands a solid focus at the
grassroots level. At the grassroots are to be found those
most acutely affected by injustice—and the experience and
power to develop solutions.
Many social change grantmakers focus their funding to help organize
grassroots communities and strengthen leadership and other capacities.
Often the goal is to build social movements that can affect
change—not just at the grassroots level, but all
the way up to national and international policy levels.
The grassroots level is also a place where individual
philanthropy can have a big impact. There, a small grant
can go a long way. There, the size of the grant often matters
less than such important factors as need, timing, and flexibility.
Based on 20 years in Bolivia working with the Inter-American Foundation,
Kevin Healy summed up the lessons he learned
about grassroots development in his book, Llamas,
Weavings and Organic Chocolate.
Key Elements of Successful Grassroots Projects
1. Popular Participation. This “absolutely
fundamental element” for grassroots work entails six key
actions: Community self-management; Training of local people;
Popular education; Employment of paraprofessionals like “barefoot
doctors” and “credit promoters”; Professional
education for selected grassroots participants; and Group empowerment
2. Tackling of Institutional Barriers and Discrimination.
Boldness and insight are key, and creative programs like educational
festivals, intercultural education, and documenting grassroots
histories have been successful strategies.
3. Energetic and Committed Leadership. Projects
stand a better chance of success when their leadership combines
social vision, personal drive, analytical, problem-solving minds,
and excellent management skills.
4. Resident Skill. Grassroots communities are
not to be viewed as “blank slates on whom Western expertise
and values” are to be written. Rather, it is the bedrock
of "human capital" already in place—indigenous
skills, knowledge, values and practices—which must be tapped.
5. Community Motivation and Tenacity. The active
participation of the broader community lays the groundwork for
projects and helps move them forward, even through difficult times.
6. Community Resource Mobilization. Local in-kind
support deepens the project's connection to the community and
7. Social and Participatory Research. Social
research can play a vital role in revitalizing cultural resources
8. “Outsiders”as Key Actors. Dedicated
and sensitive professionals from outside the community—including
those from other countries—can offer fresh perspectives
on how indigenous resources can be used and provide access to
the outer world.
9. Historical Structural Economic Factors. The
state of national economies or the timely opening of an economic
niche are just a few of these important factors.
10. Single-Minded Project Zeal. A central, all-encompassing
focus over a sustained period of time, rather than a jumble of
loosely connected, disparate, and short-term activities, often
provides the bigger pay off.
11. Sustainable Development. Respect for natural
environment and developing plans that were ecologically "sustainable"
characterize successful projects. Renewing indigenous environmental
stewardship often provided the right balance.
12. Replicability. Especially where funding resources
are modest, replicability can be an important success factor—whether
it be an innovation in agricultural production or a social protest
13. The Role of the Outside Funder. Making timely grants to organizations
and documenting the change process are a funder’s most important
Some Resources for Grassroots Development
Social Forum Presents extensive information on the global
movements resisting corporate-driven globalization and working
to create alternatives.
Greengrants Fund, “Why We Support Grassroots Action”
Global Social Change Philanthropy -
Building Organizational Capacity - Resources
Grantmakers Without Borders
PO Box 181282 Boston, MA 02118
Phone 617.794.2253 Fax 617.266.0497
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