What is the role of Philanthropy in responding to the disruptions of Civic Space?

by Susan Odongo

Society has viewed Philanthropy and civil society as two opposite sides of a coin yet they have a partnership role to play in complementing and supporting each other. The WINGS Forum 2017 reaffirmed this for me.

Taking a few steps back to before the WINGS Forum 2017…

Prior to attending the conference, the Kenya Philanthropy Forum – where KCDF co-coordinates in partnership with EAAG – had a session focusing on the status of civic space and the role philanthropy plays in responding to this space. What came out from the meeting was that philanthropy has unique elements that the civil society sector has not exploited and that the philanthropy sector has not fully recognized. This included the recognition of philanthropy as a growing sector (in development), the ability of philanthropy to be in closed spaces and have avenues to decision makers…but to name a few. These are but some of the areas that philanthropy should not take lightly but look deeper into strategically using this to respond to the civic space

Nevertheless, there has been the struggle of responding to the why? and how? Philanthropy should respond to the disruptions of civic space.

……………………….And I carried with me as I headed off to the WINGS Forum 2017 these unanswered questions.

To my amazement – from the sessions I engaged in, to my interactions with various participants of various backgrounds one thing came out strong: the disruption of the civic space has indeed burst the philanthropy bubble of business as usual. It is not just a challenge for philanthropy in my country but its philanthropy globally dealing with this!

It was exciting therefore, to have the WINGS Forum 2017 bring out the urgency of the philanthropy sector to step up its role in proactively safeguarding civic space.

I share my key learnings not just for me to take back home and support the philanthropy sector to respond, but also as a call to action to the philanthropy sector to take up the challenge towards building civic space globally:

#Key learning one: Philanthropy can support civil society sector redefine its relevance in development today: with reduced international funding, changes in global interest, growing civic awareness among citizens, changing sector regulations, growth of social investments – the traditional role of civil society is challenged and threatened in some cases. The need for civil society to reflect on its approaches to development are dire, but the sector needs one of its own to support it in its transforming state and bridge the gaps that exist in the sector as transition/transformation is taking place.

#Key-learning two: Philanthropy must use its unique flexibility to advance civil society innovations and support civil society in breaking new grounds of development models. Related to the learning above, is the need for philanthropy to step up and dare to be different – not just support proven development that works but take a risk and invest in unique development models that bring about change in the smallest level, and can bring change at a large scale. The need to support civil society research, communication and branding elements that are critical in telling the stories of civil society innovations – yet are most underfunded.

#Key-learning three: Philanthropy must embrace its power to engage government on the platform of resourcing development. Philanthropy is increasingly getting into spaces where discussions on development resourcing is raised; the discussions from aid to trade, from institutional funding to project funding, from grant making to direct implementation. Are we (philanthropy) questioning the implications of this to the growth of the nonprofit sector and the future of civil society sector?

#Key-learning four: Philanthropy should build on the existing narrative and bring to light the role CSOs play in reaching communities:  the underprivileged, the unreached, the vulnerable… get into the development cycle and the larger community embraces them to become part of it. This is because a civil society organization reached out to them and empowered them to become.

As I pack my bags, I think to myself – yes, philanthropy as part of civil society does have a role in responding to civic space, because the space where giving and the love for humanity is expressed is being threatened daily! The how? Is for philanthropy to appreciate its unique nature and explore new opportunities, and be willing to challenge elements of status quo in development to open new avenues to advance its impact!

Back home I go…. to explore the options and work towards building civic space! For civil society will not die, but its vibrancy needs to remain upbeat in the ever-changing development context!


Susan Odongo is Team Leader-Policy,Research & Advocacy at Kenya Community Development Foundation

One thought on “What is the role of Philanthropy in responding to the disruptions of Civic Space?

  1. Pingback: What is the role of Philanthropy in responding to the disruptions of Civic Space? - Giving Compass

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