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EFC Conference 2016

What is Community Foundations' added value to the refugee crisis?

30 May May 2016 1541 30 May 2016
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Over three days at the EFC annual general assembly, delegates spent time debating what can foundations do in their ability and resources to address the refugees crisis in in a humane and responsible way.

The session Community philanthropy’s local impact in Europe: Considering the case of refugees and asylum seekers discussed what might be the unique contribution of community philanthropy, as an innovative and sophisticated example to promote philanthropy, the culture of giving and the development of civil society within local communities, when faced with the challenges surrounding the movement of refugees and asylum seekers across Europe.

The unifying sentiment amongst participants was that with the overwhelming scale of Europe’s refugee crisis, it was sometimes difficult to know where to begin, or how to make an impact. Lack of confidence in designing interventions to meet the needs of refugees and migrants, limited resources and capacity, as well as isolation, seemed to be factors exacerbating this feeling.

There was a pervasive feeling among participants that Europe’s refugee crisis is not a faceless problem, so should therefore not be treated as one: these are individuals whose lives have been irreversibly affected, and this consideration must rest at the very heart of all responses.

The Global Fund for Community Foundations (GFCF), a grassroots grantmaker working to promote and support institutions of community philanthropy around the world, shared with all the participants the information gathered from community philanthropy organisations interested in responding to the current refugee situation from across Europe. Considering new funding programmes has been identified as the main strategy to provide an immediate response to the immigration emergency.

Still, the participants of the session seemed actually concerned about the fact that the media presentation of the numbers of refugees and migrants can harmfully distort local perceptions of the likely impact on communities. Community Foundation in Budapest explained how this can become particularly toxic where there is also a political manipulation of fears. Last month the Hungarian government announced the deployment of an additional 1,500 troops and police officers on its border with Serbia, as it extended a nationwide state of emergency in response to the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe. What is happening in Hungary shows how urgent it is to take action in order to keep refugees out from the massive negative media storm. There are also growing concerns around the increased differentiation within and between refugee, asylum seeker and migrant groups: many countries are relying on the “deserving” and “undeserving” narrative.

The reality that European community philanthropy organizations are long-term institutions - deeply rooted in the communities they aim to serve - was a recurring consideration. The importance of prioritizing existing community needs alongside the specific needs of the incoming groups in order to avert any attempt to blame migration for increasing levels of societal disadvantage, was also emphasized.

Grantmaking is still en vogue. In fact, most participants agreed it is an effective and transparent mechanism for devolving resources to the most marginalized, and is also a powerful tool for demonstrating to local donors how their contributions can reach small, off the-map groups. This allows them to think and work beyond the immediate crisis, concretely planning for the longer-term inclusion needs of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.

This is good news from civil society. In Germany, the number of community foundations is growing notably. A few new foundations founded last year explicitly focus their work on the new challenges of integrating immigrants and maintaining social cohesion. Indeed, all participants agreed on the importance of small, flexible grants that can respond to needs and opportunities at the very local level, often in order to strengthen local groups that governments, philanthropy and larger aid organizations tend to overlook.

The session addressed particularly the importance of drawing on existing and new networks of partners to advance the work collectively, by seeking out unusual allies through convenings to support the inclusion of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants: support community festivals that celebrate the benefits and richness of diverse communities. An example was a film project whereby children from receiving communities interviewed children from migrant and refugee groups and tried to highlight the positive side of their experience, and ask what they were enjoying in their new lives.

Is immigration giving shape to a new culture of philanthropy? An alternative to some big charities which seem to be set up to keep themselves in business, rather than find solutions to the problems at hand?

Photo Credits: Getty Images

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