In a small bayside town in the Philippines, a consortium of philanthropy collaborators is getting behind fourth-generation fishers to break old power dynamics and practice new ways of partnership.
The tuyuan is Eliza’s lifeline. In Capunitan, a small bayside town in the Philippines, the tuyuan is a fish-drying facility. It makes it possible for Eliza to earn a living fishing. But what Eliza likes most about the tuyuan is the camaraderie it provides.
Eliza is a member of the Capunitan Fisherfolk Association. About 100 members strong, Eliza and many others in the Fisherfolk Association have roots in fishing that extend three to four generations. They’ve also had their land and rights challenged, suffered effects of climate-related crises, and often struggled to meet their families’ basic needs. Through the Fisherfolk Association, nobody faces these challenges alone.
Today, the Fisherfolk Association only has one boat that is used for fishing or renting to others. Another boat would bring more income and opportunities for Fisherfolk Association members over the long term. They agree: This is where investment is needed now.
In the Philippines, this kind of community solidarity is called bayanihan.
Imagine what would happen if this is where all aid and philanthropy initiatives started—by centering a person, a family, a community, and strengthening the assets already there, the solutions already agreed upon?
Innovative work in the Philippines, with support from USAID’s Local Works initiative, is doing just that.
A consortium of five organisations—including Center for Disaster Preparedness, Philippines, GlobalGiving, Global Fund for Community Foundations, and the Nonprofit Finance Fund with backing from USAID—have been working together to design, test, and learn how to better support community-led change through aid funding and philanthropy in all its forms. The initiative is called the Assets, Agency & Trust Program, because these three concepts, when centred on communities, can accelerate community-led change.
Ecosystem change is necessary
For the majority of Global North actors in international development, aid, and philanthropy today, policies, practices, mindsets and beliefs are limiting the possibility of truly getting behind communities like Eliza’s. Since the system was borne out of colonialism, many argue that aid perpetuates colonial hallmarks—power holding, control, othering, racism.
The COVID-19 pandemic and world events such as the Black Lives Matter movement energised the sector to change, to redress structural power imbalances that are not only unethical, but also hinder the actual work and goals of communities. GlobalGiving has been calling for aid and philanthropy transformation since its founding in 2002. Decades later, our research drawing on experiences of community leaders tells us that systems, structures, mindsets and belief that centre assets, agency and trust with, between and within communities, will always be more contextually appropriate, impactful, and durable.
How can development, philanthropy and aid really change? How can we ensure Eliza and her community always have the agency to decide what they need and the resources to achieve it? How can we learn from communities to better facilitate billions of dollars in aid?
Changing aid and philanthropy won’t work in silos. It won’t work if only one part of the ecosystem changes. It needs partnership and collaboration.
It requires centering relationships and equity. It will mean many hearts, minds, and practice change. It will require bold new ways of working. It needs experimentation, conversation, and failing forward. Each effort to move in this direction, woven with many others, will nudge the system towards changes that share power and resources.
Centering relationships and equity in practice
Assets, Agency & Trust, as a collaborative partnership initiative, takes inspiration from community philanthropy. We believe it is a more durable form of development that elevates community-led resource mobilisation in which people are in control of priorities, resources, and decisions affecting them. These approaches can take the form of self-help groups, cooperatives, social enterprises, crowdfunding, participatory grantmaking—to name a few. These efforts already exist within communities—as the concept of bayanihan in the Philippines illustrates. When aid and philanthropy is connected to these existing efforts, community-led change is enabled.
The collaborative work of Assets, Agency & Trust aims to address different levels of the system and support practical change. We grounded our work in three interconnected strategies that sought to reinvent the broken dynamics of aid and philanthropy to centre communities.
The first is a learning mindset. We:
- Started with understanding the context, honoured local knowledge, and centred our national anchor partner, Center for Disaster Preparedness, Philippines.
- Reserved time to ‘pause and reflect’, and iterate and learn in motion.
- Discussed power dynamics within our partnerships and had brave conversations to unpack and adjust.
The second is sustainable, community-led practices. We:
- Built a flexible and responsive grantmaking program, Abot-Kamay Community Solidarity Fund.
- Reimagined vetting and risk management.
- Coupled giving funds with learning through collective sensemaking and action, such as developing new outlooks on financial sustainability and recognising and strengthening non-financial assets.
- Contributed to greater community assets mobilisation and positioned community leaders to tell their own stories of value.
The third is collective advocacy. We:
- Facilitated collective sensemaking and action.
- Supported knowledge exchange between organisations to build trust, solidarity, and shared learning.
- Convened global and regional actors to challenge the dominant aid system and offer practical alternatives.
Through collective efforts, collaborative partnership, and expectation re-setting, a transformed aid and philanthropy space is not only possible, it is happening.
The Assets, Agency & Trust team looks forward to sharing more insights and inspirations from our journey with you in the GlobalGiving Learn Library in coming weeks and months.
Read more community stories and learnings from the Assets, Agency & Trust Program.
Featured Photo: A fish-drying facility run by the Capunitan Fisherfolk Association. Photo shared by Center for Disaster Preparedness, Philippines
Note: The work delivered through Assets, Agency & Trust, is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this post are the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.