Best Practices in Global Philanthropy

During my seven years working in eight countries across southern Africa with Africare, I know my efforts resulted in a new and empowered class of African development professionals working with international credentials today. Projects I managed produced the intended results; refugees were eventually repatriated with new income generating skills and a solid basic primary education. Farmers are still growing improved varieties of maize and orange, fleshy sweet potatoes and mothers have passed on new recipes to their daughters on how to make nutritiously enriched porridge using locally sourced products.

When I officially began my professional career working in international development in 1997, the common philosophy guiding me and my freshly hatched college graduate colleagues was how we were working with the goal of building local capacity as a way to “work ourselves out of a job.” Well, that is exactly what I did and now thirteen years, after making this pledge I have transitioned to embrace a new mission statement.

During the past five years of working with dozens of local nonprofits in Miami, I was interested in building on my lessons learned in Africa. These lessons, as the foundation, helped me to develop new solutions based on technology that did not exist a short ten years ago. The new technology has lead to opportunities to develop new social enterprises and a way to fund local solutions to local problems. The next wave of global philanthropy is self-inspired solutions to local problems, which require culturally competent, appropriate technology. While hopefully the giants of global philanthropy like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will remain active for a long time to come, this movement will further democratize global philanthropy by supporting hyper-local efforts. As donors and technical assistance consultants in the field, we must provide and fund that middle step between the project and the international donor to help ensure local solutions to project success, sustainability, and onward marketing.

Transitioning the skills, knowledge, and successes that I developed during community meetings under trees, in refugee camps and with Ambassadors and Heads of States to an equally exciting and rewarding career back in the United States has become an insightful journey in itself. I now work in Miami with community-based organizations and every day I find far more similarities to my work in Africa than I expected. While we worked hard to ensure accountability, sustainability, and results as the foundation of all of our development programs with Africare, these concepts are largely absent from the nonprofit and donor sectors in my new hometown. Funding tends to follow historic relationships and largely ignores deep community impact and social change. These sorts of projects would not have the luxury of continuing in Africa. Without demonstrated impact based on results, ongoing project funding would not be renewed.

Bringing this international development and global philanthropy perspective to U.S. based community development has been exciting. Just recently, I was discussing with the University of Miami the implementation of the community health worker model. It is based on the success of Project Medishare in Haiti and can be used for more effective outreach of school health initiatives in Miami. Best practices in global philanthropy can equally be applied as domestic solutions. Global after all does not mean just “them” - it means “us”, all of us.

Sharie A. Blanton is Managing Director of Conscious Connections LLC in Miami, Florida. She provides strategic advisory consulting to local and international nonprofits. Ms. Blanton holds degrees in Sociology and African Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. You can follow her and Conscious Connections on twitter @consciousmiami.

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