Routes to peaceful development: Community philanthropy

17 Dec 2019

This article was published by


For Philanthropy and social investment worldwide magazine

Vol 24 Number 2, June 2019
written by Kamala Chandrakirana is chair of the board for Indonesia untuk Kemanusiaan

Striking deep roots across the nation

Indonesia has seldom been free of armed conflict: secessionist, interreligious, natural resource conflicts, violent extremism. Many are left unresolved and even unrecognised, spanning decades, some have seen peace agreements signed and forgotten, but even with peace, much remains to be accounted for. When there is impunity for gross human rights violations and perpetrators are not only free but in power, for whom is this ‘peace’?

Under these circumstances, it is crucial that peace is built from the ground up. Peace-building in Indonesia is as dispersed across the archipelago as the conflicts it attempts to resolve. It functions unseen in the daily lives of local communities, not just in the national limelight where fragile political settlements are made. It is waged in all fields of life, including in the privacy of homes, as family violence is inextricably linked to protracted conflicts and post-conflict trauma. It engages communities from all of Indonesia’s diverse religious, ethnic and political identities, as all struggle daily to navigate a divided society. It encompasses community empowerment, inter-generational dialogue and structural change, as long-standing systemic discrimination underlies most of these conflicts. This kind of peace-building does not end with official declarations of peace. Its capacity to sustain itself is a crucial source of strength and credibility.

We believe that community philanthropy is the best way to ensure this kind of grounded and transformative peace-building. Being embedded in the divided communities that it serves, community philanthropy builds on the ownership and leadership of its constituencies and is invested in its own responsiveness and accountability to the hard work of peace-building.

With the long legacy of conflicts, our grantmaking prioritises victims’ rights. It advances their social, economic and cultural rights and makes development more inclusive. We grow our relationship with victim communities through participation in a coalition working towards truth, justice and reparations for past violations. Our grantmaking strengthens work at the community level and links it to national advocacy platforms. As a result, victims of atrocities half a century ago – now elderly – are getting better access to needed public services. Women survivors of conflict are in stronger bargaining positions with the family, community and local government. Village communities, long stigmatised because of their proximity to sites of political violence, are starting to receive development projects. Voices silenced by political repression are now shaping inter-generational dialogue in cultural spaces and compelling the young to remember and continue the struggle for truth and justice.

When an earthquake-cum-tsunami recently hit Central Sulawesi, the site of inter-religious conflict and violent extremism, we initiated a special fund that integrated community resilience and conflict prevention into post-disaster reconstruction. After understanding the needs of our key partners, we set out to build an infrastructure of support that goes beyond funding. We brought in activists and community organisers from other parts of the archipelago who have had to face natural disasters themselves, including in post-conflict areas, to gain from their experience and insights. We initiated collaboration with activist-experts on social change to ensure that, alongside the community work, we also develop a collective learning process and build knowledge on conflict transformation in diverse contexts.

Our principal asset is our deep network that has been built over two decades and is continuing to grow through our active engagement in Indonesia’s vibrant social movements. As an activist fund set up in 1995 to support pro-democracy activism under an authoritarian regime, we were born into the peace-building movement. Our four thematic funds – on gross violations, violence against women, cultural movements for diversity, and ecological justice – are managed with leading civil society organisations and networks in the field. This ensures our reach into all corners of the archipelago, strengthens the quality of our engagement, and helps the local initiatives we support to resonate in the struggles of broader national movements. Trust is our most valued capital and its successful preservation, we believe, places us securely as part of our country’s social capital.

Being an integral part of social movements has its downside, however. We share with our partners and grantees the fragility of civil society. We are far from the mainstream, often misunderstood and stigmatised. There is even less understanding of community philanthropy and organisations like ours that want to build a reliable infrastructure for it. Our funding from domestic sources is limited and precarious, and we have no core support. While Indonesia’s giving culture is strong, it is directed mainly at religious causes, welfare needs and emergency aid, not toward peace and human rights. The 2018 Doing Good Index ranked Indonesia the lowest, with Myanmar, among 15 Asian countries in having a conducive landscape for philanthropic giving.

Despite the challenges, we remain confident about our future because we meet a need. We have found strength, through the Foundations for Peace network, in the company of similar activist funders facing parallel predicaments. Together we create new spaces, share good practice and build our collective voice.

The international community of philanthropists has a role to play in supporting community-centred activist funders addressing the world’s most complex problems from the ground up.

When there is impunity for gross human rights violations and perpetrators are not only free but in power, for whom is this ‘peace’?