“I’m writing my story so that people might see fragments of themselves”- Lena Waithe.
Imagine stumbling on an inspiring story on Facebook on a development project carried out in your community by members of your community. Imagine you giving for that cause because of the story you have just read.
That is the power of what a compelling story can do.
Local philanthropy and localisation have become a central theme in contemporary thought within the development space in the global south, especially Africa. The need for African communities to mobilise resources locally to drive development by Africans for Africa has become more relevant than ever before. This initiative came about due to the wavering and unequal relationship between international donors in the global north and civil society organisations (CSOs) in the Global South. Its severe impacts were felt with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, leaving CSOs in the global south almost Fund-Starved. It has become generic for CSOs to look within and develop local fundraising strategies to carry out development projects within their respective communities and self-sustain themselves. It has now become a question of “How”.
How can CSOs adapt to these changing funding dynamics? From the just concluded virtual conference on local philanthropy and localisation, especially day 2 of the conference, I was amazed at how much Africans are doing and even more astonished by the inspiring stories told by the panellist on how they locally mobilised resources. The urgency for civil societies to leverage the art of storytelling to push local philanthropy ahead should not be overemphasised. Stories play an important role in our African context. Some African folk tales that have been told from time immemorial have contributed to laying the foundation of some rudimental practices in society. CSOs have the opportunity and responsibility to seize power and determine the destiny of the African development space through sharing stories of their experience
Stories give accountability and authenticity to the work of your organisation and attract community donors and supporters. There are several ways that organisations can prove their accountability and authenticity. Stories are proof or evidence of how you are impacting lives of individuals connected to your organisation.
“People are willing to give and will give even more especially in kind if they are assured of accountability and their donation’s impact,” Lamnatu Adam, Executive Director at Songtaba said during the conference.
That is how Purposeful Foundation in Sierra Leone, through the Survivors Solidarity Fund, raised $100,000 within six weeks between May and June 2020. The funds sought to conquer the rape culture in Sierra Leone because they maintained transparent communication with the public about their donation’s impact.
One major challenge CSOs face in the global south is that they pay direct all the resources they have towards getting funding mostly from international donors and implementing projects than telling stories of the impact these projects have on the primary beneficiaries — the community. From all the inspiring stories shared at the conference, it is safe to say that African communities have gone past wishful thinking and are taking the bull by the horns in effecting the change they want in their local constituents. For example, Prof Theophilus Omale created the We can Clean Up Our Town Foundation, Nigeria”, addressed the environmental pollution in the community by using his salary to mobilise resources and youths in his community to clean up the town. People are willing to give for a positive cause if they can see their donation’s impact. They can only see this impact through the stories you tell. He said that he told his stories through Facebook live sessions during all sanitation campaigns in the community. With this singular and strategic act, he touched a wider network that attracted members of his community in the diaspora to give towards this cause. Technology has put the world at our fingertips. Your next big donor is a story away. Creating and using social media (and online) platforms as a medium to tell your stories goes a long way.
Another reason CSOs should tell their stories is that stories inspire people to act. Listening to Josephine Kamara from Purposeful, Sierra Leone speak with enthusiasm and passion about the Survivor Solidarity Fund struck me.
“Telling our stories of how we survived rape and the difficulties we faced through our journey inspired even more Sierra Leonians both home and, in the diaspora, to give towards this initiative,” she said.
Even before she was done talking, some of the participants attending the conference started asking for the account details to make their donations. This is what storytelling a compelling story can do. There is a popular saying that experience is the best teacher. Stories prove that local philanthropy works and can also serve as a learning and research tool for CSOs to emulate in community philanthropy initiatives. Civil society organizations should not only be seen as beneficiary institutions but as Hubs of knowledge creation, sharing and learning.
To conclude, I will draw inspiration from a comment Prof Theophilus made that “community members in Africa can successfully co-create, own and drive their own development initiatives through local giving without necessarily waiting for government or foreign donors”. To add to this Lamnatu Adam of Songtaba said “Communities are Resourceful”. I would like to reiterate that these are not mere theories. These are real lessons these organisations learned in mobilising resources locally to drive community-based development. Tell stories about the impact your organisation is making. Your story is unique, your story is relevant, your story is your identity, it is the window through which the world sees you. Tell your story because people can see fragments of themselves in them. Remember, we can drive and sustain community philanthropy initiatives by sharing our inspiring stories.
By: Atiabet Lizette, Capacity Development intern, WACSI