Traditional ‘vertical’ philanthropy ? giving by individuals and through foundations, government and organisations ? can have a transformative impact on society. Much can also be achieved through ‘horizontal’ philanthropy, which allows communities to empower themselves. Despite the introduction of free primary healthcare, no-fee paying schools, grants and some basic services, there has been limited success in addressing poverty levels in South Africa. More than half of our population still lives in poverty, according to Statistics South Africa and the Poverty Trends Report for 2006 to 2015.

Growing local philanthropic giving

At Inyathelo, a core aspect of our work has been to grow local philanthropic giving in support of a more robust and sustainable civil society. Philanthropists play a key role in helping develop solutions to social problems, and we have worked hard to promote and profile local giving.

This has involved dialogue, information-sharing and providing support services. For 10 years until 2016, we also held an annual Philanthropy Awards event to recognise outstanding individuals, families and organisations that have improved others’ lives. This has evolved into the Philanthropy Forum, where we examine the impact of philanthropy and discuss the intersection of traditional and new trends in giving.

A fairly traditional approach is considered ‘vertical’ philanthropy. In Horizontal Philanthropy – A right angle on community philanthropy, authors Susan Wilkinson-Maposa and Alan Fowler discuss how one tends to view a philanthropist as one “at the top of a vertical relationship where richer give to poorer”, i.e. vertical philanthropy.

However, they remind us that there is, equally, a widespread tradition of under-resourced people helping others who also face tough conditions ‒ what they refer to as horizontal philanthropy. They define this as “a process in which people who are poor mobilise and share resources among themselves. Its transactions provide types of mutual support, but can also act as investment to improve conditions and future prospects.”

Addressing challenging social conditions

The Community Development Foundation Western Cape (CDF WCape) works alongside communities in high risk areas such as Delft, Hanover Park, Mitchells Plain and others. Here there is rising unemployment (especially among the youth) linked to declining incomes, growing social tension and crime. Communities are physically captured as a result of drug trading and gang violence.

CDF WCape’s mission is to improve the quality of life, strengthen the common good and address challenging social conditions. Our approach can be summed up as: If you want to strengthen a community, then grow hope. This is the feeling or belief of an individual or a community that, through their own efforts and with the support and encouragement of others, a situation can change for the better and their future can become brighter.

This sounds all very well, but how do we contribute to making it a reality?

While CDF WCape works in areas such as micro enterprise development, food security and women empowerment, we have found that one can help communities find their own answers and solutions simply through listening – by bearing witness to their struggles and actions. It is vital to take time to chat and have a cup of tea, and to be visible on the ground so that people feel free to approach you and come to your office. Pause more: give space and time, work to the community’s own rhythm.

A practical measure is to provide a transport stipend, which enables access to networking, training and meetings, and allows community members to raise their diverse voices in these spaces.

When people talk, they discover they have the solutions themselves – the answers lie within the community. While CDF WCape plays an oversight role in helping people to see and exercise their power, it is the community that takes responsibility for the agenda and preferred outcomes.

What brings people together is a concern for what divides them: Fear, racial tension, power struggles, gangsters in charge, domestic and sexual violence, mistrust, prejudice, corruption and more. Subjects that can unite them include sport, working for a cleaner environment, neighbourhood watches, silent protests, hope and faith.

In the face of endless adversity, community activities can be a source of trust, resilience and comfort. All communities have issues that can be addressed collectively through citizen engagement versus individuals acting alone.

Missing link is power

To ignite hope, we work to develop assets, strengthen capacities and build trust. We have come to realise that the missing link is power and the ability to create change. We can bring people together to raise local issues, creating spaces and platforms to address them. We can facilitate the community capacity to hold duty bearers to account, and use convening and coordinating to stimulate the community spirit of giving and self-help.

We have hope, and will continue working to create hope in the communities where we work. We also need to better understand this subject of horizontal philanthropy, and Inyathelo, together with CDF WCape, will be exploring it further, inquiring how it can contribute to more resilient organisations and individuals working outside the classic donor or funding models.

We urge the government to intensify its efforts to realise the promises made in our Constitution. We also acknowledge the contributions of many corporate foundations, philanthropists, non-profit and social justice organisations, to broaden access to, and improve, basic services.

We also applaud the faceless citizens who ignite hope and help to create safer and more resilient communities, despite having marginal social status and minimal resources. In doing so, they honour those whose sacrifices helped deliver democracy and the opportunity for a better society.