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Generosity at the Grassroots

Generosity at the Grassroots

Laura Dunnagan*

By Inter-American Foundation on Comment

Community asset mobilization describes how the Inter-American Foundation (IAF) helps grantee partners identify, secure and access local or national resources to address the development needs of the communities they support. This approach extends and multiplies the benefits of IAF funding by enabling partners to fund small community organizations. The process empowers them to control their own development by defining and working towards their own goals and decreasing their dependence on outside funding. This increased self-reliance in turn fosters civic participation and encourages organizations to establish networks within and outside of their communities — a spirit of solidarity that was especially apparent in the response to the recent earthquakes that affected the states of Oaxaca, Puebla, Morelos and Estado de Mexico.

Since 2001, the IAF has provided an estimated 83 grants totaling over $24 million for community asset mobilization projects in 18 Latin American countries. The projects benefited 1,700 organizations and 765,000 people. IAF funding has been matched by grantees and other community partners to total over $70 million in additional support. 

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One grantee partner with which the IAF has successfully employed community asset mobilization is Fondo Acción Solidária, an environmentally focused social fund in Mexico that has been supported by the IAF since 2012. FASOL promotes a just, equitable and participatory society. The organization encourages sustainable development through conservation of natural, cultural and social assets.

FASOL provides financial and organizational support to grassroots organizations. The organization acts as a community resource and provides assets to a wider net of groups and organizations. FASOL executive director Artemisa Castro Felix notes that making these assets available encourages sustainable and responsible community-led development.

“For development to be truly sustainable in all senses, it has to come from decisions of the grassroots organizations in which the communities participate actively in decision-making,” says Castro. “The communities themselves know what they need and realize when they fall short.” 

FASOL has a network of mentors who work with its community partners. They conduct workshops across the country on topics ranging from protecting environmental rights to building strategic alliances and promoting philanthropy within communities themselves. Many of the participating communities are small grassroots organizations that are difficult for the IAF to reach and fund independently. By mobilizing resources through partnering social funds like FASOL, the IAF can help these small organizations identify local development needs and access much-needed assistance.

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“The projects we help are really small, but they set off explosive growth in local processes where the funding is really needed,” explained Castro. After the recent earthquake, FASOL supported a nascent grassroots organization in Ixtepec, Oaxaca, a town that suffered considerable damage. The group organized the community through the ancestral action of tequio, a way of “giving back," Mexican style. The families coordinated efforts to rebuild homes together, and the approach generated both capacity-building and development.

In addition to helping its local grantees mobilize thousands of dollars on their own, FASOL itself is supported by Mexican partners such as the Fundación Tichi Muñoz and the Fondo Mexicano para la Conservación de la Naturaleza.

One of FASOL’s objectives is to strengthen proactive community asset mobilization that enhances local ownership of development efforts. “FASOL looks for ways to build the capacity of the grassroots organizations so that they will be responsible for their own destiny instead of waiting for the government or another institution to continue providing funds,” says Castro.

Castro notes that a particularly promising byproduct of community ownership of the development process occurs when its grantee organizations start to create networks among themselves to address common problems — a grassroots mobilization of empowerment that Castro sees as a manifestation of community asset mobilization.

“For FASOL,” Castro concludes, “this is the real success.” 

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* Laura Dunnagan was a summer intern at the IAF. She attends Davidson College.

 Gabriela Boyer, the foundation representative for community asset mobilization in Mexico contributed to this article 

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