Good Golly Miss Molly, what’s that you say donors outside Egypt can do to help?

Sorry, with my shtick of using song titles for blog post titles, this one was too easy, I couldn’t pass it up….

Continuing from yesterday on Egypt, transitions, and philanthropy.

I had the pleasure of reconnecting with Molly Schultz Hafid, who recently spent time in Egypt as part of a research fellowship. Her project was on social-justice philanthropy in Egypt, a very timely topic given the recent uprising. Check out her paper here, well worth a read.

In the paper, Molly zeroes in on some of the key opportunities and challenges for the development of social-justice philanthropy in Egypt. On the plus side, there’s a long-standing history of charitable giving in Islam: zakat or tithing is one of the pillars of that faith. In addition to that obligatory giving, there’s also sadaqa, voluntary gifts. And finally there’s waqf, a venerable tradition of individuals setting up charitable endowments – never mind a tax deduction, this was all about having an ongoing means of performing sadaqa and zakat.

On the challenge side of the equation, the legal and political structure for philanthropy and nonprofits in Egypt was very challenging under Mubarak. Crucially, all fundraising appeals to domestic donors had to be approved by the Ministry of Social Solidarity, which predictably could take forever. This hampered the ability of local NGOs to raise funds from local sources. Foreign funding became paramount, which makes growth and sustainability a challenge, particularly given the fickle nature of much international-development funding.

I won’t recap the whole thing; again, well worth a read. In our conversation, Molly highlighted one thing funders outside Egypt can do to help the emerging democratic movement: create a space for young people in Egypt to learn from the rich history of community organizing in other parts of the world. Here’s Molly:

“The basic concept of how you organize people, how you create and sustain leadership, how you make sure it’s accountable to community, how you have a constructive relationship between organized masses and the infrastructure of the state – those are issues that have been dealt with all over the world, there’s a space to share ideas about what forms will allow Egyptians to get their demands met…. I believe civil society organizations have an enormous role to support in those sharing of lessons learned….how you move from protest to organizing for social change, which are really two different parts of social change. Being in the streets is one piece, getting organized is another, and ultimately when representatives are in power, what’s the relationship between those in power and those in the street.”

Funders abroad can leverage technology and social media to create a space where that sharing of lessons learned can happen. The concept of a “leaderless” movement is a problematic one, and will become more so as negotiations with the security forces advance (as hopefully they will). The regime will need interlocutors, and who steps forward and claims legitimacy and representation is a crucial transitional moment. Here’s Molly on what’s most crucial from a philanthropic perspective in the current moment:

“Anything that can immediately allow Egyptian youth that decide that they want to organize to receive resources and to raise money from others to support their work. There are probably twenty sub-bullets under that, but that’s the crux of it.”

Intellectual capital is a key part of these resources, but if as part of legal and constitutional reform, restrictions on local fundraising can be lifted, that’ll go a long way toward helping build and strengthen the local NGO infrastructure.

Thanks to Molly for taking the time to talk and for sharing her insights!


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One Response to “Good Golly Miss Molly, what’s that you say donors outside Egypt can do to help?”

  1. The Blog Briefly Known as "Democratizing Philanthropy?" » Blog Archive » Leader of the Pack? Says:

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