Don’t Fence Me In

If it’s Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, it must be Egypt here on DPQ. Back with more from Molly Schultz Hafid, whose 2009 piece on social-justice philanthropy has gotten some nice exposure on PhilanTopic, the Foundation Center’s blog. Here’s more from my interview with Molly on what foundation folk outside of Egypt can do to support the movement for democracy.

It’s important for those of us who support democracy to support open and pluralistic values. There are a lot of configurations of what it could look like; to use our simple US labels of young, establishment, religious, etc. – it’ll be more complicated than that. If we’re not of Egypt, the best thing we can do is to support the development of an open space for the organizing of an agenda to happen – hopefully a social justice one. If we do too many shortcuts, we’ll get something that preserves too much of what people were protesting.

As people in philanthropy, we should be talking about and thinking about how to distribute resources in what in the US we’d call a nonpartisan way. It’s going to look different than the nonprofit infrastructure in the US, or the political party infrastructure – there may be hybrids. We need that opening up and that space – for people to try different things, and to try corrective action. If we commit to something too quickly…there has to be room to make adjustments.

[One of the key points Molly makes in her paper is that the NGO sector in Egypt faces a lot of obstacles, including a lack of public legitimacy.]

The one caveat to this, which is very important, is that the aid infrastructure and the US support have used a civil society framework – there’s a lot of mistrust of that framework in Egypt…. I think we have to be careful about what we call the youth movement. Billions and billions of dollars have been poured into Egypt to build “civil society,” and most of it ended up in Mubarak’s pocket. If people reading your blog are wanting to reach out, don’t worry if people flinch when they say “civil society.”

So much of what’s challenging about wanting to help Egyptian youth capitalize on this movement is concern about how such outside support will be viewed. Molly’s sage advice about the difficulty of applying the labels we’re used to in US political discourse is well-taken. But as the heartwarming and amusing story about an Egyptian ordering pizza for the protesters in Wisconsin reminds us, along with Molly’s final comment, the prospect of solidarity across borders is encouraging.

Thanks again Molly for sharing your insights!

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