Community Knows No Boundaries

Peter Laugharn, Firelight Foundation Executive Director, recently spoke at the Council on Foundation’s Family Philanthropy Conference. Firelight began as a family foundation and remains rooted in the values of community. A glimpse into the discussion about global philanthropy, community, and what enables success at the grassroots level is below. BY: ANDREW HO. Originally posted at the Council on Foundations

Everyone in philanthropy likes to talk about giving to your community. For some family philanthropists at the Council’s Family Philanthropy Conference, the definition of community expands globally.

five boys laughing and smilingA group of globally minded family philanthropists gathered to hear from two colleagues who decided that “giving to your community” means pursuing high engagement approaches to giving in such far-flung places as sub-Saharan Africa, Cambodia, and Haiti. Peter Laugharn, executive director of the Firelight Foundation, and Elizabeth Alderman, a cofounder of the Peter C. Alderman Foundation, shared stories of the impact they’ve made with                                                 relatively modest funding over the past decade.

How did they succeed? They had some things in common:

Having support at the grassroots level. This was essential as was having national and community partners so that the work could continue after they left the country.

Recognizing the importance of building trust. The bulk of the work was done by folks within the community they were trying to serve, rather than outsiders who would have had greater difficulty building trust.

Creating opportunities for reflection and learning. Setting aside time and space (and funding) was crucial to ensuring that those who were doing the work (particularly the mental health work of the Peter C. Alderman Foundation) had time to gather and learn together, to build relationships, and to honor how far they’d come.

Both Laugharn and Alderman acknowledged they did not know what they were getting into when they decided to fund efforts outside the United States, but their naïveté contributed to their bravery. Little did they know how difficult things would be, but this lack of fear (and knowledge) helped them not to worry.

The Firelight and Alderman family foundations show that community is not just where your home is. Rather, it is the people you have a heart for, no matter where in the world they may be. For the Firelight Foundation, it is the children who can be saved from health problems. For the Peter C. Alderman Foundation, it is the common experience globally shared that honored Peter’s death—through healing the wounds of war. Philanthropy truly is a bridge that brings those far and near together in compassion and humanity.