Fondo Region Colonia (Uruguay)
From the bottom-up
It all began with an initiative that aimed to strengthen the activities of local civil society organizations around Colonia, Uruguay. A group of community leaders, from an array of grassroots organizations, gathered to discuss how this could best be achieved. The result was the creation of an informal network of “Social Boards”, which addressed various topics of community importance (healthcare, education, culture, youth, etc.), and which allowed individuals and organizations working on similar themes to come together and coordinate their work better. The Social Boards also began communicating regularly with local government about community concerns and priorities, building a common vision for what they wanted their Colonia to look like.
As the work of the Social Boards progressed, community leaders involved agreed that they were missing two ingredients: a more formal mechanism for tying the various strands of work together, and a platform for raising local funds to sustain local efforts. And this was how the Fondo Región Colonia, Uruguay’s first community philanthropy organization, came to be in September 2007: a natural impulse that grew from the bottom-up and that was truly rooted in the community.
And while the Fondo Región Colonia has advanced and grown stronger in many respects in nearly a decade, it has always stayed committed to its original intention of strengthening the capacities of the civil society organizations in its community, as these are the actors who: are often off the radars of larger funders but understand community hopes and needs best; and, will be there in the long-term to see them realized. Beyond the money involved, Fondo Región Colonia has also learned that providing knowledge, networks and training to local civil society organizations is often more important than the grant amount itself. In fact, the use of small grants has allowed the organization to stay as close to grassroots actors as possible – for this is where the real change happens.