The Role of Community Foundations in Supporting Third-Sector Peacebuilding  in Post-Conflict Societies: Lessons from Northern Ireland

Gráinne Kelly, Emerging Leader, International Fellows Program ~ 2005



Gráinne Kelly explores the role that community foundations can play in supporting peacebuilding initiatives in regions emerging from violent conflict. Her discussion focuses on the example of Northern Ireland, a society struggling to come to terms with a thirty-year conflict that has caused underdevelopment, political instability, and social division.  She draws on lessons from other post-conflict regions, including South Africa and Israel, and considers the work of community foundations in the United States that address racial tensions.


Ms. Kelly identifies several key questions:


  • What challenges do community foundations face when working within divided societies?
  • How do community foundations ensure adequate accountability and transparency in post-conflict societies?
  • How do community foundations achieve adequate representation from all constituencies, many of whom have had antagonistic relationships?
  • How do community foundations balance long-term needs, while addressing the immediate, often urgent, situations that are likely to erupt as a region moves from conflict to peace?


Employing the characteristics developed by the Worldwide Initiative of Grantmakers (WINGS) to identify community foundations, Ms. Kelly concludes that the value of a community foundation lies in its ability to bring people together. Having identified the challenges that community-based foundations may face, Ms. Kelly moves on to consider the many benefits that such a structure can bring to a community emerging from conflicts.  They are:


  • Identifying, articulating, and addressing pressing needs and creating a safe space in which conversations on sensitive or controversial topics can take place;
  • Providing a mechanism through which to convene and consult with communities—including the marginalized and socially excluded—on issues that affect them;
  • Encouraging local leadership’s participation on boards and advisory groups;
  • Leveraging resources to support the development of the Third Sector through grant- and non-grantmaking activities;
  • Encouraging and building on local philanthropic practices;
  • Add value to a donor’s distributions through the foundation’s knowledge of community, research capabilities, and staff expertise;
  • Bringing different groups (business, government, and voluntary) together in new and creative ways; and
  • Heightening community identity and responsibility.   



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