When People Need Help, 'Community' Philanthropy Knows No Borders
As Americans witness the atrocity of the Russian government’s illegal war on Ukraine, many of us feel frustrated, and even helpless. The forces at work are too large for us to imagine that we can affect them.
That changed for Berks County Community Foundation earlier this month, when our friends at the City University of New York Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society called with a request: They knew at least one American private foundation wanted to make a significant grant to Ednannia, the Ukrainian network of community foundations, but individuals who wanted to donate were daunted by the process of setting up an international wire transfer through the SWIFT system. Could a U.S. community foundation create a fund to support it?
Our answer, of course, was yes. Within 24 hours, we established the Fund for Ednannia and began accepting donations online.
Although Berks County Community Foundation is in southeastern Pennsylvania, we’ve had a long relationship with the community foundation movement in Eastern Europe. More than 20 years ago, I was honored to be selected as a German Marshall Foundation Transcontinental Fellow. I traveled to Russia for the first time in 2001 to work with the Togliatti Community Foundation, unaware that I’d return again and again over the coming years. I would come to meet fellow community philanthropy leaders in Ukraine as well, and I formed friendships in both countries that I cherish.
On this side of the Atlantic, the City University of New York (CUNY) annually hosts two groups of international fellows studying community philanthropy, many of them from Eastern Europe. Given our foundation's proximity to New York, those groups often visit Berks County for a day to see what life is like in a smaller American city.
During a visit in 2019 to Kyiv, I had a chance to meet with our Ukrainian colleagues from Ednannia, the Ukrainian network of community foundations, and the Ukrainian Philanthropists Forum (something akin to the Council on Foundations). We spent a few hours together, which was, for me, a master class in Ukrainian philanthropy. Not long after, one of our new friends also visited us in Berks County as part of a CUNY group.
When the crisis in Ukraine began last month, we gladly accepted the challenge of setting up a charitable fund to support Ednannia, with some encouragement and technical support from our friends at the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. Every dollar Ednannia receives from our fund is distributed directly to Ukrainian community foundations in towns and cities across their country to provide relief to Ukrainians affected by the war.
I’d like to think that setting up a fund to support our fellow community foundations and their communities is what any of us in the field would do if approached to help. We were just in a unique position to be asked.
Our hearts are broken for our colleagues in Ukraine and in Russia. All across the world, those of us who are focused on community philanthropy work to improve the quality of life in the regions that we serve – to strengthen schools, increase access to food and medicine, bring the arts to life, and more. That our colleagues are doing this work under crippling economic conditions, or worse, in a bomb shelter, is beyond our imaginations.
So we did what any community foundation would do: We stepped up to help. You can support the Fund for Ednannia here.