Formation and Governance

Global Philanthropists Circle (Synergos)



Case Study Sector


In Africa, Asia and Latin America, citizen participation through a range of civil society organizations has become a growing and vital force. Civil society organizations have brought significant material and human resources from the community level to bear on poverty problems through donations of time, energy, materials and money. Locally managed and controlled organizations that provide direct financial support to other organizations within their societies have been established over the last decade in many southern countries. Few of them were created with a single large endowment, as was the case with most northern private foundations. Most of them rely on a wide range of strategies to mobilize financial resources, including earned income contributions from individuals and corporations and grants from international organizations. Some managed donor-designated or donor-advised funds following the US community foundation experience.
To distinguish this type of southern foundationlike organization from northern foundations, the term "civil society resource organization," or CSRO, has been proposed. This term refers to organizations which combine financial assistance to community-based organizations and NGOs with other forms of support for organizations or the civil society sector as a whole.


In some ways, it is remarkable that these CSROs have survived at all. Not only were they new organizations, facing the usual difficulties of survival past the start-up phase, but as organizations formed to provide financial and other kinds of support to members of civil society, they also represented relatively new organizational forms, facing the added problems of creating meaningful identities and ways of organizing in their social contexts. Moreover, in seeking to create nationally based institutions to raise and disburse funds, the CSROs were going against the prevailing “financial tides” in their own regions. Economists note that there are often more financial resources flowing out of these regions than there are flowing in, and it is well understood that finances contributed for the development of their civil societies are usually controlled by international, rather than national, organizations.
This paper explores the reasons for their successful survival and growth by analyzing the processes through which the CSROs were created. Their formation experiences may be understood in terms of three main challenges facing most new organizations: 1) the self-organization of founders, or the processes by which people who share a common vision meet and decide to form an organization together; 2) the creation of a formal organization which is legally recognized and legitimate in the eyes of its key constituents, nationally and internationally; and 3) the mobilization of the resources necessary to start the work of the organization in supporting and financing civil society. The next section presents the findings from comparing the experiences of each case in responding to the three challenges. The paper concludes with an in-depth discussion of the key issues for the formation and governance of CSROs that emerge from these findings.



  • Africa
  • Asia
  • Latin America

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