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Traditionally, philanthropy has generally been defined as the act of giving large sums of money to charitable causes, or participating in fundraising activities. Through the years, however, philanthropy has changed as various models have succeeded or failed. Today, philanthropists are just as likely to create their own foundation as write a check and they are just as likely to give their expertise as their money.

Philanthropy is also changing on the outgoing end as well. Previous charitable models have often done far more to create dependency than self-sufficiency, which just leads to the need for more aid. In addition, when outsiders bring their money in, they often bring outside agendas as well, particularly when there is either a religious or commercial component. This has given rise to a new type of philanthropy known as community philanthropy.

Attempts to solve the water crisis in Africa offers a perfect example of why traditional charitable models don’t work. Early attempts to solve the crisis involved charitable organizations simply raising money to build a well in a village or community and building it. Initially, this cut down significantly on the amount of time it took each day for women and children to gather water, which theoretically should have given them more time to improve their conditions or get an education.

The problem is that whoever builds the well owns the well and whoever owns it is responsible for its care and maintenance. Eventually, the wells would break down because they were not being cared for or maintained because no one owned them. Eventually, organizations began to offer low-interest loans to build the well instead. This forced the community to come together to form a plan as to how to pay for the loan. The well itself became a source of income, which in turn provided both motivation and funding to maintain the well.

Once the loan is paid back, it also creates funding for another community to take out a loan to build a well. This means the same initial investment of dollars can create dozens of wells rather than a single well, all of which are cared for and maintained on an ongoing basis because they were bought and paid for by the community. Traditional philanthropy creates a black hole of never-ending need. Community philanthropy instead helps communities help themselves to pull themselves out of poverty.