Page 1

A Decade of Partnership

NATIONAL VOLUNTEER & PHILANTHROPY CENTRE, SINGAPORE is an independent, not-for-profit organisation in Singapore. As Singapore’s leading connector of volunteers and donors with the non-profit sector, NVPC is an advocate of “giving well” and aims to build engaged and compassionate communities for all in Singapore. NVPC conducts key research on the giving landscape in Singapore and hosts the biennial Philanthropy in Asia conference, bringing non-profits, companies, and public sector bodies to facilitate and strengthen giving, whether of time, money or in-kind. NVPC also develops capacity, leadership and professionalism in the sector through training in various aspects of volunteerism and philanthropy. MODELS OF PHILANTHROPY SERIES The Models of Philanthropy Series by NVPC is a series that explores giving journeys of varying sizes, missions and strategies. By highlighting best practices in institutional and individual giving in Asia, this series shares lessons learnt during the grant-making process, and, most importantly, seeks to inspire readers to begin and enrich their journeys of giving.

COMO FOUNDATION: A DECADE OF PARTNERSHIP is reprinted with permission from the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre, Singapore. This monograph is the first of a series exploring various models of philanthropy in Asia.

Download this monograph from

TABLE OF CONTENTS 2 Foreword 4 Welcome

6 Executive Summary 8 The COMO Foundation Story

18 Partnering for a Difference 26 Looking Ahead

FOREWORD Through her businesses and philanthropy, my friend Christina Ong has been manifesting the dreams of women and girls all over the world. At Club 21, she dresses women for careers with confidence; at COMO Hotels and Resorts, she creates precious memories. At COMO Foundation, she empowers organisations supporting women and girls in the areas of greatest need. As a friend, Christina represents all that I hold dear — we share a deep commitment to equality of opportunity for women and girls. She is the heart and soul of the Foundation, truly caring and understanding. Like the entrepreneur she is, she also puts her heart into action. COMO Foundation’s work is evidence of this passion, and I wish her and the Foundation the very best for the decade ahead.

Donna Karan



WELCOME Over the last decade, I have had the privilege of working with some of the most compassionate, creative and driven individuals I have ever met. Through them and their teams, COMO Foundation has been able to support education, skill development and income generation programmes for under-served women and girls in 16 countries. On the occasion of our tenth anniversary, we are pleased to partner with the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre, Singapore (NVPC), to chart the evolution of our work. This monograph, the first in NVPC’s series on different models of philanthropy, reflects upon how the Foundation moved from traditional programmatic funding to investing in organisations and the individuals who lead them. Each has a different personal story, but they all share a common passion to address gender inequality and to help some of the world’s most vulnerable women and girls. The men and women of our partner organisations are inspirational. They each believe in a goal beyond their own immediate satisfaction, and have dedicated themselves toward shaping a better future for those in need. The story of the Foundation is the narrative of how their honest and strategic feedback has shaped our philanthropic agenda for the better. I would like to thank the team at NVPC, in particular Ms. Patsian Low and Ms. Ayushi Agnihotri, for their enthusiastic support in developing this monograph and series. We are delighted to have the opportunity to share our journey with you.

Mrs Christina Ong Founder, COMO Foundation



EXECUTIVE SUMMARY COMO Foundation was set up in 2003 at the behest of Mrs Christina Ong, founder of luxury fashion retailer Club 21 ( and COMO Hotels and Resorts ( Established to support organisations addressing gender inequality, the Foundation’s work has focused on education, sustainable livelihoods and income generation for vulnerable women and girls.

Over the past ten years, COMO Foundation has evolved to encourage great ideas led by committed people working with the communities they wish to impact. Its philanthropic support has evolved from specific project funding to overall investment in its partners. Its portfolio has also embraced diversity in the types of organisations that can deliver this mission in step with the changing social landscape. This evolution was inspired by continued engagement and feedback from its partners. Today, the Foundation’s philanthropic agenda is driven by its commitment to make promising organisations more effective. In helping these organisations scale up successful projects and by supporting strategic planning activities to ensure sustained growth and development, the Foundation now addresses a very important gap in the philanthropy landscape — where funding typically is earmarked for programmatic work, the Foundation supports organisational development. Currently, the Foundation partners with organisations working to address gender inequality in four ways:

1. Core Support, to help promising organisations grow by establishing sound organisational frameworks. 2. Institutional Strengthening, to invest in partners’ capacity for strategic growth, improving efficiency, productivity and impact for organisations. 3. Scaling Of Successful Pilots through Proof of Concept stages, with a view of collecting solid bodies of data and evidence. 4. Planning, to enable partners to develop viable business strategies for growth, programme evolution and financial sustainability. The Foundation’s partner management practices are unique and offer lessons for other grant-makers keen to achieve impact with their giving. The Foundation pays immense attention to the needs of its partners and responds swiftly to ensure that these needs are met. This diligent assessment of needs and quick response is enabled by an extensive partner engagement process that begins well before the decision on the grant is made. The Foundation works with potential partners to develop clear sustainability plans that consider their ambitions, needs, risks and challenges. This exercise not only helps the Foundation understand the partner organisation as a whole, but often highlights the partner’s most pressing needs.



Requests for assistance are often transformed by this process, as partners gain the confidence to ask for assistance where they most need help, rather than where they think they are likely to get funding. This consultative approach demands an investment of time and resources, but is justified by the Foundation’s expectations of its grantees as co-owners of the social impact they hope to enable. The Foundation posits that maximum value can be created when both funder and grantee are open and willing to respond to the other’s interests. The strength of such collaboration is built through alliance drivers such as alignment of strategy, mission and values, building personal connections and relationships, ensuring shared visioning and focusing on continued learning. Attention from both sides, open and sincere communication, dedicated organisation systems and clearly articulated mutual expectations and accountability are vital to each relationship’s success. By adopting these practices, the Foundation enables its partners to achieve maximum impact. As it continues its giving journey, the Foundation intends to keenly observe future developments in the field of philanthropic giving and to respond in a timely and diligent manner so as to uphold the intent and mission of its founder, Mrs Christina Ong.




COMO Foundation was founded in 2003 by Mrs Christina Ong, founder of luxury fashion retailer Club 21 ( and COMO Hotels and Resorts ( The Foundation supports non-profit organisations working directly in development, education and healthcare for women and girls. Targeting women and girls has long been received as one of the most impactful ways to catalyse enduring change for families and societies. In particular, the Foundation encourages fresh approaches to closing the income and opportunity gap for women and girls with significant unmet needs, with a view of strengthening societies as a whole. The Foundation partners with organisations working with women and girls to: • Increase access to knowledge, information and education, both formal and functional • Encourage income generation and social enterprise • Address the “bottom of pyramid penalty”, in which under-served communities tend to pay more for basic goods and services While the Foundation benefits from its association with Club 21 and COMO Hotels and Resorts, its funding and philanthropy is distinct from the corporate social responsibility programmes of the for-profit businesses. Indeed, the Foundation maintains a general rule-of-thumb that it does not make grants in locations in which the businesses are operating. In these locales, the businesses fund their own community investment initiatives, while the Foundation provides significant advice and logistical support. EVOLUTION OF COMO FOUNDATION Since 2003, the Foundation has evolved tremendously, while keeping its focus on women and girls in the developing world. Continuous feedback from partner organisations, coupled with a commitment to growing its impact, has contributed to the significant shifts in its philanthropic agenda over the years. The key areas of evolution for the Foundation are as follows:

1. Moving from project-specific funding to supporting the whole organisation: As with most philanthropic giving, the Foundation initially sought, evaluated and funded specific projects with tangible outcomes. Pre-funding interactions with their partners, however, revealed that many small non-profit organisations were unable to invest in strategy, growth and planning for sustainability. Many funders were simply unwilling to support these activities. Hence, the Foundation has increasingly funded the core and strategic needs of an organisation rather than specific projects. The Foundation feels that this was, and continues to remain, one of the most under-served needs in the social development sector.



2. Shifting focus from product-based income generation to innovative, high-potential and impactful ideas: With the opportunities for market linkages offered by its sister companies Club 21 and COMO Hotels and Resorts, the Foundation initially provided some grants to craft-based artisan organisations to support income generation and stability. In this area, the Foundation’s grants to support artisan education and product development were significant. On balance, however, the Foundation assessed that its funding could achieve greater impact if it selected grantees on the potential of their ideas and theories of change rather than on the marketability of their craft. It then revised its assessment criteria to prioritise innovative ideas led by great leaders with the potential to address gender inequality creatively and effectively.

3. Embracing the diversity of avenues through which these ideas may be implemented: The Foundation initially supported non-governmental organisations, grassroots groups and registered charities. In response to the changing landscape of social development, the Foundation began supporting other vehicles of social change, such as social enterprises and network organisations.

A unique benefit for employees of the COMO Foundation’s sister companies Club 21 and COMO Hotels and Resorts is the opportunity to visit a COMO Foundation partner under the COMO Foundation Ambassador Programme. This programme also allows partners to take advantage of the diverse skillsets on offer from over 9,000 employees within the COMO Group.

AMBASSADOR STORY Pamela Balce, Regional Director of Sales, COMO Hotels and Resorts, visited World Wildlife Fund (Laos) in July 2013.

I am the Regional Director of Sales at COMO Hotels and Resorts and have been with the company for eight years. My work takes me all over Asia, but my trip to Laos was probably the most exciting and meaningful journey of my life. Before my visit to Laos, I knew about the diminishing natural environment of the Mekong River and that its impact on people was severe. The issue, however, was only academic in my mind. I’d read about it, watched some documentaries about it, but I was still removed from it. This mission, however, brought home how closely the future of the river’s biodiversity was linked to the livelihoods and lifestyles of the communities along its banks. It was an enlightening experience for me to observe the ingenious, sustainable programmes that the Lao villages and World Wildlife Fund-Laos (WWF) have put in place. By promoting female-led sustainable livelihood activities and aquatic resources management, the natural wealth of Mekong River is being protected for future generations. The highlight of my short visit was the trip to Kammouan Province and meeting with the women of Thamy Village. I was inspired by their commitment to sustainable livelihoods. It was endearing to engage with the women, to know that they are satisfied with the outcome of the Fishing Conservation Zone project, and to hear them expressing their deep appreciation to WWF-Laos and COMO Foundation. I thank COMO Foundation for entrusting me with this inspirational role of Ambassador, and collaborating with WWF (for this visit). It has been a life-changing experience, but more importantly, I became part of a bigger initiative that improves the lives of others. I have been sharing my experiences with my colleagues since my return, raising awareness and interest in the critical issue of women, natural resources management, and poverty, and what is being done to alleviate it. I am inspired and am looking out for more opportunities to be involved in other similar voluntary capacities.

Sharing Values And Supporting Real Needs For its work running a home for 200 children in Nepal, Mitrataa Foundation received a Core Support Grant from COMO Foundation to support salaries for 21 house mothers, who provided dedicated attention to the children. Several funders had refused to support staff salaries until Mitrataa met the Foundation. According to Mitrataa, the team from the Foundation challenged them to think about sustainability as the core of its plans for the home. Mitrataa shared that the Foundation’s willingness to discuss and invest in administrative and evaluation needs gave them the courage and experience to deal with such questions from other partners on these issues. The Foundation brought even greater value to this project by introducing Mitrataa to other partners and openly sharing their advice and experience. 12

THE FOUNDATION’S THEORY OF CHANGE COMO Foundation supports innovative solutions to the intractable problem of gender inequality by investing in committed and talented leadership. In this vein, the Foundation’s grants have increasingly supported core operations, capacity building and strategic planning — areas often neglected by traditional funders.

“COMO is one of our favourite partners. We really feel like part of the COMO family and learn so much from the relationship. COMO looks for innovative ways to really integrate the Foundation’s support with the staff and wider COMO community — we love this sharing of values and opportunity to share the work we do as well as learning from their experience in different fields.” REBECCA ORDISH, FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MITRATAA FOUNDATION


Most organisations receive directed funding from institutional funders that demand specific outputs. In particular, the trend towards impact measurement has made explicit quantification of success increasingly important. This, however, often allows little room for strategic planning at an organisational level, restricting the ability of an organisation to look beyond current funding needs and leaving little time for the very critical process of planning for future strategic growth. In contrast, the Foundation believes in building strong teams ahead of capacity so that organisations may scale up successful projects with high potential to create significant social impact. To achieve this, the Foundation identifies potential partners with demonstrated excellence in their work and helps them to develop clear plans for growth. To drive the sustained growth of the organisation as a whole, the Foundation is open to investing in better systems and fundamentals such as strategic and operational plans, governance instruments, monitoring and evaluation systems, and salaries of the key management team.

AMBASSADOR STORY Judy Goodridge, General Cashier from Metropolitan by COMO, London, visited Mitrataa Foundation (Nepal) in April 2013.

I have been with Metropolitan by COMO, London for close to 13 years. I am happy to be part of this fantastic organisation that does a brilliant job in helping women and children who are less fortunate, through the provision of education, life skills and development opportunities. Outside of work, I am also a foster carer for the borough of Newham in London. I help young people who are unable to stay in their family home, taking care of them until they achieve (semi) independence. I want young children to have a secure environment to grow and flourish, and I have a lot to give. My extensive experience in the hospitality industry has allowed me to share insights and stories with the women and girls of Mitrataa Foundation. My fostering experience provided the skillsets to coach and mentor the girls in self-awareness, presentation and confidence. The highlight of my visit was the Nepalese New Year Eve celebration with the children at Mitrataa. I played football with the children, bonding with them, and forgetting that I am in fact 57 years old (and not 17). Age is not a barrier! There was much joy and laughter ringing throughout the home.

To ensure that each partner works toward sustainability, the Foundation works with them to articulate sound exit strategies for every grant it makes. This helps the partners envision a future for their work beyond the immediate funding by the Foundation. Part of this planning process involves connecting the partners to relevant professional and technical networks. Through this, the Foundation is addressing a key gap in the funding marketplace as well as helping organisations optimise and maximise impact.

“Having them conduct workshops rather than simply “visit” gives them a chance to interact and get to know the amazing people we work with. It creates a win-win situation.” REBECCA ORDISH, FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MITRATAA FOUNDATION

MAIN GRANT PROGRAMMES COMO Foundation addresses one of the most pressing challenges faced by most organisations in the social development sector — securing funding for administrative expenses, governance functions, planning and institutional strengthening. Most funders are ready to fund programmes but are reluctant to support shared functions necessary to run the programmes effectively. To aid its shift from “traditional” programmatic funding, the Foundation developed four grant types to articulate its interest in supporting capacity building, training and leadership:

1. Core Support Grant: The Foundation believes that great programmes run best within a sound organisational framework. The Core Support grant was therefore created to support administrative, evaluative and governance functions of the partners, areas that are typically under-funded. This grant covers operational overheads and salaries of key members of the management team. Through such organisational support, this grant not only ensures that current programmes can run optimally, but also lays the foundation for better programmes in the future. Scaling Up Impact Trickle Up works with women living in ultra poverty in India, Central America and West Africa. Based on past experience and in collaboration with the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, housed in the World Bank, Trickle Up developed a holistic Livelihood Planning curriculum encompassing planning livelihood activities, participating in savings and credit groups, and accessing existing government schemes for support. Following a successful pilot with 300 women, COMO Foundation provided a Proof of Concept Grant to Trickle Up to develop its curriculum into a train-the-trainer toolkit. In the first phase, Trickle Up used this toolkit to train eight field partners across four states in India, reaching 2350 women in 2011 to 2012. This phase provided the data necessary to approach other funders to bring this programme to scale. On the strength of the Proof of Concept phase, Trickle Up received a grant from the Ford Foundation of tenfold value to the Foundation’s grant, to extend this programme to two other states of India. With this roll-out, the Trickle Up training will reach 5750 women directly and as a result 28750 household members. Following the success of this project, the Foundation has provided Trickle Up another grant to bring this Livelihood Planning curriculum to Central America. If successful, Trickle Up has already secured partnerships in Guatemala to expand this programme, while looking for other funders to support this project. 14

2. Institutional Strengthening Grant: This grant was created to help partners improve their efficiency, productivity and impact by supporting training and building systems for growth. In addition to training for leaders and managers, the grant allows organisations to invest in organisation-wide management processes such as strategic orientation, governance, financial and grants management, human resources, technology and knowledge management, monitoring and evaluation. This grant also supports the development of core organisational assets such as institutional history, networks and partnerships.

3. Proof Of Concept Grant: This grant supports the scaling up of successful pilots through the collection of relevant data and a body of evidence to help organisations garner future support from other donors.

“After the three-year programme cycle, women feel empowered to engage their communities in ways they never have before. It’s truly amazing to see! Thank you COMO Foundation for your contribution to this cause.” EDGAR OREJEL DE LA TRINIDAD, BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR, TRICKLE UP


4. Planning Grant: Although organisations with clearly defined strategies and future plans are more productive and impactful, the Foundation found that many of its applicants worked largely in the immediate term. This was because their activities are circumscribed by short term grants. Many applicants also cited the lack of time, data, or skills to look beyond their current programmes and immediate needs. Moreover, since many funders do not fund costs associated with strategic planning, the partners tended to postpone or de-prioritise this vital work. To encourage organisations to invest time and effort in strategic planning, the Foundation funds promising organisations to develop medium term (three to five year) plans to forecast growth, evolve programmes and plan for financial sustainability. Ideally, the project should result in a clear business plan approved by the organisation’s board, which forms the basis of further grant proposals, not only to the Foundation but also to all potential donors.

AMBASSADOR STORY Carol Moniz, Assistant Manager of Events and Lifestyle Marketing, Armani Exchange, USA, visited SEWA Trade Facilitation Centre (India) in August 2013.

My role at Armani Exchange has developed my merchandising and marketing skills and I was fortunate enough to visit the SEWA Trade Facilitation Centre (TFC) in 2013 where I could put my skills and knowledge to good use. In many ways, my journey began even before I stepped into India. Back in America, I thought hard about how I could make a difference to the women who were producing all those beautiful works of craft. I realised that they could do with some help in showcasing their talents and so I set about preparing training manuals on brand strategy for Hansiba, the label under which they market their craft. I also thought through a social media strategy so as to get the story of the women and their talents out to a global community. In India, we collaborated happily together and with their good understanding of the ground, I was able to create strategies that would help Hansiba gain brand awareness and increase sales. This is truly an experience I will never forget. The women were very accepting and were eager to show the fruit of their labour. I was humbled when the women let me try on a ghargra, a traditional outfit that easily takes over a year to make. The detailing in dress was amazing and you could see the amount of hard work that went into it. The generous women also taught me how to cut and file the mirrored pieces into the many shapes that would decorate the various outfits. To top it off, I even had the privilege of having a special meal prepared by the women themselves! As beautiful as those textiles were, the spirit of the women touched me the most. I could see them glow when they spoke to me of the sense of identity Hansiba gave them and the joy they felt, being able to provide for their families. They radiated with pride and the self-worth that came from the skills developed through SEWA TFC’s courses, and more importantly, SEWA TFC’s faith in their abilities. It is such a blessing to meet the women that COMO Foundation has been helping. Being selected as a 2013 COMO Ambassador is not only an honour, but also a dream come true. It makes me proud to work at Club 21 knowing the difference we make to the lives of many women.


Central & South America

South Asia

East Asia

Oxlajuj B’atz’, Guatemala Fundacion Tradiciones Mayas, Guatemala Trickle Up, Guatemala Casa de Acogida Mantay, Peru Lua Nova, Brazil

Conserve India, India Kala Raksha, India SEWA Trade Facilitation Centre, India Embrace, India Kathaluwa Skills Development Centre, Sri Lanka Little Sisters Fund, Nepal Mitrataa Foundation, Nepal Nepal Teacher Training Innovations, Nepal One Heart World-Wide, Nepal

Hua Dan, China Shem Women’s Group, China

Africa AFFORD Sierra Leone, Sierra Leone Solar Household Energy, Chad Jacaranda Health, Kenya SolarAid, Kenya Sustainable Health Enterprises, Rwanda



South East Asia Thriive, Vietnam Gentle Fund Organisation, Vietnam World Wildlife Fund, Laos Pattanarak Foundation, Thailand Café Clinic Timor, Timor Leste

AMBASSADOR STORY Pradeep Narayanan, Ayurvedic Doctor from COMO Shambhala, Parrot Cay by COMO, visited Kathaluwa Skills and Development Centre (Sri Lanka) in February 2013.

As an Ayurvedic Doctor, it is my calling and my passion to live in accordance with nature’s law. When I first joined COMO two years ago, COMO Shambhala’s commitment to health and well-being appealed to me. Everyday at Parrot Cay by COMO, it gives me great joy to share the principles of holistic living with guests and also with my fellow colleagues. The COMO Foundation Ambassador Programme further allowed me to share my knowledge to serve a community haunted by a disastrous experience – life was stripped away from them during the 2004 tsunami that hit Sri Lanka. The deadly tsunami destroyed more than the homes and livelihoods of thousands of survivors. Their sense of security was also washed away, resulting in endless anxiety and other related psycho-social complications. Even eight years later, post-trauma care was one of the most vital needs of these survivors. In preparation for my trip to Sri Lanka, I prepared to share my knowledge and to introduce traditional holistic healing technique like Yoga, Meditation, breathing technique and other relaxation practices.

“ It is always nice to host an Ambassador who is able to integrate with the community and share in their life’s experiences; we are very happy to host such people who lift up the lives of the needy in Kathaluwa.” SUMI MOONESINGHE, KATHALUWA SKILLS AND DEVELOPMENT CENTRE

I was focused on making positive changes for the villagers of Kathaluwa. Straight after my arrival, I toured the village and assessed the health and living standards of the villagers. I provided health checkups and addressed the various ailments with holistic healing methods. I gave a simple talk on healthy eating, stress management and breathing exercises. With the support of my host family and Kathaluwa’s staff, I prepared a healthy meal for 500 people, using only local produce. I wanted to demonstrate to the villagers that it was possible to engage in healthy eating habits without sacrificing taste. The strongest message that I learnt from this community was their amazing attitude, their tremendous courage and confidence in bringing their life back to normal. It was a great honour to be able to meet these wonderful people as a COMO Foundation Ambassador. Although I had the intention to visit Kathaluwa to help, I was inspired by the warmth and love that met me. The selflessness and generosity displayed by the villagers were touching. At the end of my visit, I realised that this trip may have benefitted some villagers, but that this journey had changed my life.




Over the past ten years, COMO Foundation has worked in sixteen countries in Central and South America, Africa and across Asia. Through 72 grants to 46 partner organisations, over 125,000 marginalised young girls and women have benefitted from sustainable projects encompassing income-generation, livelihood and food security, healthcare, public health, natural resource protection and access to essential goods and services. The Foundation has developed unique partner management practices to facilitate open communication well before decisions on grant applicants are made. By nurturing its relationship with each partner, the Foundation maximises opportunities to create sustainable impact with its funding.

Putting Strategy Back On The Agenda Thriive is an organisation that provides small loans to viable businesses in developing communities in the Middle East, Nicaragua, Vietnam and Kenya. The loans are not repaid to Thriive but paid forward in the form of job training and in-kind donations to the most vulnerable in the local community. Not only does business growth lead to job creation, this “pay it forward” model entrenches notions of corporate social responsibility into the community. To meet its ambitious goal of doubling its impact, Thriive needed to improve their structural efficiency, programme protocols and fundraising. Thriive had found it difficult to secure funding for a professionally facilitated strategic planning process to drive this growth, until it met COMO Foundation through partners at NVPC’s Philanthropy in Asia conference. After an engagement process to gauge the need and strategic relevance, the Foundation approved a grant to support their strategic planning. 20

BEFORE THE GRANT The Foundation initially identified its potential grantees through collaborators — other foundations and grant-making agencies with similar interests in addressing gender inequality. Increasingly, existing partners have also introduced new organisations to the Foundation, playing the dual role of grantee and collaborator. When an organisation expresses interest in a COMO Foundation grant, the Foundation undertakes an extensive process of engagement to understand mission alignment and goals. The Foundation team works closely with the applicant to gather information, assess its approach for originality and feasibility, and, where necessary, develop its ability to apply for the grant.

“Keep doing what you’re doing! You fill an important niche in the philanthropic community — strengthening growing NGOs so they can better deliver on their important missions.” ERIK SCHULTZ, FOUNDER/CEO, THRIIVE


To clearly understand each potential partner, the Foundation works with each applicant to collate the following information:

1. Organisation Information: reviewing the history of the organisation, numbers of years of formation, vision, mission, theory of change, strategic direction for the next five years, key programmes and governance.

2. Human Resources: including number of staff and gender distribution.

3. Financial Information: including current and projected total revenue, operating budget, reserve policy and size of reserves etc.

4. Operational Information: including funding model and strategy for the next five years, former and current funders, performance measurement systems and key performance indicators for the organisation as a whole, donor management system, risks and challenges, and main operational and funding partners. Potential partners are encouraged to develop a robust strategy considering, at the outset, the intended impact, performance indicators, risks and challenges for their own organisations, as well as an exit strategy for donors. The Foundation team works with the organisation throughout this process, which may take up to six months. Through this process, the Foundation better understands the needs of the organisation and how it can partner with the organisation most effectively. Where possible, the Foundation also connects the applicant with like-minded organisations in its network for implementation, knowledge exchange, capacity building or funding support.

AMBASSADOR STORY Saowalak Kantaanantaporn, Human Resource Management Officer, Club 21 Thailand, visited Pattanarak Foundation (Thailand) in June 2013.

Working in the Human Resource department of Club 21 Thailand, it means a lot to me that I am able to help the people in my home country. The days I spent at Pattanarak Foundation has opened my eyes to the joys and the sorrows of those around me. Although I was fortunate to be on this learning trip, I wanted to share as much of the experience with my colleagues too. Before setting off for my trip, I held a fundraiser to collect donations in cash and kind, and, just as importantly, to create awareness of Pattanarak Foundation’s good work. I collected items such as toys, books, clothing and stationery. The donations funded Pattanarak’s daycare centre in Sangkhlaburi. On my trip to Sangkhlaburi, I visited the daycare centre to share health and nutrition information with the teachers. It was very fulfilling to pass on knowledge that will help so many lives. As an added bonus, I performed a puppet show with the teachers using finger puppets and handmade rag dolls. The Pattanarak team is so dedicated and selfless. Khun Kukkai, one of the Pattanarak staff, left a deep impression on me as I was just so impressed with everything she is doing. The team has truly been working hard to give strength and support to the women of the Thai-Burmese border communities. These women face many difficulties. They live in impoverished areas, they struggle to make ends meet and yet they strive to give their children a sense of hope for a better future. Pattanarak Foundation believes that stronger women mean stronger communities, so they bring health programmes to the women, including HIV education so they can protect themselves. Just as important, the women learn development skills such as how to earn their own living and how to take control of their lives. These skills help them build a future for their family. These ladies taught me how to achieve true happiness and for that I will be forever grateful. Although they do not have the pleasures I enjoy daily, they are constantly smiling and are very caring. I hope I have helped their lives as much as they have changed mine.

GRANT APPROVAL, DISBURSEMENT AND EVALUATION In every application, the Foundation looks out for great ideas, energetic and passionate leadership, experience, and the ability to deliver. To make this assessment, the Foundation collects information and insight from various sources, including talking to previous funders of the organisation, peers and competitors. The extensive pre-grant collaboration allows the Foundation team to act as an advocate for each proposed partner in its presentation to the Foundation’s board for grant approval.

Driving Innovation Through Partnership The Little Sisters Fund (LSF) is a scholarship and mentoring programme for underprivileged and at-risk girls in Nepal. LSF currently provides long-term scholarships (generally 8–10 years) to 1,250 girls in Nepal. Through this programme, LSF transforms young girls into educated, competent, compassionate leaders and agents for change. In 2003, LSF faced the challenge of supporting their graduating girls for higher education and future employability. In partnership with COMO Foundation, LSF developed the Bahinis on Board (BoB) programme (Bahini means “Little Sister” in Nepalese) to offer these girls the opportunity to gain experience in the non-profit sector. The programme involved mentorship by LSF’s board members, allowing selected girls to experience first-hand the work of non-profit management and leadership at board level. The Foundation’s grant funded stipends for the girls, negating any opportunity cost for the girls as they saw this experience as a “job”. These young girls learnt about the work of the organisation as well as picked up applicable business and management skills. As more LSF girls completed their studies, the BoB programme expanded, with the support of the Foundation. Eventually, the BoB programme evolved to LSF’s School Coordinators (SC) programme, in which trained girls act as representatives of LSF in government schools receiving scholarship funding from LSF. Each School Coordinator takes ownership of the school and the younger Little Sisters under her charge, managing the relationship with school administrators and teachers. Depending on the number of Little Sisters in a given school, sometimes one SC will oversee two schools. This not only provides income and a career for the SCs, but also allows LSF’s expansion beyond Kathmandu while maintaining quality with a trusted SC in each location. 22


After the initial process of grant application and formal approval by the board, the Foundation develops a funding model uniquely suited to the need of each partner organisation. The Foundation refrains from micro-managing the use of the funding, but the Foundation team maintains regular contact with the partners to understand any new or unanticipated developments or challenges arising during the grant period. The evaluation process is similarly flexible. Acknowledging that each partner and its approach is unique, the Foundation asks each to define its own criteria for success and requests a report along these terms every six months. By respecting diversity whilst valuing discipline in reporting, the Foundation aims to measure impact most appropriate to its context. While this means the Foundation may be challenged to find common indicators to demonstrate aggregated impact across all grants, this approach is more nuanced and aligned with realities in the field. POST-GRANT ENGAGEMENT After the grant cycle is completed, the Foundation continues to support the partner organisations by way of networking opportunities. It connects partner organisations to other like-minded organisations, donors, and knowledge providers. Conversely, partners are also important and valued sources of introduction to new potential grantees. Such networking is invaluable for learning and growth for both the Foundation and the partner organisation. The Foundation does welcome subsequent grant applications from partners, in the context of new developments for the organisations. The Foundation also actively seeks feedback from their partners to continually improve its processes.

AMBASSADOR STORY Sally Halstead, Resident Nurse at COMO Shambhala Estate, visited Little Sisters Fund (Nepal) in May 2011.

I am the Resident Nurse at COMO Shambhala Estate. Before I joined COMO just over nine years ago, I was an acute-care nurse. I visited the Little Sisters Fund in Nepal in 2011 with the intention of sharing my knowledge with the girls, School Coordinators and staff of Little Sisters Fund. I prepared topics ranging from hand washing to malnutrition, from lifestyle tips to environmental issues. I was also keen to share my personal life story and my philosophy of a positive outlook on life. My strongest memory was meeting a girl who had just been rescued from slavery as a housemaid. She had been imprisoned and made to work. She had been hurt and was still crying when I met her at her new school. It made a massive impact on me as it brought home (the fact of) how comfortable and fortunate I am in life. We tend not to think outside of our own lives. I remembered to be grateful for my life. Seeing and hearing the life situations of some of these girls, I was reminded how incredibly privileged I am. I learned that “giving back” is an extremely important part of a fruitful, balanced life. I was reminded that we are all inter-connected and that my actions influence others. This trip was life-enriching for me. While we take good care of our health and body, we should not neglect the mind and our experiences. I am grateful for the chance to be exposed and to learn from others’ perspectives and life situations. It makes my work for COMO more insightful and meaningful. It is truly a gift to be able to experience a different country, to meet other people in different life circumstances, and to contribute to the efforts of COMO Foundation.

“ The School Coordinators are our foot soldiers, doing much of the legwork for LSF, which allows us to scale up our impact and to carefully monitor and mentor over 1,250 Little Sisters currently in the programme throughout Nepal while having a permanent office staff of just six.” TREVOR PATZER, FOUNDER, LITTLE SISTERS FUND

PARTNER ENGAGEMENT BEST PRACTICES Through continued learning and meaningful engagement with partners, COMO Foundation has continually adapted its approach to partnership. The Foundation experience suggests some key principles in partner engagement for rich partnerships:

1. Close Alignment Of Strategy, Mission And Vision: The Foundation works to understand each

“Our working relationship with COMO Foundation is based on trust, commitment and open communication.” LAURA STEBBING, FUNDRAISING AND PARTNERSHIPS DIRECTOR, CHERIE BLAIR FOUNDATION FOR WOMEN


organisation applying for its grants. Strategy, mission and vision must be closely aligned, even if approaches differ. Such shared values increases the potential for meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships.

2. Personal Connection And Relationships: The extensive engagement process lends itself to building strong relationships between the Foundation and partner organisations. The Foundation team works closely with each partner organisation, deepening mutual trust and a “we” feeling. This ensures openness in communication and a commitment to joint responsibility for the success of the partnership.


3. Value Generation And Shared Visioning: With the goal of sustainable social impact, the Foundation funds whole organisations rather than piecemeal projects. The confidence it puts in its partners results in shared visioning, in which both parties in the relationship positively influence each other.

AMBASSADOR STORY Jamie Couper, Buyer, Club 21 Australia, visited SolarAid (Kenya) in June 2013.

4. Continual Learning: The Foundation emphasises continual learning for the partner as well as themselves during their relationship. The Foundation team appreciates listening and learning from these partner organisations and also openly contributes its knowledge to strengthen the strategy and operations of its partners.

5. Focused Attention: The entire team of the Foundation, including the senior management, remains closely engaged in the grant management process. This takes time and commitment, but allows optimal utilisation of resources.

6. Open Communication: The channels of communication are kept open between the Foundation and the partner organisation. The Foundation team strives to respond quickly and effectively to all queries from the partner and encourages updates from partners of both successes and challenges.

7. Organisational Systems: The Foundation has dedicated relationship managers to ensure robust communication with the partners.

8. Mutual Expectations and Accountability: The process of getting to know partners during the application stage promotes openness. The clearly defined relationship builds a sense of accountability, reinforced by reporting parameters and systems established from the outset of each grant cycle.

I have been with Club 21 Australia for over 6 years. My work involves travel to the major capitols of designer fashion, luxurious trips compared to my visit to Nairobi, Kenya to SolarAid, which trains women to become entrepreneurs of solar light. All my life I’ve worked in Retail, training and leading teams on how to sell. I believed these skills would be extremely helpful at SolarAid. I am so appreciative of the opportunity to share my expertise. Though I am in a different industry altogether, my sales experience was still relevant. So, it was with great pride and satisfaction when I realised that what I knew about different business models was just what they needed to help them reach different customers in different ways. I explained how it was as important to know your customer as it was important to know your product. Selling is not just telling someone that they NEED something. Most importantly, it is about overcoming objections, and educating them on how it will improve their life. It was extremely exciting to me to help communicate the benefits of solar lamps: improving health by reducing exposure to kerosene smoke and fumes, saving money previously spent on kerosene, and most of all, creating a safer home for children. Once SolarAid realised that people were not buying solar lights, but investing in hopes and dreams, it all came together. My fondest memory was sitting with a teacher who became so excited about the possibilities of solar powered lights. She could see how this small light could change the lives of her students and community. It is astounding how something as small as a solar lamp could have such a large impact on so many families’ lives. The school children I met were especially charming. They had such a joyful presence and were constantly filled with delight despite their difficult circumstances. This trip reminded me about what true happiness is. All we really need in life is food, shelter and most of all love. Many of us are privileged to be always blessed with these items so we should help those who aren’t. The joy I experienced that day is still with me today. I do know my good fortune in being where I am today and would like to thank my bosses at Club 21 for leading me to this amazing experience. They were also especially generous in donating two items for a fund-raising raffle I ran. There is no other retailer in Australia offering such an amazing experience – also no charities that would let you visit as I did. The Sunny Money team behind SolarAid is doing an amazing job. They taught me that any idea can make a big difference in the world.



LESSONS LEARNT COMO Foundation’s open and frank partnership with its grantees has helped the Foundation evolve over the last decade. Through open and sincere cooperation, the Foundation’s experience has shown that strength of collaboration is built through alliance drivers such as alignment of strategy, mission and values, personal connection and relationship, shared visioning and continued learning. The Foundation’s response to its partner’s needs has focused its attention on key gaps in the philanthropic landscape and shaped its systems to identify the right partners and to serve them better. The Foundation’s creation of targeted grant categories is an example of how the Foundation has adapted to help their partners grow. The Core Support Grant, for example, explicitly engages the partner as an entity rather than an aggregator of disparate projects. The Institutional Strengthening Grant, meanwhile, reflects how the Foundation quickly learnt that good intentions, enthusiasm, and originality did not make up for solid project management and supporting systems. When it saw its grant applicants struggling to clearly articulate their future plans and strategies, the Foundation created the Planning Grant to help promising organisations clearly think through mid to long-term plans. CHALLENGES AHEAD The Foundation receives significant in-kind support from its sister companies Club 21 and COMO Hotels and Resorts. As it crystallises its philanthropic agenda, its team may have to grow to maximise impact, to uphold its mission, and to manifest its founder’s intent as faithfully, but also as creatively, as possible. FUTURE PLANS The Foundation will draw upon its first decade to continue to learn and respond to changes in the social sector in a timely and strategic manner. The Foundation’s commitment to impactful philanthropy is clear, but the demand for its kind of support is vast. In addition to providing philanthropic support to handpicked organisations, the Foundation can add value by serving as a case study of how funding mechanisms can respond to pressing needs and trends if partner engagement is open, respectful and substantial.

“COMO’s flexibility was like a venture philanthropist – it enabled us to focus on our highest priorities for growth and impact.” NICK PEARSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, JACARANDA HEALTH

PHOTO CREDITS We would like to thank the following partners for use of their photographs. Cover – Conserve India, India, Table of Contents – Little Sisters Fund (LSF), Nepal, Page 3 – One Heart World-Wide (OHW), Nepal, Page 5 – Fundacion Tradiciones Mayas (FTM), Guatemala, Page 7 – One Heart World-Wide Page 8 – SEWA Trade Facilitation Centre, India, Page 10 – SEWA Trade Facilitation Centre Page 11 – World Wildlife Fund-Laos, Laos, Page 12 – Trickle Up, India, Page 13 – Mitrataa Foundation, Nepal, Page 14 – Café Clinic Timor, Timor Leste Page 15 – SEWA Trade Facilitation Centre Page 17 – Kathaluwa Skills and Development Centre, Sri Lanka Page 18 – Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and AFFORD Sierra Leone, Sierra Leone, (Photo by Tommy Trenchard) Page 20 – Mitrataa Foundation Page 21 – Pattanarak Foundation, Thailand, Page 22 – Embrace, Uganda, Page 23 – Little Sisters Fund Page 24 – Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and AFFORD Sierra Leone (Photo by Tommy Trenchard) Page 25 – SolarAid, Kenya, Page 26 – Conserve India Page 29 – FTM; LSF; Mitrataa Foundation; OHW; Casa de Acogida Mantay, Peru,; Kala Raksha, India,; Nepal Teachers Training Innovations, Nepal,

Thank you for your support!



“COMO Foundation: A Decade of Partnership” is the first of a series of monographs on models of philanthropy by the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre, Singapore. This reflection of COMO Foundation’s first ten years of grant-giving distills the lessons learnt from candid engagement with the partners in the field. These frank relationships have resulted in stronger projects addressing gender inequality through supporting women and girls with education, income generation opportunities and healthcare. Furthermore, they have also shaped the Foundation’s entire approach to enabling high-impact organisations achieve their full potential.

COMO FOUNDATION : A Decade of Partnerships  

“COMO Foundation: A Decade of Partnership” is the first of a series of monographs on models of philanthropy by the National Volunteer & Phil...