Photo Caption: Community Group distributing a 6,000 liter water bladder, filled with clean water, that 10 families will share in an IDP camp.

Saxansaxo: Accelerating and Scaling Homegrown Philanthropy in Somalia

By Rachel Roseberry with support from Adeso’s Team in Somalia

“The biggest philanthropists are the poor. We ignore them, we think that philanthropy is attached to having a large endowment. But we forget that the poor, every day, they exercise philanthropy. And they probably exercise the riskiest, costliest and biggest philanthropy. When you are living on one dollar a day, to give 20% of that to your neighbor so that the child gets food, that’s very risky.”

-Degan Ali, Executive Director of Adeso

Saxansaxo is the Somali name for Adeso’s survivor and community-led response (sclr) approach to humanitarian response.  This approach puts the power back into the communities’ hands and at the center of the decision making when creating solutions for responding to the needs of their neighbors.

Saxansaxo is built on the foundation of collective compassion found in communities in crises. This approach aims to strengthen and scale up existing initiatives already started by community members through providing microgrants.

Additionally, this means that the solutions and the desire to survive and recover come from the community members themselves. Many of the groups that we have worked with have been helping each other for years without aid agencies involvement.

Adeso’s role is to build on this generosity, already embedded within the community values. The Saxansaxo approach helps us promote and build resilience in the communities towards emergency situations.  Moreover, it also means that the collective spirit of support from these community groups continues with or without Adeso providing support in their efforts.

We believe that this is what locally-led work should look like.

Invisible Gifts: Defining Philanthropy in terms of Time, Strength and Action

Sadaqa or voluntary charity is an integral aspect of Islamic practice, and therefore, features prominently as part of community values.

Rather than random acts of kindness, this horizontal philanthropy of help and support between neighbors is morally-grounded and deeply embedded into the social fabric that weaves together Somali society.

Many times philanthropic acts from poorer parts of society are through donations of time, strength and action.

“Waa dhaqan soo jireen ah in bulshada Soomaaliyeed is caawiso marka dhib yimaado, waana arrinta aan isu taageney ka urur ahaan.”

“It is deep-rooted within the Somali tradition that the community helps each other when a crisis occurs; this is what we stand for as a group.”

-Khadija from Dhanaha Group in an IDP Camp in Badhan District, Sanaag Region

Some examples of these are:

Time or Waqti: “volunteer spirit”, volunteering to help watch a neighbor’s child while they are sick or need to run an errand, sharing advice, and emotional support.

Strength or Xoog: lending a helping hand or helping fix a roof.

Action or Waxqabad: treating an ailment so the family does not need to pay for a health clinic visit. A teaching in Islam and repeated in the Somali context is: “If you cook broth, increase the amount of liquid in it and give some to your neighbors”.

This is the invisible everyday philanthropy that is a natural part of this culture, this idea of helping your neighbors. Community members within a crisis are always the first people to respond.

Community Driven Solution to Water Scarcity

Dhanaha Group within an IDP Camp in Badhan District was established five years ago.  Previously, they helped their neighbors by providing basic survival needs, helping the sick, and setting up homes for newly arrived IDPs amongst other things.

Their main concern has been the lack of adequate water storage for families. At various times their IDP camp had water trucking provided by humanitarian agencies. But many people in the community lack access to a safe and clean place to store their water. This has resulted in the increase of water-borne illnesses in both children and adults, people unable to eat food and drink powdered milk that has been mixed with unclean or otherwise hard water.

With these challenges in mind, and the support from a Saxansaxo microgrant, Dhanaha Group were able to get to work. They identify the most vulnerable families in their community and proposed to purchase 15 collapsible water bladders for water storage. These water bladders can hold up to 6,000 liters of water and are currently supporting 150 households within the IDP camp.

Adeso’s Journey with Decolonizing Aid

With Adeso’s journey ‘un-learning’ the ways of traditional aid and the colonized approach to top-down solutions; we are decolonizing our approach to what aid is and relying on those most proximate to the challenges to find solutions to what will work.

We are also working with the community members themselves to ‘un-learn’ how to ask for help. These active local community groups are amazing and have been doing voluntary charity (Sadaqa) for years on their own – the real first line responders – it comes with the continuous crisis context.

This is a powerful message to all of us. That solutions are already there, we need to give space for them to grow.  Each neighbor is taking a risk to give of themself, so imagine how much more they can do with a little more monetary support. We are investing in the communities’ collective compassion and their own homegrown philanthropy. Adeso’s team only want to add value to scale up and strengthen the support.


We want to thank our supporters on our journey with the Saxansaxo approach in Somalia: Local to Global Protection, Legatum Foundation, Center for Disaster Philanthropy, and Avaaz Foundation.



For more information about Adeso and our Programs, please contact:

Stephanie Heckman, the Chief Development & Partnerships Officer at  


LinkedIn: Adeso

Facebook: Adeso

Twitter: @Adesoafrica 

Instagram: @Adesoafrica