The Rapidly Changing Face Of African Philanthropy

In 2013, a group of African philanthropists convened to create the African Philanthropy Forum, a regional affiliate of the Global Philanthropy Forum (GPF), an initiative that aims to build a community of donors and social investors committed to international causes, and to inform, enable and enhance the strategic nature of their work. This group included high net worth individuals, with the likes of MasterCard Foundation CEO, Reeta Ray; Nigerian entrepreneur Tony Elumelu, (Tony Elumelu Foundation); James Mwangi, (Kenya?s Equity Bank and the Equity Foundation); Zimbabwe?s Tsitsi Masiyiwa, who oversees the Higher Life Foundation; Toyin Saraki (Wellbeing Africa Foundation); singer-songwriter Angelique Kidjo; Hylton Applebaum (Donald Gordon Foundation of South Africa), and Kenya?s Manu Chandaria, founder of the Chandaria Foundation, who formed the founding leadership team. Their mission is not a shot in the dark; the group aims to expand strategic philanthropy by Africans and for Africans.

The African society has generally been philanthropic by nature. From lending a helping hand to extended family members to contributions to civic or religious causes, informal channels that support charitable giving have been in existence. That being said, the stereotype that Africans don’t give to charitable causes or to each other for that matter has been longstanding. One school of thought has been that the continent largely depends on the same people who colonized it, or on other foreigners to come to its rescue. Another is that Africans don?t do enough to help each other, with very little assistance coming from other African countries to help fellow Africans. Years of strife and division among groups and people have eroded trust, leaving very little incentive to reach out for assistance or to be assisted. There is probably some truth to the fact that the spirit of giving is largely undermined because most never really had enough to give in the first place.

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However, as the continent continues to evolve, the tide is turning. About a decade or so ago, it would have been almost awkward to suggest an African driven philanthropic agenda among a group of prominent Africans. Today, the call to give is slowly becoming the norm, and an expectation that cannot go unfulfilled. The continent is home to about a hundred thousand high-net-worth individuals whose combined wealth is over $US1 trillion, all with ambitions to give to those who are less fortunate. Overall, the continent continues to see the rise of the middle class; over the next fifteen years, this growth will continue to gain momentum, with approximately twenty-five million households expected to become middle class and lower-middle-class households in Angola, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. With a strong desire to fight off the stigma of being the world?s basket case, a perception that has been set by decades of foreign aid and dependency, Africans are passionately rallying a type of support that has been previously lacking or rarely publicized.

Individuals are setting the tone
One potential area for African philanthropy is emergency aid. This is clearly evident by the individual leaders who have risen to the occasion in the call to respond to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Business leader Tony Elumelu pledged over $US500,000 towards curtailing the spread of Ebola. South African billionaire, Patrice Motsepe donated $US 1 million to the Ebola Fund in the Republic of Guinea, funds that would go towards clinical management, social mobilization, medical coordination and other key mechanisms of controlling the disease. Through The Dangote Foundation, Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote promised the Liberian government his assistance. Other African leaders who are established pacesetters in the area of giving include Mo Ibrahim, Zimbabwe?s Strive Masiyiwa, and Kenya?s Naushad Merali, who have given millions in charitable donations; and they are still giving. ?If we could get everyone of those guys who owns a private jet to create a philanthropy, I think we could have a terrific transformation in that country? ?stated former Rockefeller Foundation staffer, Wiebe Boer, on his views about philanthropic giving in Nigeria.

Another area that continues to receive significant investment has been the non-profit and technology sectors. From Toyin Saraki?s work on pan-African maternal health and well-being to Somali human rights activist and physician, Dr. Hawa Abdi, whose foundation supports access to basic human rights in Somalia, individuals are giving back to their communities by addressing the very challenges that they see daily. Individuals on the continent have also learned to leverage the power of technology to solve social problems. With the rise of accelerators and incubators created specifically to nurture the growth of high impact ?green? startups, new and innovative talent has become increasingly critical. That being said, while thousands and thousands of lay citizens continue to give back to their communities, their stories remain largely untold.

Where do African governments fit in?
Historically, African governments have not been the most effective in rapidly responding to societal challenges, neither have they been the most innovative. While philanthropy cannot replace government funding, it can support it in powerful ways. Africa?s longest running public private partnership, Africa PPP has helped to facilitate promising partnerships between country governments and private sector philanthropic organizations, providing the resources and ideas for governments to tackle the challenges they face. On every issue possible that the?the continent, philanthropy can help drive progress, particularly in a moment of crisis. At the 2013 Economic Forum on Africa, African leaders were charged with a mission to foster a model of Africa investing in Africa, a pan-African response that will ultimately enable inter-regional trade and development. In one of the worst outbreaks that the continent has ever experienced, this has been put to the test. From Ethiopia to Ghana, country governments have provided their support in addressing the Ebola outbreak in affected countries by sending hundreds of volunteers and allocating financial resources where necessary. Hopefully this will be the beginning of many more country government led efforts that ultimately help strengthen pan-African collaboration.

The key to successful philanthropy is ensuring that populations to?which?activities are directed can see measurable results in their local communities. For this to work well, it is paramount that emerging and more established African philanthropists figure out the most effective and strategic way to pursue philanthropy.