Isaac Kwaku Fokuo & Andia Chakava’s thoughts … African philanthropy an imminent response

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When COVID-19 broke out in Africa, two non-African billionaires were among the first to donate masks, PPE’s, and other resources to support the fight against the pandemic across the African continent. Whilst their generosity and magnanimous actions were celebrated by African leaders, the same left us reflecting on the need to nurture our own African philanthropists that go beyond their country or region of influence to drive sustainable social impact.

A culture of giving has been well-established in African society, especially amongst family members, neighbours, and people from the same ethnic community. Giving in the African context is mainly directed towards education, medical expenses, and supporting families especially after the loss of a breadwinner.

Additionally, many people who move to urban areas or other countries have shown a pattern of sending money back to the families they left behind. In 2016, remittances from Africans in the diaspora accounted for over 50% of foreign private capital flows to the continent. As noble as the current form of giving is – it is in many cases unsustainable and all too often there is no defined strategy behind it. We need to rethink giving within African societies to develop sustainable practices and efficiently allocate our limited resources to create long-lasting impact. Philanthropy is an effective tool in promoting sustainable giving in Africa.

Simply defined, philanthropy is giving routinely to specific causes that are beyond one’s ecosystem based on a systematic, well-thought, and ideally impact-based approach. Philanthropy is often muddled with charitable giving, which is more emotional – motivated by an immediate situation and it usually occurs in the short-term – which philanthropy is not.

Why then is the notion of African philanthropy important? As we find ourselves in the midst of an unprecedented crisis with shrinking resources globally, each nation is grappling with using limited resources to support their societies. For African countries, COVID-19 has been a wake-up call on the need to expand our funding pools and reduce our reliance on foreign support. We need to look inward to determine what local resources we can utilize to mitigate the impact of the current situation. Beyond the pandemic – philanthropy is a necessary catalytic tool to drive holistic prosperity across the continent by not only eliminating the suffering caused by social problems on the continent but also the problems as a whole.

Philanthropy is also emerging as a way of nurturing and testing innovative solutions to address social problems. Philanthropy, in many cases, is a less restrictive form of funding that allows recipients to explore innovative solutions often transforming the way society perceives certain problems. For example, refugees and their host communities in Africa have for the longest been viewed purely as a humanitarian issue. Unknown to many, refugee camps hold massive economic potential, and with targeted interventions, can transform into thriving markets – creating jobs for their occupants while contributing to national revenues. On the other hand, the work of women’s rights organizations pushing for social and economic justice has long been undervalued.

These organizations have a broad mandate to support 50% of Africa’s population to be more productively involved in the economy whilst safeguarding core issues like sexual reproductive and health rights. There are many notable initiatives around the continent such as the African Women Development Fund, Graca Machel Trust, and Amahoro Coalition that tackle women’s economic and social advancement, children’s rights and nutrition, and refugee economic empowerment respectively. All are indigenous-founded organizations supporting philanthropic initiatives across the continent whose social and economic impact creates a more favourable environment for individuals and businesses alike.

Philanthropy should never replace the role of governments but having local home-grown African philanthropists to champion causes creates a new generation of socially conscious leaders and encourages more to follow suit. We need more young people to be engaged in philanthropic giving – the current assumption is that philanthropy is a function of wealth or retirement. Young people can give to philanthropic causes by starting with small gifts and giving to causes that resonate with them to accelerate change.

Many universities across the US and the UK have set a great example, by reaching out to their alumni very early in their careers starting with fairly modest amounts that are increased routinely during the giving partnership. Giving routinely, even when the amounts are fairly modest builds that culture within and many will likely develop the habit throughout their lives. For example, experience has demonstrated that the first gift of many of the $1m plus donors in the United States was less than $250 and that it takes consistent and long term partnerships to get to $1m.

Governments and payment platforms also have a role to play in creating a vibrant philanthropic ecosystem. Governments can play two key roles – first, providing tax breaks and incentives to people who give philanthropically is an important tool in galvanizing Africans to engage more in philanthropy. Additionally, governments can develop governance mechanisms to promote more transparency in the philanthropic sector to dissuade malpractice.

Mechanisms such as mandatory registration and certification before fundraising, routine verifications, and platforms, where citizens can report incidences of fraud, would help in diminishing cases of deception. Payment platforms, on the other hand, can provide secure channels through which people can donate routinely and directly to various causes. Additionally, lowering transaction costs, especially for small payments would incentivize fundraisers and make it economically sensible for them to raise these smaller amounts.

We need a more deliberate and long term approach to create a sustainable philanthropic culture across the African continent, especially one that is inclusive of individuals who currently do not see themselves as potential philanthropists in their current state. To start, we need a mind-set shift from the perception that practising philanthropy is a reserve of the ultra-wealthy. At an individual level – it is important to develop a philanthropic strategy by identifying causes that are important to you, then creating a giving plan.

Start with what you have – huge donations are always celebrated but it is equally important to develop a consistent pattern of contributing to philanthropic initiatives. Next, the initiative you choose to give should be credible, and its impact measurable over time with clear accountability and reporting mechanisms in place. Philanthropy is rooted in trust and it is important that the people you are giving to, take the initiative to earn and maintain your trust by regularly updating you on their projects.

Giving, whether charitable or philanthropic, requires strategic allocation of finite resources to infinite needs. The responsibility to fix the issues in our society lies with us Africans, and we need to utilize our limited resources to not only address immediate needs but also to do our part to create a prosperous continent. We must first acknowledge that our businesses cannot thrive in a society that’s failing.

So as we grapple with addressing the different pre-existing and new humanitarian issues that the current crisis presents in Africa, we as individuals have an opportunity to ingrain a culture of giving. We acknowledge the good work done by organizations such as the African Philanthropic Network, The African Philanthropic Forum, and African high net-worth individuals who are rising to the challenge. However, that’s not enough, we need to bring more people into the tent by encouraging others to start early either as individuals or as a collective to create a difference by contributing to the many philanthropic initiatives across the continent.

About the authors

Isaac Kwaku Fokuo –  Founder and Principal of Botho Emerging Markets Group and Founder of Amahoro Coalition. He is based in Nairobi, Kenya and Dubai (UAE).

Andia Chakava – Africa Gender Lens Investor and Investment Director at Graca Machel Trust (GMT). GMT amplify women’s movements, influence governance and promote women’s contributions and leadership in the economic, social and political development of Africa; and advocate for the protection of children’s rights and dignity.  GMT is based in South Africa.

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