Philanthropy is intrinsically linked to ideology – about how the world works, about belief systems, about the role of philanthropy itself. Accordingly, transforming the system of institutional philanthropy demands an ideological underpinning, not just a practice-based one. The last few years have seen several narratives around philanthropic transformation emerge. This paper reflects on these in relation to African philanthropic narratives, explores some of the tensions and the changes in the institutional philanthropy field, and identifies some implications for how these play out on the African continent. Ultimately, while recognizing that some significant shifts have indeed taken place in the sector, the paper (i) reflects that the majority of institutional philanthropy has yet to grapple with the ideological aspects underpinning transformation of the system, (ii) argues that an ideological reconceptualization of institutional philanthropy’s role, one that positions its privilege in service of the individual and collective agency of its constituencies, is critical to the transformation of the sector, and (iii) then reflects on what agency as a lens requires of the institutional philanthropy sector.
Keywords: Institutional philanthropy; Africa; privilege, power, agency, positionality, ideological transformation.