Innovating in Africa’s Philanthropic space

August 5, 2015

A Watershed Moment for African Philanthropy
Tendai Murisa

The AGN finally managed to successfully host its bi-annual assembly in Arusha, Tanzania. The assembly was initially supposed to have been held in Accra in 2014 but the Ebola outbreak and the Government of Ghana’s subsequent ban on International Conferences left the organizers with no choice but to look for an alternative venue. It was worth waiting for. The discussions that took place focused on the significance of the emergent African philanthropy sector, its aspirations without being naïve to the potential constraints and pitfalls in the African and global context and the role of African philanthropy in promoting social justice across sectors. In this article I will focus on some of the difficult conversations that took place regarding the space, role and future of African philanthropy.

 The Arusha encounter was the 3rd Assembly of the AGN, the first one was held in Nairobi and the second in Johannesburg. The meeting was significant for many reasons. For the first time the members covered the majority of the costs (approximately 65%) In the past the network had mostly relied on donors based outside of the continent. That in itself speaks of a maturing sector and should be applauded. We were also quick to respond to the criticism around our name and agreed to change the name to African Philanthropy Network (APN). The term grantmakers was seen to be limiting and also excluding others engaged in philanthropy work but doing grants. The entire program sought to create a sufficient balance between celebration/affirmation not only of the network but also practices and forms of philanthropy in Africa and also to devote sufficient time and space to discussing the sticking issues with the sector specific rhetoric of a growing indigenous philanthropy community and of a rising continent given the inherent social justice contradictions of that growth.

The philanthropy community has every reason to celebrate milestones achieved to date. The majority of the organizations that make up the network are mostly post-1990 formations and still in the middle of addressing their own internal questions of sustainability and niche areas of focus. Active players in the network (see for instance Moyo [2004, 2010], Mohamed [2013]) have convincingly demonstrated that philanthropy in Africa exists albeit in different forms from what we have seen in the global North. In Africa philanthropy takes on various forms but is best summed up as ‘Ubuntu’- which is codified as; ‘I am because you are’. Ubuntu based giving/solidarity is not based on having more to spare but instead its primary focus is on ensuring the wellbeing of the neighbor. In many instances this form of philanthropy is horizontal in nature without perpetuating defined forms of power relations but instead curtailing monopolies to power. As an instrument of social reproduction it becomes closely related with agency which again is very difficult to translate into a universal language given its local manifestations as vuk’uzenzele (in South Africa), harambee, susu and even Ujamaa. Celebrating these formations and practices is part of an affirmation of a civilization that otherwise continues to face a threat of subordination or immersion into what has been deemed and stamped as official practices of philanthropy.

It will be necessary for us as a community to continue affirming African forms of giving and solidarity. Besides that defensive but necessary posture of claiming Africa’s voice on philanthropy as a way of life we have also seen a gratifying emergence of foundations that mimic what exists in the global West and the rest of the world- suggesting that philanthropy is congealing into a certain glocal -the invigoration of localized processes-form by combining the local and global forms1. In the spirit of affirmation there were many positive remarks about how organizations such as the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) have helped to sustain social justice and gender equality causes across the continent by simplifying funding processes. Nobel Laureate Leyma Gbowee was one of the critical voices in the room who saluted some of the important work done by AWDF in helping start and sustain the women’s movement that eventually contributed towards overthrowing Charles Taylor in Liberia. That alone is worth celebrating in considering that a decade ago Africa had been judged and dismissed as ‘a hopeless continent’. We also celebrate the fact that Africans are now giving beyond the continent into global causes.

There were two interrelated aspects of the difficult conversations that had to take place; a self-examination of ourselves as practitioners in the space and the contradictions of the Africa rising rhetoric. One of the fundamental questions raised in different ways- was how different are the emerging African foundations from their counterparts in the global North. In many ways this is a very difficult question given the relationships that exist between African foundations and their counterparts in the global West and the power relations that ensue. Concerns raised by non-foundation actors had to do with the practices and procedures of African foundations. Are they enabling or disenabling the social justice focused NGOs and social movements by applying equally rigid conditions for funding? Claims were made about how difficult it is to access funding from the African foundations. Issues to do with agendas were also raised- who is responsible for naming the problem and suggesting that it is a priority? At this stage of growth the critique being raised is very necessary and should help practitioners within the foundations reflect a bit more on how they renegotiate their role. Some of the questions raised are classical in nature- they have been debated before and the emergence of the African Foundations was supposed to be the antidote for these challenges. The majority of the African foundations are still tied to Global West foundations and are mostly responsible for re-granting except for a few that were either founded by a high net worth individual/corporation or have managed over the years to develop their own resources. Re-negotiations on methodologies and approaches to address some of the issues raised by African NGOs and social movement will require a more collective and honest conversations with our counterparts in the global North. The APN should ultimately play that role of norm-making and myth busting around funding conditionalities.

Concerns were also raised about the sustainability of African foundations and generally the social-justice defenders’ space beyond donor funding. The relationship between natural resource governance and philanthropy was also raised- especially in relation to cases where Glocalisation, as a movement, is not necessarily a contradiction of globalization but rather emphasizes the need to pay adequate attention to local needs (economic, social, cultural and political) even within a globalized world. In other words glocalisation re-imposes the necessity of thinking locally within a globalized world.

Private corporations engaged in extractive industries are also establishing philanthropy schemes (foundations, community share-ownership trusts, etc)- the question that looms large is whether these covert mechanisms of enhancing brand positioning on the part of the extracting company in the form of corporate social responsibility can be equated to philanthropy.

There were a number of learning sessions devoted towards grappling with the challenge of sustainability and also sharing ongoing innovations at organizational, sectoral and national/continental levels. The Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF) have a very fascinating long term model which deserves more attention beyond this article. In summary there is need to think beyond current funding arrangement and create long term mechanisms for fund growth through reorienting organizational philosophy from a spending orientation towards conservation and optimal use of financial resources using smart financial planning mechanisms and creating partnerships for investments. The lessons from the KCDF session suggest a fundamental shift from a focus on spending to re-negotiations with funding partners to allow for creating mechanisms for earning revenue on their grants to allow for long-term sustainability. In summary African foundations have to reconfigure their operations to align more with social enterprises that have the capacity to generate financial value whilst not compromising on the social justice goals.

Parallel to the KCDF session, was a TrustAfrica organized panel session on impact investment. Whilst impact investing has become an important feature of philanthropy globally it is yet to become codified in terms of practice, models and matrices of measurement across the continent. The session noted the need to create a community of practice on this and also to find a way of mobilizing other actors. Impact investing can be a strategy for ensuring sector-wide financial sustainability and a shift towards social entrepreneurship where modest financial value is generated as social goals are being achieved. The two sessions were very relevant; as African foundations think of their sustainability they should play an important role to create similar capacities amongst others within the value chain and impact investing could be one of the tools to achieve sector based sustainability. The unpredictability of donor funding has become one of the most common hazards for many organizations hence the need for a broader conversation on this subject. Otherwise we will continuously be building institutions only to watch them collapse within a short space of time.

The third level of the sustainability discussion focused on the broader continent’s development especially her resource mobilization and utilization capacity. The Southern Africa Trust together with TrustAfrica organized a panel discussion on the intersection between natural resources governance, illicit financial flows and philanthropy. Africa’s main exports are primary commodities in mining and agriculture. It is conservatively estimated that Africa loses approximately US$50billion through illicit financial flows and this is done through various means inclusive of trade mispricing, tax avoidance, smuggling and corruption. The recently published AU/UNECA High Level Panel’s report on Illicit Financial has identified multi-national corporations engaged in mining and agricultural as the main actors behind the illicit movement of finances that could otherwise have been Africa’s revenue base. There were two issues of concern for African philanthropy; firstly how  complicit are we in this and secondly what can we do about it?

Many private corporations (especially in mining, telecoms and agriculture) have or are in the processes of establishing foundations that carry out their giving mandates as their way of ploughing back. Whilst the benevolence is definitely welcome there is the concern that this could be just a façade and in fact undermines possibilities for more equitable partnerships with communities and also questions about tax transparency. There is a need to think through new models of ensuring that Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) in mining and agriculture ensure good corporate citizenship and also that the communities living within the vicinity of these extractive activities are included in value chains and the revenues thereof in a more equitable manner. The second level of concern had to with what can philanthropy institutions do to address this social justice challenge? TrustAfrica’s work on Illicit Financial Flows and its recent launch of the ‘stop the bleeding campaign’ were cited as possibly a case of best practice in terms of working with other civil society based organizations as an attempt to bring these issues to the attention of governing powers at an African and global level.

Away from the real concerns about sustainability the assembly also had to grapple with issues of security and vulnerability especially of migrating Africans. The APN’s assembly took place in the aftermath of a number of very disturbing events in the South and North of Africa. In South Africa, acts of violence were committed against foreign nationals and led to the death of seven people. Whilst in North Africa many have perished in the Mediterranean ocean trying to cross into Europe. Whilst migration of people is well documented in history it is the unprecedented numbers of Africans that are trying to flee from their countries in spite of the renewed optimism surrounding continent. What can philanthropy do? Firstly the assembly agreed that there is a humanitarian aspect to this work and African based foundations need to engage with their counterparts in Europe on how they can support stranded families especially minors traveling alone. Secondly and more pressing is the need to address the challenges within Africa that are driving people to seek greener pastures. There is need to address issues of youth unemployment, ensuring equitable and inclusive growth and making governments more responsive to current economic realities beyond pursuing only GDP based growth.

We also celebrated. Africans cannot gather without song and dance. Akwasi Aidoo, former Executive Director of Trust Africa was awarded the Philanthropy Award for his outstanding commitment towards the emergence of a vibrant community of philanthropy practitioners. Kagiso Trust from South Africa (but expanding into East Africa) received the Philanthropy Institution of the Year, 2015 award. The African philanthropy community is definitely going though a very exciting period and anxieties of forging its own space and identity. Just like any growth process the path is not clear and straight-forward but there is certainly a huge appetite to grow not only in terms of just occupying space but also in developing sufficient capacities and relationships to confront the difficult conversations on resource mobilization, structural transformation and pushing the boundaries on social justice issues. One thing for certain we are not walking alone we acknowledge the support from others outside the continent who have shown tremendous goodwill to see us succeed.

This article originally appeared on the Alliance magazine website. The original article can be found here
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