Philanthropy and Academic Research in West Africa

Partners from the Ghana Development Studies Hub convened by IDS co-hosted a webinar with the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research at the University for Development Studies, Ghana, on ‘Exploring the Role of Philanthropy in Development Research’. It aimed to explore the connections between philanthropy and academia in West Africa.

A key speaker at the webinar was Eme Iniekung, Programs Coordinator for Philanthropy Circuit, a Pan-African non-profit media and research organization, that has been set up to curate insights and influence a new narrative of African homegrown giving and development.

At the session, Eme outlined how African philanthropy is not yet truly visible because the tendency is not to record its success. This has stalled the availability of datasets into local and homegrown giving practices across the continent, including specifically in West Africa. As a result, there is a differentiated approach to philanthropy within sectors (such as academia and practical development) which in turn can limit the success of funding in contributing to development.

The challenge of collaboration

The lack of understanding of philanthropic practice is also a factor hindering collaboration between philanthropy and development research in West Africa. This situation is compounded by knowledge gaps between philanthropic organisations and other sectors and a lack of inter-sectoral collaboration. The result is a notable absence of spaces in which relationships may develop between philanthropy, academia, other researchers, and development practitioners, and third sector/civil society organisations.

From an academic perspective, it is clear that many researchers have experience of interacting with big-name, global philanthropy particularly in the form of consultancies in the domain of monitoring and evaluation. But many are less sure about how to open other forms of interaction with philanthropic organisations especially in a more local or regional context. This includes a lack of insight into how to engage with philanthropists in agenda-setting or developing research proposals that align to their motivations.

In the general discussion, participants from the development and academic sectors, discussed the importance of building trust and engaging with philanthropic practitioners from other sectors. Key for Eme is a need for the audience to focus on increasing personal and professional visibility particularly using online and social media platforms to develop relationships, foster collaborations and create opportunities to expand on sector-specific research. Clearly, local, and regional philanthropy is an emerging and new domain that will be only more important into the future. This prompted the group to reflect on the need for academics, researchers, and development professionals to take the issue of leveraging local funding more seriously, as this may have great potential for advancing development aims into the longer term.

A call to action

Community organisations, including micro/philanthropy groups in West Africa, should see it as possible to work directly with researchers to effect change and, through collaboration, attract the attention of philanthropists – locally, regionally, and globally. This highlights the importance of development researchers embarking on networking and establishing partnerships that will in turn strengthen sectoral capacity and improve platforms for future collaborations and co-creation.

This proved a very timely and valuable conversation with the Ghana Hub hoping to continue the discussion at a follow-up webinar in due course.

This article was first published on Institute of Development Studies by Imogen Bellwood-Howard. Imogen is a research fellow at the institute.

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