Why philanthropy for – and by – Africans is the future

For decades, the stereotypical image philanthropy in Africa has been of places like the Kibera slum in Nairobi, a remote village in Uganda, or the streets of Addis Ababa. A legacy of uneven economic development, colonialism and political instability has turned the continent into a favoured destination for charitable investments from philanthropists around the world. However, the majority of such investment to date has been driven by the voices and actions of people from outside of the communities it is intended for. Its value or impact, therefore, is inherently limited.

The traditional model of philanthropy needs to evolve in order to ensure it fulfils its own potential as a catalyst for growth, and best serves the needs of those it is intended to support. As Africa approaches the Fourth Industrial Revolution, two major trends are clear: growth in the number of models through which philanthropy can take shape, and economic growth and innovation across the continent. When these two trends are combined, collaborative philanthropy can transform in a way that brings international donors and local philanthropists together to solve some of the most pressing issues of our time.

What is Africa’s role in philanthropy?

Remarkable strides made in African development have renewed philanthropists’ enthusiasm, and increased charitable contributions. In contrast to preceding decades, it has also put the spotlight on what local, African philanthropists can do to make a more meaningful impact. This is because local philanthropists have insights that are crucial to maximizing any effort to reduce the burdens of poverty, ill-health and injustice.

The 2018 Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) World Giving Index shows more people and organizations are giving than ever before, and that the gap between Africa and the regions that give the most has closed significantly in the last five years.

One key factor behind the growth in philanthropic giving is Africa’s tremendous economic growth. This has led to a growing middle class, leading to a healthy increase in the pool of actual and potential philanthropists. The African Philanthropy Network estimates the potential giving pool of wealthy individuals at $2.8 billion per year, with the potential to be as high as $7 billion.

The potential impact on moving the needle on health and education gains is huge.

Materializing these potential dollars and making the most of the opportunities presented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution requires philanthropists to cooperate more. However, the lack of vehicles to facilitate partnership is a barrier to philanthropic impact.

Why collaborative philanthropy?

For years, philanthropists have pooled their resources and knowledge to grow the number of investments in charitable causes. In the process, they have built organic forms of collaboration and achieved high levels of impact. But now is the time to enhance that collaboration and build closer relationships with local philanthropic counterparts.

Research by the Center for Effective Philanthropy shows that foundation CEOs believe that lack of partnerships and collaboration are a barrier to their organization’s potential impact. In addition, the lack of an enabling policy environment and an apprehension towards formal organizations that channel philanthropy have proven to be a hurdle towards collaboration.

The case, however, for deeper cooperation between philanthropists remains clear and compelling. There is also increasing awareness about the importance of philanthropy and its benefits compared to other modes of giving.

Funders find that the sense of a shared goal generates more enthusiasm about what can be achieved. Thus, collaboration not only fosters cross-sector relationships, but also deepens expertise, promotes a more strategic approach for investing and can even mitigate risk. This allows funders to back a strategy aligned with the scale and needs of an issue area and target funding where it can have the largest impact, while not going it alone.

In part, the collaborative model has flourished out of necessity: faced with globalization, economic crisis, deepening poverty, political shifts, evolving demographics and rapid technological advances. As a result, philanthropy has had to adapt to a fluid environment that demands more strategic and systematic approaches to investments.

How can collaborative philanthropy work?

In Nigeria and Zimbabwe, for instance, local philanthropists have teamed up with organizations such as the END Fund – the only private-philanthropic initiative in the world solely dedicated to tackling and ending neglected tropical diseases.

The basis of those collaborations is that philanthropic financial resources must be paired with the knowledge and work of in-country philanthropists, who can tap their existing networks to achieve real and sustainable outcomes.

Since its founding in 2012 through 2018, the END Fund has supported partners in 30 countries to distribute over 724 million generously donated treatments valued at over $1.3 billion. This has mainly been through an emphasis on collaboration that draws on the expertise, resources, commitment of leadership, and financing from both local and international stakeholders, bringing them together around a clear strategic goal.

But inclusion and collaboration alone are not enough.

Inclusion must be complemented with an agreement on a clear investment thesis: the how, the what and the why funders and grantees expect from the project.

The example of the END Fund, of bringing together local and global philanthropists to control and eliminate neglected tropical diseases, is only one of a growing set of illustrations of what can be achieved if collaboration is matched with a clear strategy.

It is important for there to be a focus on putting Africans at the forefront of philanthropic giving. Doing so ensures that philanthropic resources are deployed not only with efficiency and effectiveness, but also with a deep understanding of the nature of the challenges they are intended to solve. As Africa marches into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, philanthropy must go beyond simply supporting communities in need; it must also represent them in name, in voice, and in action.

Written by Ellen Agler, CEO, The END Fund on World Economic Forum

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