U.S. Funding for Africa: Where Does It All Go?

The United States has played a critical role in providing development funding to the African continent.

Since the 1970s, U.S. foundations have provided funding to Africa, to fight the AIDS endemic of the 80s, apartheid during the 90s, and, education and gender disparities at the start of the millennium – just to name a few. However, since the millennium, U.S. foundation funding has significantly increased.

In its most recent “U.S. Foundation Funding for Africa report,” the Foundation Center finds that foundation grants to Africa increased by over 400 percent between 2002 and 2012. The report puts total Africa-focused funding in 2012 at $1.5 billion. In comparison, ‘Global Grant-making,’ a report on UK Foundation’s funding for international development puts UK funding for Africa at £108.04 million. Looking closely at the U.S. report, we have analyzed four development sectors that received more funding that others, starting from the highest funded sector (health).

  1. Health: U.S. Foundations have been particularly active in the health sector. More so, since the establishment of the Global Fund to end AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria in developing countries. Medical research grants to the World Health Organization, universities and research institutes ranked as the highest recipients of foundation funding in this group. Grants towards public health care, reproductive health care, and specific diseases were also awarded. Altogether, $765 million, that is 51.8 percent of the total value of grants given by U.S. Foundations to Africa was focused on health. An astonishing 90 percent of this funding came from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
  2. International Development and Relief: According to the report, $525 million, which makes up about 35 percent of the grants given by U.S. Foundation to Africa were focused on international development and relief. This sector comprises of agricultural development, economic development, human services, and humanitarian aid activities. The foundation grants given in this sector were geared towards tackling the root causes of poverty, high unemployment, and the refugee crisis resulting from the growth in terrorism, issues that have plagued the continent in more recent times.
  3. Education: Approximately 200 grants, which is 11 percent of the total number of Foundation grants were geared towards education. A large focus for education activities focused on providing and improving university and graduate education across Africa. The University of Cape Town in South Africa, one of the many universities funded, received 36 grants in 2012 alone.
  4. Public Affairs and Social Benefit: Ranking as the fourth highest funded sector on this list, are grants for public affairs and social benefit. These grants capture activities geared towards improving and promoting local philanthropy and civil society. 106 of the total number of U.S. foundation grants were awarded to organizations working in this focus area. It is noteworthy that African philanthropy and civil society have steadily grown over the past decade – a result of not only international funding but also local support.

In a similar report by the Baring Foundation and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, UK Foundation funding areas for Africa was similar to U.S. funding – with the former giving grants in health, education, and sustainable development, particularly in Africa.

Aside from health being the top funded sector, an interesting aspect of U.S. foundation funding for Africa is that 74 percent of these grants were awarded to organizations headquartered outside of Africa, and mostly led by the World Health Organization. The other 26 percent of the grants were awarded to organizations headquartered in 36 of the 54 African countries. Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia, and Senegal were the top five recipients of U.S. Foundation funding.


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