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African Philanthropy and Gifting

The newly established Chair in African Philanthropy – a joint initiative between the University of Witwatersrand Business School (WBS) and the Southern Africa Trust aims to mainstream the narrative of African philanthropy and the practice of gifting through the promotion of pan-African research, teaching and dialogue. Prof Alan Fowler, visiting chair, speaks about the need for an enhanced discourse and deeper understanding of African philanthropy.


 What is the current state of philanthropic research in Africa?

I don’t like the term ‘philanthropy’ because it connotes a transfer of money from rich people to poor people, which is only
a small part of the total philanthropic landscape or, as I prefer to refer to it,

the gifting landscape. The term ‘gifting’, rather than ‘giving’ has a positive moral implication; it is necessarily based on altruism and generosity. As interpreted internationally, philanthropy is one type of gifting practice.

There is a lack and unevenness of research on philanthropy in Africa – however you define that term – be it
CSI practices, gifting trends of high-net- worth individuals, or horizontal gifting between people in poor communities. Most of the existing research has been internationally commissioned and has not been Afrocentric.

The Chair in African Philanthropy will invigorate and lead African research in this field in a coherent way. It will take a pan- African perspective in assessing where the information gaps are, and how they can best be filled. Now that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) have been approved, their implementation and impact in relation to gifting requires rigorous, context-sensitive and systematic measurement.

How is African philanthropy distinctive from global philanthropy?

Half the continent lives on less than $2 a day and one of the ways that this works
is through horizontal gifting. This is the philanthropy of community, the daily gifting of people who are poor, helping each other. This circulation of community resources, including Diaspora remittances amounting today to more than $40 billion a year, is an expression of the African moral philosophy of ubuntu.

It is important for corporates to understand how African philanthropy works, because these are the cultural and societal systems with which CSI is trying to interface, particularly from the perspective of working towards the SDGs.

Why is it important for businesses to understand the local economies in which they operate?

Twenty or 30 years ago there was a movement towards building on the indigenous in social investments. This involved teaching skills like project management and accounting, and imposing internationally accepted governance systems. It ignored and suppressed the horizontal systems of giving and gifting that already existed.

There is an active school of thought that aid does not work and that it has led to non-sustainable outcomes. The argument is that $500 billion has been put into aid in Africa, and yet people are worse off in terms of average per capita incomes in real terms. Unless people on the ground carry the changes, it doesn’t matter what vertical philanthropy does.

As a result, there is growing movement towards building on local, organic practices of self-help, in order to effectively mobilise social investment resources.

How can corporate philanthropy become appropriately Africanised?

Community foundations attempt to blend designs to find a better position between vertical and horizontal philanthropy, and this approach has been piloted in Southern Africa. Research on community foundations has started to show how horizontal giving works, suggesting ways in which corporates can better localise their approach to social investing.

Another way in which corporates can move towards a more contextual approach is asset-based community development, which entails building
on what communities have, rather than focusing on what they don’t have. This approach may resonate with corporates, whose inclination is to build on assets rather than fund deficits.

Part of the challenge of corporate philanthropy is to start seeing how it can horizontalise itself, by working with existing community systems. CSI needs to engage these systems and alter its performance metrics to something that is more than bottom line-determined. ■

Source: The Trialogue handbook, 2016  https://trialogue.co.za/publications/



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