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News and Opinions

Trends in African Philanthropy

by Dr Bhekinkosi Moyo

African philanthropy is moving into a defining era. Across the continent, for the first time in history, African philanthropy is beginning to take a formal and central role in questions of development and sustainability and is increasingly informing policy processes at a national level.


Various major developments have placed philanthropy at the centre of this decade’s African developmental discourse. In 2015 the African Union launched the African Union Foundation. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is developing a framework for the inclusion of philanthropic activities in supporting its regional integration agenda. In Rwanda an active philanthropy strategy is under consideration within the government’s Vision 2020 development programme. In South Africa the National Treasury and Department of Science and Technology are beginning to engage on how philanthropy and government can work together in a coherent way. Kenya and Ghana have collaborated with the United Nations Development Programme in its Post 2015 Partnership Platform for Philanthropy, using these efforts to springboard their own philanthropy programmes.

Many of these African developments are related to the adoption by the United Nations (UN) in 2015 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which link philanthropy to the global development agenda, confirming a change in paradigm from charity to development. These global processes have also led to increased interest in official development frameworks.

SDGfunders, an international philanthropy platform for foundations and international development bodies, recorded the philanthropy flows that were provided in relation to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) from their launch until 2015. These flows exceeded $30,5 billion globally, and included more than $6,6 billion to sub-Saharan Africa. Strikingly, this figure does not include philanthropic flows to areas outside those specified in the MDGs, nor intra-African philanthropic flows. The real number is therefore much larger. And it is the flow of philanthropic money within Africa that is increasingly becoming the subject of research and literature.

Additionally, increasing economic growth rates have led to a rising number of HNW individuals in Africa. According to the New World Wealth Report 2015, Africa has the fastest growing HNW individuals market in the world. The report found that the number of African individuals classified as HNW individuals has increased by 145% over the past 14 years, compared with a worldwide HNW individual population growth of 73% over the same period. And the wealth of African HNW individuals has increased by even higher proportions. The report further projects that Africans with assets more than US$30 million will double by 2025.

The same countries and cities that have seen the highest growth in HNW individuals are unsurprisingly among those where African philanthropy is flourishing. South Africa and Nigeria are leading the growth surge in this respect, with Johannesburg containing the most multimillionaires on the continent.

Wealthy African individuals see philanthropy as part of the African identity. Accordingly, as the number of HNW individuals grows, there is an increase in the number of institutions, networks and organisations established by wealthy African individuals, politicians, celebrities and philanthropy activists.

To enable this expanding philanthropic sector to thrive and function effectively in its uniquely African context, three elements are required: practise, dialogue and the production of knowledge. The last includes research, teaching, community outreach and measurement – using data to measure the practical impact of a philanthropic intervention.

Two recent developments in Africa speak directly to progress in these areas. The first is the growth of platforms such as the African Philanthropy Network (previously the African Grantmakers Network) and the African Philanthropy Forum. The former brings together foundations, trusts and agencies, and the latter HNW individuals to promote dialogue and sharing of knowledge and best practice in respect of African philanthropy in an African context.

The second is the appointment of the Chair in African Philanthropy in February of this year at the University of Witwatersrand in collaboration with the Southern Africa Trust. This is the first of its kind in Africa, recognising the increasing interest in literature and scholarship in the area of African philanthropy. It is expected that the Chair will spearhead teaching and community engagement across the continent, produce internationally recognised research, foster innovation and explore various ways to strategise African-centric mechanisms of giving.

These spaces provide recognition and celebration of the many forms that African philanthropy can take, which can differ from standard practice in the global North. A study of HNW individuals by UBS and TrustAfrica, entitled ‘Africa’s Wealthy Give Back’, revealed that the giving practices and philanthropic activities of African HNW individuals are informed by their personal experiences of poverty and other broader societal and economic challenges at which philanthropic efforts are aimed.

Philanthropy in Africa is an intrinsic part of African life. And African HNW individuals tend to respond to the issues – and communities – that they know. This means that their giving often focuses on the extended family and local community, and the sectors that receive particular attention include education and health. In addition to the trends in the direction of the philanthropy initiatives of African HNW individuals, although a proportionately low amount of an individual’s wealth might be donated, typically their giving goes beyond simple finance to include time, skills, expertise, networks and other informal forms of donation. Engagement is seen as going beyond money.

The study also found that, in all African countries, giving was predominantly within the boundaries of the country of the HNW individual in question. However, as the continental sustainable development agenda takes root and growing African economies begin to look to regional and continental policy interests over national agendas, the focus of HNW individuals and their philanthropic efforts is likely to shift in a similar way to a more international outlook and towards a pan-African approach to continental self-reliance.

In a context where African countries are turning increasingly inward for resources, the philanthropic sector is becoming more central in directing policy and guiding the sustainability programmes of countries throughout the continent, and African HNW individuals are more and more able to contribute to this development. What is critical is that philanthropic initiatives recognise the importance of an African understanding of community, and integrate into the African culture and context in the course of their own advancement.

It is a vibrant time for African philanthropy. By promoting an enabling, knowledge-sharing environment, African philanthropy will continue to thrive and to play an ever-more significant role in our continent’s narrative.

Dr Bhekinkosi Moyo is the executive director of the Southern Africa Trust and Chairperson of the African Philanthropy Network.