Campaign: Global Citizen News

Africa’s Rich and the Culture of Philanthropy

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By Maxine Chikumbo, Girl Up Initiative Uganda

‘Ubuntu’ is the Bantu word for ‘humanity’, and a philosophy throughout sub-Saharan Africa that is based on the relationship between the individual and the collective -- ‘humanity towards others’ or ‘I am what I am because we all are’. Many of us have heard this expression before, including in messaging highlighting the importance of cooperation to ensure gender equality becomes the norm.

While the team at Girl Up Initiative Uganda (GUIU) consists mostly of local Ugandans investing their time, expertise, passion, and resources, the same cannot be the said about our sources of funding, which often come from international donors and philanthropists from the United States.

This does not just apply to GUIU, but also to other community-based organizations, or wholly foreign groups working locally. In both cases, they supply aid, expertise, networks, and other resources to those trying to address a particular community problem. That said, questions about the significance of local “ubuntuism”, charity, community engagement, or the culture of philanthropy have been raised - not just internally at GUIU, but at the highest levels of development leadership and scholarship. It has been a subject of intense debate by individuals such as Dambiso Moyo, who challenged the effectiveness of foreign aid to Africa as a whole.

How sustainable is this dependence on foreign aid in sub-Saharan Africa? What happens when what some consider to be ‘hand outs’ stop? What if those on the continent en mass turned some of their energy and resources into tangible examples of ‘ubuntu’? Would increased engagement from local leaders, community stewards, politicians, thought leaders, the wealthy, or celebrities change the current funding dynamic? A recent visit and upcoming benefit concert on June 30th at the Kampala Serena Hotel with South African artist PJ Powers got us thinking...

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“We are organising a charity benefit concert where South African singer PJ Powers will sing live. Our organisation is dependant on foreign donors, and to be able to raise money locally is something that will be very new for us and we are very excited. It will be a night to come together to celebrate our hard work and be part of a charitable cause.” -- said Monica Nyiraguhabwa, ED & Co-Founder of Girl Up Initiative Uganda

The truth is in many cases across Africa, resources are plentiful but scarce at the same time - whether this is a result of resources being unevenly distributed, or mismanaged. In addition, philanthropy is sometimes considered an outside or alien concept to many, especially to those coming from or surrounded by poverty, or who suddenly attain some form of success or an increase in income. Even if the desire to practice ‘ubuntu’ is there or done in other ways, it does not always materialize monetarily and at scale. Much of what we see in Uganda and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa is wealth and power being used to benefit immediate family and friends, and a growing social and economic gap between those with resources and those without.

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At Girl Up Initiative Uganda, we believe that the low levels of philanthropy at a large scale and at a higher frequency are a result of multiple factors. Rectifying this could cut down on foreign dependency cycles and empower people with a greater sense of self-efficacy to use local funds for local projects; while setting an example for others. Some of these reasons include:

Loss aversion: People with resources fear to lose what they have worked hard to attain, and want to use what they have while they still have it.

Not enough examples and hesitant leaders: There seems to be a belief that being philanthropic as an individual will not make much of a difference, especially when your peers or influential persons are not engaged in community affairs in that way. Governments also need to ensure there are policies in place that encourage philanthropy, such as tax exemptions for charitable donations and refrain from interfering for political reasons.

A wide range of priorities: In the case of social investing, women and girls’ rights can fall to the wayside with philanthropy being directed toward other areas such as entrepreneurship, public health, and disaster relief. Perhaps the best thing would be to highlight how this area underscores nearly all other development goals.

A slew of recently released reports, articles, and forums are exploring and challenging the predominant discourse around foreign aid and instead are fostering a culture of giving, organizational philanthropy, and the business case for sustainability. There is also a growing group of African philanthropists and business titans who are setting an example of philanthropy in Africa, such as Tony Elumelu, Strive Masiwaya, Dr. Precious Motsepe, and Mo Ibrahim (who views his approach as a more sustainable form of charity rather than short-term solutions he referred to as ‘painkiller s’). These are a few examples of individuals who have found innovative ways to make a case for the private sector to invest in philanthropy, or ‘Africapitalism’; to counter the handout culture. But, we could always do more.

To that point, according to the 2015 World Wealth Report, Africa has the fastest-growing market of high net worth individuals (HNWIs) in the world; predicted to double by 2025 at a faster rate than the rest of the globe. Is this an opportunity worth monitoring as organizations seek ways to make their initiatives self-sustaining closer to home while empowering communities?

This is part of the reason why PJ Powers’ upcoming Jabulani Charity Concert in Uganda has us excited! It is an example of what can be done in the realm of local funding for social development- where locally-based organizations can look at creative means to leverage sustainable and local sources of funding. A model wherein Africans can start looking at their own resources rather than waiting for outsiders. We are grateful that PJ Powers has offered her talent and influence to join GUIU’s cause to educate and empower girls and young women and be part a more sustainable form of fundraising. We would like to take efforts such as these more seriously, foster this ideology with our partners, and encourage other community-based organizations to look within for funding rather than outside.

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