macroafricaintel | Positioning African philanthropy for greater impact

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

In mid-May, the Africa Centre on Philanthropy and Social Investment (ACPSI) at Wits Business School of the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, in collaboration with the Centre for African Studies at Harvard University and others, would host a conference on philanthropy. The effort, the first for the new centre at Wits, highlights not only the increasing importance of giving on the continent, but the even greater imperative of systemising such efforts.

The focus here is on giving in a way that benefits the most Africans in need. It also encompasses how to channel the giving of wealthy Africans to such ends in the most optimal way. Ultimately, the ideal should be that charitable giving, whether by Africans or non-Africans, be directed towards what Africans really need help with.

With poverty levels stubbornly high, amid abundant wealth in land and minerals, the rich few are self-interestedly beginning to see the wisdom of giving back. More than 300 million Africans, about 30 percent of the population, suffer from severe food insecurity; based on data by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). And “Africa has the highest prevalence of undernourishment” in the World. Unemployment is high, especially among young Africans, and has been linked to armed conflict.

According to the World Hunger Education Service, a non-profit organisation, factors adjudged to be responsible for this sorry state of affairs include poverty, conflict, environmental challenges, governance, and population growth. Thus, aid and philanthropic efforts on the continent must aim to address these issues.

A systematic approach is necessary for success and meaningful impact. And almost certainly, an indigenous intellectual base has to be part of any such approach. So, the establishment of the ACPSI by Wits University is a welcome development.

What are the specific areas philanthropic efforts on the continent could focus on right away? The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation could be a role model in this regard. The aspect of interest is its efforts towards combating infectious diseases like malaria and polio.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 90 percent of the more than one million people that malaria kills annually are Africans. And most of these are children. The success recorded with polio, cases of which the WHO reports “have decreased by over 99% since 1988, from an estimated 350,000 cases in more than 125 endemic counries then, to 29 reported cases in 2018”, is proof systematic thinking and effort can make a huge difference.

How can such systemisation be adapted by less endowed institutions for less prominent but equally important issues? That is a constraint easily resolved by having intellectual bases like the ACPSI.

Still, such resolutions need not come from the ivory tower of academia. For instance, since it is abundantly clear that a lack of jobs underpins the poverty in most African countries, the Tony Elumelu Foundation’s focus on entrepreneurship demonstrates such systematic thinking does not require much ceremony.

The foundation trains bright young and driven Africans to set up and manage businesses, who upon completion of the programme, get seed capital to fulfil their dreams. It is an approach, which if copied by other well-meaning rich Africans, could be tremendously impactful.

Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man, has also set up a foundation. His aims to “reduce the number of lives lost to malnutrition and disease.” And via “investments in health, education, and economic empowerment”, it aims to lift people out of poverty.

A survey of these philanthropic efforts suggests many engage in more or less the same things. There is thus a strong case for greater systemisation and collaboration for greater impact.

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