Is philanthropy taking off in Africa?

Samantha Spooner
Writer, Mail & Guardian Africa
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Kenyans on Twitter just raised more than $60,000 for man with a brain tumour in two days – six times the amount requested.
Emmanuel Jadudi tweeted that he was “overwhelmed” and did not know how to thank them for the money raised. On Tuesday, Kenyan blogger Jackson Biko urged Kenyans to donate money to help Jadudi fly to India for a fourth brain operation.

Might this indicate that African charity, and fundraising, is about to explode?

Africa’s billionaires have already been giving to charity in ways never seen before.

Jadudi’s case is remarkable, because just eight months ago, we published this article wondering how long the continent would take to get to this:

These countries lacked the adequate resources and personnel to keep up with the rate of infections and so three local health organisations – Public Health Initiative Liberia, 50/50 Group from Sierra Leone and the Coalition of women and girls of Guinea for Dialogue COFFIG from Guinea – came together and launched the campaign in October.

Since then the Facebook page for the group has received only 648 likes and the page’s administration issued posts which say “Share, Comment, Like but most importantly, GIVE” – a clear sign that the donations aren’t rolling in fast enough despite interest in the posts.

The problem here is that although African philanthropy has been mushrooming on the continent as a result of improved infrastructure, a larger donor base – Africa has the fastest growing middle class in the world – and better communications, pan-African philanthropy is not going to happen any time soon. This is because when there is money to give Africans will give at home before they look elsewhere.

This happens for a variety of reasons. Firstly, that Africans, like many people around the world, are more likely to help their fellow countrymen before others and, due to incompetencies in government or a lack in government funding, come together to deal with specific issues. In Africa there are three broad ways that define the way in which money is donated; a high net worth individual makes a donation to an institution or cause, a local organisation continuously raises resources from a range of sources towards denied charitable aims or where a community pools resources to tackle their own challenges. All of these approaches are local, aimed to deal with local problems of which there are plenty and which makes Africans less likely to give to a pan-African cause.

Money stays at home

Africa’s high net worth individuals give approximately $7 billion every year – but this is mostly in response to local needs. A clear example of this is Nigeria’s 2012 Flood Relief Fund. Here at least three of Africa’s wealthiest people; Aliko Dangote (President of the Dangote Group), Jim Ovia (Founder of the Zenith Bank) and Tony Elumelu (Chairman of Heirs Holdings) donated over $22 million to the fund. They are all Nigerian and rallied to a Nigerian cause. This could be because they are philanthropic by nature but it could also be that their corporate social responsibility inclines them to help causes in one way or another.

These high net-worth individuals are also more likely to create foundations that will continue philanthropic efforts “at home”. For example, Francois van Niekerk, the South African founder of Mertech Group who gave 70% of his equity to his Mergon Foundation, which funds education, health and skills-building initiatives or Theophilus Danjuma, Nigeria, the chairman of South Atlantic Petroleum who gave $100 million to set up the TY Danjuma Foundation, a grant-making organisation that partners with NGOs in education, health, policy and poverty-related fields.

Giving across borders

There are high-net worth philanthropists who donated across borders but this happens rarely and is more likely to stick to the region. For example Ashish J. Thakkar the Ugandan CEO of the Mara Group who spent $1 million funding the Mara Foundation, which sponsors renovations for dozens of Ugandan high schools, funds building workshops for teachers across East Africa and offers scholarships to hundreds of destitute students of East African origin in addition to offering free mentorship to startup entrepreneurs.

Giving however is not limited to high net-worth individuals. In South Africa the annual “Casual Day” is the country’s largest fundraising event which includes the participation of approximately 4,500 companies, 100 hundred schools and 400 organisations. The campaign invites participants to dress differently for a day to raise funds and raise awareness of persons with disabilities – to earn the right to dress up this way, participants make a donation of $1.

In Kenya, the “Kenyans for Kenya”, is an example of how a community will pool resources towards a cause and is one of the country’s most successful fundraisers. It started in July 2011 and aimed to raise approximately $5.28 million – in one month; that target was reached in 10 days. This money was raised from ordinary Kenyans and organisations who donated whatever they could.

Lining pockets

One reason why this was a successful fundraiser is because Kenyans had faith in the organisations who initiated it – Safaricom Foundation, Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB), Media Owners Association (MOA) – and the organisation that was implementing it – the Kenya Red Cross.

Africans are less likely to donate to a pan-African effort is because they may not be familiar with organisations handling the projects, or they are used to seeing the corruption that exists within local institutions and may not trust that their money will go to the right places.

After all, the continent has seen billions of dollars in aid come into the continent without much change. Donating to a cause affecting another country may seem like they’ll be lining the pockets of a crooked individual or politician next door.

But even though pan-African fundraising is less likely to occur, Africans do still buy into the good neighbourly spirit but only insofar as it doesn’t involve money. This is why there are so many concerts or public campaigns on social media – but unfortunately many of these result in very little pan-African action on the ground.

An example is the “Africans Act 4 Africa” campaign. In December 2011 African singers, TV personalities, activists and citizens came together to call on people across Africa to use social media in a day of action to end hunger in the continent. The campaign intended to send a message to African leaders that the crisis in the Horn of Africa at the time must be the last famine ever for the continent.

Bill Gates of Africa

When funding is needed to get a pan-African campaign going, the funders will often be external bodies. Take the “Cocoa na Chocolate” collaboration – this was one of the largest Pan-African music collaborations ever in Africa, in which 19 of the top recording artists from across the continent Africa joined forces and released a song, titled “Cocoa na Chocolate” to boost investments in agriculture. This was done by the ”Do Agric, It Pays” campaign.

While the notion of “Africans fundraising for Africa” in the fight against Ebola seems appealing to the pan-Africans amongst us – this movement is premature – citizens are less likely to donate to a pan-African cause. But all hope is not lost for pan-African philanthropy.

Even though it is a rarity, there are certain high-net worth individuals who are willing to step out for continent-wide causes.

Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote recently offered to assist Liberia in the fight against the spread of the Ebola virus disease. Another example is Sudanese billionaire Mo Ibrahim. Dubbed the “Bill Gates of Africa” for his philanthropic efforts on the continent. He has signed the “Giving Pledge” – a commitment by the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy. Ibrahim will hand over half his wealth and has offered a prize of $5 million over 10 years, and a further $200,000 for life, to African leaders who excel.

Need to travel, see, and feel

African philanthropy will rise, it’s just a matter of time. The issue is that African foundations are still in their infancy – once regulations are in place that allow them to develop, and citizens across borders become familiar with them, pan-African fundraising will be easier.

Another factor handicapping pan-African campaigns is that there is not enough regional travel. Being able to travel and see issues firsthand that another country or community is facing develops empathy and increases the chances of donations being made across borders. One reality affecting this are the high costs of pan-African travel due to high government taxes on fuel and tickets, and airlines are charged higher insurance premiums than established airlines in other countries.

Once these costs come down and Africans can more readily travel between states pan-African philanthropy will develop further.  It will take a great deal of time, but once these hurdles are overcome, the rise in pan-African fundraising will become more of a reality.

This article is published in collaboration with Mail & Guardian. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Samantha Spooner is an editor, researcher and writer for Mail & Guardian Africa.

Image: Girls look at a poster, distributed by UNICEF, bearing information on and illustrations of best practices that help prevent the spread of Ebola virus disease (EVD), in the city of Voinjama, in Lofa County, Liberia. REUTERS/Ahmed Jallanzo/UNICEF/Handout via Reuters
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