Through an agreement with UK-based Alliance magazine, PND is pleased to be able to offer a series of articles about global philanthropy.

African Philanthropy Comes to the Policy Table

African Philanthropy Comes to the Policy Table

Philanthropy, or the act of giving, finds itself on an exciting cusp in contemporary Africa. While the term "philanthropy" may still conjure up perceptions of "vertical" charitable giving (the rich in the North giving to the poor in the South), many consider giving to be an intrinsic part of African life and customs, with horizontal forms of philanthropy (referring to peer-to-peer giving or assistance within poor communities based on reciprocity, solidarity, and cooperation) having long been practiced in Africa.

The past two decades have seen a rise in more formal forms of giving aimed at addressing specific issues and creating impact at a more structural level. Formal structures of philanthropy in Africa include foundations and trusts set up by high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs), as well as charitable organizations that, while established with external resources, are led by Africans and have distinct objectives related to African development. Well-known foundations established by HNWIs include the Aliko Dangote Foundation in Nigeria and the Chandaria Foundation in Kenya, while charitable trusts and vehicles that promote philanthropy include the Southern African Trust as well as the Ghana-based African Women's Development Fund.

The growth of homegrown philanthropy in Africa has its roots in a number of phenomena, one of them being the 2008 financial crisis, which resulted in longstanding foreign donors being forced to reflect on their support for some countries in Africa. The limits of development assistance deepened the discourse around self-sufficiency and sustainability, particularly in regards to Africa's attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Being hopeful about domestic resource mobilization is not unrealistic when looking at the steady growth of wealthy Africans on the continent. By 2017, there were 167,970 HNWIs in Africa with a combined wealth of $1.7 trillion. This gives some indication of the potential for major giving. In reality, however, the scale of giving is not known, and many HNWIs give anonymously or are reluctant to publicize their donations in totality.

Basic needs versus policy

There is a general dearth of published material on if and how philanthropy supports policy development. Foreign donors such as the Ford Foundation, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, and the Heinrich Böll Foundation, among others, have long supported policy advocacy in Africa. However, the extent to which African HNW philanthropy is geared toward supporting policy development or advocacy is more nebulous. The few available studies on patterns of HNW giving in Africa suggests that support is largely geared toward interventions related to education, health, entrepreneurial activities, and infrastructure development. These programs, while fundamental to well-being in Africa, are preferred, as they are tangible and relatively easy to account for. By contrast, policy work requires long-term support and its outcomes often are not easily visible or measurable. This may not be attractive to philanthropists, many of whom are located in commercial sectors and who often apply business discipline to the investment of resources.

Established in 2013 in South Africa, the Social Justice Initiative (SJI) is funded largely by local philanthropy. SJI supports civil society organizations that undertake activities related to policy advocacy, a strategy critical for achieving systemic change. According to the organization’s executive director, Bongi Mlangeni, when engaging philanthropists SJI articulates the importance of responding to a social issue comprehensively, rather than a policy issue in isolation. For example, working with philanthropists to address gender-based violence (GBV) involves highlighting the endemic nature of the problem and its relationship to many other societal problems. Donations received are used for both policy advocacy as well as service delivery interventions for GBV survivors.

Growing evidence of a change

A recent study of nineteen philanthropy institutions in Africa revealed that while many still focus on service delivery, particularly in education, there is growing support for policy advocacy. Such policies include those related to health, housing, education, food security, natural resource governance, rural development, and micro-credit. The motivations for supporting policy advocacy were not fleshed out in the study, African Philanthropy: Evolution, Practice, and Change. However, the reason for this growing support could be based in the author's assertion that HNW philanthropists have, in the past, been criticized for their unwillingness to support policy initiatives that promote greater accountability within government structures.

There is also a concerted effort among philanthropic foundations in Kenya to engage more strategically with government. Research conducted between July 2016 and January 2017 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that the biggest reason foundations and government share data and information is in order for the former to influence policy and the latter to strengthen it. Again, and unfortunately, the specific details of what policies were influenced and strengthened and how were not explored.

Wellbeing Foundation founder Toyin Saraki has always been clear about her desire to work strategically with the government of Nigeria. During the African Philanthropy Forum’s (APF) 2017 annual conference in Nigeria, Saraki discussed her work with Nigeria's National Primary Health Care Development Agency, where she advocated for the training and re-deployment of retired midwives to rural areas. Those efforts contributed to a reduction in the country's maternal mortality rate in later years. The motivation to work at a systems level lay not only in Saraki’s own difficult childbirth experience, but also in the recognition that working with government was critical for Nigeria to attain that particular SDG.

Platforms strengthening policy advocacy

The move to strengthen the focus on policy development can also be seen at a regional level. The Kenya/Tanzania/Uganda Philanthropy Forum, a loose network of approximately forty philanthropy organizations working together to foster an enhanced policy environment, is an example of a collective voice for policy advocacy. In addition to advocating for improved policies in the education sector, the forum is working to create a more efficient and beneficial legal environment for philanthropy. Similarly, APF, as a platform for engaging philanthropists across Africa on sustainable development and strategic investments, has recognized the need to create more dialogue around working with government. According to the organization's executive director, Mosun Layode, APF believes that while philanthropists still generally tend to be service-driven, they are clear on wanting to be part of more systemic changes.

Beyond diplomacy with government

There is a belief that beyond simply working with government to help achieve national goals, HNW philanthropy could take a stronger stance on government accountability. Halima Mahomed noted in an earlier issue of Alliance that more critical analysis of certain policies and pieces of legislation was needed. Organizations such as the East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative (UHAI EASHRI), an indigenous activist fund in Kenya, adopts such a stance. UHAI EASHRI supports organizations working with sex workers and on sexual rights in seven African countries where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer/questioning, and asexual (LGBTIQA) rights are not always upheld, as well as interventions that challenge the effectiveness and constitutionality of policies and legislation, through funding for research and evidence-gathering, social mobilization, and capacity-building activities. For instance, it is currently supporting a petition to determine whether sections of Kenya’s Penal Code known as the morality clause are unconstitutional.

It is encouraging to see movement, albeit slow, toward greater support for policy work on the continent. Interventions with a more service-delivery slant certainly fill some social gaps for select communities. However, convincing philanthropists to invest in building a more efficient policy and legislative framework is one way to ensure that governments on the continent fulfill their obligations to meet the needs of all.

Lisa-Anne Julien (@lisaannejulien) is a development consultant and writer. This article originally appeared on Africa Portal and is reprinted here with the permission of Alliance magazine.