Expert opinion
Russell Ally, University of Cape Town –
What do we really know about charity fundraising and philanthropy in Africa?


How much do Europeans know about charity, fundraising and philanthropy in Africa? I confess, personally, not much. I have had some dealings with organisations who work in some African countries and have been lucky enough to go to Kenya on holiday and work trips to Tanzania a few times, but as to knowing, understanding and appreciating philanthropy in the African continent, although interesting to me, this is where I have (until now) drawn a blank.
So, this week I enlisted the help of Russell Ally, Executive Director of the University of Cape Town. Russell has also worked for the Ford Foundation in Johannesburg, C.S Mott Foundation and for the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights in South Africa. Russell seemed like a good person to discuss the philanthropy situation in Africa, and he did not let me down.
In conversation with Russell he explained that traditionally funds came to various parts of Africa through foundations such as the Ford Foundation, Carnegie Foundation and development agencies. Also, with the UN giving technical support and UNICEF, UNDP etc helping with human rights issues. This is now beginning to change. With organised philanthropy in the last 10 -15 years, organisations have started to consolidate resources. Whilst it is still nowhere near the levels of Europe, UK or Asia and the US, it is the beginning of change.
We are now seeing the third and fourth generation of institutional change; Africans who have made money, built up businesses and wealth and are now in a position to be philanthropic with that wealth.
A great example of this is Dr Mo Ibrahim. Dr Ibrahim is the Founder and Chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation which he established in 2006 to support good governance and exceptional leadership on the African continent. He is Sudanese-born and has had a distinguished career in business:  in 1989 he founded Mobile Systems International (MSI), a cellular consulting and software provider and in 1998 he founded Celtel International, one of Africa’s leading mobile telephone companies which pioneered mobile services in Africa.
As well as receiving numerous honorary degrees and fellowships from a range of UK academic institutions he has also achieved numerous awards; the BNP Paribas Prize for Philanthropy (2008), the Oslo Business for Peace Award (2009), the Clinton Global Citizen Award (2010), the Millenium Excellence Award for Actions in Africa (2012) and the Africare Leadership Award (2013) to name just a few.
Dr Ibrahim created the Mo Ibrahim Foundation in 2006 with one focus: to establish the critical importance of governance and leadership for Africa:

“While economic aid and relief efforts for Africa are wonderful and commendable acts of solidarity, we need to change the way our countries are run. I hope that my foundation can help change the mindset and place Governance and Leadership at the heart of the international development debate”.

In other words, Africans doing it for themselves, not relying on handouts from others.

Another great example of an African philanthropy is Aliko Dangote. Mr Dangote is a Nigerian business mogul and philanthropist who is the founder and chairman of the Dangote Group. For those not familiar with Dangote, it is a multi-trillion dollar conglomerate with many of its operations in Benin, Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia and Togo. Manufacturing includes food processing, cement and freight. The Dangote Group also dominates the sugar market in Nigeria, and is a major supplier to the country’s soft drink companies, breweries and confectioners. It is the largest industrial group in Nigeria. Similarly to Dr Ibrahim, Mr Dangote also wanted to give something back and created the Aliko Dangote Foundation (ADF) in 1994. The mission: “to enhance opportunities for social change through strategic investments that improve health and wellbeing, promote quality education, and broaden economic empowerment opportunities.” The primary focus of ADF is child nutrition, with wraparound interventions centred on health, education and empowerment, and disaster relief. It is now the largest private Foundation in sub-saharan Africa, with the largest endowment by a single African donor.
Whilst African foundations are well and truly capable of independent financing, they are not averse to collaboration. In 2013 ADF began a partnership working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and key northern State Governments in Nigeria to eradicate polio and strengthen routine immunisation in Nigeria.
Another friend of Bill and Melinda Gates, and first African contributor to the Giving Pledge, is Patrice Motsepe (Pictured below, far left) founder of the Motsepe Foundation.
Mr Motsepe is a South African mining businessman and owns the world’s 12th largest gold mining company. In 2012, Motsepe was named South Africa’s richest man, topping the Sunday Times’ annual Rich List with an estimated fortune of $1 billion.  The Motsepe Foundation was founded on the philosophy of ‘ubuntu’, the African concept of giving and caring for your neighbour and other members of your community. The founders of the foundation believe that the act of giving back has been and still is an integral part of their moral duty and collective responsibility. 
Over the last 30 years worldwide poverty has decreased sharply from over 40% to under 20%, but before we give ourselves a collective pat on the back, note that in African countries the percentage has barely changed. Today in over 40% of Africa, sub-saharan inhabitants live in absolute poverty. The Motsepe Foundation recognises this and “strives to reduce poverty, through education initiative, job creation and by redressing inequality, with a specific focus on marginalised and rural communities”.
African Philanthropy will not replace international philanthropy, at least not in our lifetime, but the catalyst has begun.  Perhaps it doesn’t need to replace it; perhaps there is room for them to operate side by side in their own specialities. International philanthropy traditionally is more responsive and follows the ‘trends’ and the objectives of the foundations, often focusing on health and education; while these aspects are of course important, Africa has need for focus on human rights and more complex issues too, which International philanthropy often shies away from. It is quite common for international NGOs to start with the exit plan, but in Africa some issues have a such an ingrained legacy and are so stubborn that they cannot be healed with a sticking plaster. African philanthropists know this and are starting to act for the long term and be accountable for their own country’s future development.
With all this proactivity and long-term planning, I asked Russell what about now, and effects of COVID-19? He confirmed there has been a general decrease in individuals giving to Africa, but a Foundation’s job is to donate, and they have continued to do so – for now. There is some nervousness and anxiety about if that will continue and it is too early to tell what the longer-term effects will be financially and for the general well-being of Africans. We will have to wait and see.
It is a tough time for everyone globally, with many organisations having to potentially dip into their reserves and be strategic and frugal with what they still have left. No one knows what will happen post COVID-19, but what is clear is there is a new generation of African Philanthropy wanting to give back, knowing that the problems may not be solved tomorrow, or the next day, but for now they can begin to spin the wheel of change. Here is to a brave new world Africa.
If you’d like to hear more about philanthropy and fundraising in Africa, Russell Ally will be speaking at the International Fundraising Across Borders online conference in November.  There will be specific sessions on fundraising from Africa for charitable causes in Europe, Asia and North America, as well as sessions on fundraising for African causes from those areas and from Latin America and the Middle East. 
To find out more, please visit  www.chapel-york.com/ifabonline


Contributing organisation: 
Chapel & York

This expert opinion is tagged under:

  • International giving
  • Promoting philanthropy
  • Social investment
  • Trusts & foundations