Philanthropic investments can provide a powerful antidote to extreme poverty

To maintain the impressive growth of the last decade, African economies require increased investment in sectors ranging from agribusiness to infrastructure to renewable energy. Development dollars and foreign direct investment are only a piece of the puzzle—Africans themselves must also fuel development. Africa’s growing network of tycoons from Nigeria’s Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man, and Tanzania’s Mohammed Dewij, Africa’s youngest billionaire, are shaping large-scale positive change across the continent through their business and philanthropic investments. Such investors find a formalized community in the African Philanthropy Forum, a network of African strategic philanthropists and social investors who are committed to inclusive and sustainable development.

Mo Ibrahim is a Sudanese telecom billionaire who, through the work of his Mo Ibrahim Foundation, is devoted to promoting good governance in Africa. He established the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, which provides the winner with $5 million over ten years and a $200,000 annual stipend for the rest of the winner’s life. Many African leaders are reluctant to leave office because they no longer have access to various perks and thus the award serves as an incentive to leave power. Folorunsho Alakija is a Nigerian business tycoon who is also using her wealth to invest in Africa and combat poverty. Her philanthropic work is mainly involved with providing scholarships and business grants to those who cannot afford a good and quality education.

African growth will mean productivity increases in agriculture, as well as an increased manufacturing presence on the continent and improved infrastructure networks. This cannot happen without investment, and African billionaires represent a major source of wealth that can be used to drive African economic development. Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest and most philanthropic businessman, epitomizes this commitment. He invests in companies, primarily cement factories and power generation plants, throughout Africa and has also pledged over $1.2 billion to health and youth empowerment in Nigeria through his Aliko Dangote Foundation. Dangote is focused on investing in Africa and keeping profits on the African continent. In emphasizing the importance of investment coming from Africans themselves, Dangote has said that, “nothing is going to help Nigeria like Nigerians bringing back their money. If you give me $5 billion today, I will invest everything here in Nigeria. Let us put our heads together and work.”

Billionaires possess the resources to make large-scale impact, and face a moral imperative to give back to society. Oxfam International has reported that the eighty-five richest people in the world have as much wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest. Those with wealth thus have a duty to engage in philanthropy and take part in such initiatives as the Giving Pledge, which is a commitment by the world’s wealthiest individuals to donate a majority of their wealth to philanthropy. Such generosity of billionaires provides a powerful antidote to extreme poverty in Africa as well as the rest of the world. It is important to note that philanthropists can take risks that governments and nonprofits cannot. As philanthropist Howard Buffett has said, “We can use our independence to be more innovative and try things that others may not want to try.” African Development Bank research has showed that about 100,000 Africans had a net worth of $800 billion in 2008 or 80% of Sub Saharan Africa’s GDP. Those Africans who do hold large quantities of wealth can do much to combat this inequality, and have a responsibility to contribute to the best possible future for all Africans.