The widely held understanding of philanthropy in Africa recognizes and presupposes the flow of resources, effort and generosity largely in one direction: from outside of Africa into Africa. For centuries that notion has remained mostly unchanged. Africa has the reputation of being a foreign aid dependent continent, which is in reality far from the truth.
There is a growing body of evidence that Africa’s wealth is increasing and high net worth Africans are sprouting across the continent at a remarkable rate. The 2014 Africa Wealth Report indicates that the number of high net worth individuals in Africa grew by over 150% between 2000 and 2013, more than double the global rate. This has resulted in the emergence of foundations and charities set up by Africans like Aliko Dangote, Mo Ibrahim, Tony Elumelu, Folorunsho Alakija and Graça Machel to name a few. Efforts are also being made by Africans in the diaspora to give back to the continent by forming organizations to fund and volunteer in Africa. This indicates that even larger supplies of effort and resources circulate both from Africans outside the continent to those at home as well as within the African continent itself.
This phenomenon is not just the result of increasing wealth on the continent and the growing numbers of corporate, private and family foundations, charities and non-profits cropping up every year; it is also growing among what I call ‘everyday Africans’; the middle and lower class people who too recognize the needs within their communities and who mobilize their collective resources to be agents of change themselves. These range from feeding orphans in their communities to sinking boreholes for clean water.
The growing trend in African philanthropy has been the use of mobile money as a means of raising money for causes. In 2011, ‘Kenya for Kenyans’, a campaign to provide famine relief to over 3 million Kenyans, raised £6million from 250,000 individuals. Various platforms, like Afineety, M-Change and Startme have also been set up to facilitate crowdfunding for individuals and groups seeking funding for everything from capital or causes. Local philanthropists want to give back and are increasingly giving to causes they care about within their communities and responding to mass appeals. And digital resources are making it easier and trackable.
However, what has not grown along with their effort and agency is the global recognition of the scale and impact. There are many reasons why this is the case, and I would argue that because of its peculiarities and manifestation, African philanthropy needs its own name. Here are some reasons why:
1. It is not a new concept: practices like Harambees, Tontines and Susu to mobilize funding within community support groups have existed across the continent for a long time.
2. It is growing fast. One need look at indicators such as the growth in remittances returned to the continent from Africans in the diaspora, which according to the World Bank exceeded Overseas Development Assistance by three to four times in 2013 alone.
3. It is difficult to capture.
4. It is different from the ‘mainstream’ as defined by the rest of the world. By virtue of our proximity to and familiarity with the challenges in Africa we inherently have a different and unique perspective on their origins and also on what the solutions should be.
Afrilanthropy’s motivations are internal and more personal: Western philanthropy has been about helping people ‘over there.’ Afrilanthropy is about helping people “right here.”
This week I read a story about Afrilanthropy that moved me to my core. A grassroots organization in Zimbabwe, concerned about the growing problem of mental health in the country and the shortage or professional expertise to deliver help, has developed a program called “Friendship Benches” that mobilizes grandmothers who are trained to offer frontline problem-solving therapy for people battling anxiety and depression and sit on park benches in Harare and other cities to offer this service. The idea is ingenious. That’s Afrilanthropy!
Every year, Charities Aid Foundation publishes the World Giving Index, and consistently African countries lag behind, whereas evidence exists that Africa is mobilized in large part by the generosity of its people towards each other. “The term “philanthropy” is not generally understood nor is it preferred in Africa – simply because it is not inclusive both in its scope and reach. The classical definition and indeed the very historical trajectory of philanthropy from the American and perhaps European understanding are not fully encompassing of the nature and character of what in Africa can be likened to “philanthropy,” asserts Bhekinkosi Moyo. (Philanthropy in Africa, Encyclopedia of Civil Society, 2010).
I propose that we use the term Afrilanthropist, (which is slowly emerging, but not yet widely used) as it is more specialized and more directed, recognizing the smallest efforts put in by benevolent everyday Africans, differentiating it from that which comes from elsewhere. Across this continent, millions of people are change-agents in their communities, bringing hope to the underprivileged, yet they never feel the warm glow of a spotlight which recognizes their labors of love. They may not have the wealth, influence or resources and may be even going through the same as those they help but their impact supersedes their want for recognition and their sacrifices are no less important.
At JA Africa, we’ve begun inspiring the next generation of youth to develop a habit of giving through our programs. For example, in teaching financial literacy to young children, we also introduce them as early at an early age to the concept of donating, and elevating giving as a key component of financial health at par with budgeting, earning and investing. This donating can be of time, talent or treasure. The goal, among others, is to begin to develop the habit of giving.
My hope is that this will inspire the next generation of African philanthropists – of Afrilanthropists- to give back to Africa. I want the next generation to understand that among ourselves we, Africans, are change-makers and that the deepest most lasting change-agency must come from within.