29 Nov African Philanthropy – A Story of Pluralism
Since time immemorial, generosity towards others who are worse off by giving more than one expects to get back – a practice of gifting – is a bedrock of human interactions everywhere. This pro-social behaviour is an important source of inter-personal capital as well as being vital for social cohesion through trusted relational webs and networks which contribute to a country’s resilience. Philanthropy is a relatively recent vocabulary that often translates ‘vertically’ into rich people using their private wealth for public good. However, this much publicised practice of gifting lives alongside many others that are less visible but essential for a societies’ well-being and development. Hidden gifting was and remains particularly important in Africa’s (his)story.
Since time immemorial, generosity towards others who are worse
off by giving more than one expects to get back – a practice of
gifting - is a bedrock of human interactions everywhere.
Over many centuries, the nature of gifting on the continent has expanded and pluralised in ‘signature’ ways. With the influence of faiths not be underestimated, communal systems of support were monetised and overlaid by charity and subsequent ways of bringing external support through official aid and private donations. These interactions produced a blending of local and foreign practices creating innovative organisational forms, such as self-help savings and burial groups, community foundations, African financed grant makers and indigenous social investors. This evolution is being complemented by local resource mobilization from Africa’s High Net worth individuals and the Diaspora. Another force for pluralisation is the advancement of corporate citizenships’ funding for social causes and public benefit, abetted by philanthropic investment directed at impact and social enterprise. In addition, small and medium scale enterprises operating locally and closer to updated customary practices are offering potential pathways for gifting attuned to local conditions. The result is an African narrative of gifting with a rich diversity of practices.
With many years of embedding ahead, in March an inaugural seminar grounded the Chair in Philanthropy with a pan-African focus and mandate. This event showed that knowledge about the pluralism of gifting on the continent is very uneven with biases towards vertical practices. There was also uncertainty about if and
how businesses operating on the continent appreciate the value of African philanthropy. This situation calls for prioritizing academic effort of practical relevance. One priority is to instigate research which evens up the knowledge landscape from Cape to Cairo, so to speak. Another is to selectively introduce African philanthropy into the Wits Business School teaching curricula and Executive Education initiatives, enhancing the continent’s human capacity in this development field. Early effort will also be given to communications,
propagating an African philanthropy narrative into international discourse. Finally, the business model for the Chair needs to be pinned down and a full time professor appointed. On a clearer track, please expect more updates to come.
Alan Fowler (Prof)