There has never been a greater time for African philanthropy and philanthropy in general than today. The momentum and interest around philanthropy have grown – at times surprisingly so, given that not so long ago philanthropy was accorded no role in formal and intergovernmental processes. Not many governments considered philanthropy in their policy processes; if they did, they would do so in disparaging or suspecting ways. African governments viewed philanthropy (particularly international foundations) as part of a western agenda to influence regime change.
This view, which many still hold, has in part been fuelled by the fact that many foundations have historically supported civil society organizations (CSOs) on social justice issues such as governance, human rights, poverty eradication, economic development and elections. Governments in Africa have not taken kindly to this support as it has tended to promote the idea of citizens holding governments to account. As a result, governments across the continent have targeted civil society and restricted its space through a range of legal, administrative and political measures.
The changing pattern of civil society and philanthropy in Africa
Historically, especially during the anti-colonial struggles, the lines between political and civil society were blurred; as soon as the new African liberation movements came into power, the lines became clear between the two. Civil society continued to play its watchdog role, and the one-party state – and subsequently, ironically, the democratic state – became wary of civil society. The more democratic the space became, the more vibrant civil society became, and the more the state became agitated. In turn, civil society was further emboldened and determined to hold the state and, increasingly, the business sector to account. In many ways, philanthropy – as part of civil society in Africa – reveals similar historical trends. Initially, most international foundations were geared towards supporting new nationalist governments, primarily through their planning departments, but there was a noticeable shift in the late 1970s towards a focus on supporting human rights and social justice. This was at a time when most African governments were adopting the one-party state system and pushing all dissenting or critical voices into hiding.
‘For the first time in history, African philanthropy is beginning to take a central role in questions of development and sustainability and is increasingly informing policy processes at a national level.’
Philanthropy centre stage
Now, however, across the continent, and for the first time in history, African philanthropy is beginning to take a central role in questions of development and sustainability and is increasingly informing policy processes at a national level. In 2009, the government of Liberia established the Liberia Philanthropy Secretariat – a platform for linking national priorities with philanthropic resources. In 2015, the African Union launched the African Union Foundation to mobilize voluntary contributions in support of the Union’s Agenda 2063. Meanwhile, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) is in the process of developing a framework for the inclusion of philanthropic activities in supporting its regional integration agenda. In Rwanda the government is currently developing a strategy to engage philanthropy in implementing Vision 2020. In South Africa, the National Treasury and Department of Science and Technology have conducted studies mapping current collaborations between philanthropy and government, mainly in areas of education and health; the result is the development of a mechanism or strategy for government to formally collaborate with philanthropy in a coherent way. Kenya and Ghana have collaborated with the United Nations Development Programme in its Post-2015 Partnership Platform for Philanthropy to establish their own philanthropy platforms. Clearly, something is happening here. It is not really about closing the space for civil society so much as opening the space for philanthropy. Philanthropy is being stretched and, depending on its appetite, it risks tearing itself. But if it recognizes the limits of its elasticity, it can measure the distance it wants to cover in these engagements.
‘For civil society to be able to perform its roles properly and effectively, it requires the kind of support that is provided in the main by philanthropy. Yet, in so doing, philanthropy has earned itself a characterization that depicts it as lacking democratic controls and accountability from both civil society and governments.’
Civil society, philanthropy and the state
It is clear that philanthropy cannot be viewed outside the confines of government–civil society relations. Philanthropy is a constitutive part of civil society, but it enjoys certain general privileges and has managed to forge a narrative that it is flexible in its funding modalities, that it is a risk taker and fosters innovation among some of its attractions. This works well for civil society in all spaces, closed or opened. For civil society to be able to perform its roles properly and effectively, it requires the kind of support that is provided in the main by philanthropy. Yet, in so doing, philanthropy has earned itself a characterization that depicts it as lacking democratic controls and accountability from both civil society and governments.
At the same time, because of its financial resources, philanthropy is often the favoured child in the civil society family. According to the World Wealth Report 2015, Africa has the fastest-growing market of high net worth individuals (HNWIs) in the world. The number of African HNWIs has increased by 145 per cent over the past 14 years, compared with a worldwide HNWI growth of 73 per cent over the same period. And the wealth of African HNWIs has increased by even higher proportions. Africans with assets of more than US$30 million will double by 2025.
Another recent report by the Foundation Center shows that the number of US foundations giving to Africa between 2002 and 2012 almost doubled from 135 in 2002 to 248 in 2012. Their funding also increased from $289 million in 2002 to $1.46 billion in 2012, given to 36 of the 54 African countries. These figures are drawn mainly from the big foundations, and they do not include amounts from other regions of the world such as Europe and, increasingly, Asia and African foundations. Unsurprisingly, this figure does not include the in-kind forms of philanthropy that most Africans depend on.
Philanthropy therefore has huge potential to supplement government services. African governments, knowing this, will craft ways through which these resources can be accessed. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation alone constituted 71 per cent of all US foundation giving to Africa. Governments may see this as a source of funding for its services, but a foundation as big as Gates could see it as an opportunity to influence government systems and develop innovative ways of working. Philanthropy can use its poster-child status to reform government cultures and systems without attracting the wrath that often faces NGOs and social movements that hold the government to account.
Philanthropy and development
But philanthropy is different today, especially when governments are experiencing declines in overseas development assistance (ODA), as many are in Africa. In the consultations leading to the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, held in Busan (July 2012), African countries placed great emphasis on the need to shift from aid effectiveness to development effectiveness. This resulted in the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, crafted to be as broad as possible to accommodate other forms of development resources.
This rethinking of development assistance has been apparent in recent global processes. The Financing for Development Conference that took place in Addis Ababa in July 2015 produced an outcome document and agenda that was endorsed by the UN General Assembly (Resolution 69/313 – July 2015), which officially included the role that ought to be played by philanthropy and foundations. Participants noted that:
We welcome the rapid growth of philanthropic giving and the significant financial and non-financial contribution philanthropists have made towards achieving our common goals. We recognize philanthropic donors’ flexibility and capacity for innovation and taking risks, and their ability to leverage additional funds through multi-stakeholder partnerships. We encourage others to join those who already contribute. We welcome efforts to increase cooperation between philanthropic actors, Governments and other development stakeholders. We call for increased transparency and accountability in philanthropy. We encourage philanthropic donors to give due consideration to local circumstances and align with national policies and priorities. We also encourage philanthropic donors to consider managing their endowments through impact investment, which considers both profit and non-financial impacts in its investment criteria.
(UN: Addis Ababa Action Agenda, p21)
It is clear that, while philanthropy in its many forms has always been part of supporting both civil society and governments, today it is moving into a defining new era.
There are concerns that this new era of philanthropy will lead to collusion between philanthropy and governments in pursuing government agendas, which could be at the expense of civil society. No doubt, governments are clear about their need to engage philanthropy: they are engaging philanthropy in order to meet global and national targets. Their intention is to align philanthropic interventions and resources with national priorities. Governments further recognize the value of risk taking, innovation and stakeholder engagement, which characterize philanthropy. These are not features to be found in any government, and yet increasingly citizens are pushing their governments hard on service delivery. It has become clear to some governments that they need philanthropy to provide these features.
So what now for philanthropy?
There are three things that philanthropy needs to do now. First, it needs to engage governments strategically while maintaining independence of action and approaches. In this regard, principles of engagement ought to be collectively developed and agreed upon between governments and philanthropies. Philanthropy must insist on a seat in policymaking but do so with humility. Second, the principles should identify areas of collaboration, including clear demarcations between political activities and developmental ones.
‘Philanthropy can use its status to demand reforms, the primary one being the provision of an enabling environment for civil society. Philanthropy needs to enter into government partnerships with one foot but leave the other firmly – and vigilantly – planted in civil society.’
Third, philanthropy still needs to continue supporting civil society and using its leverage and position with governments to push for reforms, including providing an enabling space for civil society. There is no doubt – the context demands it – that there will be more governments embarking on developing philanthropy strategies. In fact, they may not have a choice, given that the sustainable development goals (SDGs) 2030 agenda is underpinned by the principle of leaving no one behind. This principle calls for partnerships and increased investments. If philanthropy provided about $30 million towards the implementation of the millennium development goals (MDGs) – and, as the Foundation Center’s Brad Smith argues in his blog, foundations are projected to provide $364 billion of the $3.5 trillion required – then philanthropy is a force to contend with. Philanthropy can use its status to demand reforms, the primary one being the provision of an enabling environment for civil society. At the same time it must address some of the criticism that has been levelled against it; otherwise, governments will call its bluff when it demands government reforms. We know that, despite its current cordial relationship with governments, philanthropy is still part of civil society. Civil society does not change, but governments do. Philanthropy needs to enter into government partnerships with one foot but leave the other firmly – and vigilantly – planted in civil society.
Bhekinkosi Moyo is chief executive, Southern Africa Trust.
- ^ For more on this, see B Moyo (2010) (Dis)enabling the Public Sphere: Civil society regulation in Africa (Vol 1), TrustAfrica and Southern Africa Trust: Johannesburg.
- ^ See B Moyo (2005) ‘Setting the development agenda? US Foundations and the NPO sector in South Africa – A case study of Ford, Mott, Kellogg and Open Society foundations’ (PhD Thesis), University of Witwatersrand.
- ^ See SDGfunders.org: http://tinyurl.com/FoundationsSDGs
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