Informal Philanthropy; The Currency of Generosity in East Africa

By Karen Kilwake

Given the frequent broadcasted negative acumens about tribal conflicts, chronic poverty, terrorist attacks, and governance problems in Africa, what could possibly be the opportunities for philanthropy in East Africa?

In the two eras or so following independence, most African countries adopted some form of ‘mixed economy’. State interventions were viewed as indispensable to drive a balance & rapid economic advancement. This did not fully serve the purpose to improve the quality of life of the citizens. It was met with a frail indigenous business sector & poor governance. Should we then grapple with a mixed economy approach or is ‘informal aid’ a form of improving quality of life?

In recent years, East Africa has warmly welcomed a new era of non-indigenous institutions that focus on the ‘currency of generosity’. This currency is engrained in understanding the behavior in initiatives like ‘Simama na Mike’ or ‘Breakfast at Mathare’ which operate in the heartbeat of our continent. These informal organized giving initiatives defy the conventional definition and activities of global philanthropy. Therefore, they may never get airplay on mainstream media or attract support from multilateral organizations. Consequently, the impact will never be part of the statistical inferences & reports that make the national, regional or continental tally.

The community organizers of such consistent initiatives have leveraged on the currency of generosity that has existed in Africa for centuries and have overcome the power of foreign influence. They take pride in the belief that ‘local problems require local solutions’ & in no way seek to water down the foreign strength received from international philanthropy groups. When it comes to disruption of the status quo, who can we, therefore, trust to promote sustainable transformation? You are right, the wearer of the shoe; The East African citizen. The ‘mama mboga’ in Kenya. The fisherman in Lake Victoria. The bus driver in Mwanza. The cricket farmer in Uganda.

In light of policy, constraints for community development initiatives that were once considered strategic and earmarked for the state have been removed. There has been a gradual, subtle silencing of the ‘Serikali saidia’ voice in some parts of East Africa as private informal initiatives intervene to tackle some of the deep-seated pressing societal needs.

These informal philanthropic activities, therefore, pose an uncharted opportunity for data collection and optimization. This opportunity is for organizations that are looking to focus on the growth of philanthropy in East Africa with a dearth of accurate, up-to-date, unbiased information available. It is a call to invest in a drastic shift from the overarching focus on the ‘fireworks’ of formal philanthropy to telling the story the African way; around the ‘firewood lit setting’.

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