The growth of local philanthropy in Zambia

By Tarisai Jangara

Philanthropy is growing and gaining attention in Zambia as an important catalyst for social change as evidenced by its essential role in supporting local communities’ development. In general, there is optimism looking at the future of philanthropy in Zambia and a genuine desire to continue to develop best philanthropy practices by local organisations such as the Zambian Governance Foundation (ZGF).

Working for ZGF, an organisation that promotes philanthropy in Zambia has given me an opportunity to fully appreciate what it has taken and what it will take for local philanthropy to be fully embedded in communities and the development sector. When we embarked on our local philanthropy journey as an institution two years ago, the term local philanthropy was misunderstood. Research on local giving patterns in Zambia revealed what people considered as philanthropy, which ranged from supporting the extended family to helping ordinary people in the streets. However, two years down the line philanthropy has a much clearer definition in relation to our local philanthropy work.  According to Lucy Muyoyeta, ZGF Founder Member, philanthropy is essentially about giving for a good cause. The type of giving can be in form of money, time, skills or talent. “When we talk of local philanthropy in ZGF, we are talking primarily about communities organizing themselves and utilizing community resources to address their needs. The community efforts are when necessary complimented by resources primarily raised from the wider Zambian community within the country and from those in diaspora and other well-wishers. It follows therefore that anyone can be a philanthropist irrespective of status or wealth,” she explains.

This is a practice that we have tested working with a local community in Namanongo village of Rufunsa District. The experience has been enlightening given the opportunities and challenges we experienced. We learnt that philanthropy is much more than just having a particular vision as we had to push for unexpected changes, searching for local solutions at a small scale and supporting the community to engage in a variety of social issues. “After introducing the local philanthropy concept to communities, it took a while for appreciation and trust to develop. So, it is an approach that requires commitment and patience. It therefore especially in the beginning very labour intensive,” says Lucy.

In Zambia there is a conversation about philanthropic practices among those who believe that philanthropy has an important role to play in addressing human challenges and strengthening civil society. Lucy points to the coming together of like-minded organisations and individuals in a network called Ngovu Ni Bantu meaning “Power is People” whose purpose is to promote local philanthropy and community driven development as a reflection of the growth of philanthropy in Zambia.  Currently, it has a membership of 5 organisations and 2 individuals. More have shown interest to join. ZGF has also been approached by some international NGOs working in Zambia to make presentations to their staff on local philanthropy.

Though we have developed a good foundation for philanthropy in Zambia through support from the Global Fund for Community Foundation (GFCF), African Philanthropy Network and other philanthropy foundations, we still face a myriad of challenges and we have learnt some lessons. Our Found Member outlines them as follows:

  • Philanthropy is still a new concept in Zambia, understanding of it is not yet widespread. After introducing it to communities, it takes a while for appreciation and trust to develop. It is an approach that requires commitment and patience. In the beginning of working with the community, it is very labour intensive because it is necessary to have constant engagement with the community. This calls for continued and long term commitment.
  • Much of the development work in Zambia is donor driven and it goes with a good amount of handovers. As such in general communities are not used to driving their own development and contributing their own resources. There is expectation sometimes for communities to be told what to do and how to develop and to receive handouts. Furthermore, communities often “do not see” many of the resources in their community. The work therefore entails significant change in mindsets.
  • Resource mobilisation for organisations such as ZGF and others who have opted for this approach is a challenge, as many funders are still in the traditional donor-recipient mode and do not understand the local philanthropy approach, but ZGF is slowly but steadily building a resource base to facilitate this kind of work through social enterprise, service provision/consultancy work etc.

Lessons learnt:

  • That local philanthropy is already a reality as Zambians have a culture of giving. Zambians locally and in diaspora give all the time to their families, former schools, churches etc. This has been confirmed by two studies conducted by ZGF – ‘Zambia giving trends 2017: An overview of Individual giving in Zambia’ and the 2019 ‘Report on Zambia Diaspora Philanthropy Study”.
  • That local communities are willing to work for their own development and contribute their own resources rather than being dependent on “outsiders” or “donors” for handouts. There are many resources within apparently poor communities that can be enhanced using an asset based and community driven approach to development. We have seen this approach take shape in our work with the community in Namanongo of Rufunsa District.  What is required is facilitation that enables people to recognize and utilize, their sometimes hidden assets and to realize the power that lies within them to foster their own development.   
  • Corporate sector giving is an important aspect of local philanthropy. Our experience shows that more could be done in the area of corporate social responsibility (CSR) as past studies commissioned by ZGF have shown that larger businesses in Zambia are increasingly aware that investments in social causes and social good is good for business.  

For philanthropy to flourish in Zambia, communities and development actors have to accept that relying on aid for funding is not sustainable. Thus there is need to help to develop local philanthropic and other resources to sustain local development. ZGF will continue to promote practices and values that fully support the growth of local philanthropy. “Some organizations are in a “comfort zone” from which they find difficult to depart from. They are used to raising funds through a donor-recipient approach, some organisations are unable to change and consider different ways of building a resource base.  With sharing of information and showcasing the approach practically e.g. field visits to Namanongo, we hope a good number can be convinced about the necessity for change,” concludes Lucy.

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