African Philanthropy: A Family Affair
I grew up the Southern part of Africa, Zambia. Like many other Africans, I was raised in an extended family. In our three-bedroom home, my grandmother, a schoolteacher, housed uncles, aunties, and cousins from remote villages. When we were too many to occupy the bedrooms, the living room floor was transformed into bed spaces. No one complained because each person was educated, then sent into the city, the rotation continued until as many people, or at least as many as grandmother could afford, graduated. Some became medical doctors, other’s bankers, one a minister.
My grandmother, whom we call Agogo, is a fearless woman, many people in the house also found her scary. She made us scamper out of bed every morning to the sound of rattling plates and her feet loudly stomping on the concrete floor. Although we disliked this at the time, I’m now grateful for the sense of discipline it instilled in all of us.
In early 1994 she founded a women’s group called WARUWDO (Waterfalls Rural Women Development Organization) , alongside 14 other members, taking the position of treasurer. The Chair lady was Mrs. Idah Johnstone, while many of the other members were resilient, forward thinking women. The aim of this group was to help the community women of the waterfalls area, located in Chongwe district, become financially independent. At the time, this area did not have a clinic, or any other quick access to healthcare, and many women lacked craft or farming skills.
In an attempt to resolve these problems, the WARUWDO women, congregated and thought of reformative structures. They began with barely any money, but had creative skills and ideas in abundance. The first initiative put in place was the creation of a “Village bank”, which would serve as a source of funding for women who wanted to start a business, get farming resources, or simply survive. To implement this initiative, each member of WARUWDO started to contribute a monthly membership fee of K40 (roughly $2.18 today), they gradually increased from 15 to 25 members.
Another strategy used was contribution parties. Here the WARUDO women made their best dishes, wore their best hats, and sold tickets to people within the community. WARUDO became a safe avenue for women to voice their economic and domestic problems, while finding solutions, and sometimes even learning something new.
A few years later, Waterfalls Area Warudo Clinic was built. With the aid of a 90-year-old Catholic woman, who found great interest in the WARUDO vision, medicine was supplied from the government, and a nurse and matron were employed. Unfortunately, WARUDO clinic has not been able to expand to a maternity ward and remains an under- equipped facility, till date but at the time it was an exciting start.
I witnessed Agogo make giving a lifestyle, she made it look like that was what we were born to do. Helping people reach their full potential was a responsibility, from the packed boxes of my favorite dresses passed on to relatives to the benches in our church, and humane public service acts, she has never ceased to give.
Several years later, I find myself taking over the philanthropy baton.
In July 2017, I started a bespoke accessory business called Afridote, which has become an individual effort to promote female entrepreneurship. Afridote has since sold at least 300 bags to individuals in local events, and boutiques within Zambia. This business started in Agogo’s living room, with the help of a house helper, Fostina, and her daughter Yvonne, who were my first employees. We have grown into an online family that believes in the significance of skillful female entrepreneurs.
Afridote began solely as a personal business venture. However, a few months after its launch the lack of creative business skill among young women in my community became highly apparent. So, aside from outsourcing labor, my team and I decided to teach marketing, design and planning principals, to select local women in the community, through both online and in-person free sessions. We also work closely with individuals, and negotiate with institutions on how to provide learning material or required design equipment for these women.
In the future I aim to have new ways to deliver a more structured, in depth program that meets the learning criteria of each woman. Also, we would love to provide a larger certified learning center and digital hub in order to accommodate more women and change our current informal selective process.
My grandmother taught me, and many others that giving is an inherent gift that we possess. I am because she is. Bhekinkosi Moyo, once wrote, “philanthropy is not popular with the people in the African continent.” He did not mean that the actions are not popular, but rather the word itself is alien to many Africans, and the ideology that giving is for the western or wealthy has plagued the continent. I am convinced that many of us are philanthropists without even knowing. Generosity and humane acts of love reflect in our cultural theories such as Ubuntu, and our family traditions.
We must rewrite the narrative of Philanthropy in Africa and encourage the inclusive form of giving practiced by Africans since ancient times, for key social reform and the progression of the continent.