According to Kotiranta (2019, p.4), “Private giving and donations are globally on the rise, and private resources are increasingly recognized as an important part of aid and development finance (The Index of Global Philanthropy and Remittances, 2010). Knowing the nature and scope of African suffering, it becomes necessary to review the contributions of philanthropic innovations in alleviating such. The aim of this essay is to highlight contributions made by philanthropy in transforming African challenges. It will begin with a historical review of philanthropy globally, followed by a snapshot of the landscape of African philanthropy. This will be followed by a summary of the visible innovations and end with an exploration of challenges faced by the sector.Historically, and in modern times, philanthropy, and in particular African philanthropy, has functioned as a clue that binds humanity, promoting solidarity and integration. It is the energy that animates collective action, unity, and self-reliance as well as the transformation of economic and social relations (Moyo, 2016, p.17)

This demonstrates the fact that philanthropy has a long history. It has been captured in the “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”- translated (A person is a person through other people- a long-held mantra in Africa. Of course, today there are several ways of looking at the phenomena. Van Cranenburgh and Arenas (2013) noted that some scholars (Lee 2008; McWilliams & Siegel, 2001; Wood & Jones, 1995) argued that it has been viewed as a means through which businesses sought to enhance their standing in the communities. Under this view, scholars (Porter & Kramer, 2011) posited that there are positive correlations amongst these initiatives when facilitated by businesses and the financial returns to businesses. The goals extend to the social impact on the communities (Valente & Crane, 2010).

Additionally, it has been noted that “the second approach is to see corporate philanthropy in terms of activities that serve society and entail little or no business gain- which could be called ‘altruistic CRC’ (Lantos, 2001) or ‘philanthropic responsibility (Carrol, 1991)’ (Van Cranenburgh & Arenas, 2013, para.5). All these efforts are a result of individuals and organizations seeking to promote the alleviation of suffering to which many are subjected to.

For instance,

…developmental challenges confronting Africa have implications for social development and efforts to alleviate poverty. There is a widening gap between the poor and the rich in Africa. Access to health, education, water, and sanitation remain pressing social issues across Africa (Moyo, 2011, p.3)

This captures the fact that the nature of suffering is varied and wide in scope. Equally important, is the fact that underlying causes are also varied, which has had implications on the choice of initiative and innovative ways of thinking about scale, in order to sufficiently address them. Moyo and Alagidede (2020) noted that philanthropy has been key in transforming the African economic landscape and the situation of the poor. Organizations have vested their resources in philanthropic innovation that were aimed at stimulating and supporting social innovations that will enable the poor to respond to the many challenges they face.

Some successful social innovations have integrated the reliance on field-building strategies, in which efforts were directed toward improving the performance of existing players committed to the fields of interest. One example is that which was implemented in Liberia. According to Brown (2016, p.52), “In 2008, TrustAfrica and Humanity United joined in a partnership to strengthen civil society, recognizing that intensified support for the sector could bolster Liberia’s chances to move away from its recent brutal past.” In other words, investments were tailored towards the distribution of solutions through existing networks. The underlying premise was that individuals and organizations in local communities have the capability to create, foster and implement development solutions to the specific-contexts.

Other notable philanthropic initiatives are those that emerged in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Since COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, donor and foundation teams have been working around the clock, drawing upon their missions and values to guide them through uncertainty” (Nowski, O’Flanagan & Talieto, 2020, p.6). Throughout the world, and in Africa, many people were further subjected to deepening suffering that resulted from the pandemic. This is when many organizations began to send in food packages and donations including injections to many societies. This also meant that access to health was seen as an essential human need.

Yet, there is no denying it, there is still a long way to go for African philanthropy in terms of scaling for a better future and well-being for all. Agler (2019) pointed that,

Research by the Center of Effective Philanthropy shows that foundation CEOs believe that lack of partnerships and collaboration are the barrier to their organizations’ potential impact. In addition, the lack of an enabling policy environment and apprehension towards formal organizations that channel philanthropy have proven to be a hurdle towards collaboration.

Moreover, although Africa was once declared as a lost cause (The Economist, 2000), it has been that, “Bolstered in part by an Africa ‘on the rise’ there are increasing levels of local/internal generation of resources fuelling her own socioeconomic growth and prosperity’ (Mati, 2016, p.3). This highlights the fact that the value of social innovations is beginning to be appreciated by many African states. It has been stated scholars (Eadery, 2006; Lyon & Ramsden, 2006; Moore & Westley, 2011) believed that to sustainably bring impact these initiatives require sustainable funding (Moore, Westley & Brodhead, 2012).

However, building a more proactive philanthropy that can produce structural change in terms of the well-being of the poor and excluded is currently stymied by a strategic takeover of social and political space by corporates which claim to act in the name of philanthropy and corporate social responsibility, while resisting the types of structural change that are required (Mottiar, 2014 cited in Brackings, 2020).

Furthermore, it has been noted that the context within which philanthropy is undertaken does have serious implications for the approaches that can work. Thus, bearing in mind that another approach to philanthropy is to find a competitive positioning, some areas may not be met effectively. As highlighted by Van Cranenburgh and Arenas (2013),

Heineken considered the poor healthcare system as a significant problem in the developing countries it operated in (a problem worsened by epidemics such as HIV/AIDS). This posed a challenge requiring a different approach to the so-called strategic CSR, which looks for opportunities to combine social performance and economic competitiveness. Rather, the situation led the company to engage in what has been called ‘Direct corporate humanitarian investment’ (Dunfee & Hess, 2000) (which differs from ‘passive corporate philanthropy’ in that more than just money is given towards a good cause).

Finally, because success has got its limits, the philanthropic have not benefited all equally. There are still millions of African poor who have not been reached, especially those living the remotest rural areas. That said, there is still a desperate need for the scaling of successful social innovation, if the pursuit of general well-being of all is to be effectively reached. That also says that key stakeholders need to rethink their scaling efforts. Several approaches need to be developed and domesticated to fit with the African context. As noted by Bradach and Crindle (2014) some social entrepreneurs have adopted tactics which include advocating for reforms in policy.

In conclusion, this essay illustrated the nature of African philanthropy and the challenges that are still dominant in the sector. Some of the main operational challenges that were highlighted are those that affected the strategic issues of the proposed initiatives. Yet, it also became evident that philanthropy has played a central role in redirecting the use of power, especially political power, to serving citizens and stimulating economic growth. Also, noteworthy is the fact that philanthropy played a role in realigning political and business priorities to those of citizens. Equally important, there is a notable shift from the previously welfare-centered philanthropic efforts that were characterized by the issuing of handouts to a more developmental approach that emphasizes a need for social innovations that foster self-reliance on the part of beneficiaries.


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