Interview with EAPN team leader, Evans Okinyi
Tell us a bit about your current work and background
First of all, its a pleasure to be involved in this noble institute and I must say, this is a good way of profiling the work that we are doing as a network so that we can collectively drive the agenda of African Philanthropy. So, thank you so much and big up for the thought process that inspired this. I work with the East Africa Philanthropy Network. We are a regional network of philanthropic organisations that promote giving in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda. We focus on four things: the first is what we call building of alliances where we recognise that philanthropy cannot work in silos, we need to build necessary partnerships and collaborations that are strategic and intended to promote and strengthen philanthropy in a region. So, we look at how philanthropy can work with other philanthropic organisations, how it can work with the private sector and how it can work with the government. The second thing that we focus on is what we call knowledge management, which is where we ensure that the sector is well supplied with timely, accurate data and knowledge that strengthen the understanding of the sector and the decision-making processes of the sector. So, we have what we call the East Africa Philanthropy Data Portal. We engage in a lot of research and specific surveys to support strengthening of the knowledge base of the sector. The third thing that we focus on is influencing the entire enabling environment conversation, ensuring that the sector players in legal and policy, really encourage and enable the work that we are doing. And lastly, we work towards strengthening through capacity building and any other initiative that enables the execution involved in the space we are serving to be more impactful. Formally, I’m the team leader.
How did you end up being APN Board Member?
EAPN was actively involved in the thought process behind creating the then African grantmakers network to the current africa philanthropy network, because of the common interests between us. I think two years ago during the annual general meeting for the africa philanthropy network we presented our candidature to serve in the board.
What have you enjoyed about the role?
A lof of things. The first is having that opportunity to shape the philanthropy agenda at the continental level. Ensuring that there is link to the regional agenda that we are driving for. That has been a huge pleasure for me. Just ensuring that we provide thought leadership, ensuring the giving narrative in the continent is appreciated by other people and that within the continent, we promote African giving. That really excites me. Beyond that, as EAPN, we have an agenda to build alliances that enable us to work and come together and leverage each other’s resources. APN is that partner that enables us to build our alliances, but also ensure that we provide the necessary knowledge that is critical for our understanding. We are also continually collaborating in the capacity building of institutions. Last year we partnered around a online event that was meant to build resilient leaders for the sector. That is very exciting for me as the team leader at EAPN, but also for us as an organisation in supporting the work and the noble objective that APN has. So just seeing the network grow, providing thought leadership, ensuring that we’ve built the necessary partnerships, shaping the giving agenda in the continent is so exciting at this moment in time when the whole world, continent and region really need philanthropy and social justice to weather the current pandemic that we are dealing with. That is what excites me.
What is an area of APN’s work that you are particularly passionate about?
For me the most exciting thing is the thought leadership; us working together to build strong alliances and nurture relationships. Just the aspect of working together to ensure philanthropic organisations learn and share with each other their thought processes, and how we can make the work we are doing better. Reaching out to the private sector, reaching out to the government to push the advocacy agenda because advocacy is only successful depending on how united and how strategic alliances are built. So just ensuring that we pull together local development, regional development, pushing that to the continental movement in the name of APN really excites me. One thing that lets me know the future is so bright for APN and EAPN is this work around the regulatory framework- that for me is an exciting space. Another area that I’m passionate about is the area of knowledge creation. We really need to tell the story of African giving, Kenyan giving, Tanzanian giving, Ugandan giving. A strong structure for telling that story in the East African region is by extension a strong system that enables African stories around giving to be told. So the knowledge element, specifically storytelling and the thought leadership element are two areas that i am so passionate about.
Is Africa’s philanthropy sector changing and evolving on the continent? If yes, how?
I think for me there are three major things I would talk about in terms of how giving is evolving in the continent. First there is growth in the number of local models through which philanthropy can take place. From individual or rather family giving, and we see a lot of corporates setting up foundations and institutionalising their giving. And there are many new models of philanthropy coming up. These are changes and shifts that we are seeing in the continent that were not there, and following these changes there has been an increase in the number of regional networks. EAPN is growing and getting stronger. we are seeing national philanthropy forums coming up in East Africa, West Africa. We are seeing APN getting stronger day by day, and Africa Philanthropy getting stronger. There is the gain of recognition by governments within the continent and the recognition of the role of philanthropy for me is something that was not as it is today, and we really need to appreciate it. Philanthropy really needs to gain a seat at the table of development and this has been happening through the evolvement that we can see from the networks and forums. That appreciation here is important. Now, not that these things were not there, I can say that some were there from ages ago but with the bringing of them to the forefront and bringing more knowledge around them really makes the continent and other parts of the world appreciate models that are arising and the old ones that are growing to support social justice. The second thing to do with evolvement is the economic growth and the innovation across the continent. The growing middle class within the continent is likely to lead to a healthy increase in the pool of actual and potential philanthropy. If you couple this with the renewed enthusiasm in philanthropy and an increase in charitable contribution, then we can start to see what more African philanthropy can do to make a more meaningful impact. As we have seen locally, insight that is crucial to maximising all our efforts to reduce the burden for poverty, and injustice, there is an actual shift there. And the growing of that to me, is an important part of the growing of the sector. The last thing is just the role of technology. Growth in online giving that has equally played an important role in shifting the philanthropy landscape in the continent. We are seeing more people making use of online platforms for giving, which works in tandem with the increase of youth in the continent. But there is still a need for us to embrace collaborative philanthropy between local philanthropy, the government, the international donors, so that we can transform and solve some of the pressing issues of our time. There is still a long way to go but this shift and the changes that we are seeing in the space, which to me are all positive, is important for the growth of the philanthropy sector. The other issue that you had raised, around the support to the secretariat, I think is generally a struggle. But I think one success that I can share is that we need to take the network back to the members. the members own the network, and they drive the agenda of the network. I think what we have done at APN is ask them about their areas of interest and then put them in charge. For instance we have just set our 2021/2022 activity plan and we really reached out to the membership and so for instance, like in Kenya, an organisation similar to Tanzania and Uganda is interested in specific area like generation of knowledge. Throughout the journey from conceptualization to execution and even dissemination, we would then put them at the center of control, and at the driver’s seat so that they feel part of the involvement and engagement with the internal processes and activities that we run. Its a model that has worked for us, it is not yet 100% I cannot say that but I can say that we have seen growth over time in their involvement and ownership. And with time, we will get where we want to be, in terms of making them feel like part and parcel of the network.
In your work within the East Africa Region, how are you addressing the power structures that perpetuate poverty and marginalization?
You know, communities normally know what they need best and there is an increasing demand for the involvement of all actors in the development sector. There is an increasing demand for participatory processes and decolonizing. At EAPN, one of the initiatives that we have planned is around participatory grant making. There is a growing recognition that citizens need to be an active voice in the issues that impact them and this extends to the stakeholder partnerships that we are talking about. One of the things that we have done excellently in terms of promoting peer learning and developing standards is around participatory grantmaking, where we encourage the donors within the membership of EAPN to involve the communities and their grantees in the decision making and grant making processes that they do. The second thing that we have done as EAPN is to encourage consultation and inclusion. In that process that we have been running, we have encouraged more conversational platforms. The donor round tables, a lot of stakeholder round tables, which are forums that facilitate knowledge exchange and information sharing. This increases the literacy of the donors, the stakeholders and the communities, as well as empowers the communities to express their needs, and influence the decisions pertaining to their wellbeing in the process of grant making. And we will do this beyond the network, across the region. The other thing that we have done is promote a lot of partnerships and collaborations through the forums that we have, they can be good vehicles for creating linkages between government and communities, between philanthropy organisations, cross sector collaborations. The organisations within a community can come together and push for policy changes that ensure equitable resource allocation to combat marginalisation. For us as EAPN, those are the few ways we appreciated the challenge that you mentioned and the ways we acted to address them.
Dependency on external funders, including international NGOs, reinforces a perception that many organisations are disconnected from their roots, have no obvious impact, and have no long-term viability. In a changing development landscape, what are some of the strategies you are exploring an institution for sustainability?
I agree that sustainability is a critical conversation that we need to have if we are to ensure continuity and longevity of the social changes that we are making as organisations. At EAPN, we are also struggling with our sustainability agenda and in our new strategic plan that is one area that we want to focus on. But having said that, we have already run initiatives that have supported us and actors in the philanthropy space to deal with the sustainability question. One of the things that we have done is ensure that local philanthropy organisations have systems in place that solved workload and economic shocks, through strengthening the institutional capacity of these actors. The online class on building resilient leaders for instance, is part and parcel of the building blocks around sustainability. So, we look at institutional strengthening, firstly. The second contribution we make towards institutional sustainability is facilitating learning forums or systems strengthening. We’ve run over the last four years an initiative around accountability standards. In fact, now we are at the stage of developing those standards and before the end of the year the sector and the membership of EAPN will be having its own accountability standards. We are now looking at how to mobilise resources beyond the traditional avenue and from the beginning of COVID-19, last year in march, one of the initiatives we have been running is around blended finance. how do we look at finance models and ensure that organisations ensure their cashflow is in order to enhance sustainability. We are looking at alternative finance models, among many other avenues that we are exploring to encourage promoting sustainability of the organisations that we are dealing with. One of the things we have done is to encourage cross-border thinking and action. How do we emulate models that can work? Of course, Africa is big, we want to come up with our own solutions for our own problems, but the world has become globalised- there is a lot of learning that we can pick from out of the continent and there is also a lot that other continents can pick from us. We are encouraging cross-border thinking and action and tapping into available opportunities that facilitate collaborative philanthropy between international donors and local philanthropy organisations towards building their capacity, making constant followups especially on startups. there is an initiative we want to start running soon and we are looking into strengthening capacity of institutions looking specifically around social entrepreneurship space. and so we need to continue facilitating collaborative philanthropy, and for us within the membership, we are even exploring having basket funds around areas of mutual interest within the membership and this encourages skill transfer, pulling resources together for sustainability, capacity development and building for longevity. It is a question that still needs to be explored deeper because it is a challenge for most organisations. But it is a small little step that makes us a big success at the end of the day and we are not shying away from making these steps because we have seen the results that it can put on the table.
What is an inspiring quote that you would like to share?
There is this quote that says: “a genuine gift is like a stream of water, when it flows it can never return but seeks to support communities on its way down.”