REWRITING THE NARRATIVE OF AFRICAN PHILANTHROPY

A ROUND TABLE CONVERSATION WITH JACQUELINE ASIIMWE THE CEO OF CIVSOURCE AFRICA

During APN’s Round Table Conversation for the month of April we engaged with Jacqueline Asiimwe, the Chief Executive Officer and Team Leader of CivSource Africa based in Kampala Uganda.  CivSource is one of the APN Member organizations. The focus of the Round Table Conversation is to profile what APN Members are doing in their spaces to promote African philanthropy. During the conversation the following discussion was established.

Can you please tell us a bit about yourself and your organization?

First and foremost, thank you so much for having me, and thank you for creating a platform through which we are able to talk about the works we are doing at CivSource Africa. I am Jacqueline Asiimwe, the Team Leader and CEO of CivSource Africa, an organization based in Uganda, and I am Lawyer by training.  CivSource Africa is passionate about African Philanthropy as a means of championing the idea of giving and generosity.  We are also passionate about social justice causes on a range of various issues.

CivSource is passionate about championing African Philanthropy because we believe the other side of who we are as Africans has been hidden, and we read about our narrative from an unAfrican point of view. For a long time, the narrative has always positioned Africa as beggars and receivers, and yet we all know that there is a moment in our lives as Africans where we actually gave to such a greater degree yet not recorded.  We have our own way in which we extend and reach out as Africans, and therefore, saying that we are not philanthropic in nature is an insult to our cultural embodiment as a continent. Generosity has been all around us in Africa, we breath and we live it. That part of who we are as Africans has not been told, it has been hidden, there is hardly any research about how we give and why we give to whom we give and so on. Therefore, for us to be able to plug into that conversation and elevate that part of Africa is a great duty that we have taken up as CivSource Africa. To help change the narrative of African Giving and Generosity, through research, publication and supporting the local community in their quest for a better society is something that drives the very fabric of our organization.

How would you describe the philanthropy sector in your context, what are the main trends and challenges?

“When we look at how we were hit by COVID-19 last year; we saw reports from one end of Africa to another about how people dug deep into their own pockets to help and reach out to those in need. This already shows the extent to which African philanthropy has been cemented and embedded. One does not need to be a fully established philanthropic organization to be a part of this sector, and we have seen this in our continent through our undivided generosity. Therefore, in my own context, African Philanthropy is very ripe, but we also know that African Philanthropy is as old as time and right now we are just building on what has been done for generations past. It’s a well-known factor that in Africa we live as a community and to thrive as a community we all need and depend on each other. I think one thing that is present, is that African Philanthropy has been hidden, that is why when we look at it from a point of context we need to start looking at it not from a way that has been shown to us by the external community, but we have to appreciate the manner in which we give and express our African giving and genericity. There is a need for African Philanthropist to understand the cultural values and customs that drives our giving, in order for us to achieve the desired results. We need to do research on African Philanthropy, there is hardly any research unfortunately, there is a lot to teach, we need to have this embedded in our school system. I applaud the University of Wits that has Philanthropy as an academic study and I feel like this needs to spread across Africa so that we grow the next generation of Philanthropists.

What are you doing as an institution in promoting African Philanthropy or community led development in your work?

For CivSource Africa, the central piece is Narrative Shaping, were we ensure that we shift what is known now to the truth of what is, and that is why we do research because we want to surface on the various ways that we give. That is why we collect stories, because we want to give examples about how giving is done in our community. We have instituted podcasts as an organization so that people can be given a platform to tell their own stories. In our Season 5 Podcast we are focusing on Generosity in and among the disability community because we believe the voices of this particular minority their voices are heard least and heard last, we want to give a voice to this community and see how best we can amplify their generosity. In order to promote community led developments, as CivSource Africa we are going into communities, not just to tell their stories but to support their generosity. Last year, we sent photographers across Uganda to 14 districts and asked them to take pictures of everyday expressions and symbols of generosity and we’re compiling this into a book. By doing this, we are hoping that we can build a wave and a movement of givers across the continent. This is also saying that as Africans we also do development and, we do it in our own way, and this is how we do it. The more we see ourselves in Philanthropy, the more we believe that we are.

How can African philanthropy encourage innovation at the grassroots?

I believe it’s already happening, there is a lot of big organization that are funding community driven initiatives.  Regardless on how we look at it, African communities are resilient in so many ways, and something that we have to note is that one cannot be resilient without innovating. With or without philanthropy, innovation is already happening at the grassroots because they have their ways of being relevant to the challenges confronting their community.  With or without philanthropy people at the grassroots are being resilient and innovative. What big philanthropic organizations can do is to go where nobody has gone and do the risk funding and risk taking that innovation requires with an objective to motivate community-led development in some of these communities.

How is being a member of APN strategic for your work or work being done in the continent?

“Being a member of APN gives us a voice as CivSource Africa as well as a higher platform and greater reach. The other thing which I count as very dear to my heart, is that as an organization we have only been in existence for three years. We started our works in 2017, and when I met the ED for APN Dr Stigmata Tenga, I was so excited because I was hungry in trying to engage myself with the right kind of people that could show us the way because we were knew in this field so we needed direction. So for us joining a space like APN is a space to learn, it is a space to see the path that others have walked and see how we can walk alongside them. APN provides us the ability to grow a movement and expand our network as African Philanthropists. Joining APN aligns us to be part of a leadership where the voices and values of African Philanthropy are amplified.  Lastly, for me I believe while APN is the apex it also connects downwards, and I believe this is important because it helps grow our outreach and network in lifting up Africa in a much more connected manner. It is a blessing belonging to APN.”

What sets CivSource Africa apart from other Philanthropy Organizations?

Asimmwe: “I think one that sets us apart is having to embed this conversation in who we are culturally. Last year we compiled proverbs of giving and generosity across Africa, and for us this this is part of the narrative shaping. Where we put it out there that for us giving is not just some alien thing that came from somewhere and landed on the African soil, it’s a part of us. I believe what sets apart is that we are an organization that is not detached from the African soil, we are not promoting an agenda that is foreign, we are promoting an agenda that is truly African but unspoken of and ensure that we bring it to light. We are different in the sense that we are an organization that has put our resources without reservation in telling the Story of African Generosity particularly the database on Uganda. Last year we held the first Gathering of Givers event in Uganda, this was meant to bring together givers from across the country to one event to engage and share their experiences. For this year we shall be having another Gathering of Givers Event, and this time around we want to make it East African.”

In your work, how are you addressing the power structures that perpetuate poverty and marginalization in your country or on the continent?

Part of our work as CivSource is to refine the practice and footprint of philanthropy in Africa. What this means for us is that we can also show the way as to how African Philanthropy can be channeled and implemented. We ensure that our Civfund is culturally sensitive, and ensure that we involve communities. For us as CivSource we are very careful in how we use power and ensure that we do not expose it in toxic ways. As at now as CivSource Africa we are ensuring that we tap into the theme Shift The Power, through this we are able to outline who we can collaborate with and who we can accept funding from.

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 as an institution for sustainability?

When we talk about sustainability it’s important to ask ourselves what it is that we are sustaining, it is our vision? Is it our networks? Is it our funding? What are we trying to ensure that it is fundamentally sustainable? I believe we become sustainable by the networks that we create, it’s not money that grant us sustainability, however, important this is to international development. That is why we have chosen to be part of a bigger body such as APN because its relationships that will sustain us at the end of the day. When we are part of a network, we are able to give ourselves access to opportunities that may seem impossible to generate. It is relationships that leads us to the access point towards sustainability. On the other end, as an organization we have also reached a point where we provide a service that people can pay for, as a means of sustaining our programing and give back to the community. As CivSource Africa we out rightly believe that dependence is disempowering. We are yet to establish something called a Business Shower through which we learn from businesses that have sustained themselves and see what we can learn from them.