Off the Pitch: African Philanthropy Comes Into Its Own
By Michael Seltzer
Michael Seltzer worked in Governance and Civil Society in 1995-1998. From PhilanTopic, July 13, 2010.
Never before have the eyes of the world been so focused on the continent of Africa. On Sunday, seven hundred million people viewed the 2010 World Cup final between the Netherlands and Spain from Soccer City in Johannesburg, while throughout a month's worth of earlier matches, millions more were introduced to the prowess of national teams from Ghana, South Africa, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and Algeria. What viewers didn't get to see, however, are the first real signs of an emergent and vibrant civil society in many of Africa's fifty-three nations. That's a shame, because in my two trips to Africa this year, I've witnessed firsthand how nongovernmental organizations and philanthropic foundations are reshaping the continent's social and economic landscape. In Nigeria, the continent's most populous nation, a momentous event in the history of organized giving on the continent occurred in January when the TY Danjuma Foundation opened its doors.
What made the occasion particularly noteworthy is the source of wealth behind the foundation. General T.Y. Danjuma, a highly regarded statesman and successful Nigerian businessman, gave a substantial portion of his own net worth to establish the foundation. And while the foundation, whose mission is "to enhance the quality of life of Nigerians by supporting initiatives that improve access to health and educational opportunities," bears his name, he chose to create it as an independent (as opposed to family) foundation, with Thelma Ekiyor, the founding director of the West Africa Civil Society Institute, serving as executive director. Although other foundations have emerged on the continent in recent years, few have been financed solely by home-grown wealth, and even fewer have the resources—or ambition—of the Danjuma Foundation.
Another good example of the phenomenon is the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, which was established in 2006. The Ibrahim Foundation is committed to "supporting great African leadership that will improve the economic and social prospects of the people of Africa." Its donor, Dr. Mo Ibrahim, is a Sudanese-born mobile communications entrepreneur, and the foundation is best known for annually awarding—or not—the Ibrahim Prize to a democratically elected former African head of state or government who has demonstrated leadership that improves the prospects of people on the continent.
The arrival on the scene of the Danjuma and Ibrahim foundations is emblematic of a renewed spirit of reciprocity on the continent. After centuries of colonialism that did little more than rob Africa of its wealth and fifty fraught years of independence, Africans of means are now giving back to their countries in ways that couldn't have been imagined ten years ago. In another sign of the burgeoning growth of Africa's philanthropic sector, foundation leaders met in 2009 and formed the Africa Grantmakers Network. Members of the network include the Kenya Community Development Foundation (established in 1997), theGreater Rustenburg Community Foundation in South Africa (established in 2000), the African Women's Development Fund(established in 2000), and Dakar-based TrustAfrica (established in 2001). Trust Africa executive director Akwasi Aidoo noted that the intent behind the network's creation was to "change the narrative of Africa as helpless and hapless, tilt the balance of stories, and increase the visibility and knowledge of [philanthropy on the continent]." It's off to a great start, as are the organizations mentioned in this post (and many others). Indeed, from the six national teams that appeared in this year's World Cup competition to the dozens of communities across the continent that are benefiting from home-grown philanthropy, Africa is moving quickly to establish itself as a force to be reckoned with in the twenty-first century. -- Michael Seltzer
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