Celebrating African Philanthropy at the African Grantmakers Assembly

Successful is one word that sums up the Africa Grantmakers jamboree that took place in Johannesburg South Africa from the 29 October to 2nd November 2012. Hundreds of African Philanthropy practitioners drawn from government, private sector, civil society and academia convened at theTurbine Hall, a restored former power station in central Johannesburgfor deliberations under the themeGrowing African Philanthropy; What’s New, What’s Now and What’s Next.

The Jo’burg assembly was the second of its kind coming after the 2010 inaugural assembly hosted by the Africa Grantmakers Network in Nairobi, Kenya. There was plenty on the menu of events including very informative and interactive plenary sessions, engaging breakout sessions, inspiring award ceremonies and numerous satellite events tackling specific issues hosted alongside the main conference.

Emanating from all corners of the conference was a very clear and loud voice that African Philanthropy had come of age and that time was ripe for Africans to take charge of the continent’s development destiny. None other than the revered ‘first lady’ of the continent Mama Grace Machel amplified these sentiments, on the opening day of the conference, in her clarion call to participants to redefine African Grantmaking. “The word grantmaking suggests that what we do is give money. That’s not the case. Our motivation and the objectives of what we want to achieve has to be first and foremost a cause in which we build a chain of solidarity” she said.  If we value only money we will come up against the problem of sustainability.

In her opinion, the key challenge facing African philanthropy at the moment is that most financial resources don’t come from African sources. “We are dependent on those outside of Africa to feed our own capacity to do grantmaking – this is not going to be sustainable!” she cautioned. Grantmakers have to be creative on how Africans are going to develop philanthropy out of African resources. “We need to devise a way of convincing our governments to support what we do; if at all the work is helping to address important issues in society.

Other notable speakers were South African respected human rights activist Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, founder of the Citizen’s Movement for Social Change and Jay Naidoo, chairperson of Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). Dr. Ramphele address largely revolved around the need for civil groups to participate in the promotion of good governance and transformational leadership that involved the participation of citizens. She observed that philanthropy could play a significant role in laying the groundwork for social justice through civic education and democracy building. On his part, Naidoo, a renowned social justice activist observed that just as elsewhere in the world, governance was the core issue in Africa. Poor leadership and governance had caused misery to millions of African citizens who cannot afford basic needs such as food, education and healthcare. “What we need are ideas. Ideas are even more powerful than money. Philanthropy is not just about giving money, it is about giving your soul for what you believe in”. Perhaps one of the most powerful statements uttered but Jay Naidoo, which should serve as a challenge to many Africans is that “we should stop behaving like 54 countries and start behaving like one continent of Africa”.

A new dimension and considerably a new frontier in African philanthropy explored at the conference was the involvement of young African celebrities in the arts and sports in philanthropy work. They remain tremendously popular, with millions of fans across the continent, yet their potential in philanthropy has not been fully exploited.  Their social capital notwithstanding, this new crop of celebrities are making large sums of money from their careers and many share a common bond- they are children of philanthropy. In one way or the other in their lives, they were beneficiaries of philanthropy and are yearning to give back to society. Listening to musician Lerato Molapo popularly known as Lira, footballer Aaron Mokoena ( Bafana Bafana Ex Captain) and media personality Moky Makura, what oozes out of them is a passion and desire to help out- not only financially but also through growing talents among the youth of Africa.

Other renowned African celebrities trailing the philanthropy blaze include marathoners Paul Tergat and Tegla Lorupe, footballers Didier Drogba and Nwankwo Kanu; and musicians Prof. Jay of Tanzania. Musician Lira summarizes their aspiration, “I will be very proud in my old age if some children tell me, you were instrumental in making a change in my life”.

It is no wonder that there was a special session dedicated to a dialogue between the elders and youth and how they can join hands to address the legacy of the past and build a future of hope in Africa. Former Mozambican President Joacquim Chissano representing the elders perhaps lit fire in the room by challenging the African youth to define a common purpose to fight ‘like the independence youth did during the colonial struggle” The youth on their part were asking for space at the decision making table. “Youths are not living in a programme -referring to a culture where authorities design programmes for youth and only invite them at implementation-, they are living life and therefore need to be heard”, retorted Hisham el Rouby from Egypt.

Away from hot discussions and debates, conference participants attended two award ceremonies that were recognizing exceptional contributions to philanthropy by individuals and organizations. The Inyathelo Philanthropy Awards were given out to different individuals who had committed their financial resources to various causes of philanthropy within South Africa. For many in the audience, the story of a 12-year-old pupil Jordan van der Walt who received the 2012 Inyathelo Award for Children in Philanthropy for his ‘Just One Bag’ campaign, will remain etched in their minds. Through this campaign, the youngster has fed over a million hungry school children in South Africa. Youthful Egyptian Marwa El Daly received the inaugural African Philanthropy Award for her efforts in mobilizing communities and channeling traditional cultural practices of charity into participative community development at Maadi Community Foundation, an organization she founded.

At the other end of town and on a different evening, the Southern Africa Drivers of Change Awards were taking place. These awards recognize individuals or organizations from across the Southern Africa Region that are making real impact, especially in developing effective public policies and strategies, to overcome poverty. Notable among the awardees during this year’s award ceremony was Mr Pakalitha Mosisili,the former Prime Minister of Lesotho, who despite his party having won more parliamentary seats than others in an election, handed over power to the opposition party coalition because hebelieved that peace and stability in the country was more important that clinging onto power for personal reasons.

All said and done, the 2012 African Grantmakers Assembly lived to its billing and not only brought to the fore critical discussions points for philanthropy but also set the agenda for African Philanthropy for the next two years. The next jamboree will take place in Accra Ghana in 2014.

Nicanor Sabula, EAAG

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