There are several African terms that embody the spirit of philanthropy. The South African term Ubuntu has come to mean many things but essentially translates to ‘I am because of you’. The Swahili term Harambee translates to ‘let’s pull together’ and is a popular rallying cry in Kenya. Ujamaa, another Swahili term meaning ‘familyhood’ was the basis for Nyerere’s post-colonial development model in Tanzania. And there are countless Nigerian terms that refer to savings schemes (usually run by women that serve as social safety nets) such as the ajo and susu.
In the last few months, I’ve come across another term – Tikkun. It’s not an African term but a Hebrew one meaning ‘repair’ or ‘helping to transform’. In the last few months as a writer at Afrika Tikkun, an NGO with a 25-year history of working with children and young people in resource-poor communities in South Africa, I’ve witnessed an interesting merging of Jewish and African sensibilities. Marc Lubner, who has pioneered Afrika Tikkun’s move into youth and career development leading to job placements over the last 15 years, define Afrika Tikkun as a combination of Tzedakah and Ubuntu; the Jewish belief in doing good deeds married to the community engagement of Ubuntu is a blend that is outcome focused.
Afrika Tikkun is one of several philanthropic vehicles that emerged from the Lubners, a prominent family in the South African business space. 1n 1994, as South Africa’s democracy slowly became reality, Afrika Tikkun founders Bertie Lubner and Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris decided to establish an organisation that would serve as a conduit for Jewish efforts in nation-building. Soon after, patronage extended beyond Jewish leadership to people like Nelson Mandela, (Patron-in-Chief until his death in 2013) who had his own relationship with the Jewish community as he completed his law articles at a Jewish law firm in 1941. Other major philanthropy endeavours birthed by the Lubner family include The Smile Foundation which assists children with facial deformities and the Field Band Foundation which uses marching bands, music and dance to help empower young people.
But what has struck me in my last few months here is not just the programmatic impact on young people and their families, but the opportunities that philanthropy creates to replicate itself. A key question that Lubner family members have asked and no doubt, continues to ask themselves is ‘how can we encourage others to give back?’ While Afrika Tikkun’s five community centres of excellence are the sites where children and young people are reached, it also provides a platform for people and companies to give back. Corporates are able to partner with Afrika Tikkun and the other Lubner family initiatives to promote their own culture of giving. This year alone saw many individuals, families and private organisations spending time at the centres, engaging with the staff and children and distributing resources, toys and gifts.
Similarly, South African celebrities offer their time and use their influence to advance Afrika Tikkun’s mission, while sportsmen and women in South Africa and the UK regularly run, swim and cycle in order to raise funds for us. But for me, the most exciting group of people to have been bitten by the philanthropy bug are the Afrika Tikkun young people themselves. As recipients of philanthropy, they observe first-hand how giving has impacted their lives and they are continuously encouraged to give back once they graduate from our programmes. The Afrika Tikkun Alumni Network was launched in 2019 and has close to 2,000 members who are not only exposed to business and entrepreneurship opportunities but are encouraged to give their time and talents to Afrika Tikkun in different ways. This is creating the next generation of givers, a group of young people who will no doubt, conjure up their own 21st century language for giving.
Lisa-Anne Julien is a development consultant and writer.