Driving change: A new moment for African Philanthropy at the African Philanthropy Network Assembly 2022


Ese Emerhi and Tarisai Jangara


The African Philanthropy Network (APN) Assembly in 2022 (co-hosted by the East Africa Philanthropy Network (EAPN), CivSource, and Uganda National NGO Forum (UNNGOF)) was the first assembly since the 2018 Assembly in Mauritius. The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted plans for the in-person 2020 Assembly, which was to be co-hosted by WINGS Forum, in Nairobi, Kenya, and which instead took place online. The Assembly, a flagship event of the APN, brings together philanthropic actors, civil society organisations and innovative practitioners to share experiences, new knowledge and collective reflections on African philanthropy’s development, and also provides an opportunity for developing new narratives for different forms and cultures of philanthropy.

For 2022, the theme for the Assembly ‘African philanthropy: Driving Change’, was an opportunity for participants from more than 24 African nations (and including Canada, Belgium, Brazil, the Netherlands, and the UK), to take stock and reflect on the journey African philanthropy has taken over the years, and to be purposeful and strategic in thinking about what role it should and can play in addressing many of the critical issues of our time. It was also a time to ask ourselves some tough questions like ‘are there new(er) roles for African philanthropy to play?’, and ‘how effective are we when interrogating power dynamics that shape resource mobilization and its impact on transformative work?’

With four plenaries, 17 breakout sessions, five ignite talks, and over 50 speakers during the APN Assembly, it was extremely hard to be at all sessions, and so we had to prioritize and map out carefully which sessions held the most meaning to us. This Assembly report focuses on key highlights drawn from the first day’s plenary session on working through complexity and what it means for African philanthropy and the last day’s concurrent session during the Youth Summit which discussed the issue of intergeneration dialogue and facilitating inclusion as a way forward.

An act of radical love…and the moment we find ourselves in history

‘African philanthropy is an act of power, an act of radical love. It is in our fabric as Africans’, says Moses Isooba. And this was echoed in the keynote speech by Theo Sowa, ‘Philanthropy is not something that is done to or for Africa, it is embedded in our communities and has driven change in the past. Our narrative on philanthropy [has been] that it’s a foreign concept. If we are to leverage philanthropic support for social justice in Africa, we must start to recognize the depth and range of African Philanthropy traditions.’  

It was good to start the three-day Assembly reminding ourselves of what philanthropy has meant to us – the possibilities and the ‘dream’, but as the first plenary session kicked off – Building Resources to Address Complexity: a call to become relevant agents of change – it was a moment to reflect on where we find ourselves on the path to change. To borrow the words of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during the recent COP27 climate change summit (and which other speakers echoed), ‘… we are on a highway to climate hell. Humanity has a choice, either cooperate or perish.’ So the need to contextualize what this moment means for African philanthropy and which direction it should go is critical. In reflecting on the new possibilities, Briggs Bomba noted that a new philanthropic paradigm was needed to allow for the need to fund in complexity and to tackle root causes, and that ‘if we are to redefine philanthropy, it must ultimately be helpful to humanity. For it to drive change, we need to think beyond the moment we find ourselves.’

Tendai Murisa cautioned against romanticizing local communities and the solidarity and giving that is often displayed because oftentimes the visible elements of philanthropy that is seen is the work of working through economic instability, stating that ‘Africans have always either worked in crisis or are just coming out of a crisis.’ When thinking about solutions to solving the complex problem of poverty, we should also be careful of the name we give to problems, because this naming can sometimes limit us in how we problem-solve.

The word ‘hope’ was repeated by the panellists during this session, with Twasiima Bigirwa noting that the work of hope is in the act of reimagining a new way of doing development, remodelling ways in we which we think about problems and that the role of African philanthropy is to disrupt old narratives that have taken hold. When thinking about development and the absence of hope, it is because ‘development has often focused on what is broken and not what is possible’, says Bigirwa.

And yet the complexity question still lingered for the panellists, with Janet Mawiyoo stating that the work of African philanthropic institutions to grow and be sustainable is a difficult one when funding is solely focused on issues and short-term projects, and if we are to scale solutions, we must also scale up credible institutions. ‘We are not in this room because we are highly paid, but because we believe in something. We need leaders who are not just in it for the money but believe in the work they are doing in order for development projects to thrive.’

Driving change with youth

The third day of the Assembly – the Youth Summit – focused on celebrating African youth philanthropy. The Youth Summit kicked off with a keynote address by John Youhanes Magok, who made the case for African governments to establish a Ministry of Culture, Heritage, and Philanthropy as a sustainable way to uplift philanthropy. He further urged that young people need to place themselves at the centre of driving change through African philanthropy. This sentiment was echoed by Alais Ole-Morindat who reminded participants of the importance of preserving one’s identity while accommodating the realities of cultural diversity. ‘Don’t forget where you came from, the languages that makes who we are, our food, our dress order and the values we hold. That’s who we are. In a world of Western values dominating, young Africans should stand strong and defend their identity.’

During one of the concurrent sessions – Intergenerational Dialogue: Facilitating Inclusion – the urgency for intergenerational conversations took centre stage, as this was seen as important training grounds and avenues for growing understanding and enhanced relationships across generations. Mawiyoo’s comment focused on the apparent tension that exists between generations, noting that ‘the older and younger generations should be humble enough to embrace each other’s ideas.’ One thought lingered for us during this session — we all bring our lived experiences, practice, knowledge, bold thinking, and a shared desire for doing good to our work, and so why can’t we embrace diversity for the collective good? For African philanthropy to thrive, we must burst through silos that disregard each other’s ideas. ‘Operating in silos and in social enclaves does not help us achieve the change we envision. How we re-make the world depends on how we relate with one another and build up one another,’ says Lerato Mokoena.

Changing the narrative on philanthropy must be integral to any strategy we use when talking about African philanthropy. We know the youth are adept at using new technology and social media for effective advocacy, but this is sometimes ad hoc. Why is philanthropy in the media not taking hold? ‘Our societies encourage ‘woke’ culture, call-out culture, etc. [when the issue is controversial]. But why don’t we glorify a more selfless culture? We’re taught not to share about our giving, but if we did share more publicly, wouldn’t that encourage others to give as well?’, wonders Ssegawa Ivan Sebastian.

A new era for African philanthropy?

This was one of the first conferences we attended where elements of joy and love were woven throughout. From 6 a.m. Zumba classes to the spontaneous break out in dance during sessions, to the late-night music sessions with those who had the energy of a twenty-something-year-old, this year’s Assembly truly held the vision of hope for what is to come for African philanthropy. But in-between all this, conversations around access, funding and opportunity (and the power dynamics inherent with aid), working through policy and practice, localization and decolonization, funding for human rights and social justice, and alumni giving and its possibilities, all centred on new ways of doing and in reimaging a future that brings agency and dignity back to African philanthropy.

There are still many hard and difficult questions that we need to ask ourselves first before we attempt to solve the problem of poverty on the continent, but as we have seen repeatedly from the many different crises we have been faced with (famine, drought, flooding, Ebola, and Covid-19), Africans are the first responders coming to the aid of our neighbours. These old traditional ways of solidarity and support (which are often dormant in times of relative peace), must be celebrated, documented, and shared widely. One lasting takeaway from the Assembly was the reminder that African philanthropy has never been about becoming rich first in order to give, and so we should embrace the notion that we are all givers.

Ese Emeri is the Global Network Weaver at Global Fund for Community Foundations. Tarisai Jangara is Membership and Engagement Specialist at African Philanthropy Network (APN).

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