Solutions in Africa must be home-grown: Reporting from the Trialogue Business in Society Conference


Ese Emerhi


For the past four years, the Trialogue Business in Society Conference has been held in South Africa (2023, 2022 and 2021 in-person and hybrid; 2020 virtual; and 2019 in-person) showcasing important developments across the corporate responsibility sector, with a focus on the ‘S’ in ESG (Environment, Social, and Governance).

The conference is an opportunity for corporates and non-profit organizations to exchange knowledge, best practices, and collaborate to help businesses perform more sustainably in society. The overarching theme for 2023 is ‘inclusive and purposeful business’ with topics covering energy transition, digital inclusivity (connected schools), catalysing impact in the green economy, and addressing gender-based violence.

On day two of the two-day conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, Gbenga Oyebode, chairman of the African Philanthropy Forum and Teach for All, kicked off the day with his keynote presentation on Driving transformational impact in Africa through education and leadership. In terms of philanthropic leadership in the sector, African philanthropic institutions have been flexing their muscles and changing the narrative on philanthropy, insisting that in Africa, philanthropic traditions and notions are nothing new, and that the discourse about philanthropy should be expanded to include the many different models and ways local giving happens across the continent. I was eager to hear Oyebode’s thoughts on what type of (new) leadership the philanthropic sector demands for the new era of philanthropy.

Oyebode started his keynote speech by sharing some statistics about the primary school completion rates across Africa[1], painting a grim picture of the herculean task ahead for African nations to tackle. According to a 2021 The Global Economy report, the average primary school completion rate for Africa is 80.97 per cent (out of 19 countries where data was verifiable). Namibia ranked the highest with 109.67 per cent and Chad with the lowest at 44.5 per cent. A UNESCO report further states that 98 million children (out of a global 244 million) between the ages of 6 and 18 are currently out of school in sub-Saharan Africa.

As he states, ‘This is a result of lack of leadership and governance systems. The time has come for us, as Africans, to rescue the continent by occupying the driver’s seat of our future. To do this, we must recognize that education and leadership are some of the low-hanging fruits requiring urgent attention and action.’

African nations struggle to provide access to quality education for its citizens, leaving millions of children and adults without the tools they need to succeed, especially in the global economy. For Oyebode, leadership is at the centre of this challenge. Effective leaders are essential to ensuring that resources are allocated effectively, policies are enacted with the interest of people in mind, and corruption is kept in check. Against a growing number of global issues – digital revolution, energy crisis, climate change, and the need for the continent to find its place in the world – he quotes Thomas Sankara that ‘Africa is in desperate need of visionary, upstanding, and courageous leaders who are capable of meeting the increasingly complex challenges the continent is facing while serving as an inspiration to their people.’

But how do we do this in practical terms?

‘There’s hope,’ says Oyebode. Strategic philanthropy is one of the ways African leaders can rise to the challenge of driving transformative change. Empowering organizations involved in improving education should be a longer-term objective of corporate ESG activities which is a more radical way of engaging with systems. Shared prosperity, with a community of partners, through strategic giving is one way this can happen and for the African Philanthropy Forum, this is how they are ensuring that collaboration and action happens in a more holistic way[2].

He ended his presentation by highlighting four steps that can lead to transformative change on the continent.

  1. Increasing access to education: this involves collaboration to build more schools, train more teachers, provide more scholarships and other forms of support to students – all this would go a long way in training a new crop of leaders who improve the future of the African continent.
  2. Embracing technology: technology is increasingly being used to improve educational outcomes in Africa. Investment in this regard would ensure that access to leadership resources becomes more broadly available to everyone, especially leaders at the grassroots.
  3. Developing leadership skills: programs that teach civic engagement and value-based leadership, especially to young people, would become one of the catalysts for change in the foreseeable future.
  4. Addressing inequality: prioritizing solutions which address systemic inequalities such as the exclusion of nomadic children or people living with disabilities from formal education would contribute to reshaping the future.

The 2018 edition of the Future of Philanthropy report (a global exploration of emerging changes at the intersection of philanthropy and impact investing), produced by the Future Agenda programme, identified eight trends in philanthropy that ranged from leveraging the crowd (community) and increasing online giving to the emergence of millennial philanthropists. Oyebode’s recommendations touched on four of these future trends: broader collaboration among donors, more strategic philanthropy, digital engagement across the sector, and the changing role of business (a larger expectation of its social role, including giving).

The overarching ‘ask’ in Oyebode’s speech was action! Solutions to Africa’s problems must be home-grown and he pointed out that those in the room – leaders of businesses and organizations – are in the position to make it happen.

Ese Emerhi is Alliance magazine Regional Representative for Sub-Saharan Africa.

Tagged in: Regional representatives


  1. ^ Some of the statistics cited in this article have been condensed for clarity’s purposes.
  2. ^ Because the conference was a hybrid format this year, Oyebode did not elaborate on this idea of collaboration with organizations and individuals that APF works with. There was a breakfast discussion with the African Philanthropy Forum that aimed to further discuss how collaboration can be done and in-person participants had the opportunity to learn more.

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