Earlier this month I attended the African Grantmakers Network (AGN) Assembly held at the International Conference Center in Arusha, Tanzania. Arusha is nestled in the foothills of Mt. Meru – often referred to as the ‘little brother’ of Africa’s highest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro. A daily treat was waking up to the sight of the majestic mountains and the cool crisp morning air tinged with the smoky smell of burning wood. With its very calming vibe, Arusha was a good location for AGN’s third assembly.
I have attended every AGN assembly and look forward to it. It is an exciting development in the global landscape of philanthropy. I find it to be a great opportunity to connect with colleagues that I don’t see nearly as often as I would like and to catch up on latest developments in the field. Email, text messages and video chat are good but nothing beats the time spent together. Plus, there are some conversations that you can only have in person!
There were several meetings held prior to the AGN Assembly including the African Youth in Philanthropy. The energy of the youth conference certainly did spill over into the AGN meeting. Throughout the conference young people challenged the agenda that was not sufficiently inclusive of them and their interests. The panelists for the session on ‘Harnessing the Power of Young People’ raised important questions about who is included in setting the priorities for African philanthropy, and pushed back on the notion that young people should listen and not voice their opinion about how they view the issues under discussion. During the caucus session on the final day, the young people formed their own caucus on youth in philanthropy that attracted a multigenerational mix of participants.
AGN’s theme this year was ‘People, Policy and Practise’ and the program had some dynamic speakers. Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee from Liberia seemed to stir up the air whenever she spoke with a frankness and candor about her life’s journey, both in the opening plenary session and the parallel session on ‘Governance, Peace and Security in Africa’ moderated by the BBC World Service’s Focus on Africa host, Bola Mosuro. Gbowee singled out the African Women Development Fund for its support of women on the continent.
The line-up of speakers and panelists was very impressive and the program offered a diverse menu of topics in the parallel sessions and spaces for self-organized caucus groups. The lunchtime and tea break conversations were lively and, as with most conferences, some of the most interesting exchanges happened in the hallways and late into the night at the hotels over dinner and drinks.
At the closing session newly elected board chair Bhekinkosi Moyo of Southern Africa Trust made two announcements that signal new developments: Karen Sai was introduced as AGN’s new executive director of the newly named African Philanthropy Network. The AGN – now APN – biennial assembly is an important event and brings together a rich cross section of people who reflect the diverse landscape of African philanthropy. I am looking forward to the next one in 2017, and the continuing discourse on the role philanthropy is – and should be playing – as partners to African communities.
Niamani Mutima is the executive director of the Africa Grantmakers’ Affinity Group (AGAG).