Making a difference in Africa: Advice from experienced grantmakers – Rob Buchanan and Jayne Booker

The aim of this competent and timely publication is to introduce private foundations and trusts to the opportunities for grant giving in Africa. Although the book is clearly targeted at a US audience, it has relevance to philanthropic bodies in other parts of the world – including Africa itself – who may share this aim.

The authors, both of whom have spent a significant period working in Africa in a professional capacity, recognize two important underlying facts: first, there is a burgeoning domestic NGO sector and, secondly, there is a danger that any external grantmaker may be inclined to impose their own culture and values on their grantees. The definition of the domestic NGO sector is sometimes rather hazy, and there is probably insufficient distinction made between the local subsidiaries or affiliates of international NGOs, local NGOs and other charitable bodies which have been brought into existence by offshore funders, and the genuine grassroots community organizations, which take many forms in contemporary Africa. However, the importance of the latter is recognized in a quotation from Graça Machel (p48).

In this framework, the authors are particularly useful on the potential key role of ‘project champions’ – local individuals who, through their own abilities, are able to lead and manage successful initiatives, sometimes regardless of formal institutional frameworks. Likewise they recognize the time it can take for change to happen, suggesting that a timeframe of up to 20 years may be necessary – and quoting some of the most experienced funders from the US (notably the Kellogg Foundation) to this effect. They also helpfully identify some of the important new initiatives of the last five years such as Ufadhili in East Africa, a Ford Foundation-backed entity devoted to encouraging local philanthropy in various forms.

From the perspective of US grantmakers, the text also contains some useful advice on mechanisms for working through established public agencies (including the World Bank and the UN) and ensuring that these grants are recognized by the Internal Revenue Service.

Bucking the trend in the donor community on the subject of evaluation, the authors suggest that rigid formats are not helpful in this area, that forms of self-evaluation should be flexible (involving, for instance, a joint effort by funders and grantees), and that the personal growth of grantees may be as important a criterion as other more conventional measures (p78).

The primary weaknesses of the book are threefold. It is weak on the question of internal governance, ranging from the appointment of boards to various forms of corruption; on the potential distortion of the objectives and modus operandi of grassroots organizations as a result of receiving a grant with formal objectives and linked conditions; and on the question of exit strategies and the dependency syndrome in general.

Notwithstanding these limitations, the book provides an enjoyable and informative introduction to grantmaking in Africa, which will repay the time of even experienced and large-scale grantmakers.

Laurence Cockcroft is Adviser on African Programmes, Gatsby Charitable Foundation. He can be contacted at

Making a difference in Africa: Advice from experienced grantmakers
Rob Buchanan and Jayne Booker Council on Foundations $40 (non-members), $25 (members)
ISBN 1932677208

To order contact the Council on Foundations.
Tel +1 888 239 5221/+1 301 645 7303
Fax +1 301 843 0159

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