What is the Future of Philanthropy in Africa, and how can we Foster it?


This monthly edition features the Hub’s South Africa Regional Connector, Africa Philanthropy Network (APN). APN Executive Director, Dr. Stigmata Tenga shares her views around the need to create homegrown philanthropy and how it plays a crucial role in a much-yearned prosperous African continent. In the Question and Answer segment, she argues that the field is steadily growing  in the Global South countries.



Q. Please tell us briefly what Africa Philanthropy Network (APN) is and what your organization seeks to achieve?

A. Established in 2009, APN is the only continent-wide Network of organizations and individuals in Africa and its diaspora who promote the culture of philanthropic giving. APN members are the promoters of the culture of giving on the continent, including grant makers, foundations, funds, CSOs, academic and research institutions, private institutions and philanthropy networks, and support organizations. Currently, APN members are working with communities in 48 sub-Saharan African countries.

APN’s seeks to reclaim the power and elevate the practices of African Philanthropy. In achieving this mission, APN is collaborating and partnering with its members & other philanthropy support organizations (PSOs) to promote the voice and action of African Philanthropy. The Network builds solidarity and coordinated response in the African philanthropy landscape, growing voice, visibility, and influencing the power of Societal Actors and leaders to make a case for and unlock the potential for individual and community Philanthropy.

Q. Would you please explain to us the different types of Philanthropy and the emerging forms?

A. African communities often share deep-rooted traditional values of solidarity, human dignity, and interpersonal connectedness. This corresponds to the western notion of Philanthropy which portrays the desire to promote the wellbeing of others or, simply put, ‘love for humanity. For Africa, the discussion of African Philanthropy is taking root and reveals that the African experience may not be well encapsulated in the present-day narratives of Philanthropy. Philanthropy in Africa has been growing and changing over time to adjust to urbanization and the loosening of the traditional social fabric that holds society together. Africa has witnessed an emergence of structured forms of philanthropic giving by wealthy individuals, philanthropy support organizations, associations, and grantmakers. APN is working to strengthen an ecosystem of PSOs and CSOs serving different forms of Philanthropy in the continent. A special focus is directed to domestic giving by individuals and organizations at the grassroots community levels. There is a notable increase in individual and community practices for philanthropic giving and institutional Philanthropy, which is more formal.

Q. There is a perception or belief that African funders underfund African NGOs compared to Non-African philanthropists. Is this the reality? If yes, does this reflect the pervasive lack of faith or trust of African NGOs? 

A. The perception stands to reality due to the middlemen’s existence, commonly known as intermediaries, including International NGOs, which northern donors tend to trust the most. Most funding goes to and or through them as compared to grassroots organizations. We need donors supporting Africa to shift away from this way of doping development and adopt more power-balanced funding mechanisms. This is only possible when there is trust in existing or emerging partnerships. Community members have assets and capacity to solve own problems; they need to be at the center of any development conversation –this is missing in the current development system. It might be true that Southern NGOs lack the capacity to manage financial resources compared with INGOs. The durable solution is to build local institutions’ capacity and not to bypass them. Northern donors have a role in ensuring that Southern NGOs have the needed capacity to manage and generate domestic resources and form long-term partnerships as opposed to current project-based funding.

Non -African philanthropist agencies often speak of a partnership between organizations, two-way accountability and transparency, and local empowerment and participation; however, they failed to shift the power to the people and create equal power relations with the communities.

Q. We have witnessed tremendous economic growth in many African countries in the past two decades. Has this growth been reflected positively in the local philanthropy scene? What is the future of philanthropy in the continent?

A. The field is growing with institutional and non-institutional philanthropy growth in emerging markets. And it is changing, with the rapid emergence of structured forms of strategic Philanthropy by wealthy Africans, the success of channels for collective giving to social causes amongst increasingly urbanized communities with reduced connections to rural roots, growing recognition of community-based practices of social solidarity, and the emergence of African associations of philanthropists, funders/Grant makers, and other social investors.

There is momentum for APN to connect better, articulate, and strengthen the philanthropy support ecosystem in Africa. Africa is home to the fastest-growing middle class in the world. Africa’s consumer spending is expected to rise to 1.4 trillion USD in 2020 (from 860 billion in 2008), which signifies the great potential for philanthropic growth. A more articulated, connected, and developed philanthropy infrastructure could help to push giving forward on the continent. This would contribute more domestic resources to solve domestic problems, including social justice.

Q. We have witnessed governments in the region attacking foreign funding for civil society organizations and have accused foreign funders of promoting their interests over the interests of the local citizens. Is this the case? Do you think this is a ploy by governments to institute more measures that are repressive?

A. Yes, this is the case. Increasingly CSOs, specifically those working to protect human rights, currently face severe challenges, including violence, harassment, and imprisonment. Governments enact restrictive laws and regulations affecting CSOs on registration, fundraising, taxation, and policy engagement, undermined the independence of Civil Society Actors (CSAs), and restricted their capacity to function effectively. Defamation laws and regulations criminalizes the previously permitted activities, bans on organizations funded by foreign sources, branding civil society organizations as foreign agents, and strict media reporting regulations are among just some of the legal measures that limit, or in some cases suppress, civil society development. All these were put in place to control CSOs and PSOs. It is simply a ploy to reduce/shrink CSO’s operating space for political purposes

Q. What tools and strategies are available for NGOs to achieve the most significant impact in the field of Philanthropy?

A. Strengthening social justice grant makers capacity to promote the development and outcomes of social justice philanthropy is critical,  this may include making local grant makers key players in directing resources to their best use, letting  priorities established within local contexts by participants in policy processes who have an enduring stake in the outcome, allowing local  grant makers engage in policy debates, and develop effective arguments and  dialogue with northern donors to start supporting southern NGOs directly without using INGOs. Building trust with the community we serve is also essential for supporting NGOs activities. This entails engaging in local resource mobilization and joining capital and assets that significantly impact philanthropy development. Moreover, NGOs need to enhance their community accountability and partner with the communities.

Q. Do you think philanthropic initiatives that support civil society organizations (CSOs) in Africa face increasing risks to their integrity and impact?

A. Philanthropic initiatives that support CSOs are not at risk because the support goes directly to the communities needing that support. It is a matter of promoting the recognition of governments to accept domestic philanthropic giving as a durable strategy to national development. Funding limitations and compliances on tax regimes are the main risks facing CSOs on the continent. Most governments insist on the CSOs to implement the national plans, which sometimes compromises the role of CSOs.

Q. Reversing the shrinking civic space trend in many African countries requires a comprehensive approach that emphasizes good faith, efficiency, and local knowledge. What practical solutions are available for funders to mitigate the effects of this negative trend?

A. Some governments in Africa are becoming increasingly open and willing to offer space – though limited – for civil society engagement. They are likely to respond to pressure from the CSOs that have been and are still currently seek a significant role in influencing policy change and implementation of responsive policies. The challenges lie in the inadequacy of local advocacy capacity, which is unlikely to improve. They are often constrained by short-term funding focused on narrow advocacy wins reflecting donors’ priorities.

Without stable, adequate core funding, NGOs in the Global South will have no choice but to accept the policy priorities and strategies suggested by an influential funder.

Q. What are some of the implications of COVID-19 on philanthropy work in the region? Did organizations experience funding disruptions? What are some of the adaptation strategies or emerging opportunities would you advise organizations to adapt?

A. The vulnerability of CSOs became particularly apparent during the recent COVID-19 pandemic. In an attempt to limit the spread of the virus, governments worldwide declared a national state of emergency or passed laws and regulations that would grant the state overly broad powers that endanger civic freedoms. The effects of the pandemic cut across health, social and economic considerations, threatening social cohesion in fragile communities and exacerbating already existing inequalities, especially for vulnerable and marginalized groups. Women, in particular, have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Shrinking funding from the Global  North, business falling at the national level, and the like greatly affected philanthropy work in the region.

No one knows what a post-pandemic world will look like. Still, one thing is certain: without a strong local support base, CSOs will be forced to the margins of their communities, giving authoritarian governments free reign, thereby setting the scene for longer-term erosion of civic space, freedom of expression, and deepening injustices and inequalities. Hence, there is both an urgent need and a growing opportunity for social justice philanthropy to support their resilience, by investing in their credibility and movement building so that the loudest voices of resistance and pushback come from within.