The drive for sustainable development and the challenge to eradicate poverty for a for a better world is often regarded as work for those on a global stage. But around the African continent, communities are showing that the daily building of a sustainable world is being done from the humblest spaces, often starting with families and growing into countries and regions.

The latest evidence of this is the World Bank’s “Migration and Remittances: Recent Developments and Outlook” report which shows that formal remittance inflows to the Sub-Saharan Africa region are projected to increase by 10 percent from about $34 billion in 2016 to $38 billion in 2017. Of this, Nigeria, with projected remittances of $22.3 billion in 2017 will continue to be the largest remittance recipient in the region.

Of course, there are main reasons why remittances are high – but a substantial portion of this is family members sending home funds to support communities in need. This is despite sub-Saharan Africa having the highest remittance costs in the world intraregional corridors originating in Nigeria, Angola and South Africa among the most expensive.

These remittances are also fuelled by migration. During the first six months of 2017, sub-Saharan Africa had about 2.6 million new displacements with 2.1 million caused by conflicts and violence and about 500,000 due to environmental issues.

The World Bank reports that when a disaster hits poor countries in the region, the affected population becomes more vulnerable to extreme poverty and governments are often ill-equipped to face such catastrophes.

It is at times like this that philanthropy networks come into play.
The African Philanthropy Network’s own research, “Sizing the Field”, showed that extensive informal philanthropic activity takes place but it not recognised and documented. Instead we tend to focus on “the poor” as purely recipients rather than givers of the largest volumes of philanthropy in Africa.

Yes, it is true that much is given by the rich – high net worth individuals (HNWI) and corporates – but much is also given every day in the form of community support, remittances and familial largess.
The report makes clear: “Philanthropy, the desire to promote the welfare of others or private initiatives for public good, has a deep history in Africa. From individual to institutional philanthropy, community fundraising to religious tithing, philanthropy occupies a key place across the continent. However, this history of philanthropic activity has often not been documented in formal settings.”

During my years of working within civil society across the African continent, it has become clear that we need to strengthen our internal giving in Africa if we want to put the community at the centre of development.

Our challenge is to determine how best to harness the power of our communities and the type of giving in Africa. 
When the African Philanthropy Network was first established in 2009 as the African Grant Makers Network it was in order to identify and publish about what works in grant making on the continent.

Two years later we had come to the realisation that there were many other actors in the field of philanthropy – including our own extended families who often provided the safety net that social grants often do.

The World Bank report on migration and remittances shows how critical this form of giving really is and why it is important to understand the nuances of how “Africa Gives”. This is the challenge of the revitalised African Philanthropy Network, which is built on three key pillars: building a constituency for philanthropy in Africa; raising the voice of philanthropy on the continent and strengthening our institutional capacity.

Doing that means building a culture of solidarity and inclusivity on the continent.

We want to see philanthropy become an effective force for sustainability in Africa. To do that means more than just reaching out to philanthropic organisations. It means reaching out to various sectors including business, academia, faith-based groupings and governments. It means reaching out even to families.

Philanthropy in Africa is a way of living. In every place, we will find families that have benefited from the surrounding community. People depend on one another whether it is food, help with school, medical care or community support. It has been part and parcel of our culture and our traditional governance structures even though we have not referred to it as philanthropy.

We must now find ways to help Africa realise its own resources and direct those resources to its own development.

In Africa people give and they give a lot – not because they can afford it but simply because of solidarity. Yet these practices are never narrated as philanthropy.

We’re seeking to help change the discourse and the direction of the mainstreamed and organised philanthropy to recognise philanthropy in all its forms. In doing so, we want to mobilise funding, learning opportunities and grant making best practices that will allow us to balance theory and practice in philanthropy.

The Chair of Philanthropy established at Wits University is a sign of our commitment to changing the narrative. Africa faces major challenges, which will require a multidisciplinary and multisectoral approach to solve. For example, there are major policies issues, which must be addressed. African governments are increasingly enacting laws that prohibit voicing criticism or clampdowns on media access. We must ensure that civil society is able to operate efficiently in an effective regulatory environment. 

We must break the stereotype that Africa is only a recipient and not a giver of aid. There is a critical need to understand the role of philanthropy in the shrinking spaces in which philanthropy and civil society operate. 

We must develop and enhance our dataset, which can help us track philanthropy in Africa that will, in turn, help us in medium and long term programming.

We know that there are a lot of resources within Africa. If the network can harness those resources from different actors then we can see the impact by dealing with root causes and not just symptoms.

African philanthropy is a powerful tool for the transformative development of our continent. Here at the African Philanthropy Network we recognise that “Africa Gives”. We must now ensure it is harness for long-term change.

Dr Stigmata Tenga is Executive Director of the African Philanthropy Network (APN) and President of the Foundation for Civil Society in Tanzania.

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