Halima Mahomed (TrustAfrica, PSJP) presents her new report—Of Narratives, Networks and New Spaces: A Baseline Mapping of the African Philanthropy Infrastructure Sector. From the Executive Summary:
This research reflects a sector that is small, but growing steadily in numbers and diversity of offering. It also shows, not surprisingly, that the sector is mainly aligned with where institutionalised philanthropy is most visible i.e. South Africa. At the same time, however, the growing number of pan-African institutions reveals the commitment to broadening the base, and perhaps an increase of demand.
It shows that while the sector is maturing in capacity, depth and vision, with an increase in those writing and thinking about it, its knowledge base and its human and financial capacity are still slender and require considerable long-term, sustained investment.
There are both opportunities and challenges for the sector.
While the number of networks in the sector has increased, no common agenda has yet emerged which brings together African narratives on philanthropy. Rather, the ideological tensions between those narratives still need to be grappled with.
Increasing wealth on the continent holds out the possibility of growth for philanthropy, while greater recognition of multiple narratives of African philanthropy points the way to a fuller acknowledgement of the mechanisms and roles of giving on the continent that have traditionally been discounted.
There is a much increased attention to corporate and high net worth giving, both of which offer great untapped potential, however, respondents noted both the existing limitations of corporate giving in addressing longer term systemic issues but also significant opportunities in the sector for this when corporate giving is prioritised at the executive level.
Another caution is that an overwhelming focus on business solutions can both drown diverse African narratives and endanger the support to issues that require non-business solutions.
At the opposite pole, there is also an increased focus on social justice philanthropy, with individual and collective efforts in this area of work becoming more relevant.
There is, in the sector, a tendency to focus on polarities, but it need not be so, and opportunities for dialogue between differing views and perspectives need to be created, and interrogated.
There are strong leaders in the sector, but also space for development. The research highlighted the need to strengthen existing leadership as well as develop next tier leadership. Specific attention is needed to create spaces for thought leadership in the field.
New economic and political configurations are posing both opportunities to broaden philanthropy and platforms for giving, but in some contexts, there is a tying of philanthropy to politics, with the infrastructure sector needing to trade warily.
There is an increasing focus on developing enabling legislative environments for giving, in a context where this is not the norm, and much work will be required to advance this. It is also recognised, however, that existing definitions of what constitutes an enabling environment for philanthropy are limited and that African contexts may yield a wider definition which needs to be interrogated. Moreover, in countries struggling to build a tax base, questions of tax evasion arise; as well, that tax inducements may not necessarily lead to increased philanthropy.
Poor visibility of the sector and the limitations of existing frameworks in reflecting adequately its value, role and impact have been cited as important issues, as is the necessity of developing strong communications strategies to help profile and build awareness of the work.
Issues of ethics, transparency and accountability appear to be gaining some foothold in parts of the sector, linked to the notion of resource governance; as are questions of how the sector and the field manage and negotiate power, both internally, where they hold the power, and in relation to external power holders.
Overall, significant progress has been made in the last 15 years, and the growth and development of the field must be acknowledged. Given the baseline at which the field has begun, however, there is still much work to be done.
Download Of Narratives, Networks and New Spaces from the WINGS Knowledge Center. Regional Highlights is one of four programme tracks for concurrent sessions for WINGSForum 2014: The Power of Networks.