Niamani Mutima — Responsive philanthropy for African communities

mutima_360The Africa Grantmakers’ Affinity Group (AGAG) gives funders opportunities to deepen their understanding of current trends related to funding in Africa. The organization will commemorate its 15th anniversary in 2015 with a lineup of interviews that will imagine the next 15 years of philanthropy in Africa.

In October AGAG began a series of monthly calls that aims to address mounting concerns over the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa, an issue executive director Niamani Mutima says affects “a range of interconnected social systems, from governance to education to food security”. We asked Mutima for her view on responsive philanthropy, and to share how AGAG plans to bring needed attention to the network of organizations working with the local communities most affected by the outbreak.

WINGS: Your telebriefing with IHRFG and Ariadne, “Ebola and Human Rights: Making the Linkages”, is one in a series of events in your “Responsive Philanthropy” series focusing on the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa. How is the series prompting people to think about both short-term solutions and the long term collateral damage caused by the epidemic?

Niamani Mutima: Ebola is more than just a health issue. It’s affecting a range of interconnected social systems from governance to education to food security. We are partnering with colleague affinity groups to highlight various aspects such as the recent call examining the human rights dimension. Future calls will focus on the impact on women and children, food security and the media portrayal among other topics. We plan at least one monthly call through September 2016. In looking at the impact of Ebola through multiple lenses we hope to stimulate people to think about not only the immediate needs of prevention, treatment, medical facilities and supplies—and most importantly, stopping the spread—but also what people will need when new cases cease, in rebuilding materially, emotionally, and socially.

WINGS: Is there a specific message you’d like to send to grantmakers funding in Africa and beyond about the Ebola crisis, in terms of how they might help but also on what local organizations are currently doing?

NM: We are encouraging a robust response from philanthropy to support efforts at all levels – global, regional, national and local. In identifying our niche and added value we are highlighting the presence of trusted local organizations that, in many cases, have refocused their work to address local community needs.

We talk about Ebola in terms of number of cases, which is important, but we want to put a face to the network of organizations that have the trust of the local community, because they are a part of that community. There are many funders and donors who support these local grassroots organizations in the West African countries that are heavily affected. For those wanting to support local efforts we want to highlight that there are trusted mechanisms and they can identify organizations doing good work. We must help these communities to build up their resilience because they are in it now and for the long haul. Of course, support is also needed at national and regional levels and in ways that smaller organizations cannot address. We don’t see how we can talk about Ebola and not talk about local efforts.

WINGS: The AGAG mission is to promote robust, effective and responsive philanthropy benefiting African communities. What makes responsive philanthropy essential to your mission and how can it help African communities achieve their full potential?

NM: We include “responsive” in our mission because we feel that philanthropy that responds and not prescribes reflects the flexibility of private philanthropy to adjust to the dynamic context in which we all live. Responsive also communicates that we are not acting alone and listening only to our own voice. Our lives are aspirational and communities around the world including those in Africa work to bring social justice and social equity to everyone.

We believe that the main ingredient for robust, effective and responsive philanthropy is a large and strong network of increasingly informed, knowledgeable and connected funders who understand critical trends, sound strategies and key points of leverage. As a network of funders engaged in a variety of partnerships we believe that we can contribute to a world where African communities achieve their full potential.

WINGS: AGAG celebrates 15 years in 2015, a big year for global development and philanthropy. How will you commemorate the anniversary?

NM: We have several things planned. Our Anniversary Conference will be held at the Newman Conference Center at Baruch College in Manhattan, New York from April 15-17, 2015. The theme will focus on understanding today to build a strong tomorrow, so we will be looking back at what has happened in the past 15 years but more importantly look to the future, to 2030.

Other activities will include smaller meetings planned between May and September and twitter chats to keep the conversation going. We are also planning a publication on funding to Africa over the past decade and a series of fifteen interviews visioning philanthropy to Africa in the next 15 years called “15 on 30.”

AGAG emerged from the South Africa Grantmakers’ Affinity Group (SAGAG) that was an informal group of funders and others working to get more foundation engagement to support anti-apartheid efforts. South Africa celebrated 20 years of democracy this year, so for us to be marking 15 years next year of continuing the work to urge philanthropy to engage in Africa is fantastic.

More WINGS interviews here.

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