By Niamani Mutima
Philanthropy has the flexibility to support short-term efforts needed to respond to emergencies and long-term efforts needed to help build strong and vibrant communities. For almost 15 years I’ve worked with a network of funders who care about Africa, the Africa Grantmakers’ Affinity Group (AGAG). AGAG’s mission is to promote robust, effective and responsive philanthropy benefiting African communities.
Each day I learn more about the continent’s amazing diversity and important role in the global economy. I also grow more impatient with the mainstream media’s lack of portraying a more balanced view of Africa, especially when it comes to its young people. Africa has the youngest population on the planet and about 70% are under the age of 30. But although education levels are increasing for young people, so is unemployment. Harnessing their potential and creating an enabling environment for young men and young women to make their mark on the world is important to everyone. So “Generation Next: Young People Shaping Africa’s Future” seemed a fitting theme for our 2015 annual conference that also marks our 15th anniversary. It also reflects our emphasis on philanthropy that is responsive.
Why is Responsive Philanthropy to Africa important?
We believe that a strong network of increasingly informed, knowledgeable and connected funders can make an impact. How? By catalyzing even deeper and stronger partnerships among all stakeholders. We also believe that funders who understand critical trends, sound strategies and key points of leverage can act quickly and constructively. And being responsive is necessary because it helps to amplify important gains and opportunities across Africa.
To engage in meaningful dialogue on the subject, I’m happy to announce the new AGAG ‘Responsive Philanthropy’ series, which will highlight the people, issues, events and resources every funder who cares about Africa should know. And I hope you’ll join us on 16-17 April in New York for “Generation Next: Young People Shaping Africa’s Future”, when we will come together around these important issues.
As a network, AGAG members are the engines that drive our work and they are quite diverse both in geographical location and interest area. But in general all of their philanthropy in Africa is relevant to preparing the next generation of young people to take leadership roles and supporting them as they do. So I asked Theo Sowa based in Accra, and Andrea Johnson based in New York, to comment on the importance of responsive philanthropy in supporting youth in Africa.
What are some of the major challenges for young girls in Africa and how can responsive philanthropy support effective solutions?
Theo Sowa: At AWDF we have spent 15 years pushing philanthropic contribution towards supporting African women and women’s organizations to tackle some of the key challenges facing girls in Africa. As a result, we recognise many of those challenges: sexual and gender based violence, inadequate access to quality education, social, political and economic oppression and discrimination, emotional and physical abuse of many kinds. The list is long.
However, what has stood out for us in our work is the strength, innovation, dedication and passion of young African women. Truly responsive philanthropy would support the ideas, the visions and the work of young women and their organizations; and not just in areas like building schools, financing scholarships, strengthening infrastructure, but also in the areas where results sometimes take longer to become evident and are sometimes harder to ‘count/measure’ – the social justice and women’s rights areas which have a long term impact on the lives and healthy development of every girl and ultimately every boy on our continent.
For us, truly responsive philanthropy would mean that young girls would not be viewed as a series of disparate problems but as whole human beings who are active agents of change in their own lives and in that of their communities. It would mean philanthropy that doesn’t dictate answers but allows young women to identify, exercise and celebrate their strengths — and in doing so, supports them in identifying their key challenges for themselves, and put in place the solutions, alliances, and partnerships that lead to the social change we want to see.
What is responsive philanthropy? It is flexible, listening, empowering, non-authoritarian. And it is prepared to let the social innovators and activists on the ground lead!
Looking at education, what are some of the ways philanthropy has helped to create an enabling environment for African youth to gain the skills and experience needed to drive significant growth in the next 15 years?
Andrea Johnson: Education has always been a popular area of emphasis for philanthropy. It’s hard to imagine how African communities can achieve their full potential without youth having access to high-quality education. Philanthropy engages with education in a multitude of ways, from the Van Leer Foundation’s emphasis on early childhood education to the Hewlett Foundation’s work with open educational resources, to MacArthur Foundation’s support for girls’ secondary education.
Carnegie Corporation has intervened largely at the higher education level, most recently supporting emerging scholars and scientists through funding initiatives to achieve excellence in postgraduate education and to provide early-career research opportunities. We have chosen this approach to ensure that African researchers contribute to critical policy debates and that African innovations contribute to advances in health, food security, governance, economic development and poverty alleviation.
African contributions have often been drowned out by the prevalence of research and development being done on behalf of Africa. The Corporation aims to tap the energy, curiosity and ingenuity of emerging African scholars and scientists as they prepare to take their place as researchers and teachers, contributing to discoveries that will propel the continent forward and preparing subsequent generations for service to their countries, the continent, and the world.
Niamani Mutima is Executive Director of Africa Grantmakers’ Affinity Group. Theo Sowa is Chief Executive Officer of the African Women’s Development Fund. Andrea Johnson is Program Officer for Higher Education and Research in Africa at Carnegie Corporation of New York. Photos courtesy Niamani Mutima, Theo Sowa and Andrea Johnson.
AGAG’s Annual Conference, “Generation Next: Young People Shaping Africa’s Future”, will take place in New York City from 16-17 April. Learn more and register here.