Giving, African style

2012-10-27 17:12

There is a new breed of philanthropist coming up in Africa. On the eve of the African Philanthropy Awards, Charlotte Bauer meets some of the continent’s biggest givers who know that change means opening up more than their wallets

Enter a generation of super-successful African men and women who are putting their money, time and talent where their passion is: driving and developing health, wealth and work on the continent of their birth, from Cairo to Cape Town.

Gone are the days when charity meant simply writing a cheque.

The new African philanthropists are spreading their wealth in ways designed to match up social needs with economic imperatives, professional fulfilment with the macro-management skills needed to harness national and pan-African resources, and prosperity with justice.

When it comes to “how to give it”, the new philanthropic imagination delivers rich pickings.

Retired Nigerian banker Tony Elumelu (49) gives monthly Twitter tutorials to would-be entrepreneurs.

Maverick Ugandan businessman Ashish Thakkar (31) came up with a mentor programme using “business speed dating”.

Benin-born singer Angelique Kidjo (52), who uses her celebrity status to propel her philanthropy, once donated a song that bought a tetanus vaccine each time it was downloaded (see accompanying interviews).

“I am a 21st-century philanthropist who believes that no one can develop Africa except us Africans,” Elumelu told City Press, neatly summing up the new thinking by philanthropists across the continent who have opened their doors, not just their wallets.

“I see my contribution as being more than just funding. I also give of my time, my experience and my influence,” he said.

Elumelu, Thakkar and Kidjo are among several individual philanthropists and organisations whose work will be recognised at the African Philanthropy Awards in Joburg on Tuesday night.

Others include Egyptian community trust dynamo Marwa el-Daly; veteran Moroccan businessman Miloud  Chaabi; the founder of Ashesi University in Ghana, Patrick Awuah; and Graça Machel.

Machel is on the African philanthropist dream list for, among other initiatives, her ongoing humanitarian work in her birth country, Mozambique, and her creation of the wonderfully named The Elders, a group of the global great and the good that includes Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan and her husband, Nelson Mandela.

The awards ceremony will be a highlight of next week’s African Grantmakers Network’s second pan-African conference happening once in two years on emerging African philanthropy trends.

The first gathering of the right-on rich was held in Nigeria.

Now it’s South Africa’s turn under the theme Growing African Philanthropy: What’s New? What’s Now? What’s Next?

The Southern Africa Trust (SAT), which is organising the conference of 400 delegates from across the continent, is a founder member of the African Grantmakers’ Network.

Neville Gabriel, himself a veteran advocate for poverty alleviation and economic justice, is the Trust’s executive director.

Gabriel echoes the views of philanthropists like Elumelu’s, that Africans must find African solutions.

“We must take responsibility for our own problems. We can’t keep relying on goodwill and aid from the rest of the world, whether it’s from rich people like George Soros or the ordinary men and women who give money through their churches and other religious organisations,” said Gabriel.

The danger is that big-bang conferences can turn into clubby talk shops.

So, can this pan-African philanthropy pow-wow produce real change?

Absolutely, according to Thakkar.

He said: “The great thing about these conferences is that they allow people to compare notes on different approaches to really important issues like education, poverty, inequality and social exclusion.

“Lots of brilliant collaborations can be initiated at an event like this. This can lead to some great ideas and exciting ‘aha!’ moments to pave the way for far-reaching philanthropic activities.”

» Articles for this feature have been produced by City Press in partnership with the Trust

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