Tade Akin Aina: Giving to Help, Helping to Give

Tade Akin Aina, Program Director, Higher Education and Libraries in Africa, is co-editor, with Bhekinski Moyo, Director of Programs at TrustAfrica, of the new book, Giving to Help, Helping to Give: The Context and Politics of African Philanthropy.  The book is a collection of 16 narratives that focus on the “increasingly confident and knowledgeable assertion of African capacities to give not only to help, but also to transform and seek the root cause of injustice, want, ignorance, and disease,” Aina writes in the preface.   Here he answers some questions about this ambitious exploration of African philanthropic experiences ─ its variety, challenges, and opportunities. 

Why this title?

The way philanthropy is seen in Africa is basically about “giving.” It is about giving to help others in different situations.  Over the past 20 years, with the growth of modern foundations, the notion of the epicenter of giving in Africa has involved all kinds of projects that have actually helped Africans themselves to give more. Philanthropy today has changed tremendously. The book looks at both what might be called traditional and more modern forms of giving that came with modern foundations.

How has philanthropy changed?

The original modern philanthropy was for giving; for people like Andrew Carnegie to go beyond their businesses to do good in a permanent way. Over the years things have changed from philanthropy as giving to philanthropy as aid. This is actually closer to the notion of what governments do for other countries around development and related problems.

An emerging approach is philanthropy as investment, which is related to all the newer notions of impact investment, in which there’s almost no clear boundary between philanthropy and business. All of this is great, but the original founders of our institution and others knew there was a difference between their businesses and their philanthropy, and that’s why they created their foundations to give.  We’re one of those foundations that’s sticking to philanthropy as giving, rather than investment.

How does the book approach this complex subject matter? 

We have contributions from 21 people ─ all kinds of practitioners, academics and others who have looked at philanthropy in a serious way and come together to say what they think about the field. (By the way, because it is a multi-author book, the style varies. That’s why I have a lot of admiration for the copyeditor. It was a hard job because not all of the writers are first speakers of the English language.)

Many people have said that philanthropy doesn’t exist in Africa, what exists there is charity. As a result, many of the authors in this book have tried to prove that philanthropydoes exist on the continent. They present a very interesting analysis and review of the various forms of philanthropy in Africa that we see today, both traditional modes of giving and innovative responses to need.  It covers Islamic philanthropy, traditional philanthropy, informal giving, and of course the big foundations. Also, the new forms emerging from high net worth individuals (HNWI). 

There’s also the recognition in the African context that philanthropy is actually political; it’s about power relations. It is neither neutral nor innocent. It’s about giving in contexts of inequality, poverty, and scarcity. Another form of philanthropy is related to social justice. It addresses the root causes of injustice, poverty, and all the problems that we have. You might call it advocacy philanthropy. The book is a benchmark in the understanding of the phenomenon from the African perspective. Naturally, more work needs to be done on how each of the forms manifests itself.

What direction should African philanthropy take?

The needs are vast and therefore all forms of philanthropy are welcome. Most important are the development of a value system and a set of ethics around what it means to practice the more formal type of philanthropy in particular. What are the rules of engagement? Where should the crossover be between philanthropy and business? Is it right to use your philanthropy to promote your business?

One of the things we’re doing with Carnegie Corporation’s work in Higher Education and Libraries in Africa is placing an emphasis on sustainability. We need to encourage the growth of African philanthropy. To quote one of our grantees, “Africans trust Africa. They trust African solutions to African problems.” U.S. foundations have reduced their interest in Africa.  It is important that African philanthropists begin to rise up and play a major role in addressing the problems there, especially modern African foundations, which are needed to take on some of the problems that have been addressed by outside foundations like ours.

When we talk sustainability to our grantees, they should know that African foundations are growing. They should develop the skills to convince African philanthropies to work with them to solve African problems. There are potential foundation partners on the continent. We need many more of them. People of wealth should put their money into foundations because the problems are so great that no one foundation, institution, or sector can bring sufficient leverage to transform the continent.

Can you give an example of successful philanthropy in Africa?

I think the Carnegie Female Scholarship Program has been a big success. Also, if you want to go as far back as the 1970s, the Rockefeller, Carnegie and Ford fellowships were great successes; they were revolutionary. They built the elite. Kofi Annan was one of these Fellows, for example.  Another good example is the way the universities we have supported are said to be breeding grounds for new leaders. The University of Dar Es Salaam for one: Did anyone imagine it would create seven East African presidents over a period of 40 years? It did, and several other leaders in various fields. The jury is still out on much of the more current work.

Regarding other things we’ve done, including investing in institutions of higher education, we need to continue to work on the attention span of our nations if we’re going to be strategic and systematic.  If we’re really after change and transformation, then we cannot be allowed to have attention deficit disorder. We need to spend time on what we’re doing and try to see it through. Most times it’s just when we are about to succeed that we give up. And it’s becoming more and more a problem because of being in an impatient age, so everything must be instant and happen now. 

What future would you like to see for African philanthropy?

I want to see more philanthropic institutions mobilizing resources internally, addressing the difficult problems, and moving on once they have succeeded. Lots of problems on the continent can be eradicated, so organizations that have worked on them can turn their attention to new challenges.

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