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Topics / African Academic Diaspora

Carnegie in Africa

The Corporation’s involvement in Africa dates to the 1920s and 1930s

When Andrew Carnegie established Carnegie Corporation of New York in 1911, the foundation focused on giving money to organizations in the United States. But the philanthropy quickly expanded its program to include the British dominions and colonies in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the Caribbean, Asia, and Africa. (The attention to former British colonies accounts for the fact that the African Humanities Program operates in the five countries that it does.)


Turning Seaweed into Subsistence Carnegie Corporation of New York has long been involved in working to strengthen a number of universities in selected sub-Saharan countries. But the Corporation has also focused on more individual efforts, for example in 2007 joining with the Science Initiative Group to create the Regional Initiative in Science and Education (RISE), a program dedicated to bolstering regional university networks by supporting postgraduate students and faculty in their pursuit of scientific research. The Kenyan marine biologist Grace Mutia was able to undertake her PhD fieldwork at the Institute of Marine Sciences in Zanzibar, part of the University of Dar es Salaam in neighboring Tanzania, thanks to WIO-RISE (Western Indian Ocean Regional Initiative). Her work has focused on developing seaweed as a commercial crop in coastal regions in ways that are economically and environmentally sustainable. (Photo: Alan Anderson)

The Corporation’s involvement in Africa dates to the 1920s and 1930s, a period in the foundation’s history described by Patricia L. Rosenfield in her book A World of Giving: Carnegie Corporation of New York — A Century of International Philanthropy as one of “energetic internationalism.” This involvement ramped up in the 1950s and 1960s, in concert with the rapid decolonization of many African nations. The Corporation worked with leaders of the newly independent states, while encouraging other donors and U.S. policymakers to pay attention to the region.

“Along with the Ford and Rockefeller foundations,” notes Rosenfield, “Carnegie Corporation recognized that you could not impose a particular worldview on newly developed and newly independent nations. They wanted to strengthen those nations so that they could participate actively in the world.”

In FY 2017–18, nearly 40 percent of the $156 million Carnegie Corporation of New York gave away was directed toward international activities, $15.8 million to African programs specifically. The Africa grantmaking focuses on two broad areas: extending access to knowledge and ideas (including through the support of educational institutions and libraries), and the promotion of peace, democratic institutions, socioeconomic development, and international engagement.

“Starting in the 1920s, when there were not a lot of external donors in the African region, Carnegie Corporation’s grantmaking was based on its mission, its programmatic interests, opportunities it identified from site visits, and its experience in the United States,” says Rosenfield. From the 1950s onwards, as more foundations and agencies began to support activities in the region, Carnegie Corporation focused on working with colleagues in African countries to identify under-addressed grantmaking opportunities — areas where limited resources could make a significant difference. This meant, for example, a shift in the 1960s from broad-based funding of African universities to a more strategic focus on human capital within those institutions.

Rosenfield notes that under its current president, Vartan Gregorian, the Corporation has extensively reshaped its efforts in Africa, “combining its earlier support for universities and libraries with a more recent focus ... on information technologies, women’s advancement in higher education and the sciences, and the next generation of university faculty.” Spearheaded by Gregorian, the African Humanities Program, created in partnership with the American Council of Learned Societies, is a key part of these efforts.”


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