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Chair in African Philanthropy a first for the continent

Categories: HEADLINES, Civil Action/Philanthropy, Advocacy
Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet… the list reads like Forbes rich list, but it isn’t. These and many other high profile billionaires are pledging their time, expertise and money to charitable causes, with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation giving USD 4 billion to charitable causes last year alone, not to mention the priceless time and expertise of one of the most influential couples in the world.

However, it’s not just the mega rich that are doing this. A recent report from the National Philanthropic Trust states that almost year on year since 1974, the world has seen a steady increase in volunteering and donating.

In their annual global philanthropy report, Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) measures three distinct areas of gifting, namely, donating money, donating time (volunteering) and helping a stranger.

Their recent report stated that over 1 billion people worldwide volunteered, 1.4 billion donated money and another 2.2 billion people helped a stranger in 2015 alone. Interestingly, most studies find that as a proportion, poor people tend to give more than their wealthier counterparts.

But what of the African continent? Many African communities have a deeply rooted and age old culture of gifting which is seen as common practice amongst all socio-economic groups. Kenya sits at 11th place on the world’s 20 most generous nation’s according to the CAF report, and there are no less than five African countries in the top 10 countries list for helping out a stranger in the same report.  And in recent years, as Africa continues to show progress in generating high economic growth and development, there has also been a rapid increase in gifting on a larger, more formal scale.

Although gifting and philanthropy in their various forms have been practised on the African continent for a long time, the study and information on the topic is still limited, with most research coming from outside of the continent. The African philanthropy field therefore lags significantly behind its global counterparts in terms of knowledge, data, infrastructure and research.

This means that the continent is at a distinct disadvantage in developing the field, maximising the potential resources and building and creating evidence, knowledge and information on African philanthropy, despite the sharp increase in this field in recent years.

It was with this in mind that Wits Business School (WBS) and the Southern Africa Trust (the Trust) have collaborated to establish an Academic Chair in African Philanthropy in a pioneering move to take forward the study of gifting in Africa, located on the continent itself.

The Trust is an independent, regional, non-profit agency that supports civil society organisations to participate effectively and with credibility in policy dialogue so that the voices of the poor can have a better impact in the development of public policies.

Dr Bhekinkosi Moyo, Executive Director of the Trust, says, “The rise in African philanthropy results in more opportunities for a new narrative about Africa’s gifting culture – a space to revise, reframe, and conceptualise Africans’ own history and narrative of giving so that it is rooted in practice and relevant to the context. Here, there is room to acquire knowledge, develop models and tools appropriate to Africans’ realities, and to explore opportunities for strengthening the role and impact of the variety of formal and non-formal giving mechanisms – and in doing so, help to build a stronger, more independent civil society and amplify and strengthen local voices, local agency and local power in the design of social, economic and political agendas.”

Housed at Wits Business School in Johannesburg, South Africa, full vesting of the chair will be assisted by the interim appointment of Dr Alan Fowler, a leading academic in this field.  Currently Emeritus Professor at the Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University, The Hague, Professor Fowler will play a key role in establishing a professional point of reference, a space for dialogue and a home for study dedicated to African philanthropy.

Prof Fowler says, “This initiative, funded by the Ford Foundation, aims to take forward a pan-African perspective on the practice and epistemology of gifting on the continent.  The Chair in African Philanthropy will go beyond the traditional metrics, and will recognise that acts of gifting take many forms, serving critical functions for stabilising and innovating societies, this continually developing as a field on the continent.”

An inaugural conference to be held at WBS in Johannesburg, South Africa, from 14 – 18 March will bring together academics and practitioners from all over the continent to co-design a chair around four themes, namely; teaching, research, outreach and measurement. 

The purpose of the chair is to bring the African story into the mainstream regarding the practice of gifting in Africa. This will include alignment and contribution towards the sustainable development goals and giving home-grown impetus to the development agenda of Africa.

Stakeholder engagement during this process will include consultation with policy makers, public, private and civil society leaders, academics, foundations, social investors and high net worth individuals investing in the philanthropic field. 

Professor Steve Bluen, Head and Director of Wits Business School says, “Wits Business School is delighted to play a key role in this ground-breaking undertaking. Our mission is to create the academic, research, leadership and character excellence conditions that nurture graduates who grow and achieve beyond themselves as Africa's leaders, in business and in society. This new chair fits in perfectly with who we are as an institution and what we aim to achieve as a leading academic institution on the continent.”

It is anticipated that the full profile of the chair will be approved before the end of June 2016.


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