Emulsion of Different Players in Polycrisis: Leveraging the Hand Played by African Philanthropy

By Dr Keratiloe Sishoma Mogotsi, Assistant Professor Sustainable Business and Social Innovation at Chatham University, Pittsburgh PA, USA and Adjunct Lecturer Wits Business School, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg South Africa 


Leveraging the potential of a multi-stakeholder blend  

Like oil and water, the dynamics of some funding stakeholders do not combine easily. With different abilities, pressures, contexts, and power, creating a blend requires some planning and effort. On one hand, economic realities place immense pressure on corporates, even those with corporate social investments (CSI). Then on the other hand, a shrinking funding landscape coupled with persistent social ills and shifting priorities causes uncertainty and unpredictability with philanthropic players in South Africa and the continent at large. This is hardly news to the philanthropic community. African and South African Philanthropy, in its various forms, has been widely attributed to development causes through providing flexible funding, fostering innovation, and catalysing collaboration across multiple stakeholders. What could be news though, and worth pondering in this blend of multi-stakeholders is – how can African philanthropy leverage its hand as a catalyst in dealing with polycrisis? This article unpacks the hand of African philanthropy by paying attention to emerging tools to manage power, reduce risk aversion and uses of African philanthropy’s unique abilities for collaboration to provide solutions and actions to pertinent challenges. 

In Africa, philanthropic actors are well known, and most are active as witnessed in recent and ongoing polycrisis. The crises are often interlinked and create a compounded effect that is more difficult to respond to. Take for instance climate change which poses an immediate threat with some of its consequences increasingly affecting societies. The threats and adverse impacts of climate change, geopolitical issues, economic challenges, and social issues globally deal a very hard hand which calls for collaborated efforts. No single entity can tackle the aftermath – thus to effectively address the effects of crisis, philanthropy players have to come together with corporate organisations, the authorities through government and yes – between funders themselves.  

With enough effort from these various stakeholders, an emulsion can occur as was witnessed in the polycrisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and geopolitical tensions. To begin, let us unpack the African philanthropy landscape. 

African Philanthropy vs Philanthropy worldwide 

In Africa, mutual solidarity and reciprocity do not require any special fundraising and resource mobilisation techniques because sharing, and indeed caring, are synonymous with the people. The famous Ubuntu philosophy – I am because you are – places philanthropy in Africa in a unique playing field. 

For instance, while both Africa and the Western world engage in philanthropy with the aim of addressing social issues and improving lives, the motivations, approaches, and impacts vary. During the COVID-19 pandemic, South African and African funders made use of traditions to meet up with each other and determine how to tackle the crisis together even if they never worked together before. Funders were reported to be coming together with corporates, governments and individuals through South Africa’s Solidarity Fund and similar initiatives on the continent. One could argue that coming together comes in the reflexes of African people as numerous African proverbs attest to the power of multiple hands compared to one. The African proverb – “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” emphasizes the power of collaborative efforts.  

Moreover, the African languages identify and highlight the practice of “coming together” and collaboration through words such as “lekgotla” in Southern SeSotho and “Imbizo” in Nguni languages which both relate to gatherings and meeting places to put heads together and solve community issues in solidarity. This unique aspect of naturally seeking to work together should be transferable to various stakeholders who lead for profit and non-profit organizations. A “kgotla” and coming together of various stakeholders may actually be more plausible in African philanthropy compared to the Western world that have differing approaches to philanthropy with mostly structured foundations redistributing wealth to address social issues. Understanding these differences is crucial for fostering effective and collaborative philanthropic efforts that can address both immediate needs and long-term development goals. 

It would also be vital to acknowledge the emerging dynamics between other stakeholders in the world of philanthropy – the Global North funders.  

Developments in the Global North vs Global South Divide 

The global North vs Global South divide is deeply rooted in historical, colonial, and economic factors. This divide is visible today where countries in the Global North have higher industrialization and thus have more resources to practice philanthropic initiatives. This is evident through the prevalent presence of Global North funders like the Ford foundation, CS Mott foundation and Bill and Melinda Gates foundation to name a few. 

Addressing the Global North-South divide requires comprehensive strategies that focus on sustainable development, debt relief, capacity building and equitable access to numerous things that exacerbate the divide such as technology and education. Talks of “shifting the power” by Global North funders has been a hot topic globally. Many have alluded to the limited consequence of minimal impact in making decisions about funders for affected communities without them. “Nothing for us, without us” has become a mantra which calls for funders to involve the very communities they wish to help in the decisions regarding their future. This mantra has translated into the emerging practice of participatory grantmaking where some funders are yielding to participatory practices and placing affected communities at the decision-making table to also play their hand. 

Participatory grantmaking (PGM) is a tool which very much aligns with African philanthropy practices which are rooted in solidarity. Through participatory grantmaking, different stakeholders can come together and pursue collaborations which may not have been possible without the inputs of community members, other funders, corporates, and government. Global North funders are also dealing with polycrisis in their home countries thus spreading efforts and using PGM allows for high impact interventions to go a long way.  

Now more than ever, participation and inclusion are key ingredients to the success of a multi-stakeholder approach to dealing with polycrisis. This is applicable to the Global North and the Global South as some initiatives in Africa have considered PGM in finding sustainable solutions for marginalized communities such as the involvement of rural communities in indigenous solutions to climate change, involvement of farmers in environmental sustainability initiatives and involvement of refugees in dealing with migration crisis as examples. Indeed, collaborative, and international efforts are essential to foster more balanced global development and reduce these persistent socio-economic disparities between the Global North and the Global South. 

The way forward – the emulsion 

Essentially, the hand that philanthropy holds in Africa is unique and is loaded with immense potential to leverage on the power of collaboration. “United we stand. Divided we fall”, another African proverb, reminds us of the importance of joining forces with other players coming from the corporate world, government authorities and other philanthropic funders. With the Global North engaging in emergent tools to power shifting like participatory grantmaking to narrow the divide between the Global North and the Global South, an emulsion is also appropriate between Global North funders and their African counterparts and multiple stakeholders coming together to deal with polycrisis. 

Ultimately, the power is in all these stakeholders’ hands and can only become a force to be reckoned with when all hands come on deck and leverage emerging practices such as PGM and the long-standing African traditions of giving, sharing and working together to go far in solidarity.  


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