JOHANNESBURG - True to the Biblical injunction that when you give alms, your left hand should not know what your right hand is doing, many African philanthropists do not necessarily seek publicity when they help their fellow human beings.
The result is that there is only data on those large foundations which have gone to the trouble of registering a philanthropic foundation, seeking tax exemptions, constituting a board of trustees, and all other necessary steps in running a large organisation.
A significant part of African philanthropy, however, operates informally, and at a recent conference on Philanthropy in Africa, Bongi Mlangeni, the chief executive of the Social Justice Initiative, observed that, in the case of South Africa, those with inherited wealth are the big givers and they are not really concerned about legal frameworks.
Some philanthropists do make news headlines, like Nigerian Aliko Dangote donating US$1.5 billion to the Dangote Foundation in 2014.
Another example was when in 2016 the Dangote Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced a $100 million plan to fight malnutrition in Nigeria.
The result is that there is more data available on what American philanthropic foundations give to Africa.
Between 2002 and 2012, Africa-focused grants from American foundations jumped 400% from $288.8 million to early $1.5bn.
Of this huge jump the Gates Foundation represented almost $1bn.
Other major givers for the remaining amount include Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and others.
The top two causes for donation were health and development, according to the US Foundation Funding for Africa 2015 Edition.
The latest estimate is that the top 50 foundations contributed $14.7bn in 2017. Philanthropy broadly contributes 5% of the overall official development aid.
Between 2013 and 2015 philanthropy contributed $24bn, on average $7.96bn a year. The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation remains the biggest contributor providing 49% of total giving in the period 2013 to 2015.
South African foundations gave $4m, Kenya $3m and Nigeria $5m.
The countries that have benefited from foundation giving were Nigeria at $730m, Ethiopia at $483m, South Africa $417m, Kenya $329m, Tanzania $322m, Uganda $283m, Rwanda $171m, Ghana $153m, The Democratic Republic of the Congo $134m, Zambia $114m and Malawi $113m.
In Africa, philanthropy has engaged in disaster relief, poverty relief, in education, job training and employment opportunities, etc.
In these areas they intersect with the government and, hence, must collaborate for maximum impact, especially, since government sets the policy agenda for areas such as education and in terms of disaster or poverty relief has the infrastructure to intervene more effectively.
Foundations tend to invest in stable middle income countries and in those countries they work in partnership with governments, civil society and the private sector, according to Professor Emmanuel Akyeampong from the Harvard University Centre for African Studies.
A 2014 study by UBS and TrustAfrica, Africa’s Wealth Give Back, based on responses from 35 high net worth individuals, indicated that the top three reasons for giving were: I want to make a difference (69%); it is an expression of my personal values (69%); and I want to give back (43%).
The study pointed to the indigenous character of African philanthropy and how giving focused largely on extended family and local community; informal giving played a larger role than formal giving; and how giving was embedded in beliefs and cultural practices.
For the more recent foundations established by African philanthropists, they seek to give in more structured ways and to measure impact.
Aside from emergency and humanitarian relief, the Dangote Foundation, for example, has earmarked the areas of entrepreneurship, education and health.
It has also made important gifts to institutions of higher learning, including Bayero University of Kano, Ahmadu Bello University, and the University of Ibadan.
The Tony Elumelu Foundation, founded in 2010, began with student funding, but from 2015 launched an entrepreneurship programme to create 10000 Africans entrepreneurs over a 10-year period.
Both foundations are still working on the metrics. The 2014 Study on Africa’s Wealthy Give Back, noted that though a significant number of high net worth individuals are creating foundations and trusts, many still prefer to give from their personal wealth and not through their companies.
Education and health attracted the largest giving, and African philanthropists are more inclined to support service provision in these areas.
A recent form of addressing specific local needs that has potential is online fundraising. An example is M-Changa, Africa’s largest online fundraising platform, which has been able to mobilise resources from some 340 000 people for 29000 projects.
A form of crowd funding, this has the potential to include many other than High Net Worth Individuals in philanthropic giving.
Examples of some African philanthropists that Akyeampong knows who are active in giving are Tsitsi Masiyiwa, TY Danjuma, Tony Elumelu, Bisi Fayode, Patrice Motsepe and Angelique Kijo.
In South Africa, Survé Philanthropies last year launched the inaugural Imagine Awards to honour organisations and individuals for their contribution towards social change in South Africa.