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Philanthropists stepped up to the plate during pandemic

Coronavirus - Tygerberg Hospital’s entrance 5 is where the staff of Tygerberg enter to have their COVID-19 tests. Picture Courtney Africa/African News Agency(ANA)

Coronavirus - Tygerberg Hospital’s entrance 5 is where the staff of Tygerberg enter to have their COVID-19 tests. Picture Courtney Africa/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Oct 12, 2020

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CAPE TOWN - South Africans are known internationally as generous givers, but 2020 will go down as a record year after Covid-19 galvanised philanthropists into action.

Independent Philanthropy Association SA (Ipasa) chairperson Sarah Rennie said in an interview that the pandemic saw philanthropists pulling together swiftly to address societal and government service gaps through the crisis, in a diverse range of project funding that included funding to small businesses, education, food aid, crèches, the provision of data-free platforms and in early childhood development.

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Rennie said the pandemic had starkly accentuated the gaps in social service delivery and inequality in South Africa, and these had provided opportunities for philanthropists to act swiftly, in a targeted and accountable manner to deliver assistance in these areas.

“One of the positive things about the crisis was a realisation among some government departments of the limitations of their services delivery and a better preparedness to work with philanthropists, civil society and non government organisations to work swiftly in a joint, collaborative effort to address some of these problems,” she said.

And while the traditional approach among philanthropists was still prevalent – basically writing a cheque for a worthy cause – a trend among philanthropists to do more research into beneficiaries and causes, a greater focus on social impact and return, and even strategic desired outcomes had accelerated through the pandemic.

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The biggest recipients of social justice philanthropic funds through the crisis were organisations dealing with issues such as gender support, psychological support measures for vulnerable people, early childhood development in vulnerable communities and support beyond learning and including aspects such as social support, nutrition and safety. Education remained the biggest recipient of philanthropy through the year, she said.

Rennie said it was impossible to ascertain the exact amount of philanthropy through 2020, as by its nature, many philanthropists preferred to “stay below the radar” with their donations for personal reasons.

Also, there was little research on the subject and it was difficult obtaining such data.

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“Philanthropy is in itself is a loaded word. A lot of people who give and donate don’t like it to be called philanthropy,” Rennie said.

“I like to think that the idea is just a good one.”

Ipsa will release The 2020 Review of South African Philanthropy next month. Some of this data showed that close to $139million (about R2.3billion) flowed into South Africa annually from international philanthropic sources and, in 2018, $88m came from the top 20 international foundations.

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Far less was known about funding flows from local private South African philanthropic foundations, but estimations were that it amounted to $50m annually.

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