Looking back: looking forward – reflecting on African philanthropy then and now

In May 2008, the GFCF convened a meeting of philanthropy practitioners from across Africa in Kenya, with grant support from TrustAfrica. The main purpose of the meeting was to help the GFCF develop its framework, underpinning philosophy and future strategies for supporting the development of community foundations and local philanthropy in Africa. The meeting had a secondary purpose too and that was to make a contribution to the debate about the nature of African philanthropy, to understand emerging trends and to clarify some of the key issues that needed to be addressed in supporting the various ways in which traditional forms of giving links with “new” forms of organized philanthropy. Over the course of two days’ discussions on the shores of Lake Naivasha, the group mulled over a series of questions, interspersed with a range of “provocations” from their fellow participants. The discussions were at times ambitious and optimistic, at times wary and cautious: throughout, they were grounded in lived examples of good and bad development practice and personal experience. A paper followed the meeting which highlighted some key challenges and tensions that had emerged out of the conversations. The paper raises some key questions and challenges, including a reflection on the meaning of philanthropy in Africa (as an imported external idea or something deeply wired into African consciousness and traditions) and its relevance as a vehicle for addressing critical causes, among others.

Four years is not a long time and yet, in some ways, the world has changed dramatically and so has the landscape of philanthropy and development. In 2011, the East African Association of Grantmakers introduced the annual East African Philanthropy Awards. In November 2012, the Africa Grantmakers Network conference will be holding its second conference in Johannesburg, South Africa. The draft agenda includes a session on philanthropy in emerging markets and its significance for Africa – again, a sign of how fast the world is changing: at the Naivasha meeting, China’s role in Africa merited only a side mention. This week, for example, the Resource Alliance and the Rockefeller Foundation are convening philanthropists from Africa and Asia in a forum on Bridging philanthropy and development, a connection that is in many ways so obvious and yet has been so long in coming.

Sometimes, in moving forward, it helps to look back and see how far one has come and also to look down to see whether fabric of road one is travelling has changed too.

Read the report of the Naivasha meeting

Read the reflections on the meeting

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