Africans should tell their own story – an interview with Bhekinkosi Moyo

19 Oct 2020

This interview first appeared in the Zambian Governance Foundation’s (ZGF) NewsFlash.


(L – R): Bhekinkosi Moyo, CAPSI Director (photo credit sivioinstitute) & Tarisai Jangara, ZGF Programme Specialist – Communications

“We have to position Africans themselves in the position where they are the storytellers, you cannot have somebody else tell your story and expect it to be your narrative, so we need to have Africans telling their own stories. These stories can be told at different levels, they can be told at the grassroots level, academia, practitioner level, and all these stories are relevant and valid,” said Dr. Bhekinkosi Moyo, Director at the Centre on African Philanthropy and Social Investment (CAPSI), Wits Business School in an interview with Tarisai Jangara of ZGF. In the interview, Bhekinkosi spoke about the work being done by CAPSI and what can be done to move philanthropy in Africa forward in a sustainable and impactful way.


Tarisai Jangara (TJ): Two years ago when CAPSI was established, you shared your vision that you wanted the Centre to be the go-to hub of knowledge generation in African philanthropy, where are you with this vision?

Bhekinkosi Moyo (BM): We are still very much going ahead forcefully to achieve that vision, and as you know a vision is not something that you achieve immediately but we have made many strides towards that. We recently launched a journal on philanthropy and social investment. The journal is supposed to be a platform for disseminating research from across the continent and to profile what is happening in the philanthropy field. It contains two sections currently, academic and research papers, as well as what we call field notes. Field notes are articles that are written by practitioners in the field reflecting on the work they are currently doing. Therefore, you would imagine for this issue, many people would want to reflect on the impact of COVID-19, and on the work they have been doing. That is the first product that I would put out there to illustrate that we are serious about becoming a hub for the generation of knowledge on African philanthropy. This is the first journal of its kind on the continent.

We have also been conducting research across the continent in different countries, but also in different sectors. There are four major research projects. The first one focuses on high net-worth individuals (HNWIs) and how they practice their philanthropy. We have looked at 33 countries and the project is ongoing. We have completed phase one, which looks at a review of literature in those 33 countries. We decided on the 33 countries based on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) rates based on World Bank figures. The project is broad, it is not just looking at HNWIs but it is also looking at strategies, looking at leadership, looking at trends in HNWIs, and also looking at the sources of their resources.

The second research project is looking at other forms of philanthropy, again across the 33 countries. Here we are focusing on foundations, associations, and networks. We are looking at trusts and at what we call support infrastructure organizations. Just like the HNWIs project we had two phases. The first phase has been completed, we now have reports on the literature emerging from those countries, and our researchers are doing fieldwork.

The third project is on the non-profit sector and its ability to adapt to the future of work. In other words, what is the impact of the fourth industrial revolution on the non-profit sector?

In the fourth project, obviously, we had to respond to the COVID-19 situation and so we are doing studies across the continent on the impact of COVID-19 on corporate social responsibility, on the non-profit sector, and also on philanthropy. The second dimension of that project is to look at the responses of those sectors to COVID-19, and that is going to cover a number of countries. I think we are looking at about 30 countries across the continent. We will continue doing this. In addition to just generating the knowledge, we are in the process of constructing a knowledge hub, and that knowledge hub will be done in such a way that you are able to generate reports around the fields you would have managed to do research on. If you want trends, you want figures, you just want analytics you will be able to do that. That is another way in which we want to create the Centre as the place to go-to for the interpretation of the African philanthropy landscape.

Of course, we have also been doing case studies and we have completed three case studies so far – one looking at an institution in Ghana called the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI), the second one looking at the Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF), and the third looking at an individual giver. We are finalizing three more cases now in South Africa, one on Vodacom, the second on Momentum Metropolitan Holdings Limited (Momentum Metropolitan), and the third on the Social Justice Initiative. We have just started doing a case study on the Southern Africa Trust (SAT) as well, and we will continue doing these case studies that are meant to provide material for teaching but also to just have them uploaded on our knowledge hub so that those in the same field can also benefit from the experiences. Of course, we do have our Ph.D. students who are also producing their own products. In addition to us supporting them to do their PhDs, we insist that they publish one article a year and all that material will also belong to the Centre.


TJ: What should be done to move philanthropy in Africa forward in a sustainable and impactful way?

BM: I think one way is to try and advocate for African philanthropists and philanthropic initiatives to not only support philanthropy financially or other non-profits, but to actually advocate for an environment for it to be promoted widely and for it to be acceptable in many respects. You would know that everyone understands and practices philanthropy but I think it is the institutionalization part that is still missing. We need to advocate for an environment where policies and laws actually allow for the growth of philanthropy.

Secondly, I think more knowledge needs to be generated and disseminated. Here I am not talking simply of academic and research knowledge, I am talking of experiential knowledge, when you talk about philanthropy, people should find resonance. Currently, the word philanthropy is a bit foreign to most people. We need to unpack that and make it simpler for people to understand what we mean by philanthropy. When we talk about philanthropists we should be able to see ourselves as Africans as philanthropists. Normally, the picture that is given is that philanthropists are rich, white Europeans or Americans. That is not true, so we need to have diversity in the visuals that we put out there when we talk about philanthropy and philanthropists.

I think the third is about asking our international colleagues who have been on the continent for the longest time and kind of taken over the space to support the growth of indigenous and local philanthropy. By indigenous I am in no way creating a hierarchy of philanthropists; I simply mean local philanthropy, African philanthropy.

Of course, teaching is a very important component of it as well. I think we should find ways in which some of the themes in philanthropy are taken into the curriculum from preliminary stages all the way to postgraduate studies. At CAPSI, we are starting at the postgraduate level but we know that there is a huge gap that has to be filled. If you go to American universities, for example, you will find that at the undergraduate level, philanthropy is an elective module/course. People who are studying medicine or engineering actually take an elective in philanthropy. The thinking is that even if you are an engineer or a medical doctor, there is another side of you that would want to give back to society. How do you give back to society as a medical doctor or as an engineer? So that elective in philanthropy helps some of these disciplines to begin to think about ways they can do their work in a way that transforms society, which forces their work and their interventions to be socially inclusive but also aiming towards social justice development.


TJ: Is the African philanthropy sector changing and evolving on the continent? If you believe it is changing, how is it changing?

BM: I think definitely it is changing; I look back 15 – 20 years, when I personally started engaging in terms of my writings but also in terms of practice. Many things have changed. In the beginning, there were not many writings on philanthropy in Africa. The only writings that were available were only reports from international foundations. Over time, when you now look at the literature that is available, it has increased phenomenally. There is a database that Trust Africa did; Jacob Marti and Halima Mohamad, two of our associates were part of that compilation. It shows you that there has been an increase in the writings on philanthropy.

The second is that 15 – 20 years back, it was difficult to pick up a Forbes magazine or any internationally leading magazine and find anything about African philanthropy. Now you pick up a Forbes magazine, Africa Report, among others and you have a chance that you will come across a story or writing on African philanthropy. Policy-wise, philanthropy never used to play any role whatsoever in policy development, influence, monitoring, and implementation. Of late, you would know that philanthropy is at the center of policymaking both globally but also in countries. Globally, the adoption of the SDGs was very interesting because philanthropy was given a major role. So firstly, in the conference that took place in Addis Ababa, and in the actual adoption of the SDGs, philanthropy played a huge role, not just in terms of being part of the 17th goal on partnerships and provision of financial resources, but in the different goals.

If you take goal one, goal two all the way up to goal 16, you will find that there are very many philanthropic institutions that are working on those goals. This led to the adoption of the SDG philanthropy platforms and also the actual tabulation of how much money goes into the implementation of SDGs. From the policy point of view, globally, for the first-time philanthropy was invited to actually present at the General Assembly in 2015. I was fortunate enough to represent philanthropic institutions and presented with presidents at the UN General Assembly on philanthropy and its role. For me, that was a major achievement for philanthropy, African philanthropy for that matter. With respect to countries, you will know that different countries in Africa are finding ways through which they can work jointly with philanthropy, firstly for resources, but also because of the flexibility of the risk-taking nature that philanthropy always has. Where you are, I am sure there is a lot that has been happening in Zambia, if you come to South Africa there is a lot that is happening between governments especially the department of science and technology. They do have a philanthropic unit, as does treasury. They are trying to work with philanthropy, mainly in the areas of education, health, and science.

You also have the government of Rwanda which actually developed a philanthropy strategy, and then Liberia which has a secretariat that is dedicated to philanthropy. That is important because 20 years ago we did not have any of that, our governments did not even think of philanthropy as anything that they could collaborate with. Then, of course, the growth of high net worth individuals, this was not a phenomenon a long time ago. In fact, the population of high net worth individuals in Africa is projected to increase over the next couple of years and that is going to overtake Asia, North America, and others. Our role is to find ways to leverage that growth, but also to make sure that their philanthropy is effectively promoted and is effectively implemented.

I think the final one from me, is the extent to which we are seeing the growth of support and networks in the philanthropic space.  Many years ago, we only had one group called SAGA, the Southern Africa Grantmakers Association which died several years after it was set up. After that, we were left with the international version of that which was the African Grantmakers Affinity Group. Over time, we have had the African Grant Makers Network, which then transformed into the Africa Philanthropy Network. We have the Africa Philanthropy Forum; we now have regional bodies like the East Africa Philanthropy Network too. These support networks are also an important phenomenon in the growth of African philanthropy. They also have to work collaboratively with other international bodies. If we look at the numbers of national foundations and philanthropic institutions, the growth is phenomenal. I think it is a question of us tracking and reporting it.


TJ: The last question will be around changing the African Philanthropy Narrative, what are some of the steps we can take as institutions?

BM: We have to position Africans themselves in the position where they are the storytellers, you cannot have somebody else tell your story and expect it to be your narrative, so we need to have Africans telling their own stories. These stories can be told at different levels, they can be told at the grassroots level, academia, practitioner level, and all these stories are relevant and valid. We also need data to be made available to different sectors and actors. Currently, that is one of the biggest weaknesses on the continent – data is not easily available. So once we have data available it will be so easy to have a story being told supported by data. And then of course I think the third one is us being able to profile what is happening in Africa. You know, you only get to know things by putting them out there. Therefore, we need to profile a lot of what is going on. Those of us who are in positions to be able to write, we should take it upon ourselves to actually profile what is happening across the continent and tell different stories to give the opportunity to the actual actors to have their voices heard. We can do that through video, through dance, through song among others. That is one of the projects we are about to start, to just have Africans tell their own stories about giving, helping, and solidarity. We are about to start that project and I think it will go a long way in beginning to give our people and Africans an opportunity to tell their own narratives.                                                                                                 

Bhekinkosi Moyo can be contacted at

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