The Social Impact Landscape in Africa

Social impact as a concept has evolved drastically through various facets of our existence. For the most part, it has become an important representation of how people in any given society engage with one another, most often than not finding its way to simple parts of our everyday lives, such as with deciding on the products we purchase, or the operation of ones’ business and the effects of its existence within that community. Social impact is a multi-faceted topic, and has been widely identified as any significant or positive changes that solve or at least address social injustice and the underlying challenges.

This type of impact brings the community together by fostering the needs of others and thereby answers the question, “what are we doing for one another?”. It emphasizes the importance of giving back in a meaningful way and highlights the needs of the society. Two things are very clear here; that for this change to be impactful, it ought to have made a significant measurable change within the society; and that owing to the latent challenges and gaps, people in any given society today are not equal.

In Africa, social impact has been realized in the largest part, as a result of philanthropy. Businesses, foundations and other such organizations have been at the forefront of social impact through their philanthropic efforts, achieving the goals of this through conscious and deliberate efforts while they operate. What has become clearer over the years, is that the nature of philanthropy is controlled by a number of factors, including geographical location, culture, legal considerations, and the political climate. There has been an advancement in the number of models that philanthropy can take in promoting social impact, and the same consider the sweep of economic growth and innovation across Africa. This evolution in the social impact space has led philanthropists to rethink their strategies, often learning from the gaps and challenges faced throughout the history of the same. In the continent, this progression is evidenced by the changes in attitudes, the growth of local philanthropies and the demand for new approaches, owing to a better understanding of the concept and the improved home-grown capacities within Africa.

Philanthropy in the continent has span across education, poverty eradication, disaster relief, and other human rights matters that are of great concern within African communities. For decades, the stereotypical image of philanthropy in Africa has represented unstable economic conditions, political instability and colonialism, the foremost resulting from a majority of third world countries achieving independence within the space of a century or less. The African Economic History Network approximates that at the time of their independence, the average income level of African countries was higher than in many Asian countries and at par with some Latin American countries. Since independence, however, Sub-Saharan Africa has become associated with economic stagnation and persistent poverty. These challenges have made the continent a favorable destination for philanthropists from around the world, who desire to solve these social inequalities and obstacles.

Regardless of the fact that the landscape across the region has evolved over the past few years with more funders and capital deployed in this space, there is still a challenge in funding experienced by entrepreneurial startups in Sub-Saharan Africa. Philanthropy has still had limited impact, and one of the reasons is that these efforts are promulgated for the most part by foreign influence, and do not regard the philosophies of the beneficiaries within these communities. In addition to the new demands and complexity of challenges facing Africa, there is a lack of data and comprehensive knowledge when it comes to giving in Africa and the impact on the continent. This limits growth, where failure to measure impact not only relegates trust but also limits the award of grants for otherwise noble causes.

Philanthropy is a product of successful business in the private sector, and on the continent, many wealthy African philanthropists have established foundations that are modelled almost identically to western philanthropies, but with a big focus on local and personal interests, which are on the whole, the interests of African societies. The immense economic growth has been a crucial factor in the rise of philanthropic giving, thus closing the gap quite significantly between Africa and the continents that give. This augmentation has drawn attention to the level of social impact that African philanthropists can achieve, which is quite significant. In order to realize the potential in the forgoing and in consideration of the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on the continent, the World Economic Forum (WEF) reiterates that the traditional model of philanthropy needs to evolve in order to ensure it fulfils its own potential as a catalyst for growth, and best serves the needs of those it is intended to support.

Social impact has emerged as an essential element of society post COVID-19 pandemic. For 2022, WEF indicates 5 priority areas in Africa, which include; meeting the challenge of vaccine inequity, preparing for Africa’s growing global role, harnessing opportunities afforded by the Africa Continental Free Trade Area, accelerating Africa’s digital transformation and financing Africa’s green transition. Despite the widespread adoption of and progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals, Africa continues to lag behind most of the world when it comes to socioeconomic development. To ensure that these vital areas of concern for philanthropic giving are addressed and taken into consideration while re-strategizing the concept of social impact, it is true to form that African minds must be at the foreground.

Since philanthropy seeks to make an impact that is visible and measurable, structure at this scale is required, especially within the foundations that are at the forefront. This distinguishes philanthropy from charity in both scale and the targeted recipients. A transformation of philanthropy in Africa first and foremost requires the edification of wealthy Africans to increase awareness on the landscape of philanthropy in Africa and to foster an understanding of the various ways of giving.

The Global Summit on Community Philanthropy organized by the Global Fund for Community Foundations (GFCF), was the first meeting of its kind in 2016, bringing together and celebrating the rapidly-growing, vibrant and wonderfully diverse global community philanthropy movement. For too long, the role of this particular set of institutions (community foundations, grassroots grant-makers, women’s funds, environmental funds and other kinds of community development foundations) had been overlooked by most of mainstream philanthropy and development. GFCF intended to change this, disseminating this message by introducing the hashtag #ShiftThePower, which is a call for new behaviors, mindsets and ways of working. Other efforts to increase awareness include the African Philanthropy Conference held in Johannesburg in 2019, that also set the agenda of philanthropy in Africa.

It is quite apparent that advancement of social impact necessitates collaboration of like minds in this sector, which has been commonly referred to as collaborative philanthropy. This latter concept of partnership can bring local and international philanthropists, civil society and the private sector, as well as the government, to work in innovative ways to make a more impactful difference on the continent, especially by investing in areas often neglected by government and businesses, such as with climate change. Over the years, interest has grown around a more people-led paradigm that shifts power closer to the grassroots level, and it is therefore the responsibility of these stakeholders to create a real and lasting change, thereby advancing social impact.

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