The Role of African Philanthropists in Transforming Community Challenges through Innovation and Practice

By Stephen Peter Okangla

  • Introduction


Globally the act of philanthropy has remained dominant in human and societal transformation. In developed climes where there is equality, social justice and a closed-gap between the haves and have-not the act of philanthropy has remained for ages the major stimulant. The act of philanthropy is not seasonal, it is the continuous support of the society by others in order to create a reasonable equilibrium, raise hope and bridge socio-economic gap. This act of charity in other words has transformed and remained the major contributor to human development and minimal crime presence in America, Britain, China, Europe, Canada, Tokyo etc. Industrialization and Technological advancement are near impossible in poverty ridden states thus, philanthropists wade in in order to nip in the bud crime escalation, restiveness and build a strong bridge to development.

It is important at this point to explain briefly some key terms as it relates to the topic. Greek playwright Aeschylus coined the term philanthropy in the 15th century BCE. It meant “love of humanity”. The Merriam-Webster defined philanthropy as “the practice of giving money and time to help make life better for other people.” Today philanthropy means generosity in all its forms and is often defined as giving gifts of “time, talent and treasure” to help make life better for other people.

Similarly, a philanthropist is a person who donates time, money, experience, skills or talent to help create a better world. It is also seen as a person who seeks to promote the welfare of others, especially by the genuine donation of money to good causes. It should be noted that anyone can be a philanthropist, regardless of status or net worth. The African continent is not left out of this generous act of society building. We had and have highly spirited individuals who in the past contributed and presently contributing immensely to raising both human standard and developing the continent through massive investment and technological drive. The role of philanthropists in society building cannot be downplayed. It is on this background; this article aims to analyze the role of African philanthropy in transforming community challenges through innovation and practice.

  • African Philanthropists and Community Transformation: What Should be done

No doubt the African spirit is that of resilience and purpose driven. This has made the continent stand out despite the numerous challenges confronting it. Africans had at different time and occasion proven to the world that it has abundant human and natural resources to sail to global map in the scheme of economy amongst others. We have shown great dexterity and expertise in sports, entertainment, technology, agriculture, commerce and governance. However, as a journey of a thousand miles cannot be completed in a short time, so is the journey of Africa towards the promise land. I am not unmindful of the chronic cases of Mal administration and corruption that lurk around the corridors of power. These menace which are conspicuously the creation of man is surmountable.

The conscious effort of the African Philanthropists to liberate the continent from the shackles of poverty and underdevelopment has manifested overly through different programs. The birth of the Africa Philanthropy Network (APN) in 2013 is one of such acts. The APN which was formerly known as the African Grant makers Network is a continent-wide network of African grant making organizations and other philanthropic actors that facilitates experience-sharing and learning among established and emerging African philanthropic institutions. APN aims to consolidate the voice of African philanthropy to address social injustice and development issues on the continent. Currently the Network promotes collaboration and connection among African philanthropists while bringing the voice and achievements of African philanthropy to global development narrative.

It is apt to say that different approach should be taken to encircle our community challenges and transform it through innovation and practice. Arkad once said “opportunity is haughty goddess who wastes no time with those who are unprepared.” Our community challenges cannot be divorce from the unpreparedness of majority of Africans towards self-reliance, economic independent and technological drive. Opportunities lie waste on the continent as a result of what has not been done. Although government have not convincingly shown readiness to confront these challenges hence philanthropists should fill in the gap. To adequately address these challenges and permanently resolve same, the following factors should be a rallying points for African philanthropists:

  1. Mass Investment in Communities to Generate Employment Opportunities and Tackle Poverty:unemployment has dealt a great deal on the continent. No doubt, some individuals employ higher than government considering the current economic reality where loans have to be sought to facilitate payment of salary. Leaving the creation of employment in the hands of government is a complete disaster, it will in no way aid positively the barrage of challenges being faced. Philanthropists should embark on community investment through industrialization and commercialization such will engender the much-needed growth and adequately tackle current challenges confronting the continent.
  2. Mass Making of Army of Entrepreneurs through Continuous Mentorship and Seed Provision for Startup:there is no way innovation can be possible if we keep recycling old patterns of doing things. The various challenges confronting the continent cannot be addressed either if ways of confronting same is not appropriately redefined. As a people, we must commend the untiring and unwavering support being rendered by our sons and daughters in getting the continent out of the hook. Raising Army of Entrepreneurs is a perfect innovation philanthropists should adequately adopt to confront abounding the challenges. The Tony Elumelu Foundation is one foundation that is championing this course to liberate the continent from economic woes and labour liabilities. When the making of Entrepreneurs becomes the target of philanthropists, the burden of the continent will lessen and challenges becomes controllable.
  3. Establishment of Skills Acquisition Centers to Boost Economic Independence and Reduce Dependency:Skills are the requisite tool for building a well stable society. A society where skill acquisition is relegated will suffer dire consequences. When people are empowered with skills, they become economically stable and independent. They will deplore the skills acquired to make meaningful living instead of being nuisance and constituting challenges to the already tensed situation on the continent. African philanthropists should key into this all-important factor by setting up skills acquisition centers in communities and engage the people to meaningfully eke out livelihood. The world has generally gone ahead of basic literacy to technical skills and literacy hence a no fit would not be accommodative. The fact remains that when people acquire skills, they become economically relevant and contribute to boosting local economy.
  4. Provision of Scholarship for Science and Technological Based Discipline to Improve Productivity and Reduce Dependency on Government for White-Collar Jobs:it is a truism that the world is moving on the lane of science and technology. No nation in the world can today surmount challenges without science and technology. The act of philanthropy is to give back to the society and help build same. As a continent we cannot afford to lag in this realm and cannot as well rely completely on Government to engineer the much-needed change all alone. Complimentary efforts of philanthropists are much needed here. Several Philanthropists Foundation have over the years key into this; however, much is still needed to be done. Granting Scholarship to indigent students will boost and stir up interest in students choosing career path in science and technology. Driving this course will not only confront challenges in the continent but engineer development and make us manufacturers against the existing consumers’ status we are known for.
  5. Embarking on Mass Rural Electrification and Telecommunications to Grow Local Businesses:African philanthropists in order to confront the challenges rocking the continent should take up the role of providing Telecommunications and Electricity to communities in order to encourage and grow local businesses. Telecommunications and Electricity are critical and inseparable from poverty alleviation and business growth. They are sine qua non to all circle of development. There is no nation on earth that can boast of growth and economy advancement with no or epileptic power supply. Philanthropists on the continent should lead revolution in rural electrification and provision of telecommunications services.
    • Conclusion & Recommendation

It is certain the role of philanthropist is highly important for massive development in our communities across the continent. As represented herein, the world has survived difficult times through the commitment of philanthropists across the globe. The prioritization of the welfare of others, freewill donations and quick response to cases of natural disaster are catalyst for change and societal development. This great philanthropic act was very visible in Africa during the surge of the COVID 19 pandemic, the cash donations and relieve materials are the heights of philanthropy which immensely contributed in the successful fight against the pandemic in 2020. As a continent, unity of purpose must be our watchword, the time is far gone when we should further rely on foreign aids whereas untapped resources lie waste before us.

It is on these premises I further recommend mass local investment for African Philanthropists and quick adoption of factors discussed above for an effective combat of the challenges and development on the continent.


Stephen Okangla writes from the University of Maiduguri, Borno state, Nigeria.

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