The 2019 Annual Conference, “Part II: Exploring the Why,” was the second in a three-part conference series launched in 2018. The conference series theme, “Disrupting Silos, Connecting Conversations, Creating Impact,” is a call to action to:
This year’s conference built upon the previous year’s discussions and took a deeper dive into the why of grantmaking practices through exploring the influence of narratives. The conference series will culminate with AGAG’s 20th Anniversary Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa from May 12-14, 2020.
The conference theme, “Exploring the Why,” provided an overarching framework for the mix of sessions. The different topics explored changes in the funding landscape and how narratives influence grantmaking decisions. The idea that institutions are changed by individuals who are thinking together and being consistent about their message, resonated with participants. The conference ended with a call to action for them to take individual steps to initiate conversations with colleagues about the issues discussed during the conference.
The following are highlights from selected sessions that explored current funding trends in private philanthropy, the growth in donor advised fund, the potential use of blockchain technology in grantmaking and barriers for young women.
AGAG surveyed Africa funders in 2018 to learn more about their current interests, collaborations, and challenges. During the session, Steven Lawrence, an independent research consultant, presented an overview of responses from sixty-two grantmaking organizations who responded to questions about their collaboration with other funders, support of organizations in Africa, and alignment of funding priorities.
Sixty-four percent of the respondents were involved in funder collaborations. They cited maximizing impact, leveraging funding, and avoiding duplication as the top reasons. Seventy-two percent currently fund organizations in Africa and do not face any significant challenges in doing so. Aligning agendas was cited as a challenge for some: however identifying organizations to implement funders’ priorities was contrasted with the reality that funder priorities do not always align with local needs and interests.
A live audience poll during the session found that all of the conference participants who responded funded local organizations in Africa, and the majority (75%) were engaged in funder collaborations. When asked how responsive their organization was to the funding priorities of local organizations in Africa, the responses were almost equally divided between those who were were “very responsive” to the needs of local communities and those who were “somewhat responsive.”
The full report of the survey findings will be published in the coming months. For the next phase of this project, AGAG plans to conduct interviews to explore questions that emerged from the survey, including those raised by the audience during the session.
Yvonne Moore, principal advisor of Moore Philanthropy moderated the session with Elaine Martyn, Vice President and Managing Director of the Private Donor Group of Fidelity Charitable on the growth in donor advised funds (DAFs). Martyn discussed general trends in the DAF space including clients’ shifting interests. Although Fidelity does not track racial or ethnic data of donors, they do have clients who are from Africa living in the US who are supporting organizations in their home communities. There are also donors who favor social issues that impact African communities. She characterized Fidelity Charitable as focusing on community and connection. They work with donor circles and organizations such as King Baudouin US, TrustAfrica, and African Women’s Development Fund for direct granting. Their donor education efforts have different generational cohorts. Six members of the next-generation fellows’ program are living in different parts of Africa. Donors are encouraged to travel and connect with other donors who have similar interests.
Bongiwe Mlangeni, Executive Director of the Social Justice Initiative in South Africa, talked with Stephen Downs, Chief Technology and Strategy Officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Leon Wilson, Chief of Digital Innovation & Chief Information Officer of the Cleveland Foundation, about the potential uses of blockchain technology in philanthropy.
A live poll of the audience revealed that only 32% knew what blockchain is, and 22% were considering using it in their grantmaking. Only 8% had received proposals from Africa that included the use of blockchain. The panelists explained that blockchain is an intelligent, distributive, and secure database where nothing can be erased or changed, to ensure the integrity of the information.
Blockchain has been used to track and verify relief supplies and payments. The Bitgive Foundation is a bitcoin and blockchain non-profit charity that only accepts cryptocurrency donations. Organizations such as the Red Cross and Save the Children have also begun to take donations in bitcoin over the past few years. How organizations in Africa can benefit from both blockchain and cryptocurrency was discussed. Issues ranging from energy consumption, and internet access to power dynamics and unintended consequences were raised.
Vuyiswa Sidzumo, Senior Program Officer of the Ford Foundation Office for Southern Africa, talked with Moiyattu Banya-Keister, Founder and Director of Girls Empowerment Sierra Leone, about her work to encourage young African women and highlight their stories. Banya-Keister described the evolution of the two organizations she founded, Girls Empowerment Sierra Leone and Women Change Africa. Both organizations grew from the question of what could it look like if girls had their own space to thrive and develop confidence? The Girls Empowerment Summit focuses on peer-to-peer mentorship and building trust. Women Change Africa highlights stories of young African women trailblazers.
One of the main barriers for young women is the disconnect between the aspirational and the reality. Supporting women and girls requires a holistic approach and creating an environment for authentic feedback about what is really happening in the community and what is needed. It is important for funders to think more critically about the roles their grantmaking approaches can play to disrupt the barriers faced by young women and girls.
Accountability that shifts the lens away from grantee partners and to funders emerged as a thread throughout the discussions.