The Africa Grantmakers’ Affinity Group (AGAG) organized its first “retreat” for Africa funders in 2000. Since then, AGAG’s annual convening has been an opportunity for funders working in Africa to meet each other, share information, and explore issues of common concern.
In May representatives from forty grantmaking and philanthropy support organizations from five countries attended this year’s conference. The plenary and small group sessions coupled with live interactive polling provided opportunities for formal discussions. The reception, breaks, and lunch conversations organized by AGAG members provided space for informal networking.
The 2018 Conference launched a three-part conference series, “Disrupting Silos, Connecting Conversations, Creating Impact.” This year’s conference, “Part II: Exploring the Why” prompted funders to question their assumptions and narratives about Africa. We chose this approach because we believe that institutions can be changed by individuals who are thinking together and being consistent about their message. (Read 2019 Conference highlights).
We discussed a mix of interesting subjects and heard from dynamic and insightful speakers. The session topics ranged from block chain technology and donor advised funds to changes in the funding landscape and the impact of narratives. The interchanges sometimes were spirited, and the issues raised not always easy to discuss. But also, there was an openness that is often missing in these types of gatherings. Maybe it was the size and intimate setting or the spirit of Madiba as his picture seemed to observe and listen in on us as we met in the Nelson Mandela Room of the Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice in New York.
In discussing the why of grantmaking strategies and approaches, we explored the impact and influence of personal and public narratives. We discussed narratives about Africa and narratives about philanthropy and what it looks like when they intersect. Many of those attending spoke about the challenges in making internal culture shifts that require building support from the program staff to the trustees. They noted the heavy work and travel demands that leave little room for time to think about what they are doing. However, they underscored the usefulness of the conference in structuring time for them to slow down, reflect, and talk with a small group of diverse peers about issues that matter.
The conference ended with a call to action. It was not a manifesto for philanthropy in general, but a personal call to action for each individual to keep the ideas flowing by initiating conversations with colleagues about the issues discussed during the conference.
We are going to check in with those who attended to see what unfolded when the conference ended. We promise to share what we discover. The conference series ends in 2020 with our 20th Anniversary Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa from May 12-14. Mark your calendars and plan to be part of the conversation.