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2019 Annual Conference Highlights



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:

  • Disrupt sector-specific approaches and silo perspectives
  • Connect the conversations between funders inside and outside of Africa
  • Build relationships that create more impact

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.

 Download and read the 2019 ANNUAL CONFERENCE SUMMARY.

Changes in the Funding Landscapes

Exploring the Funding Landscape

 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.

The Growth in Donor Advised Funds 

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.


Blockchain Technology and Philanthropy

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. 

Shaping New Narratives – #AfricaNoFilter

Nkirote Koome of the Ford Foundation office in East Africa and Paul Nwulu of the Ford Foundation office in West Africa discussed the #AfricaNoFilter (ANF) project.

This multi-partner project is taking a proactive role in influencing narratives about Africa through supporting the work of ANF Fellows.  Sean Jacobs, an ANF Fellow and creator of the blog, Africa is a Country, shared why he established the blog and how it serves as a platform for a spectrum of voices from across the continent, many of whom have gained international recognition. 

Nwulu noted that through ANF, Ford supports work that will introduce alternative narratives to those that have been established over a long time with huge investments. He hopes ANF will expand into a movement to urge the philanthropy sector to play a more intentional role in changing narratives about Africa.  Koome described the diverse cadre of fellows who are working in different sectors. The ANF Initiative is supporting efforts to change the narratives about Africa and elevate stories about positive change and creative and innovative people.

Disrupting Barriers for the Next Generation of Women Change Agents

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. 

Philanthropy and the African Academy

Nyeleti Honwana of the H. F. Guggenheim Foundation moderated the discussion on “Philanthropy and the African Academy. Dr. Bhekinkosi Moyo of the African Centre on Philanthropy and Social Investment (ACPSI) at the WITS Business School in South Africa and Dr. Olajumoke Yacob-Haliso of Babcock University in Nigeria shared their perspectives on philanthropy’s influences in education and research in Africa and in shaping the dynamics between institutions inside and outside of Africa.

Yacob-Haliso discussed the findings from her research on gender and women in post-conflict settings in Liberia. Excluding the people projects are suppose to benefits illustrates how knowledge of Africa that is partial, biased, and incomplete contributes to designing projects that are not effective. As a result, programs are often conceptualized without consulting the people involved. Within the development community, non-Africans are seen as more knowledgeable about Africa than African experts or scholars.  When funders support what they view as the important research and learning agendas, there is a disconnect between what is needed and what is supported. 

Moyo discussed the role of ACPSI in producing research and analysis that can change how African philanthropy is described and understood. One goal is to create new narratives that are more nuanced with more relevant terminology.

Responding to Change

How philanthropy can respond to change was a discussion thread throughout the conference. Strategies that focus on single issues and funding that restricts the scope of activities can prove ineffective when a multi-sector approach is needed, or key actors are not operating within traditional organizational structures.

Niamani Mutima, AGAG’s Executive Director moderated a discussion with Felicitas Chiganze and Jonathan Gunthorp of SRHR Africa Trust (SAT) who discussed the challenges in responding to change. The issues facing adolescent youth are multi-dimensional and requires a multi-sector approach. Young people are also taking the lead in highlighting their concerns and the solutions that would help to address them.  SRHR is part of a network of organizations working on different but related issues. The silo approaches of most donors have proved to be an obstacle when they are unable to support cross-cutting approaches that did not fit within any one program area.

Although private philanthropy is often seen as nimble, the discussion raised the question if it is agile enough to be responsive to the dynamic changes happening across the continent. Although funders themselves might not be able to respond quickly, multi-year general support grants can help organizations to be nimble enough themselves. Despite the tensions between the desire to be responsive, and the need for mutual vetting to build trust-based partnerships, there is always an opportunity for philanthropy to respond.  But responding to change means understanding what is happening within the community and that process often requires the investment of more time.

How Narratives Shape Grantmaking Strategies

Throughout the conference, Aleesha Taylor of Herald Advisors led the group through a series of small group exercises and plenary discussions. The small group discussions shifted the focus of the conversations to reflect on how personal narratives and assumptions about Africa influence decisions and shape relationships. The plenary sessions discussed examples of practices that can help to change narratives about Africa and ways participants can encourage their colleagues to explore the why of their respective organization’s grantmaking approaches and strategies.

Accountability – Shifting the Lens

Accountability that shifts the lens away from grantee partners and to funders emerged as a thread throughout the discussions.

  • Challenge our assumptions: Program staff should challenge each other and focus on data in understanding context. Context informs narratives, and if you get the context wrong, your narrative will be wrong. 
  • Be proactive:  Funds must not forget to examine issues of their own capacity. 
  • Tell the truth:  Tell the truth about what funding can and cannot achieve. Claiming that a program or grant can help to alleviate poverty and requiring organizations to justify funding based on unrealistic expectations is not being accountable.
  • Don’t act alone: Organizations acting alone can not solve a problem. Collaboration helps to build ecosystems of organizations that can work together. Funders must encourage each other to work together as much as they promote their grantee partners to do so.