“Ushawishi”, a Swahili word to mean “influence”, was our main objective for traveling to Arusha and for participating in the 6th East African Philanthropy conference themed 'Opportunities in Emerging Trends and Practices’. The word influence is defined as the power to have an effect on people or things. This effect can either be positive or negative and our main objective was to cause positive effects through our engagement while at the conference.
Before we travelled to Arusha, our preliminary discussions were centered on how CivSource Africa (a new kid on the block in the world of philanthropy) would create significant impact at the conference? In that regard, the team collected all its creative juices leading to the development of a unique concept that was implemented. Some of the ideas included robust online engagement before, during and after the conference, a media booth, a presentation on the legal and policy framework of philanthropy in Uganda, to collect proverbs on giving for the Omutima Omugabi piece and to widely network with partners across the region whose main focus of work is around philanthropy.
All engagements were successfully executed as pre-planned. Managing the media booth was the most exciting piece for me. I was able to interview participants from the East Africa region and beyond; many from Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and South Africa who shared their perspective of the overall event, their knowledge and understanding of the concept of philanthropy in general and African/community philanthropy in particular, the different forms in which philanthropy /giving is practiced in Africa and in their respective countries, and the legal and policy frameworks on philanthropy in the different countries of origin.
The modal used for the interviews was more of sharing than a question and answer segment and this allowed the participants to share their knowledge and experiences. Our media booth, well set like a mini studio, was something to behold. Disguised as a television anchor, I waited patiently for guests to show up at the booth during breaks between sessions. I was never disappointed at any one time by the numbers of guests my team and I received willing to share what they know about giving. Just like any prestigious television show, we were privileged to host Graham Wood, CEO of the Aga Khan Foundation East African Region who shared with us the journey of the foundation in the field of philanthropy and what the future looks like to him. “Ooh yes the future of philanthropy in Africa is very bright,” he said. We also hosted the conference moderator, Mwihaki Muraguri, Principal at Paukwa House and experienced Kenyan professional who has built a career in health, development and philanthropy. Conversations with Mwihaki brought philanthropy home. She explained how Africans are naturally born givers.
“Giving is embedded in our DNA. Giving is part of our cultural practices. Growing up we were encouraged to give and we saw our parents and relatives give of their time, resources, food among other precious things. Today, almost every African family has a relative or a friend that they take care of or pay tuition for. We cannot detach giving from Africans.” - Mwihaki Muraguri
Broadly, the interviews stimulated conversation on how philanthropy is practiced by Africans and how this story can be told to influence and cause a shift in the told story of our (local) philanthropy. From some of the conversations held, I noted that the term was still alien to some people as some didn’t consider themselves and the different practices of giving in African communities as philanthropy. To others the term philanthropist was only to be used to refer to the high net-worth individuals with money to give to donation. Other conversations at the booth explored the role of media and technology in the field of philanthropy where philanthropy is situated in the different global agendas like the Sustainable Development Goals, climate change etc.
As CivSource, the task we carry is to refine the practice and footprint of philanthropy in Africa and that can only be done through influencing a shift in the current narrative and practice of philanthropy. Using the analogy of a mirror, it’s high time that the reflections of the philanthropy mirror start to reflect Africans as philanthropists that should to be celebrated in their own right and diversity through their experiences and the different forms in which they practice giving.