Following Bill Gates’ and Warren Buffett’s pledge to give away their fortunes in philanthropic ventures, several of Africa’s very rich have themselves set up foundations and South Africa’s Patrice Motsepe has made a similar pledge to that of the Americans. But is philanthropy the same as charity? Can it be used to transform society rather than reinforce the status quo? Dr Shauna Mottiar discusses this increasingly important topic.
In January this year, South African mining mogul and billionaire Patrice Motsepe announced that he would be giving away half his fortune (estimated at $2.65bn) to the Motsepe Foundation. The Foundation is committed to improving the lives of the poor, unemployed and marginalised by collaborating with NGOs, community-based organisations, churches and government. The gesture seems to have been inspired both by the Gates and Buffett ‘Giving Pledge’ (encouraging billionaires to give away their fortunes) and by the ‘spirit of Ubuntu’.
South African newspapers were quick to publicise this national triumph. The Daily Maverick said he was the first African to pledge away half his fortune and asked how many more would follow in his footsteps. The Mail & Guardian stated “Motsepe has signalled a major realignment in the landscape of South African philanthropy”. The African National Congress applauded the pledge stating, “We believe that this gesture of philanthropy will assist many destitute South Africans to experience some relief that complements government’s initiatives … to mitigate poverty and indigence”. Inyathelo, a local philanthropic movement, has also welcomed the pledge contending that it represents a “major breakthrough for personal philanthropy in South Africa”. What is interesting about responses to Motsepe’s announcement is the way the term ‘philanthropy’ is used interchangeably with the term ‘charity’, the vague manner in which it is described as a way to ‘mitigate poverty’ and the contention that it signals a ‘breakthrough’.
Philanthropy or charity?
Over 100 years ago, Jane Adams, writing in the North American Review, argued that trends in giving were dominated by two distinct schools: the ‘charitable’ and the ‘radical’. The ‘charitable’ were motivated by a ‘pity for the poor’ while the ‘radical’ were motivated by a ‘hatred of injustice’. So the former acts in the negative ‘relieving destitution’ while the latter acts in the positive ‘raising life to its highest value’.
Adams illustrated this distinction with an example of the 1803 British Society for Superseding the Necessity of Climbing Boys, set up to protect boy chimney sweeps by “some kind-hearted people whose names have not been preserved”. The Society offered a prize of £200 for the best sweeping machine invention that would obviate the need for boys who swept chimneys. It then promoted a Bill to protect boys who swept chimneys – the Bill was passed by the British House of Commons but rejected by the House of Lords. The Society appointed its own private inspectors to monitor the conduct of master sweepers over the boy chimney sweeps.
The Society also purchased its own sweeping machines and rented them to small masters for one shilling and sixpence a week – it then pressured insurance companies to demand the use of these machines. The outcome was that in 1875, a law of regulation and safeguard for chimney sweeps was passed. This example demonstrates how ‘radical’ giving relieved a marginalised group from degrading employment conditions by promoting an alternative solution and by successfully strategising and advocating for policy change. More current advocates of ‘radical’ giving make the case for ‘social justice philanthropy’ focused on influencing the policy process or effecting policy change to solve social ills.
Social justice philanthropy is concerned with addressing the causes rather than the symptoms of social malaise. Among some of the methods supported by social justice philanthropy to achieve social change are: uncovering the root causes of social problems; supporting social movements that aim for social, political and economic equity and including constituents in grantmaking decision processes as well as governance structures. Social justice philanthropy is therefore distinguishable from charity, which often reinforces existing power dynamics, supports causes that do not challenge the status quo and emphasises the temporary alleviation of problems.
A cursory glance at some of the programmes initiated by the Motsepe Foundation suggest little challenge to the status quo, which often enables continued inequalities between rich and poor South Africans. An example is the ‘Economic Empowerment’ programme which ‘enhances the economic independence of low-income individuals and rural communities counteracting inequality’ without much emphasis on the systemic or structural context that causes this inequality.
This is not to say that the Motsepe Foundation is not committed to social justice
however. The ‘Women’s Empowerment’ programme, for example, incorporates the ‘Gender Responsive Budget Initiative’ which brings together government, women’s groups and other civil society organisations to prepare budgets ensuring that the needs of women are adequately engaged with. Whether the Motsepe Foundation’s initiatives are cast as philanthropic or purely charitable will depend on its ability to impact on genuine systemic and structural transformation as opposed to its merely alleviating the symptoms of inequality manifested by the status quo.
Impact on social change
During the pledge announcement, Motsepe was careful to point out that the ‘bottom line’ would not be compromised, “The [pledge] is duty bound and committed to ensuring that it would be done in a way that protects the interests and retains the confidence of our shareholders and investors,” he said. This highlights an oft-cited challenge to the practise of philanthropy. Will wealth amassed within (and because of) a certain systemic and structural context be used to transform that context?
The 1950 Soviet Concise Dictionary of Foreign Words defined ‘philanthropy’ as ‘a means the bourgeoisie uses to deceive workers and disguise the parasitism and its exploiter’s face by rendering hypocritical aid to the poor in order to distract the latter from the class struggle’.
At around the same time, philanthropic initiatives by American foundations worked to advance social causes, policy initiatives and socioeconomic programmes. They were inspired by philanthropists such as Andrew Carnegie, who, in The Gospel of Wealth, argued that surplus wealth should not be left to accumulate but used to benefit society and John D Rockefeller who, in The Difficult Art of Giving, contended that philanthropy should be a means to remove barriers to selfimprovement and empower the poor.
The Ford Foundation, for example, influenced public policy on poverty, racial equality and gender parity. Likewise the Russell Sage Foundation advocated for national standards relating to housing, sanitation and health. The limitations of these philanthropic endeavours are, however, noted by scholars who advance two theories: that of ‘social control’ and ‘channelling’. The ‘social control’ thesis advocates that philanthropic activity is strategically limited to moderate as opposed to radical projects –curtailing avenues for genuine transformation.
Philanthropic initiatives focused on the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and 1970s, for instance, peaked with major funding directed towards African-American voter registration but declined when the movement took on ‘contentious’ issues such as school integration and bussing conflicts. The ‘channelling’ thesis asserts that philanthropic activity results in the ‘professionalisation’ of movements and groups – converting them into institutionalised organisations. This effectively removes the incentive for organisation leaders to mobilise at grassroots level (affecting an aspect of legitimacy), blunting the movement and reducing its impact.
This is evidenced by the philanthropic support of professional American feminist advocacy and service centres in the 1980s which, although securing policy change and ensuring its enforcement, did not encompass the continuous wave of feminist protest occurring at the time.
What the ‘social control’ and ‘channelling’ theories point to is the way in which philanthropic activity can shape processes of social change often curtailing their impact. Genuine transformation can be facilitated, however, by supporting these processes without altering their course and nurturing the actors involved without changing their behaviours.
Does the Motsepe pledge represent a philanthropic ‘breakthrough’ for South Africa? An obvious way for the Motsepe Foundation to distinguish itself would be for its grant-making process to consider the rich and varied forms of what has been termed ‘horizontal’ philanthropy which exist in Africa. ‘Horizontal’ philanthropy as opposed to ‘vertical’ philanthropy refers to patterns of giving occurring among equals. In this sense, givers are not ‘richer’ and recipients ‘poorer’ nor is giving institutionalised but rather socially embedded and morally grounded. Forms of ‘horizontal’ giving are found in the Zulu traditions of ukwenana, ukusisa and ilimo.
Ukwenana is a cultural form of exchange where the recipient will accept intending to return or reciprocate in kind but the giver will engage in the action knowing that there may not, in fact, be reciprocation. In ukusisa, the givers will hand over part of their property, perhaps cattle, to recipients who do not own livestock. The cattle will eventually be returned but its offspring will become the property of the recipient. In ilimo the recipients will initiate the giving action by providing food and drink and inviting givers to help plough or harvest their lands with the understanding that the action will be reciprocated. These practices are grounded in the philosophy of Ubuntu, or a common humanity – ‘my humanity is tainted if your humanity is not recognised and assisted when in need’.
Interestingly enough, these traditions also resonate rather closely with tenets of social justice philanthropy. ‘Horizontal’ philanthropy casts givers and recipients as equal in the philanthropic act. The implications of this are that recipients are not debased or humiliated by giving, nor is there a formulation of hierarchy. The ukusisa mechanism of building the wealth of individual families or community members means that the causes of lacking are addressed as opposed to their symptoms. This is in keeping with basic distinctions that have been made between philanthropy and charity.
The ilimo process of sharing labour skills has an element of sustainability in that, although non-contracted, labour will be available as part of a community network. This practice also ensures that although givers play an important role, recipients remain at the centre of the philanthropic action. These are important considerations given that mainstream critiques of ‘vertical’ philanthropy have centred on challenges of both sustainability and legitimacy of philanthropic endeavours.
While it may indeed be easier to make money than it is to give it away effectively, there is ample scope for African philanthropists to interrogate normative understandings of philanthropy. This would facilitate a re-envisioning of philanthropic efforts in ways that celebrate African notions of giving and recast African recipients of philanthropy as dignified participants in the exercise of social justice.
Africa’s philanthropic footballers
It’s well known that talented African footballers playing for European clubs command fees of astronomic proportions. What is perhaps not so well known is that many of the most highly paid African footballers, instead of hoarding their wealth, are putting these huge sums of money to philanthropic use in their home countries.
Alexa Dalby has some examples:
Michael Essien (Ghana): He set up the Michael Essien Foundation to raise funds to give his hometown Awatu Breku access to healthcare equipment, libraries, public toilets and clean drinking water. In honour of his mother, he ensures that the Foundation teaches basic empowerment skills to women in Ghana.
Didier Drogba (Côte d’Ivoire): He donates all his endorsement earnings from brands such as Nike and Pepsi to his Didier Drogba Foundation: he started with the $5m he received from Pepsi. He has spearheaded several humanitarian causes in his home country including the construction of a $3m hospital and an orphanage in Abidjan. Emmanuel Eboue (Côte d’Ivoire): He has supported educational charities and raised funds to build schools, pay tuition and establish trust funds to provide pupils with shoes, uniforms and books.
Salomon and Bonaventure Kalou (Côte d’Ivoire): Since 2009, the Kalou brothers have run the Foundation Kalou and have reportedly donated more than $600,000. Amongst other projects, it has built a kidney dialysis centre in Boakye, with 16 dialysers, 14 generators and 20 computers.
Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon), right: His Samuel Eto’o Foundation works with children in West Africa in healthcare services, education and the promotion of social inclusion through sporting activities.
Nwa nkwo Kanu (Nigeria): He set up the Kanu Heart Foundation to provide Nigerian children with heart defects with corrective surgery. Since its establishment in 2000, the Foundation has carried out an amazing 452 open-heart operations with surgeries in Israel, England and India. Kanu plans to raise $35m to build a 40-bed cardiac specialist hospital in Nigeria.
Shauna Mottiar is a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Civil Society, Durban. She holds an MA and PhD in Political Studies from the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. She managed the Centre for Civil Society’s Philanthropy and Social Entrepreneurship project and is co-editor of the forthcoming Variations of philanthropy in South Africa: Social justice, horizontality and Ubuntu.