The Africa Social Justice Philanthropy Group: More Revolutionaries or Resolutionaries?

Last March, a small group of social justice philanthropy thinkers and advocates gathered for a 2 day meeting at the sidelines of the WINGS Conference in Istanbul, Turkey. Participants were mainly from Africa but we also had a few from the diaspora and the global SJP community. The meeting was a culmination of offline and online conversations and conference calls that had been going on throughout 2013 and the felt need for getting together to consolidate and build consensus on how best to carry the group’s work forward. The offline conversations include the discussions at the AFF and AGN convenings in Cairo, Egypt and Johannesburg, SA respectively in 2012 and the EAAG Conference in 2013 in Mombasa, Kenya. These were complimented by bilateral ongoing conversations. The decision to have a substantive working meeting was made in October 2013.

The first formal meeting of this group was help in Johannesburg in 2012 and perhaps the spirit of that session is best summed up in the words of Akwasi Aidoo of Trust Africa, that in the great venture of Africa’s development what the continent needs is revolutionaries and not more resolutionaries[1].

This was amplified later during the AGN Assembly by Mama Graca Machel who in her address to the AGN Assembly challenged Africa to take responsibility for its development.

Machel’s challenge is two-fold; cerebral and financial. First, nearly a century after independence and given the continent’s open secret of resource bounty, why should development agencies continue depending on foreign funding. Secondly, while the discussion on the Post-2015 Development Goals is welcome and is of great benefit to Africa, what role has Africa played in the agenda-setting.

It was therefore unsurprising that a key question at the Istanbul meeting was what had changed/shifted. It was easier to show what had changed institutionally, but less so at the community and the continental levels. There were very impressive stories from the Foundation for Civil Society, KCDF, the Mott Foundation and Akiba Uhaki Foundation as well as from individuals but that is where the clear outline ends. And it is not because work is not going on in the communities and across the continent. We believe that phenomenal work goes on across the contours and communities of Africa’s 1 billion people. The problem is that we are often not as good in capturing and telling our stories. Or that we sometimes do our work and hope that the achievements will speak for themselves. Sometimes they do, mostly to very limited audiences.

Part of the challenge is probably that we were trying to answer the question a little too soon but a more fundamental challenge might be that we neither have a shared view of what to look for or measure and what tools to employ. Put differently, there is a big challenge with knowledge management and tracking of results.

Though a lot of effort social transformation goes on every waking day across the continent, we have not succeeded in capturing the imagination of the people and mobilizing their local resources into the sort of mass movement for transformative development that we all dream about across the continent.

While the primary responsibility for creating the antecedent conditions for development and for service delivery remains the responsibility of the state, it is widely recognized and acknowledged that the objectives of development cannot be attained without the participation of the people, business and the civil society. The incomplete project of deconstruction of the predatory and corrupt state that has plagued the continent fro the last 50 years and the economic models that have spawned exclusionary/non-inclusive growth are too limited and limiting to adequately respond to the continent’s development needs. Civic engagement that goes beyond the ballot is critical to recalibrate and balance the state and the market.

The challenge by Akwasi and Machel raise three fundamental questions; interrogation of our theory of change/development, financing development and framing the development agenda. They also raise critical questions of agency and urgency.

The urgency is perhaps best summed by Gunilla Carlsson, Sweden’s Minister for International Development, who during the launch of the Post-2015 Development Goals in Nairobi made a call to all of us to make a commitment to end poverty during our generation, something that is absolutely revolutionary. The big question is Can we? Can we step up to commit to this as the ambition of our generation?

The African SJP Group is bound together by the belief that philanthropy, prevalent in Africa, is a huge resource that can and should be tapped for transformative development. It recognizes the material and the non-material potential of this resource and is committed to unlocking it. It has defined research, knowledge generation and management as critical areas that require attention.

The critical challenge is one of organizing the civil society and the people into a driving force for change. Closing the gaps between the two is critical. 

The group suggested that perhaps one possible starting point in addressing the strategic gaps between communities and social justice agencies and development workers is by interrogating and addressing the gaps in our values and practices. The following are some of the specific suggestions;


  1. To be accountable to our communities as a giver
  2. To be people driven, responsive and timely
  3. To build agency and philanthropic capital of the communities (both money and volunteerism) i.e. to build the capacity and power of the community to become from beneficiary to benefactor and not be prescriptive in doing so
  4. To uphold the principles of human dignity in our giving
  5. To create equity
  6. To act as institutions with integrity and promote it as well
  7. To be humble and empathetic towards those we serve
  8. To create and promote an environment and process of trust within our institutions and beneficiaries


  1. They focus on rootcauses of social justice issues
  2. They are responsive and spontaneous in their practice
  3. They put in place practices and processes to ensure accountability to their stakeholders
  4. They are mindful of the impact of their work on society and aim to build social cohesion
  5. They are grantmakers providing support to organisations that uphold values of social justice
  6. They create opportunities/ an environment for conversation on enhancement of social justice
  7. They embed a social justice framework in their institutional infrastructure and programmes
  8. They follow processes that ensure inclusiveness to constantly engage with people they seek to serve
  9. They take a long term view to systemic change and to the investments they make (monetary and evaluations)
  10. They are flexible in their processes in an environment of institutional rigidity. While they respect compliance to processes, they also focus on the need.
  11. They take a holistic approach, they look at the long term issue but also address short term challenges
  12. They use their convening power to connect and create bridges between those who have the ability to create systems shift. They aim at building a movement.
  13. They constantly self interrogate and ask themselves if they are doing the right thing and responding to the needs of the people.
  14. They take risks in terms on the kind of engagement and also the resources they invest.

There are many other questions that require further debate around definitions, meaning and framing of Social Justice Philanthropy, the links between ‘social justice’ and ‘peace’,  and around reconciling conflicts between our personal values and institutional values .

For now the group is committed to the following three purposes:

  1. Exist as a reflective space to deepen the practice by deliberating and addressing its internal tensions and issues
  2. To serve as a pressure group that opens up, influences and develops spaces (both on the continent and globally) where visibility and the narrative of SJP can be developed
  3. To build knowledge and evidence about SJP in Africa

The Africa SJP Group is an open space where others committed to advancing the practice of social justice philanthropy in Africa are welcome to join. 

The Africa SJP Group is an informal group comprising of representatives from the Africa Grantmakers Network, Trust Africa, the East Africa Association of Grantmakers, Ikhala Trust, the Kenya Community Development Fund, Akiba Uhaki, Africa Women’s Development Fund, Foundation for Civil Society in Tanzania, and the C. S. Mott Foundation in South Africa. It is co-ordinated by Halima Mohamed, the Philanthropy Program Advisor at Trust Africa; and Chandrika Sahai, who is also the Network Coordinator at the Working Group on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace in which Halima also serves. Kepta Ombati is a member of the Africa SJP Group and the AGN Board as well as the Program Co-ordinator at Akiba Uhaki Foundation.


[1]      Message from African literary icon and thinker Ayi Kwei Armah