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The critical role of philanthropy in driving African resilience and innovation

Jane Connolly


It gives me great pleasure to provide this article as a guest writer for the Inyathelo Annual Report 2022/23. Inyathelo has been a vital peak organisation advocating for philanthropy, providing practical tools and conceptual frameworks to South African organisations since 2002.

Like many organisations working in the social justice space, Inyathelo has remained committed to its mission and vision with limited resources. Inyathelo can be proud of its achievements and impact in South Africa.

In this article, I will look to the importance of philanthropy in ensuring sustainability and resilience, the broad theme of Inyathelo’s Annual Report 2022/23. I have worked in the philanthropic sector for more than 20 years, both in South Africa and Australia. During that time, I have heard many well-informed, passionate people dismiss the importance of philanthropy. I hope to open a debate which positions the importance of philanthropy in Africa and the critical role it can play in innovation. I will also outline how the drive for transformation, when embraced by philanthropists, delivers better outcomes and application of scarce resources.

Now, more than ever, financial sustainability is critical in helping to ensure happy, healthy futures for millions of people denied social justice and basic rights to education, healthcare, sustainable livelihoods, food security and cultural determination for current and future generations. Philanthropy is a powerful lever to assist communities who have the solutions, knowledge and innovations themselves, but are hampered by a lack of resources.

It is well documented that African NGOs face funding disparities that stifle their impact and their ability to plan for the long term. I will illustrate with a case study. In 2020 I met an African nurse, Yangama Jokwiro, who wanted to make a difference to nursing education in Zimbabwe. He knew that nurses had not received updated training for decades and had to travel large distances to renew their nursing registration by unreliable public transport, often at risk of personal safety and at great personal expense.

He and his brother, Admore, had come up with an online app to improve nursing education through accredited Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses specific to an African context. With permission from the Nurses Council of Zimbabwe the app would allow nurses to register, complete the course, be accredited and receive their accreditations electronically, avoiding long and expensive travel. Their proof-of-concept was an astounding success. During Covid, they were able to enrol more than 95% of Zimbabwean nurses who each completed 30-45 nurse training modules, which totalled more than one million Continuous Professional Development (CPD) modules over three years. But Admore and Yangama simply didn’t have the resources to take the development further. They were innovative, their vision was transformative, but they had no more money to invest.

When we met, Admore and Yangama had been unable to access funding and their dream of providing better healthcare in Africa was slipping away in spite of their considerable talent. We met several times to brainstorm how to communicate their key messages about the importance of their innovation and the difference it could make. We then set about discussing this vision with clearly identified philanthropists. Within months, Yangama and Admore were able to secure a substantial first donation which has been ongoing.

As valuable as the donations themselves was the ongoing time and effort provided by one of the philanthropists, Peter Williams, to mentor Yangama and Admore. Yangama and Admore have had the opportunity and privilege to learn from a successful entrepreneur. The mentorships resulted in the establishment of VAKA Health Foundation and they are now working with the East Central and Southern Africa College of Nursing and Midwifery (ESCACONM) to design, develop and deliver fellowships for nurses and midwives across Southern Africa in 16 countries on mobile devices. This is a formidable achievement. It is also transformative.

VAKA Health Foundation is led by African health professionals based in Africa and the diaspora. Admore and Yangama are uniquely positioned to understand the complexities of delivering healthcare in underresourced communities in an African context. Both understand the power of innovation and technology and have harnessed this to provide better health training. Through their powerful conversations, they have enlisted the help and support of non-African philanthropists to resource and achieve this incredible and unfolding impact. 

Across the continent, African business leaders and thinkers are stepping forward as philanthropists, recognising the challenges of innovation to help those in need and to solve some of the biggest challenges of our time. Strive Masiyiwa is Founder and Executive Chairman of the Econet Group. Among many philanthropic pursuits Strive, and his wife, Tsitsi, have supported and educated more than 40,000 children. Strive has many public responsibilities, including serving as a board member on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The list of African philanthropists is growing and will continue to do so, bringing with it transformation and change. Will the implementation of this new philanthropic vision always be successful? Will it always be right? Without a doubt, it will be complex to implement and there will be mistakes.

But this transformative philanthropy will continue to grow, playing an increasingly critical role in social change and justice across the continent. It is my belief, that this new generation of philanthropists will be critical not only in Africa, but also in transforming how philanthropy is done around the world.

This article was first published in Inyathelo's 2023 Annual Report.


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