The Community-Based Organization Perspective: Global Issues

Reclaiming the narrative in African philanthropy is not just about changing perceptions; it is about shifting power and promoting a more inclusive and equitable approach to development. Credit: Shutterstock
  • Opinion by Tafadzwa Munyaka (New York)
  • Inter-Press Office

The role of African giving remained largely silent. However, a new paradigm is emerging: one in which community-based organizations (CBOs) are reclaiming the narrative and driving change from within.

Building on years of traditional giving, it is time we dispel the notion of African philanthropy as limited or colonized. This shift is not only reshaping the way philanthropy is and continues to be practiced in many communities across the continent, but also redefining the concept of development itself.

From grassroots initiatives, families and the community

At the heart of African philanthropy are grassroots initiatives, families and the broader community. The people leading this transformation are the same agents who have pioneered giving over the years, and not just in emergency situations.

The common characteristic of these agents is that they are deeply embedded in communities and have a deep understanding of the local context, needs and ambitions. For example, extended families will contribute to sending children to school or ensuring that a family member has access to health care.

In Zimbabwe, for example, historically during times of uncertainty, the village headman or chief would store the grain entrusted to them by the community for rainy days, known as isiphala senkosi in IsiNdebele or dura rashe in ChiShona, meaning the chief’s granary. Unlike external entities, these agents are not merely visitors; they are stakeholders with vested interests in the well-being and prosperity of their communities, as illustrated.

In the case of CBOs, I would point out that they are uniquely positioned to address issues in a way that is culturally sensitive and sustainable. They can mobilize local resources, engage community members and implement solutions tailored to the specific challenges and opportunities of their environment.

This local approach ensures that interventions are relevant and have a lasting impact. In this way, they tend to forego detailed explanations of how the resources will be used, because everyone is involved and knows. This does not mean that there is no responsibility.

Instead, there are no strict conditions or agendas attached to the aid, which ultimately has a superficial impact as much of it is bogged down in bureaucracy.

The story of the help

The traditional narrative of African philanthropy often portrays the continent as a passive recipient of aid. In this case, the aid is viewed in monetary terms or whatever can be quantified, usually in dollar terms.

This perspective not only undermines the agency of African communities, but also perpetuates a dependency syndrome.

For the Global North, philanthropy means that one has acquired a new status of wealth and suddenly has extra to give, which contrasts with giving in Africa, which is embedded in the need to help or contribute to a solution despite one’s wealth status .

However, CBOs, families and communities have continually challenged this narrative by showcasing the resilience, ingenuity and ingenuity of African communities through daily donations. The Covid-19 pandemic is a clear example of this, as “calls for a paradigm shift in the philanthropic sector gained momentum” in the Global North.

By taking the lead on development initiatives, CBOs have long demonstrated that African communities are not helpless, but are in fact capable of driving their own progress, ceteris paribus.

This shift is crucial to changing the perception of Africa from a continent in need to a continent of opportunity. It emphasizes the importance of partnership and collaboration, where external support complements rather than dictates local efforts.

It should be noted that these partnerships should not be “anchored in unequal power relations,” meaning that they determine in minute detail who benefits, what should be done and where, among other things, defeating the purpose of sustainable philanthropy.

Of telling stories

A crucial part of reclaiming the narrative in African philanthropy is storytelling. CBOs are increasingly using storytelling as a tool to highlight their successes, share their challenges, and amplify the voices of the communities they serve.

These stories are powerful because they provide first-hand accounts of the impact of community-led initiatives and provide a more nuanced and accurate picture of African development.

These stories are told by people who are at the center of the challenges, opportunities or developments they experience, not because they have to fulfill and comply with grant agreements, but because they express their lived realities and experiences.

Through storytelling, CBOs can humanize their work, making it recognizable and attractive to a broader audience. So many children and people have gained access to healthcare and education, escaped poverty and gone on to provide the same opportunities to others within their community or village. These stories are well known.

These stories and realities could only be possible because there were people who gave to these causes – for example, by guaranteeing the adage that it takes a village to raise a child, completely true! It also helps build a sense of pride and ownership among community members, reinforcing the idea that they are the architects of their own future.

Donations from the local private sector

A vital but often overlooked player in the evolving landscape of African philanthropy is the local private sector. Businesses and entrepreneurs across the continent are increasingly recognizing their role in promoting social and economic development.

Through corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, direct investments in community projects and strategic partnerships with community organizations, the African private sector contributes significantly to philanthropic efforts.

These companies bring not only financial resources, but also expertise, innovation and a results-oriented approach to development initiatives. By leveraging their networks and influence, local businesses help scale impactful projects, support sustainable local businesses and create jobs, strengthening the economic base of communities.

This local private sector involvement not only complements traditional philanthropic efforts, but also ensures that development initiatives are deeply rooted in the local economic context, increasing their sustainability and effectiveness.

Challenges and opportunities

While the shift toward community-driven philanthropy is promising, it is not without challenges. CBOs often operate with limited resources and face structural barriers that can hinder their effectiveness.

Furthermore, existing funding models are still largely focused on international organizations, making it difficult for CBOs to access the necessary financial support as local funding is negligible.

However, these challenges also offer opportunities. There is growing recognition among donors and development partners of the value of supporting grassroots initiatives. By investing in capacity building and providing flexible financing, donors can help strengthen CBOs’ infrastructure, allowing them to scale their impact.

Bringing it home

Reclaiming the narrative in African philanthropy is not just about changing perceptions; it is about shifting power and promoting a more inclusive and equitable approach to development. Community-based organizations are at the forefront of this movement, demonstrating that sustainable change is best achieved when it is driven from within.

As we look to the future, it is essential to continue to support and strengthen CBOs, recognizing their critical role in shaping the fate of their communities. By doing this, we can build a new story of African philanthropy – one that celebrates the strength, resilience and potential of African communities as it should be.

Tafadzwa Munyaka is a non-profit/social change professional with cross-cutting expertise in fundraising, program management and children’s rights advocacy.

© Inter Press Service (2024) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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