Research Brief: The Landscape of Large-Scale Giving by African Philanthropists



While charitable giving has a long history in Africa, the last 30 years have seen the emergence of more formal philanthropy on the continent. To learn more, The Bridgespan Group’s Africa Initiative conducted interviews with experts and analyzed 63 major gifts of $1 million or more made in five countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Here's what we've learned.

Executive Summary: The Landscape of Large-Scale Giving by African Philanthropists

African philanthropy—charitable giving by Africans—seems poised for liftoff. Half of the world’s fastest growing economies are African, and the number of wealthy Africans is also growing. While charitable giving has a long history on the continent, the past 30 years have seen the emergence of more formal philanthropy in Africa, with some of Africa’s high-net-worth individuals engaging in large, structured giving, often through institutional foundations. Several have played a pronounced role in the continent’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, with major commitments to relief and recovery efforts.

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While full data on large gifts isn’t readily available, some high profile gifts over the past decade suggest that large-scale African philanthropy is making its mark. Consider the example of Tony Elumelu, an African investor and philanthropist, and chairman of both United Bank for Africa and Heirs Holdings. In 2015, his family foundation, the Tony Elumelu Foundation, committed $100 million to a 10-year program to empower 10,000 African entrepreneurs across the continent. Just six years along, the program has already supported more than 9,000 entrepreneurs across all 54 African countries. In 2019, the Foundation sparked a new partnership with the United Nations Development Program—the global development network of the UN—to train, mentor, and financially support 100,000 young entrepreneurs in Africa over 10 years. This partnership follows others with the African Development Bank, the International Committee of the Red Cross, GIZ, and United Bank for Africa Plc, to create meaningful and permanent impact across Africa.

Inspired by examples such as this one, our Johannesburg-based team from The Bridgespan Group set out to paint a clearer picture of large-scale giving by African donors. We interviewed 28 experts, and analyzed gifts of $1 million or more in five countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. We studied 63 gifts in all, totaling over $1 billion made between 2010 and 2019. We also compared our sample to a database of 202 gifts made by private non-African philanthropists to causes in Africa. Additionally, we benefited greatly from the existing body of research on the topic of African philanthropy.

From our research, three themes stand out related to large-scale giving by African donors.

  • African donors of large gifts give mainly within their own countries.
  • The majority of gifts by African donors go towards addressing basic needs.
  • African donors give mainly to the public sector and their own operating foundations, with limited funding reaching NGOs.

Large-scale African philanthropy has distinct characteristics that do not necessarily follow the pattern of large-scale giving in the United States or Europe. It is shaped by culture, politics, economics, and—as around the globe—by the preferences of donors. The scale of giving—$1 billion in our five-country sample alone—and the growth of African economies and the number of wealthy Africans underline that this kind of philanthropy will likely play an important and growing role in supporting development and social change on the continent.

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