Mide Akerewusi On African Philanthropy and the Duality of Giving

Mide Akerewusi Duality of Giving

Ubuntu comes from the Zulu language and means I am because you are. It means that we are all responsible for each other and should give others anything they can to support them. 

Mide Akerewusi is an experienced fundraiser and founder of AgentsC and he wanted to learn more about African philanthropy and how it compares to western philanthropy. What they found was that rather than giving in surplus, Africans base their giving habits on community and recommendations from family and friends. 

What they thought would be a statistical report on fundraising ended up being a behavioural study, as giving is so ingrained in their everyday life. 

What We Cover In Our Coversation With Mide
The true meaning of Ubuntu and how it represents the true meaning of Philanthropy. That we have a responsibility to look after and care for each other
How the Duality of Giving Report came to be and the inspiration Mide took from watching his mother care for her community and the people around him
What the findings of the Duality of Giving report mean to both to African and western Philantrophy
Why African donors center their giving decisions around friends and family as appose to marketing or promotion
The role humanity has in philanthropy and how we can develop an empathetic mindset as fundraisers 

Favourite Quotes
[2:20] We see that there is a close connection between the concept of ubuntu "I am because you are" and philanthropy, which is in the Greek language, termed as the love of humankind. And so they both concepts speak to the innate responsibility we have to take care of each other.

[10:53] I think philanthropy starts in the heart and spread to a neighbor and builds into a community. And then it's a bit like that tiny spark that there rages as a forest fire over time. And so where we are now in this trajectory is that people of African descent are well alert and engaged with their responsibilities to give to friends as well as to family. That's always being part of the African tradition.

[24:01] It's time for us to actually start to put targets in place for reaching diverse communities, for building partnerships, for establishing connections with people of cultures within this city or any other city across or across Canada. It's time that we started to measure the impact of what we do. As far as engagement is concerned, I think nothing will change unless we begin to figure out what change looks like and start to work towards it


Let's dive into the world of African philanthropy.

Hello and welcome to Driven's Fundraising Superheroes podcast. I'm your host, Sabrina Sciscente, and Driven is a leader in nonprofit technology. We help nonprofits unlock the true potential of their data. Using our All-In-One software, we cover everything from member, volunteer and donor management and would love to talk to you, but your fundraising goals give us a visit at trustdriven.com to learn more.

We can learn a lot from African giving behaviours, the concept of Ubuntu means I am because you are, which at its core is the spirit of philanthropy.

There's a duality to giving the informal and the formal, and Africa chooses to focus on the concept of ubuntu. Caring for each other and giving what you can to support your community. Olumide Akerewusi is an experienced fundraiser, leader and founder of AgentsC. Their latest report, titled The Duality of Giving, explores the presence of African philanthropy, and I'm so excited to have the day on the show today to talk about the research and what we can learn from about two of the duality of giving.

So thank you for joining me today.

Thank you so much for having me.

Can you start off by explaining to our audience the concept of Ubuntu and at Essence, what does it mean? What does it mean to you?

For sure, the term ubuntu actually is derived from the Zulu language and culture and tradition, and it essentially means that I am because you are. And the essence of that, I guess if we are going to translate that to a Western context, it means that I am my brother's keeper or I am my sister's keeper, and it means that we're all responsible for each other and should love each other at the same time. What it means to me as a fundraiser is that I think in Western terms, it's probably the closest we can get to the concept of what we would call philanthropy.

So we see that there is a close connection between the concept of ubuntu "I am because you are" and philanthropy, which is in the Greek language, termed as the love of humankind. And so they both concepts speak to the innate responsibility we have to take care of each other.

Yeah, at its essence, its I mean, that's what philanthropy really was. It wasn't until I actually went to the talk that you guys had before the report lanch that I really thought about it as more of a human neighbour helping neighbour perspective. And I pictured philanthropy in the past. I always thought about it as big checks and tax write-offs and kind of the top one percent giving to other people. I never thought like me helping out somebody in my community could be considered philanthropy.

But at the end of the day, that's really it.

I think what you say is correct. I think we have been conditioned to think that philanthropy is what happens when rich people write large checks. And to a certain extent, that's one dimension of philanthropy. But if we were really to break down philanthropy at the community level at a level that has meaning to people like you and I and perhaps people listening to this show, I think what philanthropy means is that we understand that we have this responsibility for each other.

And sometimes that means that we need to give of our finances, give of our time and share the talents that we have so that others may benefit. And I do think that with the focus on what we call major gift philanthropy, we lose so much of the original alchemy, so much of the original intent of ubuntu and philanthropy. And what we want to do actually is bring that back into focus. What happens when everyday people do phenomenal things to help their neighbours or people overseas?

That, to me, is philanthropy.

Yeah, and what I really appreciated about the duality of giving is you actually started off talking about your personal experiences growing up with your mom and her practicing Ubuntu within her community and teaching what philanthropy really means. And so I thought that that was a really beautiful way to start the report. But speaking of that report, how did it even come to be? Where did the concept of it begin? Why was it important for you to make this?

It, of course, started with my mother. My mother has taught me so much of what I now know about philanthropy, and she never once sat me down and say said, hey, you know, here are the principles. She was far more powerful in her demonstration of philanthropy by actually showing me what it means to love and care for and share your resources with other people. So I remember as a kid, I'd go off to school in the morning and I'd come home and there'd be a stranger sleeping in my bedroom.

And I rush downstairs. I say hi to my mom, who is this strange person in my room, and she'd say, Oh, you know that that's Mrs. So-and-so. She's going through a hard time at the moment. She's currently homeless. She needs a place to stay. So she's going to be in your room. I hope that's OK. You know, welcome to the couch kind of thing. But I've also witnessed, as I say, in the duality of giving report, my mother just having this big heart to be able to send money back home to Nigeria, to her relatives so that they could pay for health care and education and buy items that were important for her to survive.

So that was the beginning, I think, for me of my journey into philanthropy. As I became a professional fundraiser over twenty-five years ago, what I was amazed by was the fact that philanthropy was only ever defined in the terms of a rich white man, middle class or upper class in the UK. To grow out of the many things he did with his life was to take ten seconds out to write a check to an organization. And that filled me with a lot of curiosity.

And then I started to research philanthropy itself. Where does it come from? What is its history and how is it practiced amongst people like me, black people of African origin, and so the idea of the research, I would say, was crystallized as early as about 2004 when I started to teach fundraising practice. And I would always, within that practice, embed a shout out of recognition and acknowledgement to the fact that. People of African descent are as active in philanthropy as white middle-class men.

It's just that it's translated slightly differently.

Yeah, and I think that the report is a great way of showing that the statistics for me, as somebody who knew nothing about African philanthropy, were really comforting to know that there's still a place that practices based on community. And I think it's also really important to note, because often here in Western culture, you see commercials. You see kind of like the white saviour concept of people going into Africa and helping them. And it's often not discussed, OK, what are the communities, what are the nonprofits actually in the continent that are doing that work?

So I think bringing light to the industry in the continent is a really great way to open that conversation about actually having communities support themselves.

Absolutely. And when you develop a passion, the thing I love most about passion is when you develop a passion, you realize that actually, your passion is also a phenomenal building block to building community. So so what happened? When I started to be passionate about African philanthropy, I saw that there were some other people who also were passionate about the subject.

And so in twenty eighteen, a guy called Atlahang Maclala, who was working at Doctors Without Borders Southern Africa at the time, approached me and said, hey, you know, let's work together on building a spotlight, shedding light on philanthropy on the African continent. And it was a passion of mine at a passion of his. And so we then set about thinking about what would how would we stop this? And we felt that research was primarily what was lacking.

We had a lot of anecdotes. We could see some stories on the African continent of African people being philanthropic, both in the traditional sense and in a more formalized sense. And we then decided that actually, you know, probably the best thing we could do is to research what we were seeing on the African continent as far as philanthropy was concerned. And that's how the research came. So we spent one year doing the research of three among three hundred and twenty-five people on the African continent.

And then it took us another year to write and design the report itself.

It is really beautifully done and you guys did a great job of making sure to cover all aspects. What I found really interesting about the findings of the report is that there seems to be a more personal aspect to the art of giving. The Western world rewards giving with tax write offs. We see a lot of marketing, a lot of corporate responsibility emphasized. What you guys found is that giving is often chosen through family members, friends. They seem to have a lot of trust within the opinions of people close to them.

Why do you think that there is a continued emphasis on the community aspect?

I think philanthropy starts in the heart and spread to a neighbour and builds into a community. And then it's a bit like that tiny spark that there rages as a forest fire over time. And so where we are now in this trajectory is that people of African descent are well alert and engaged with their responsibilities to give to friends as well as to family. That's always being part of the African tradition. Ubuntu encapsulates that so well. What it means in the modern context, though, is that there are also Africans in the diaspora and the premises that those of us in the Western world, those of us who are of African descent in the Western world, will always look to Africa or the Caribbean, North-South America, where our home countries are, and ask ourselves the question, what can we do to help?

Now, much of the answer to that question is captured through what we would call overseas remittances. So that's the act of taking some of our pay and sending it back home in the currency of our home countries. And that is very well documented. What isn't so well documented is the impact of that. So the impact that black people themselves have on building their own communities.

And if you look at the stats, you'll see that overseas remittances far exceeds international development assistance, aid or any level of giving from a western charity to a southern country, and that's the reality that people in the global south are actually far more powerful in promoting their the economies of the countries that they originally come from than international development organizations, however, place-based philanthropy.

So that is if you, for example, are an international development organization, the premise that you have is to ask somebody in the West to fund a program or a project in the global south. Now, that that will always happen, kind of always has been part of the fabric but what we're missing out on is actually the ability to engage people within those countries, informal acts of giving. And what we expose in our research is that there's phenomenal potential on the African continent for philanthropists there to be engaged with international development agencies in the work that they do. That's on the first hand. And then on the second hand for us in the diaspora, as we are sending money home through remittances, we are also thinking about our local communities and how we might help people.

For example, here in Toronto, where I am, how I might help non-profit organizations here as an African person through donations that I wish to give to registered charities here. And we found that it was not actually mutually exclusive. Africans have this phenomenal, sophisticated methodology of being able to give very locally to causes that they were passionate about, friends and family needs and their needs, but also structurally from formalized philanthropy directed to registered charities. So that's where the term duality comes from.

Is this description of traditional Ubuntu matched with formalized philanthropy?

Yeah, there's this really big divide, I feel, especially in my community, which is also Toronto, between formal and informal giving. I think that there's a really big emphasis here on the formal aspect of giving us that is that I mainly experience when I'm doing donations, as always, for campaigns and again the big tax write off aspect of it. But when you guys are going into the nitty gritty of the communities within the study, you found that there's a really big emphasis on generosity, especially on the informal aspect of giving, deciding to help people, you know, maybe in kind or with time.

Do you feel that? Western philanthropy can benefit by adopting some more of the philosophy you found in the study, were you surprised by the outcomes at all?

I was surprised by the outcomes. I was surprised by the high level of trust then, particularly South Africans have for non-profit organizations. Ninety-six percent of the three hundred or one South Africans that we surveyed expressed that they had a high degree of trust for non-profit organizations. I've actually done some work on trust and confidence in nonprofit organizations in the Western world. And the most that we were able to see was about 70 percent of donors trusting the organizations that they get to support.

So I think that's a measurable difference. I would say more generally what we see is that people from the global south, certainly in our research of African philanthropists, when it came to giving, essentially looked at the whole pie in terms of what they had and were giving as a result of everything. Whereas in the South, what we see is that people sorry, whereas in the north or in the western world, what we see is that people give out of their surplus.

So that is I pay my bills, I get all the necessary expenditures. And then I thought to myself of what is left, what will I give to charity amongst Africans? That's not the way we do it. As soon as that paycheck comes, we kind of realize that we are obligated to give from our paycheck first and then figure out how we manage the rest of our finances from there. And I think that's something that in the Western world or in the global north, we can definitely borrow from this kind of selfless giving, giving without restriction, being generous to a fault, just like my mother is, and what that we do tend to miss that selfless generosity.

When you were speaking, it reminded me of my great-grandmother, who we're from Italy. So she was from a very small town in Sicily. And this is back in the early nineteen hundreds. And a lot of mothers, couldn't provide milk for their kids, so she would provide breast milk for all the little babies in the town, which is such a weird concept to think about, especially now that so much has changed. But when you're living with almost nothing, you know, I remember my mother would ask her, like, why would you do that?

She's like, that's just like you did. Like when you saw people in need, you helped. You gave whatever you could give. And it's such a simple concept that it gets so complicated over time because like you said, we only give in surplus. Now, when people ask for something, you don't say, oh, yeah, that's what I do. We say, oh, let me check.

Yeah. And, you know, it's really funny because as you were speaking about, was it your great-grandmother?

Yes. Yeah.

It took me back to John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath. I haven't read it in many decades, but I think that's actually how that novel ends with a mother breastfeeding a child that is not hers. And of course, the story is about the Great Depression in the USA during the nineteen twenties or thereabouts. But humanity is what I think you're speaking about. You know, when humanity comes into our line of sight, so little other things matter, right?

Confection goes out of the window. I would say restrictions become limitless and that's what you're speaking about. And that's the type of philanthropy that I think is so meaningful that it just gives them straight from the heart. And so the concerns around, well, you know, if I give how much will I have left?

Hardly come into the equation, because what you're really looking to achieve is to reflect humanity, to reflect your humanity. So when it comes to giving, you're actually giving as much as you can give, all calculated in your mind. So if I gave this proportion, what would that mean for my tax write-off? Your thinking. If I give to maybe how much more improved will his life be? And if I gave me more, just how might that be transformational for him?

So I'm a strong advocate for giving from the heart. And I see that's what I would suggest, that the amount of research that was one of the things that impressed me the most that all of our philanthropists and donors just had this incredible passion to get from the heart, and because of that, we were able to capture some remarkable stories and soundbites from them and see what African philanthropy really is all about.

Exactly. You have an incredibly established career as a fundraiser.

You've worked with some incredible organizations in the launch of the duality of giving. Andrew Channell mentioned that we are working off a Canada that once was. He said a lot of amazing things that resonated, but this was the one that resonated the most. Why do you think there is such resistance and reluctance to change, to reflect the Canada that is now? You know, how can we challenge this bias that is often in a lot of organizations?

So. Yeah, I think it's it's a phenomenal question, and I think Andrew has a very remarkable point there. I say to my clients often that, listen, you have a fundraising goal and a fundraising target. And the truth of the matter is you've been reaching those goals and targets, working exclusively with one type of donor, and that is a white donor who you presume to have wealth and is giving you money. But the landscape in Canada is changing, immigration, certainly in Toronto has now brought us to a situation where over half the people in this city are people of colour and we all new immigrants.

And we have to ask ourselves as fundraisers and as nonprofit organizations, what are we doing to engage new Canadians and people new to Canada in this phenomenal act of generosity. When it comes to giving what systems, processes, people, strategies have we put in place to engage people who don't look like us, who have a different culture to us, but actually who are very much like us in the spirit of wanting to give and to build and strengthen communities?

And I would say that I think as fundraisers, we find a very poor job of trying to engage people of various and different cultures and religions, and that needs to change.

It does one hundred percent. When I was interviewing Sabine Sumar a few months ago, she worked with Ryerson and she actually did a research study on the demographics of board directors. And they found that I think it was less than 15 percent where people of colour, the women statistics were going up. But there was still a big gap there. And in Toronto especially, I looked at the statistics and as you said, it was 50 percent. So it's really weird that there's this gap in the reflection of nonprofits, especially a place that's supposed to serve the community looking like it's a community.

And it's not looking like it's a community.

But let's remember, what gets measured gets the bounce. So it's time for us to actually start to put targets in place for reaching diverse communities, for building partnerships, for establishing connections with people of cultures within this city or any other city across or across Canada. It's time that we started to measure the impact of what we do. As far as engagement is concerned, I think nothing will change unless we begin to figure out what change looks like and start to work towards it.

Thank you so much Mide for coming to the show. I really appreciate you sharing your knowledge with us and for those listening, I linked AgentsC and the Duality of Giving report in the description box. But you can also find links to all of our social media there to see updates on everything from Fundraising Superheroes We post regularly and offer a lot of resources for those working in the sector, so we also really appreciate it if you can like and subscribe. 

As always, thank you so much for listening and we'll see you next time on Fundraising Superheroes.

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Podcast May 26, 2021, 12:00 AM

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