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.

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 the United Bank for Africa. 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.

Read the full article about large-scale giving by African philanthropists by Jan Schwier, Craig Wallington, Maddie Holland, Wendy Magoronga at The Bridgespan Group.