Interview With Oyetola Oduyemi On The END Fund, Impact Philanthropy And Sustainability in Africa
Oyetola Oduyemi is the Africa Regional Adviser (Public Affairs) at The END Fund, a private philanthropic organisation whose big goal is to see an end to the five most common neglected tropical diseases (NTD’s) that, together, cause up to 90% of the NTD burden in sub-Saharan Africa. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Oyetola shares insights on the organisation’s mission, some of it’s challenges, impact philanthropy, social development and sustainability in Africa. Excerpt.
Alaba: Tell us about The End Fund and the gap its filling?
Oyetola: The END Fund is the only private philanthropic initiative solely dedicated to ending the most neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). They are a group of parasitic and bacterial infectious diseases that affect over 1.5 billion of the world’s most impoverished people, including 836 million children. NTDs are diseases of neglected communities that do not have a platform to advocate for themselves and raise awareness. They can cause severe pain and long-term disability and lead to death for more than 170,000 people per year. Effects from NTDs such as deformed legs and blindness result in social isolation.
Since being founded in 2012, we have supported the delivery of over 724 million generously donated treatments for NTDs with a value of over $1.3 billion. In addition, over 1.8 million people were trained in NTD control and prevention methods and over 13,000 people have benefited from surgeries.
NTDs have held back human progress; and at the END Fund, we imagine a world free of diseases caused by worms. We are filling the gap by delivering treatments to communities in need. We achieve this by growing and engaging a community of activist-philanthropists, managing high-impact strategic investments, and working in collaboration with government, NGO, pharmaceutical, and academic partners.
There are many generous funders in the space including USAID and DFID, but the END Fund was created to help fill the funding gap specifically with money from the private sector. In some countries, we are even the only funder, and are able to go places that traditional funders cannot go due to instability and conflict. We are also able to move quicker than traditional funders thanks to our unique model.
Alaba: What is the mission and vision of this Initiative in Africa?
Oyetola: The END Fund’s mission is to end the five most prevalent neglected tropical diseases. In Africa, about 40% of the global NTD burden occurs here, affecting over 600 million Africans. In Nigeria alone, over 120 million people are at risk of one or more NTDs. We envision a continent, indeed a world where people at risk of NTDs can live healthy and prosperous lives.
Alaba: How have the priorities of the organisation evolved?
Oyetola: Due to improvements in disease mapping and much broader engagement by in-country and global stakeholders, the END Fund has been able to get key stakeholders and leaders in disease-endemic countries to make commitments around NTDs. There are many more partners with whom to collaborate and coordinate new opportunities. Also, there are more detailed maps of disease prevalence in high-risk communities, indicating an increased level of interest and sophistication. These additions to the space enable us to have more in depth discussions on extending the financing of NTDs and gradually requiring countries to self-fund treatment.
Alaba: How does the organisation measure the impact of its giving?
Oyetola: We convene savvy, international investors interested in impact-driven investments that make the most efficient use of their private capital – “the best bang for buck.” This enables us to ensure that our treatments are the most cost-effective. In addition, the progress that we make in countries when it comes to eliminating the prevalence of NTDs as a public health problem also enables us to understand our impact. Another way that we measure the impact of funds invested in the END Fund is through our ability to provide technical assistance and capacity building, as needed.
We seek to meet the World Health Organization’s (WHO) requirements for treatment, but in many cases we look to exceed their targets and ensure the highest levels of treatment possible. We also work with governments and implementing partners to ensure the highest quality of data reporting. In 2018 alone, with our partners, we reached over 134 million people with more than 220 million treatments valued at over $430 million, trained over 745,000 people, and provided over 1,800 surgeries.
Alaba: What are the challenges and how are you overcoming them?
Oyetola: Raising awareness about what NTDs are and why they should be on the top of the agenda for governments, donors, and even those affected can sometimes be a challenge. People may be aware of one or two of them but are not necessarily aware of the health and economic implications. Thus, we want to put real-life stories forward, and hope that it would help us reduce the neglect of the attention and awareness about these diseases.
Alaba : What’s the future for the organisation in Africa and what steps are you taking towards achieving them?
Oyetola: In the future, I see the END Fund continuing to work with its partners to not only improve the health of underserved communities but also contribute to Africa’s growth. Research has shown that deworming treatment, for example, has the potential to increase an adult’s earnings by 20% and reduce a child’s likelihood of school absenteeism by 25%. Alleviating the NTD burden would not only improve lives, but it would also have a ripple effect on the community, nation, and continent.
We are very strategic and intentional in the steps that we are taking towards achieving our preferred future. We are working tirelessly in bringing together local and global philanthropists to control and eliminate NTDs. Our CEO, Ellen Agler recently co-chaired the 2019 World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa and participated in key dialogues on how addressing health inequalities – for example, scaling up treatment for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and achieving Universal Health Coverage – can help catapult Africa into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. I also believe that more investments would be seen as one and the same – instead of being seen as either good for business or humanity.
The END Fund hosts the Reaching the Last Mile Fund – a ten-year, multi-donor fund, initiated and led by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, with additional support from other funders. It works to eliminate river blindness and lymphatic filariasis across the Middle East and Africa. By working to eliminate these two NTDs, our goal is to break the cycle of poverty by reducing their footprint.
We were also named an Audacious Project in 2019 – a philanthropic collaborative hosted by TED. This project aims to eliminate the public health burden caused by parasitic worm infections in four countries in Africa. In these countries, where local leaders have already made trailblazing commitments to their national deworming programs, the Project’s “Deworming Innovation Fund” will support and amplify these commitments with the goal of eliminating childhood sickness caused by the most prevalent parasitic worms, a feat which has not yet been achieved in Africa.
Alaba: What’s your view on the development of impact philanthropy in Africa?
Oyetola: At the heart of philanthropy, is giving. Africa, and indeed Africans generally have an embedded culture of giving or charity, which some would argue is philanthropy in its most basic form. We believe in the concept of giving back, of being your brother’s keeper, and of sustaining your wealth and happiness by helping others. So it is a familiar concept.
Having said that, impact philanthropy is nuanced to reflect a desire to make specific impact, rather than just seemingly random giving. To that extent, it is a practice that the continent is catching on to quickly. It is being practised more by high net worth individuals and activist philanthropists, rather than corporates. The latter are increasingly embracing strategic social investments, which also varies from philanthropy simpliciter.
Alaba: Why are you personally passionate about the work of The End Fund Initiative?
Oyetola: My passion about our work stems from my personal interest in driving the social development of Africa. I have worked in this space for about 15 years now, and the reality is that as more is achieved, more comes to light as needing to be done. For instance you take on education as a cause, and then realize that the health space needs support. And then it is the environment; or infrastructural development. etc. However delivering on the mandate of the END Fund, which is to end the neglected tropical diseases, has positive ripple effects across quite a number of indices – poverty, malnutrition, education, health, sanitation, and partnerships for development (Sustainable Development Goals 1,2,3,4,6 and 17).
As a mum myself, I am passionate about children, they are our future; and the brightness of any nation’s future is determined in large part by the state of her children today. I am passionate about advancing the cause of my nation and continent, and so I have an interest in her youth. As a woman, I am eager to tackle diseases that disproportionately affect women, We are typically the home-makers and primary caregivers. So when family members are unwell, we are the ones with careers or work opportunities that suffer, while we nurse them back to health. We are the ones that are open to STDs and related secondary infections, as a result of urogenital schistosomiasis. Schistosomiasis by the way is the second most deadly parasitic infection globally after malaria, and Nigeria has been reported to have the biggest global burden of this disease.
Our work at the END Fund seeks to end the suffering, illness and debilitating conditions caused by the NTDs, and both the sought impact and picture of success, serve as impetus to do and love the work I do.
Alaba : As an expert in the CSR, sustainability and impact philanthropy ecosystem in Africa, can you share your experience?
Oyetola: This is a richly multi-layered ecosystem indeed, with different stakeholder groups, interests, and expectations. The good thing is that the foundational principle of corporates and HNIs contributing to the development of their locations, is here to stay. Having said this, the practice of CSR is not without its criticisms and issues, and Africa is no exception to this. However with issues, always come possibilities and opportunities. For Africa, CSR or social investment, and impact philanthropy present opportunities to drive sustainable and inclusive development; especially given the relatively high levels of inequalities and poverty found here. There is the creation of shared value, when CSR is properly practiced.
The field also goes beyond the social aspect, to companies doing business responsibly, and with sound corporate governance structures firmly established. These also benefit the communities in which they operate, and stakeholders such as employees, regulators, investors, etc. Furthermore, these drive sustainability, of the companies, their host communities, and the environment.
Pertinent to serve as a guiding thought, is that a sense of mutuality is key, between businesses and host communities. And so combined effort, the pooling together of resources, and the mainstreaming of a sense of responsibility – individual as well as corporate; are all critical to finding sustainable solutions to our developmental challenges as a continent.
Alaba : What is your advice to aspiring impact philanthropists?
Oyetola: Anyone can be an impact philanthropist, high networth individuals as well as people with comparatively lower income. Technological developments, innovative offerings and the emergence of digital platforms such as crowdfunding, have paved the way for a new crop of impact philanthropists to emerge. Things to bear in mind in becoming an effective impact philanthropist, include efficient resource management, motivational picture of success or desired impact, innovation and scalability, where applicable.
Kindly click the link to watch how The End Fund is using football to tackle the NTDs – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSZJye2aeN4
A great place to start is by joining us to end the neglected diseases!
For more information, please visit The END Fund
Also Read: I Encourage all Corporates To Identify Avenues for Incorporating CSR into their Business Strategies – Bekeme Masade
B I O G R A P H Y
Oyetola Oduyemi was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2003, and has more than sixteen years working experience. During her time in the Nigerian Law School, she interned at Kyari Chambers, the law firm of JK Gadzama (SAN). Subsequently, she worked at Babalola chambers, law firm of Dele Adesina (SAN).
‘Tola is a qualified member of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators UK, and also a member of the Nigerian Society for Corporate Governance. She holds an LL.M. degree from the University of Warwick, with dual majors in Corporate Governance and International Economic Law. ‘Tola has broad experience across sectors, having worked in real estate, banking, oil servicing, and telecommunications industries.
Her specialty is building sustainable brands that have stood the test of time, wearing different though inter-connected hats, including public policy manager keeping employer organisations abreast of policies with an impact on their respective business; corporate communications lead with responsibility for ensuring effective internal and external engagements; and sustainability expert advising business leaders on required and best-practice measures to adopt; all with the focal objective of creating strategic and sustainable value.
For her work in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), ‘Tola was recognized as the most outstanding CSR practitioner, at the Sustainability, Enterprise & Responsibility Awards (SERAs) for Africa, 2016. Her passion lies in driving business transformation, providing leadership and finding innovative solutions to business challenges, successfully managing multi-layered key stakeholder groups, and developing and executing best-in-class management strategies to drive business sustainability.
She also enjoys driving ideation of the construct that eliminates barriers between entities and possibilities. In seeking to accomplish this bridge-building, she has discovered that empowering people, communities, companies, even the planet; to survive and flourish, enables all to make possibilities, realities.
‘Tola is an alumnus of the University of Lagos – Nigeria, and University of Warwick, UK. She has also attended numerous training programmes at the Lagos Business School.
Funke Felix-Adejumo shines at Commonwealth Africa Summit, Advocates for Gender Inclusion
Funke Felix-Adejumo (Middle)
Funke Felix-Adejumo, a female enthusiast and philanthropist extraordinaire has taken the challenges of African women to the global centre stage stressing the need for a more realistic gender inclusion. The author of the celebrated book, “More Than A Woman”, was at the recently concluded Commonwealth Africa Initiative which was held in London, England. Where she extolled the virtues of African women, and raised other issues affecting the productivity of women among which is gender inequality.
During the Plenary Session 6: Commonwealth women in Leadership During The COVID-19 role in building back better. Felix-Adejumo, alongside leading African voices such as Southern Africa’s Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Fatimah Mohammed Habib, Founder/Executive director of Advocacy For Humanity, advocated for a more inclusive policy that will engender women participation in policymaking, religious circles, health, education, among other critical subjects.
“Let’s bring more seats and tables to involve more women in policy-making, education, religion, health and in all areas that God has empowered women to contribute to the socio-economic development of Africa,” said the Gender Champion when she mounted the stage as a distinguished Speaker.
Her commitment to promoting values and issues stifling the socio-economic development of women was again brought to bear when the renowned Reverend stressed that over the years, women have been made to sometimes feel inferior by various institutions. Saying women’s self-esteem has been bruised and subdued by forces beyond her immediate control. She referenced her own personal experiences where she suffered prejudice and bias as a woman. And how she was able to break through with support from a rich community of other women and men to be where she is today.
She encouraged women that are placed in positions of leadership by God to not pay attention to noise-making because there will always be criticism. She cited the Wright Brothers, the pioneers of aviation who suffered grave criticism from critics as a case in point, saying, women, and indeed everyone will always be criticized. However, they must be determined to forge forward.
Meanwhile, the reverend who has consistently supported the causes of widows and is regarded as a mentor to women across the country, was decorated with a prestigious Commonwealth Award for her contributions to women empowerment. With the peerless example of the president of Felix Funke Adejumo Foundation, it appears the space is looking brighter for all the women in leadership across Africa and in the Commonwealth. The woman crusader was with Councillor Trish Fivey, The Worshipful the Mayor of the London Borough of Sutton, who was in attendance.
Black Philanthropy Month 2021: An Interview With Dr. Jackie Copeland, Founder of Black Philanthropy Month and The WISE Fund
A social and environmental justice leader, Dr. Jackie Bouvier Copeland is Founder and President/CEO of Black Philanthropy Month, and The Women Invested to Save Earth (WISE) Fund, an innovation enterprise, supporting grassroots Black and Indigenous women climate change innovators in Africa, Australia, Brazil, the Caribbean, India and the USA. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Dr. Jackie speaks on her career-path into philanthropy, her organisations; Black Philanthropy Month and The WISE Fund. Excerpts.
Alaba: Dr. Jackie, could you briefly tell us about yourself, career-path and philanthropy journey?
Dr. Jackie: I am a humanist, Pan-Africanist, and woman of faith, believing in philanthropy as not just about money, but an expression of love for humanity united for justice against all the odds, including the capacity of Black people to create a better future for their communities and the world. These values have evolved from my upbringing as an African-American from Philadelphia with parents from the South with proud Gullah-GeeChee heritage. These early experiences of giving over the years have coalesced into a life purpose to heal people, society, and the Earth. My vision is a world where all people have the resources (confidence, tenacity, mentorship, sponsorship, education, funding, etc.) to save the planet.
I started this journey with my studies as a cultural anthropologist and urban designer, working in the 1980s on community development projects in Africa, the US, and then worldwide, and earning my various credentials. I continued working as a foundation, bank, fundraising executive, investor, evaluator, professor, and board member, always with a focus on social and environmental justice, including Africa and the global Black Diaspora.
When I did not see vehicles to express and live my purpose, I created them, which is how I became a serial founder. One pivotal initiative was founding the Pan-African Women’s Philanthropy Network, now called Reunity, in 2001 with a diverse coalition of Black women innovators with global ties in Minneapolis. I thought that together we could build a global economy of giving and mutual support. Their example inspired me to create Black Philanthropy Month and its summit series in 2011, celebrating the UN’s International Year for People of African Descent. They organized the first summit with me. Without them there would be no Black Philanthropy Month. I honor them and the more recent leaders, who have help expand Black Philanthropy Month further, making it a global movement.
Reunity was founded 20 years but movements need to change with the times to remain meaningful, In 2020, concerned about the quadruple threat of the Covid-19 health and economic crisis, racial injustice, extreme wealth inequality, and climate change, I created The Women Invested to Save Earth Fund (The WISE Fund) to support diverse climate change innovators with affordable, accessible, quality environmental solutions that could benefit the communities hit hardest by climate change worldwide.
I also wrote a position paper for our partners detailing a enhanced BPM Summit design that would bring together Black funders across philanthropy and business worldwide to answer the question: How can we amass the financial and other resources that will be necessary to rebuild from the pandemics of Covid and anti-Black racism worldwide? Fortunately, partners agreed to move forward with a greater focus on donor and investor funding equity, bringing BPM squarely into a new era of economic and racial justice for these new times.
Alaba: You founded the Black Philanthropy Month (BPM) in 2011. What does it mean to you and the inspiration behind it?
Dr. Jackie: Inspired by Reunity’s ingenious blending of traditional African financing mechanisms with American funding structures, I founded Black Philanthropy Month in 2011 to celebrate the UN’s International Year and then Decade for People of African Descent by highlight Black-led giving as a central part of our global culture and resource for positive, equitable social change and economic justice.
In 2013 and 2014, other key leaders joined us, most notably co-architects, Valaida Fullwood, Creator of The Soul of Philanthropy; Tracey Webb, Founder of Black Benefactors; and Kula Addy, now The WISE Fund’s global programs and operations manager. Although we already had been long-time colleagues supporting each others’ efforts, last year, Thelma Ekiyor, founder of Afrigrants Foundation, officially joined as the BPM Africa Host and Chairperson, solidifying our longstanding African roots. Together, supported by a network of other global chairs, planning and funding equity committees, we have combined networks and talents to build the movement across at least 60 countries, this year highlight Black funding issues and equity in Brazil, the Caribbean, and Canada too (click here for a full list of chairs, partners, sponsors, and co-architects).
Alaba: Kindly share this journey of a decade, challenges and achievements?
Dr. Jackie: Black Philanthropy Month (register at BPM 2021) has continuously expanded the community and is now a global movement celebrating our homegrown giving, while advancing funding equity for Afro-descendant communities across the globe. In large part, it is about reminding ourselves of the power of community giving together as we have done throughout Black history’s funding and leadership of our various liberation movements from abolition to civil rights, independence, anti-apartheid and other movements that have moved us along what Dr. King called the long, universal arc of justice.
But 2020 has taught us that our and allied philanthropy are not enough. There is a $40 trillion global social finance industry. And it is time for philanthropy, venture, and impact investing to start judging Black communities by the content of our character and capacity, just as it does with other communities. The post-Covid recovery will require a massive investment of capital or funding, or our communities will regress.
Recognizing this need, last year Black Philanthropy Month revived the action summit series I founded in 2011 to create a Global Black Funding Equity Principles and a Pledge.
Among our greatest challenges as still a largely volunteer-driven movement is to:
1) generate the capital needed to sustain and further develop our growing movement;
2) devise tools to measure and track funding equity;
3) develop our movement’s organizational capacity in a fast-changing world where new models and skills are required for long-lasting impact;
4) expand recognition of every August as Black Philanthropy Month by more governments and multilateral organizations throughout the US and world, including the African Union; and
5) strengthen the movement’s leadership capacity, as many Black leaders worldwide are overstretched and overwhelmed, especially during Covid.
One way we are trying to build leadership and wellness is through Reunity, our women’s network founded 20 years ago, which will be closing out our BPM series again this year with its Being Well, While Doing Good Summit. Reunity will add to our global funding equity strategy, celebrate Black women leaders’ unique contributions, and revive community and wellness. Scheduled for August 31st, Reunity’s BPM Summit is on August 31st. Register at bit.ly/Reunitysummit2021.
Alaba: How does your organisation measure its impact?
Dr. Jackie: Black Philanthropy Month is a movement comprised of multiple organizations convened with The WISE Fund support as a backbone organization or administrative hub. Our four key impact criteria are longevity, diversity, engagement, and advancing funding equity. From inception, BPM has steadily improved along all these dimensions, using the power of social media and other technologies as national and global community building, and organizing tools along with the support of Black leaders from all walks of life following their networks throughout the US, to Africa and its global Diaspora. It has been difficult, but with the contributions of many leaders, we are still here after 10 years for BPM and 20 years for Reunity, its precursor. So, we proved that we have relevance and staying power.
We have engaged at least 18 million people in 60 countries. The United Nations has recognized BPM twice as an important celebration of global Black culture and innovation, as have 30 governmental bodies that have declared every August Black Philanthropy Month, prompting local philanthropy, civic improvement, and other funding bodies to celebrate the Month with various initiatives that increasingly continue year-round, increasing the movement’s visibility and engagement. The most obvious indicator of our impact is our tenacity and growth. Now we are holding ourselves accountable for enhancing the capacity for our global community to spotlight and advance donor and investor funding equity as a racial and economic justice issue, including Africa and its Diaspora from the Americas and every corner of the globe.
Alaba: The theme for this year’s BPM celebration is “TENacity: Making Equity Real.“ What is the significance of the theme, and how do you see people responding to it?
Dr. Jackie: We spent a lot of time crafting this theme together. “TENacity” has a double meaning referring both to our 10th BPM Anniversary but also reminds our movement of Black people’s resilient capacity to weather the compounding crises of the times to create an even stronger community together. “Making Equity Real” reminds us that celebrating our resilience is needed but insufficient. We have an ongoing responsibility to move to proactive, concerted social action together to create a more just future. Black Philanthropy Month builds our resolve and capacity to make a true difference as a global community everywhere.
Alaba: This year, BPM will be celebrated in other regions e.g., Africa, Canada, Brazil. etc. What should we expect?
Dr. Jackie: Black Philanthropy Month has always been celebrated across the world—60 countries to date, doubling from the 30 countries in the very first celebration in 2011, because its co-organizers were global from the very beginning of Reunity 20 years ago. However, most of the celebrations were organized independently by individuals and organizations within various countries. What is different now is that whole countries and continents are organizing coordinated Black Philanthropy Month celebratory, action Summits in collaboration with our Architects steering committee and other volunteers. This started with Africa in 2020 when Afrigrants became the BPM Africa host, organizing the first ever BPM Africa Summit, featuring leaders across the continent.
Global engagement continued with our convening of a Funding Equity Committee, including several African and Black Diaspora representatives. Also, Reunity continues, now as a BPM partner, further deepening global engagement, including African Americans and others from the US, while uplifting the often less visible role of Black women funders and innovators. This year other global regions reached out to ask how they could join us to organize BPM 2021 in their countries, including Brazil, the Caribbean, and Canada. We look forward to continuing global expansion of the movement, celebrating, and advancing our giving while promoting funding equity overall by donors and investors of all backgrounds.
Alaba: In your words, how would you define philanthropy?
Dr. Jackie: “Philanthropy” is a term used to describe giving in the West, among wealthy individuals, professionals and scholars working in the industry. But giving flows through many community-based and other voluntary organizations and groups of more modest means, including, for example, sororities and fraternities, religious institutions, hometown associations, small businesses, guilds and other professional associations, rotating savings and credit institutions, giving circles to name just a few.
Philanthropy is just one type of private capital used to improve society and develop communities and is primarily donated to qualified nonprofit or nongovernmental organizations, although institutions such as foundations, also can fund cause-related businesses organized for societal or environmental impact instead of profit. Two other primary forms of private capital are investments in businesses that also can benefit the public instead of just private individuals for profit: venture capital funding and impact investing. All these types of giving are now part of a growing funding field, sometimes called the “social finance sector,” estimated to be a $40 trillion US global sector. Black people contribute mightily to the world’s economy and giving. Now we need fairer access to dominant funding to rebuild our communities, still inhibited by legacies of anti-Black racism and colonialism.
Alaba: What changes have you seen in philanthropy in the last 10 years and your expectations for the next decade?
Dr. Jackie: Here are a few distinctive characteristics of Black giving and trends over the past 10 years.
Black giving is organized through diverse organizations. Nigerian and Caribbean esusus or susus; Black Brazilian quilombos; African-American churches; South African funeral associations; Kenyan harambees; Jamaican hometown associations, and much more were all equally worthy Black or Afrodescendant philanthropy institutions that are a basis of civil society equivalent to foundations and other more dominant funding institutions.
Giving is not just about money. It is about the love of humanity and the power of community to create a more just society, supported with time, talent, treasure, voice, and other means.
Giving is a tie that binds the immense diversity of Black people. There is enormous ethnic diversity and other diversity among the approximately 1.5 billion people on the planet that many would describe as “Black” or “Afro-descendant.” But a strong spirit of mutual support through giving is a common cultural feature of most Black communities, although there are contemporary forces trending towards the deep hierarchy, individualism, and paternalistic models of dominant Western philanthropy models now being critiqued by more participatory, “trust-based” giving approaches.
Giving can transform hope to justice. As a basis of identity, Black giving is also seen as a form of energy that sustains hope, helping us replant and remake our culture across eons and tragedy for justice and future generations.
Alaba: How do you see the role of women in philanthropy as a positive force for good?
Dr. Jackie: Women are the key, because traditionally, they have taken on primary responsibility for community improvement, although their efforts often go unrecognized in the annals of history. Both women and men have led Black Philanthropy Month as a movement to uplift all genders. Today our co-architects, who help with strategy and inclusion especially throughout the US are women. Reunity, BPM’s precursor and women’s network, continues to uplift and build women’s leadership especially given the unique challenges we face leading our communities and broader society in the face of racism and sexism. As all the research shows, societies that empower women’s human rights and leadership are more vibrant and healthier. Black Philanthropy Month and Reunity actively include women to advance all Black communities.
Alaba: What advice would you give to black people who want to become philanthropists, or give back to the community but do not know how?
Dr. Jackie: Remember that the basic requirement to be a good philanthropist is to have compassion and empathy for other people. You do not need to be wealthy or prominent. Most of the people reading this article are likely already giving to their school, alma mater, church, community clinics, or some other cause. If you are, then you are a philanthropist. The question is how to make your giving more impactful to make a difference on the issues about which you care most. Here are a few tips;
- Steward your resources to make your community and environment better, which will strengthen the people and natural resources upon which all markets, and future generations, depend.
- Commit to sharing resources and opportunities with others, often called “paying it forward,” a mindset fundamental to a life of giving for a better society that you can teach your children and grandchildren.
- Define the legacy you would like to leave your primary community or the world.
- Identify a cause and reliable institutions through which you can give to advance your legacy.
- Use Black Philanthropy Month every August to self-assess your giving journey and adjust it as necessary for more meaning and impact.
As we struggle against the continuing scourge of racism, a little Love of Humanity, including Black People, can go a long way to create a better world for all.
Happy Black Philanthropy Month! Be sure to join us tomorrow and all-year-round! We are the change and have the power to create a better future from crisis.
Black Philanthropy Month 2021: An Interview With Thelma Ekiyor, BPM Africa Chair & Founder/Chair, Afrigrants Foundation
Thelma Ekiyor, BPM Africa Chair & Founder/Chair, Afrigrants Foundation
As Founder/Chair Afrigrants and Managing Partner SME.NG, Ms. Thelma Ekiyor is a leading voice in women empowerment, impact investing and philanthropy in Africa. Outside of the office, She currently serves as a Board Member on ALL ON, The WISE Fund (USA) amongst other appointment. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Ms. Ekiyor speaks on her career-path into philanthropy, Afrigrants and the Black Philanthropy Month Summit (Africa Region). Excerpts.
Alaba: Ms. Thelma, could you briefly tell us about yourself, career-path and philanthropy journey?
Ms. Thelma: I have spent a lot of time working in the post conflict countries and that shaped my realisation that only African solutions can solve African problems. And as my career progressed I was drawn more and more to indigenous social investment ranging from foundations to non-profit and I found myself working for two large institutions that I was the pioneer executive director and CEO for West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) and the pioneer CEO TY Danjuma foundation. Both experiences taught me that very important work, Africans to put resources behind social investment. Not only does this give us a strong position to negotiate with International Actors but it also enables African investors who are more familiar with the problems channel resources towards where they are mostly needed.
Alaba: In your words, how would you define Black philanthropy?
Ms. Thelma: Black philanthropy, interesting we have been scrambling with what is Africa philanthropy for a number of years and I think is a broader question as to what is black philanthropy is better. This is because black philanthropy captures everyone, so far as you came from Africa. For me Black philanthropy is divergence, the culture of giving and the ingenuity that have always existed in our traditional African communities been used to develop contemporary vehicles to address problems that are peculiar to black people.
Alaba: How did Black Philanthropy Month (BPM) Africa come about, and what is the purpose behind it?
Ms. Thelma: Black philanthropy Africa summit is a part of the global Black philanthropy movement that was started by Dr. Jackie Copeland who is a good friend and collaborator of mine personally and supporter of our work in Afrigrants. Black Philanthropy Summit is one of the regions that the global black philanthropy movement is focusing on, I mean black as in Africa. It is important that we have a very strong summit this year. This year, what we are trying to do is to bring together black people who have committed themselves to philanthropy, impact investing or just social entrepreneurship and hear from them how we can improve Black Philanthropy.
Alaba: One of the companies you founded and chair, Afrigrants Foundation is BPM 2021 Africa Partner. What inspired the partnership?
Ms. Thelma: I have known Jackie Copeland for years and we collaborate on different things. She is also one of Afrigrants funders. The WISE Fund is Afrigrants funders so of course when she asked that we partner, to us it was a privilege and also a no brainer because we believe in the principle of black philanthropy. We are one of the signatories and so we are very pleased that we are this year’s Africa chair and we are looking to facilitate a very good meeting. But is not all about Afrigrants, it is really about creating a space where diverse voices can really shape this conversation around what black philanthropy means to African and for Africans.
Alaba: The theme for this year’s BPM celebration is “TENacity: Making Equity Real.“ What is the significance of the theme, and how do you see people on the continent responding to it?
Ms. Thelma: Well we know what tenacity means in life, is just to make sure that you impact it, make sure you are consistent and we are very happy that we are going to be with like-minded people that have the same tenacity, to make sure that the goal of black philanthropy is realized. It is the ten years also.
Alaba: This year, BPM will be celebrated in other regions as well; Canada, Brazil. etc. As the BPM Africa Chair, what should we expect from Africa?
Ms. Thelma: I think what we should expect from Africa is that people are going to talk about issues especially how COVID-19 has affected them. It is important that all of us talk from the advantage point of what is necessary for the communities that we serve. And with our experienced speakers, together we hope to learn a lot and drive the conversation beyond the summit.
Alaba: What are some of the challenges facing philanthropy in Africa and the role of BPM?
Ms. Thelma: One of the problems affecting philanthropy in Africa is Lack of awareness of what philanthropy is and how it operates. Another problem is that we do not collaborate well. There is a lot of competition among players in Africa philanthropy because of limited funding and financing, so everybody feels like we have to compete for it. But actually we will get more funding and financing if we collaborate because we will prove that Africa is the place where people should invest.
The fact that there is very high poverty in Africa is another challenge amongst many other issues to deal with. So many people struggle with where do I start from even when they want to make a difference. We tell them to just start wherever you are and just do your little bit and that little will match up with somebody else little bit. Before you know it we have a wide level of impact. These challenges are the reason why we are having the black philanthropy summit and need to create incentives for people. There is misconception that only rich people give but we need to make it clear that anybody can be a philanthropist and social investor. Once you are part of making change and you put your time, resources, funds into it, you can classify yourself as a social investor either through impact investing or philanthropy. So these challenges are the reason why we feel that this summit is extremely important.
Alaba: How do you see the role of women in philanthropy as a positive force for good?
Ms. Thelma: One thing that we have done very well in Africa is, women are making impact in social investment and philanthropy. I think that’s because women are way ahead of men in terms of wanting to be social change makers. And so we have spare headed this area, but by no means should we be the only ones in these areas that we are talking about. We still need to encourage more women to get involved even though a lot of philanthropy organizations and non-profits are headed by women. This is a very good thing because its one area that we are setting an example of what can be done if there is gender equality.
Alaba: What advice would you offer on how we can cultivate a creative spirit of giving, no matter the level of resources in our possession?
Ms. Thelma: This summit is a conversation starter and it is very important that people attend to make sure their voices are part of the conversation because if your voice is not part of shaping what black philanthropy is, we will be impacted by what other people develop. It is important that people come out with their point of view so that all of us are able to shape black philanthropy and make sure that at the end we are proud of what we have shaped.
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B I O G R A P H Y
Ms. Thelma Ekiyor has over 21 years experience working in the development sector, as an Impact Investor, donor, philanthropic advisor, and social entrepreneur. She has experience working in 22 African countries. She has pioneered, founded and led a number of organisations and initiatives focused on impact investing and women’s economic empowerment. In 2020, Ms. Ekiyor was listed as one of the 50 most influential women in the development sector in Africa.
Ms. Ekiyor is currently the Managing Partner SME.NG – Nigeria’s Impact Investment Platform, which has set up two impact funds for women entrepreneurs. She is the Co-Founder/Chairperson of Afrigrants Resources and also served as its pioneering CEO. At Afrigrants, she led the establishment of “Market Women’s Quick Cash” – A financial inclusion solution to provide micro-loans to women in disadvantaged communities. She also founded the Afrigrants Foundation dedicated to the socio-economic advancement of girls and women. She also led the conceptualization of “The Ebi Fund” – an impact fund for women entrepreneurs. Ms. Ekiyor is also Founder & Co-Convener of The Funding Space – a mentoring and access to finance platform for social entrepreneurs in Africa.
Prior to establishing Afrigrants, Ms. Ekiyor was the pioneer CEO of TY Danjuma Foundation, and grew an endowment of $100 million. Before that, She served as the Pioneering Executive Director of the West African Civil Society Institute (WACSI), which was established by the George Soros Foundation’s Open Society Institute for West Africa. She supervised investments and interventions in 15 countries across West Africa.
Ms. Ekiyor holds an MBA (Entrepreneurship & Innovation) from Imperial College London, UK; a Law Degree (LLB Honours) from University of Buckingham UK. She is also a Fellow of Stanford University, USA. Ms. Ekiyor served as Strategic Policy Adviser to UN Women Nigeria (2017-2019). She is currently a Board Member on ALL ON, the renewable energy impact fund in West Africa established by Shell.
She is on the Advisory Board of The WISE Fund (USA). Ms. Ekiyor has received several awards and citations for her contributions to women’s economic empowerment and philanthropy in Africa.