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  • Writer's pictureIrungu Houghton

Giving has power if targeted strategically

I am reminded often, that everyone of us is wired to be safe and look good. Many of us also want to make a difference in the world around us. Listening to Deputy President Ruto’s support for the commencement of Public Benefits Organisations Act while travelling in Germany, helped me reflect on our growing culture of giving to others.

The term philanthropy comes from philanthrōpos, the Greek word for the love for humanity. From the first millennium, Germans privately contributed acres of land and financial contributions to build places of worship. At least 50,000 of these still exist. More recently, citizens and corporations have contributed to foundations to support schools, housing, health and businesses for thousands of causes and issues. More than 250 German foundations are older than 500 years. Today, the 20,000 German foundations or so are worth roughly Kshs 1.5 trillion shillings collectively.

German foundation giving reflects global trends. New technology billionaires led by Bill and Melinda Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan dominate the global foundation scene. Fifty of the largest US philanthropists give an average of Kshs 10 billion every year. As they begin to surpass their Government’s aid budgets, they are slowly changing the development scene.

Led by Equity Bank, KenGen, Safaricom and MPESA foundations, corporate led philanthropy is slowly taking root in Kenya. Most of these foundations provide access to social services for hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries across the country. With more than 1,200 Kenyans worth half a billion shillings or more, the number of private family foundations is also rising. Most of these dollar millionaires have made their own money in one generation. While our political class obsess over the next General Elections, their number is set to rise by 60% to 2,070 by 2022. This capital will predictably find its way into philanthropic causes.

Ordinary Kenyans also give. Mobile money platforms have literally helped us become the social safety net for our families, friends and total strangers. In 2018, The Charities Aid Foundation ranked Kenya eighth in the world for the way we help strangers, donate money or volunteer for causes. These trends and the Kshs 200 billion regularly being remitted by the Kenyan diaspora, suggests we need to look more closely at how to facilitate and support these financial flows.

It is disturbing that there is still no progressive comprehensive framework for corporate or individual philanthropy in Kenya. The Mining Act and the Betting, Lotteries and Gaming Act now requires companies to invest a percentage of their profits in corporate social responsibility programs. The Income Tax Act, VAT Act and the Companies Act regulations provide for claims or exemptions that can be made for donations, but bizarrely do not distinguish between corporate and individual giving. Despite signs that it could be commenced any day now, the PBO Act has been gathering dust for six years.

Philanthropic giving and family foundations is fashionable among the wealthy. The impulse is driven by our glaring inequalities. Sadly, most of these foundations will not survive the “three years and out” syndrome. They are too preoccupied with filling public service inefficiency gaps and easing the guilt of privilege. Most are simply too small, undercapitalised and unprofessional to be game-changers or even just sustainable.

We must learn from the bigger foundation world. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation may be the biggest foundation in the world, but it still gives less than Coca Cola spends on advertising. All the Foundations and Governments that annually invest in Africa are a mere fraction of the US$ 211 billion that leaves the continent in illicit capital outflows. Despite its growing size, Kenyan philanthropy will always be smaller than the huge challenges we all face.

Giving does have power if targeted strategically and at scale. Both the American Civil Liberties Union and President Trump experienced this recently. Thousands of Americans generously gave to the ACLU Legal Defence Fund to protest the U.S. Administration’s travel ban on Arab countries in 2017. They saw clearly the danger of racial and religious discrimination for the American way of life.

Strategy, scale and leverage matters therefore. For philanthropic giving to have power it must go beyond protecting us from mosquitoes. It must also strike at the big dragons of our time – the corruption, injustices and the inequalities - that stalk our national fabric. Anything else is tinkering at the edges.

First published Saturday Standard, February 2, 2019. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group


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