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Vodacom Foundation

New report urges international investment in African philanthropy for sustainable social impact

Monday, 13 September 2021

Hard hitting new research co-commissioned by Vodacom, Safaricom and Vodafone Foundation suggests that the sustainable development of the not-for-profit sector in Africa is being challenged by an imbalance in international investment. Foreign funding is predominately flowing to donor organisations headquartered in the Northern Hemisphere rather than going directly to the 90% of African civil society organisations (CSOs) that remain dependent on it.

The in-depth report – Barriers to African Civil Society: Building the Sector’s Capacity and Potential to Scale Up – highlights the multiple barriers preventing African CSOs from operating at the same scale and capacity as local branches of international non-government organisations (NGOs). The study aims to provide a framework for engagement among key stakeholders to strengthen and accelerate the role of African CSOs, which perform a variety of services and humanitarian functions that bring citizens’ concerns to the fore.

Too often, only a portion of philanthropic funding from international aid institutions reaches African CSOs, as it remains trapped within bureaucratic processes and systems. When this aid does reach the African continent, it is usually distributed among locally registered international NGO counterparts, and then allocated to African-led CSOs only for specific projects.  

With these funding limitations, African CSOs are unable to sustain resources and build long-term strategies for lasting social impact. Along with administrative constraints, and negative perceptions about African CSOs, this imbalance in approach to donor funding is preventing African CSOs from being more effective, self-reliant and, of course, helping the communities and citizens they serve.

The report is an independent body of work funded by Vodafone Foundation and developed by the Centre on African Philanthropy and Social Investment, the Centre for Strategic Philanthropy at the University of Cambridge’s Judge Business School, and Clearview Research. It is launched in partnership with African Philanthropy Forum, which promotes homegrown philanthropy and inclusive development on the African Continent.
Key recommendations of the report include:

  • Re-imagining donor-CSO relations, approaches and systems: International donors must facilitate a level playing field for local CSOs by re-imagining grant-making, rigorous guidelines and procedures, organisational norms and management systems.
  • Creating a balance between core and project funding: CSOs must be given sufficient funding and room to develop long-term strategies so they can invest in non-programme critical issues, such as securing resources, and improving their own financial management systems.
  • Building the sustainability of local CSOs: In addition to giving larger grants and providing core support, donors must make conscious efforts to strengthen capacities of CSOs.

While international donors must take concerted action to work with African CSOs more fairly and effectively, the report also calls for local organisations, research institutions and the business sector to be more supportive in empowering CSOs.

“We have seen first-hand the significant contribution CSOs make to social, political and economic development on the continent, but these efforts continue to be hampered by the complexities of donor funding. Through this research, we want to understand what is standing in the way of the greater success, independence and self-reliance of African CSOs, and what can be done to forge meaningful, long-term partnerships that can bring about real and lasting change in Africa,” says Takalani Netshitenzhe, Director of External Affairs for Vodacom South Africa and Chairperson of Vodacom Foundation.

Tsitsi Masiyiwa, Chair, African Philanthropy Forum, says, “Covid-19, among the host of new and existing challenges, has emboldened some donor and NGO community leaders to confront gross inequalities in the allocation and use of scarce financial resources for impactful development. The time is perfect to disrupt the old and establish development models that prosper and empower communities.”
Joseph Ogutu, Chief Special Projects Officer at Safaricom and Chairman of Safaricom Foundation, says, “I’ve spent almost two decades in this space and I know achieving positive change will require improvements in the way that the international community perceive African philanthropist organisations. As evidenced in this report, we know there is a problem. This, therefore, is a clarion call for various stakeholders to meaningfully engage to address the inequalities and to find real-world actionable recommendations that will enable the CSOs—in Kenya and Africa—to scale.”

Andrew Dunnett, Director, Vodafone Foundation, adds, “One of our long-standing partners, Shining Hope for Communities, asked Vodafone Foundation to fund this research for the wider benefit of the pan-African CSO community. In our 30th year of giving, our ambition is to work with our philanthropic network to further evaluate how donor funding is allocated to African CSOs.”

To this end, Vodafone Foundation has committed to undertake further research to better understand and find solutions to overcome the challenges faced by African-led CSOs. This includes investigating the creation of a new international standard for the percentage of charitable funds that reach African-run organisations and reviewing Vodafone Foundation’s own funding processes globally.

Vodacom, Safaricom and Vodafone Foundation will also continue to invest in the digital transformation efforts of CSOs across Africa through education, training, equipment supplies and financial donations, while working with their partners and trustees to articulate a five-year plan for tackling the issues of bias in international aid.

View the research at

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New report urges international investment in African philanthropy for sustainable social impact | Vodacom Group