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Philanthropy in the Covid Era

What has often considered philanthropy is the contributions of large gifts from wealthy individuals and large foundations, often based in the USA. Traditional conceptions of philanthropy have informed the development of an industry of private giving. About 81% of the world’s largest family businesses practise philanthropy. There are several methods that can be used for giving. Although giving money is the most popular form of giving, individuals and families can also give their time, social capital and skills to help the causes they support. Last year in the USA, about 91 per cent of High Net Worth households donated to charity.

Comparatively, private giving beyond the USA is at a smaller scale. But philanthropy is growing globally. There is increased recognition of the need to harness private resources to strengthen communities, improve public health or education, take on hunger, etc. In some instances, this is a matter of filling voids government cannot handle. In some others, private philanthropy is an avenue to bolstering the voice of civil society to raise awareness or advocate.

Whenever exploring the concept of global philanthropy, it is important to consider that multiple layers of giving are taking place — from philanthropists in one country or continent to another as well as indigenously within countries or continents. Whether in developed or developing nations, there is a need for philanthropic resources to get to those in greatest need. It is also crucial to invest in the long run. Disaster relief should be more of a beginning than an end.


The world is witnessing a pandemic on a global scale not been seen this century. Covid-19 has brought major cities and entire countries to a standstill. An immediate economic impact is apparent, as so many have lost their jobs due to a halt in economic activity. The long-term effects of Covid-19 on public health and economies are beginning to be evident. We must assume that our lifestyles will change substantially for years to come. Philanthropy has been called into action on a major scale around the world.

What exactly is the role of philanthropy in society at times like this? Whilst philanthropy is not meant to replace the government, it can play a role that transcends what we might expect from the government. In a democratic society, philanthropy should in fact complement government action and resources. Across communities, in cities around the world, grassroots groups have risen in response to the crisis, offering help to those negatively impacted by the pandemic — from giving out food parcels and delivering medication, to offering a sympathetic ear and safe haven to shelter from the increased incidence of domestic abuse in many homes and families. There is no doubt that the impact of this global emergency is being felt by the international humanitarian aid sector, which includes UNICEF, CARE International and other non-governmental organisations. Whilst global philanthropists like Bill & Melinda Gates, Jack Ma and Michael Bloomberg have pledged aid to fund lower-income countries, the focus of most donors is understandably their own countries where they are prioritising giving.

In the African context, philanthropy has an indigenous character. Informal giving plays a bigger role than formal giving. This is evident in the fact that philanthropy on the continent is largely focused on the extended family and on helping to build local communities. However, the challenges imposed by Covid-19 are exacerbated by the continent’s precarious medical care infrastructure and limited state resources which are available for addressing this medical emergency. Humanitarian fundraising on the African continent is picking up steam in the wake of the pandemic, with newly formed foundations and loose associations, taking on the burden of supplementing meagre government resources. For example, in Lagos, Nigeria, the Young Presidents Organisation (YPO) in collaboration with other private sector organisations built and equipped a 100-bed isolation and treatment centre for patients of Covid-19, which was handed over to the Lagos State to run as a supplement to existing state facilities.

It appears that the Covid-19 outbreak is serving as a wake-up call for the philanthropic sector on the continent, in its important role in helping the new development agenda of the continent. Perhaps this moment of active philanthropy is an opportunity to channel the mobilization of resources for deeper, lasting change.


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