Partnering to Crush the Curve
How does Covid-19 affect African philanthropy? What are the biggest challenges for the philanthropy sector in Kenya? We spoke to Nancy Kairo, Executive Director East Africa Region of the African Venture Philanthropy Alliance (AVPA) and Evans Okinyi, Chief Executive Officer of the East Africa Philanthropy Network (EAPN) about their concerns and how their associations react to the “new normal”.
Kenya was among the first countries that closed their borders and confined the citizens to their houses. Yet rules like social distancing or frequent hand washing are next to impossible to follow in slums or informal settlements where many people are cramped in very small living spaces and clean running water is hard/impossible to access. In rural areas, clean water is also a scarce resource. And still, the restrictions were successful as to date the number of infected people and the death toll have been relatively low (confirmed infections: 6,941 and 152 deaths according to the data of the Johns Hopkins Corona Virus Resource Center, July 1, 2020). Yet, people in Kenya and other poor countries are more likely to go hungry than to become infected by COVID. Millions of workers have lost their jobs and thus have no income for basic needs.
Emergency aid started quickly
According to Nancy Kairo (AVPA) and Evans Okinyi (EAPN), foundations and the philanthropy sector in general immediately jumped in and started to support the people who were most affected by the lockdown by distributing vouchers or cash for food and basic goods. The government of Kenya also reacted quickly and began to partner with the Third Sector and corporations to coordinate emergency aid.
While various international organisations have joined forces with national coalition initiatives to fight the spread of COVID-19, local Kenyan philanthropists seem to prefer to work directly in the communities. Evans Okinyi attributes this trend to the fact that local philanthropists are more interested in visibility and social recognition of their efforts than international foundations that prefer to operate in the background. The latter have adopted a certain “wait and see” approach as they wait for the government to announce specific emergency measures, observed Nancy Kairo: “We have to deal with a moving target” and, she says, “many fear that the worst is yet to come.”
Both Okinyi and Kairo think that the COVID-crisis was a catalyst for better cooperation and partnership among foundations and other philanthropists as well as between the government, the philanthropic and the private sector. They consider this to be a “silver lining” of the crisis and hope to see more collaboration even as the country moves into a post COVID phase. Both AVPA and EAPN have re-prioritised their 2020 strategic plans to address the unique needs of their respective constituents during this pandemic.
A major part of the work of both associations is to build the ecosystem around philanthropic and social investing. Along with the rest of the world, AVPA and EAPN have therefore had to move all their physical convenings and programmes onto virtual platforms. An advantage of going digital is that it is easier to include more stakeholders. However, the flip side of this “coin” is that internet connectivity is sometimes unreliable and some partners do not have the necessary equipment to work online. There is an increased need to create platforms and other (new) digital spaces for exchange and opportunities for various players to learn from each other.
Fighting fake news
Last but not least, clear communication has become even more important. Nancy Kairo calls attention to the need for verifiable and accurate information to counter fake news that is easily spread over different social media platforms. Both associations plan to carry out surveys and studies to provide reliable information for funders. AVPA's philanthropy landscape study, a project planned even before the COVID-19 pandemic, will be published shortly. EAPN permanently supplements and extends its database on philanthropy in East Africa.
Although the focus of COVID related funding in Kenya and Germany may be somewhat different, foundations in both countries face a similar challenge: How to allocate funds fairly and transparently given the huge demand and urgency. The decision on what specific challenge to fund and how to select grantees troubles many foundations. AVPA’s and EAPN’s members and partners have expressed concerns about ensuring flexibility and application processes that are not too bureaucratic while maintaining fairness. Nancy Kairo and Evans Okinyi praise the philanthropic sector for their prompt response and uncomplicated reaction to the emergency and the shifting needs of their grantees and society as a whole.
A concern shared by Evans Okinyi and Nancy Kairo is the funding perspective of their own associations: Nancy Kairo says that AVPA's funders have re-prioritised and, to a certain extent, re-strategised future plans even while they continue to support grantees in the short term. Evans Okinyi fears that funders' focus might shift away from supporting ecosystem builders like EAPN. Nevertheless, both emphasise that their capacity for coordinating and facilitating collaboration has been widely recognised during the crisis. Hence the crisis has strengthened AVPA and EAPN in a way.
In Kenya, like in Germany and anywhere else in the world, the question that primarily causes uncertainty for funders is: How will the pandemic unfold? Will the number of infections increase exponentially? Is the worst yet to come? Will there be a second wave of COVID-19 or can funders start to focus on a return to normal, or rather the “new normal” - an expression that apparently has become part of the globally used vocabulary?
For more background information on how various organisations across Africa are responding to COVID-19, please listen to #CrushtheCurve webinar recordings hosted by AVPA and Sankalp Dialogue.
African Venture Philanthropy Alliance (AVPA)
The African Venture Philanthropy Alliance (AVPA) is a Pan-African networking organisation, focused on strategically augmenting social investments across Africa by directing the flow of financial, intellectual and human capital into addressing Africa’s most pressing social issues.
The primary purpose is to help the entire continuum of social investors (philanthropists, private equity investors, debt providers, CSR programmes, foundations, government agencies ,and DFIs) to deploy their resources in a more collaborative and catalytic manner in order to achieve exponential social impact. AVPA believes in the transformative power of social investment and a disciplined approach to the deployment of capital that increases transparency and accountability. Effective social investment can generate significant impact through different types of innovative organizations yielding different financial returns- from negative (grants) to low (loans) to full market rates (impact investments.)
East Africa Philanthropy Network (EAPN)
The East Africa Philanthropy Network (EAPN), formerly the East Africa Association of Grant-makers (EAAG), is a voluntary membership association that brings together Trusts and Foundations in the East Africa region with the aim of promoting philanthropy. The EAPN membership is drawn from Family Trusts, Community Foundations, Corporate Foundations and other types of grant-making and non-grant-making organizations interested in promoting local philanthropy in East Africa.