Transcript of Keynote Address by Ndidi Nwuneli
October 9, 2022

Mosun Layode

Good morning, Ndidi, it is an honour to have you on day two of the 3rd African Philanthropy Conference. As you know, today we are focusing on technology and systems in philanthropic practices, and we could not be having this conversation with a more qualified person. Welcome.  

Just to go straight to the point, technology has significantly changed the way the world works and has radically transformed the philanthropic sector in the last decade. You have been a leader in the development and philanthropic space for over two decades, what are some of the changes you have seen that have enhanced the practice of philanthropy, especially regarding the democratisation of philanthropy?


Ndidi Nwuneli

Delighted to be here, and congratulations to you and the entire team on the successful conference.

Well, I think technology has been such a great tool and an addition to that philanthropic landscape from three lenses. Number one, it has improved the efficiency and effectiveness of engagement with grantees, beneficiaries, and partners. With technological tools, you do not have to have physical meetings anymore as we know, you can engage virtually through all sorts of tools, but you can also ensure communication, data gathering, and M&E in ways that you could never have imagined. It has allowed us to engage with beneficiaries, partners, and core funders in amazing ways. It has improved the efficiency and effectiveness of engagement.


I want to zero in on this, historically, we would depend on good stories, a few good stories from the fields to show we are making an impact. Today we have baselines, midlines, and end-lines, and we have rigorous data technology that allows us to review large amounts of big data, look at trends, and look at control groups, to understand whether we are making a difference in the medium, short, or long term. It also allows us to understand what the unintended consequences of our philanthropic work are, especially when we engage control groups.

We are seeing this in Nigeria through a project with the Gates Foundation where we are engaging with nomadic communities in the dairy sector and are using technology to measure the impact of our interventions. The donor can see this data in real-time sitting in Seattle, while we are in Lagos, Abuja, or any of the states in Nigeria that have this data. All our extension workers have cell phones, and they can collect this data in real time. So, it allows you to really, truly understand the impact of your interventions.


The third I would say is that it allows for learning knowledge management, and knowledge sharing. Historically, our sector has been very bad at knowledge management, learning, unlearning, understanding failures, and documenting all of It. Technology allows us to document in ways that we never imagined. It allows for knowledge sharing, the understanding of what has worked, and what hasn’t, but also sharing that globally. Knowledge management is passed down between your staff within the philanthropic community, stakeholders, and all sorts of intermediaries. For me, technology has been an extremely useful tool that has galvanized that sector to change the way that we work, allowed us to build bridges with each other, and allowed us to also improve on our impact measure our impact, and where we need to change, pivot.


Mosun Layode

Thanks a lot, Ndidi, I think that is a great way to start this conversation. You have already started touching on the aspects of the next question, and that is really around the key role that philanthropy can play in building a robust civil society in Africa. This cannot possibly happen without technology adoption. So, what can philanthropists and foundations do to ensure a progressive sector that leverages trends and disrupts existing norms that basically stifle growth in this sector?


Ndidi Nwuneli

I think philanthropists, especially African philanthropists, are catalysts. They can take risks, they have patient capital, they understand the landscape, and they can bring in unusual suspects. This is the time to leverage technology to go beyond the normal way we have engaged in to find new partners in the field and strengthen their capacity. I would like to suggest that we do this through three tiers. Number one is really looking to find those unusual actors who are already problem solvers in our communities and making a bet on them.

That is why I am so excited about the technology tool that APF has created the start point, which allows you to find those actors at the rural level, and urban level, working in areas such as democracy and human rights versus nutrition, and agriculture, you know, all sorts of issues, finding those ones who are already starting, making a difference and taking a bet on them. Using technology to take a bet on them.

Now, when we find them, the second step is that we have to invest in building their capacity. There is no civil society organisation, or nonprofit organisation that is ready-made. We have talked about technology, they need to adapt technology, leverage innovation, and also think out of the box. They need the right philanthropic partners who are willing to take that risk to work alongside them as they build. I think philanthropists have to change the mindset that, if you are looking for ready-made phenomenal, award-winning grantees who are ready to scale, you are coming to this with the wrong lens. Come to it as a partner who says, I am going to hold your hand, and together we are going to learn and grow. I trust you because you work at the grassroots, I trust you because you are efficient because you deliver impact, and I am going to work with you to scale. That commitment and capacity support to putting in place the systems, structures, and investing in these civil society organisations is critical.

The third piece is really working with philanthropic partners to tell stories, positive stories about critical change. Many times, philanthropists like to tell stories, and they like to celebrate the impact. However, how do you work alongside your grantee and civil society partner to ensure that they are telling the stories, leveraging technology and innovation, showing the data, and they are changing mindsets? Because guess what, if we can have these success stories amplified on the global stage, it changes the way people view Africans. Africans solving their own problems, homegrown solutions, delivering impact at scale in an efficient and effective way with measurable outcomes and data to back it up. That would be a win, and I think it is time for us to look at the full spectrum of interventions, and the role of catalytic financing as partnerships, as investors, and as storytellers. If I can add one more, we need philanthropists who are willing to partner with civil society organisations to shape policy and ensure that we have ecosystem changes. These success stories can be amplified to shape policy, where government officials see it as a win and adopt these interventions at scale to amplify the impact across sectors. We need this urgently in all our countries. I am excited to see what the philanthropists listening in can do by changing their mindsets and working in partnership with local organisations.


Mosun Layode

Perfect Ndidi. I love the last point that you just shared about philanthropy partnering with civil society to shape policy and it leads me to what I am about to discuss next. It is really around the concept of systems change. We know that when we talk about systems change, we are looking at how we can solve problems in a holistic manner. We have to look at the entire value chain when we are solving problems. It is not one person, one foundation and one philanthropist alone, one nonprofit alone cannot solve problems. The concept of systems change is gaining traction in the philanthropic community. There is increasing recognition of the need, you know, for us to apply systems thinking to solving problems on the African continent. More importantly, we are having this long overdue conversation, which I know you are passionate about, and it is around the decolonisation of philanthropy. So how will all these parts work together to radically shift thinking and the practices that would channel the path to the future of philanthropy in Africa?


Ndidi Nwuneli

Well, as you know, I am very, very passionate about systems change. But I am also very passionate about philanthropists, pooling their resources, and knowledge together to affect change. I can assure you that we are starting to see that in our landscape, and I will just give an example because I think examples are very powerful ways to show systems change. As you know, I am the founder of LEAP Africa, which is 20 this year. LEAP stands for Leadership Effectiveness, Accountability, and Professionalism. What we have seen is unusual funders coming together to support LEAP’s work and scale it in the education and social innovation landscape. I will use a classic example of a local philanthropist, the Sahara Foundation that basically said, we see the work you have been doing, and we want to scale it up to the countries where we work beyond Nigeria. We want to ensure that we support social innovators by giving them the skills, the tools, and the support to scale their work, but also shape policy. Now, Sahara Foundation came in after they had seen funders like Ford Foundation, Mastercard Foundation, and international funders support us over the years. But now a local philanthropist came in and said, we are now going to help you scale this social innovation work across other African countries.


When you see philanthropists working together, leaving their egos and logos behind and saying, how can we amplify work? But also, how can we ensure that we invest in social change agents in countries that are shaping policy that are doing the real hard, difficult work, and addressing wicked problems? That just gladdens my heart because it changes the way we have been talking about our homegrown solutions. It says, yes, maybe international philanthropists sowed the seeds, but now it is local philanthropists who are amplifying the work and extending the impact, and that is important.


Beyond that, where we do invest in social innovators, then how do we pull our resources and our strengths together to say let us give them the skills and tools to shape policy? In LEAP’s case, we are trying to shape policy in the area of education, we are trying to shape it in terms of youth development, and we are trying to shape policy in the area of social innovation and scaling and addressing many of the unemployment challenges, but also teacher education at federal, state and local levels, and then spreading this curriculum. We now have the curriculum in Amharic, in Swahili, and we are converting it to French so that we can trust the Francophone countries. So, when you see fundraising, I see good work. I am going to amplify, shape policy, and work with entrepreneurs and social innovators on the ground who are already doing this. It just gives me so much joy and it is happening not fast enough.


We need to push a lot more on this and get philanthropists to work together in a more cohesive manner, and not be afraid of getting out there to shape policy. Many philanthropists say, ‘I do not want to rattle feathers, I want governments to like me’. I say, you do not have to be at the forefront of its work through social change agents, let them be at the forefront. You do not have to get into the murky waters with the government, you know. Many philanthropists say I do not do advocacy or politicking. No, but we need an enabling environment for education and healthcare, and if we do not have it, we cannot affect the lasting change we want. So please work through the local social change agents who are ready to take on the difficult and wicked problems, empower them, support them, and work alongside other philanthropists, and we will have so much more to celebrate as a sector over time.


Mosun Layode

Awesome that you started talking about LEAP Africa, and congratulations on the 20th anniversary. You wear so many hats. You are a social entrepreneur, launched so many initiatives, is the Executive Chair of Sahale Consulting, the co-founder of ACE foods, on the board of the Rockefeller Foundation, and proudly on the board of the African Philanthropy Forum you know, and you have your own family foundation Munna, which you just shared with us about a short while ago. What key points would you leave with the different groups in the audience? I think you have spoken a lot to the philanthropist, and possibly the foundation CEOs as well. But if there is more to add, I would appreciate that. But beyond that group, what would you say to the nonprofit leaders that are here? What would you say to the academics, and you know, other stakeholders in this philanthropic community that are joining us for this conference?


Ndidi Nwuneli

Well, I have a few key messages for different audiences, and I will start with academia. I think academia has such an important role to play not only in strengthening the sector for philanthropists and civil society organisations but also in ensuring knowledge management data, the case studies are well written, and the research is done that is homegrown. We need more homegrown research for our sector, and you have an important gap to fill in this landscape. We need to see those case studies that we can use, not only to inspire ourselves, but we can also use to change mindsets globally. So, academia, your work is cut out for you.


Now for the civil society organisations. I think this is the time for Africans to take their rightful place in the development landscape. At the African Philanthropy Forum, we say, Africans for Africa, but it is not enough to say that we have to act, which means we have to reclaim our place in shaping the agenda for our continent. We are facing another crisis now, the food crisis. We often see international organisations crowding us out, and I get so frustrated, and I am sure you do too in your sector when you go to conferences and convenings, and you see people who are not from your network, speaking on your behalf and shaping policy for you. Enough is enough, we have to reclaim those spaces, no one is going to hand you the space, you have to take it. That means you have to write, you have to write op-eds, you have to get out there and demonstrate that you are delivering impact. That means you have to deliver with excellence, your team members have to have integrity and excellence at their work, and you have to amplify your stories by telling your stories on local and global platforms, using hard data to prove the impact you are having. When failures come, own up and use them as a learning example for others in the sector. You also need to work with each other. The time is now for us to work as a collective to drive social change.


Now for the philanthropists and the foundations in the room, you have to work with us and give us the benefit of the doubt to ensure that with your catalytic funding, we can take risks and we can deliver impact. That means you have to change the way you have worked in the past with African philanthropists. You have to engage with us as partners and mentor us as we work alongside you. But also, be prepared to learn from us. We have a lot to teach you and be open to learning, shaping the way you work and changing. Dialogue is key, humility is even more important, but collaboration is the key. I love to quote an African proverb that says If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far go with others, and I have tweaked it a little to say we must go fast and far together. There is no time to just go fast, we need to go fast and far. If we are going to go fast and far, we need to lead with integrity and humility, leaving our egos and logos at the door and working with excellence and integrity to deliver impact. I look forward to celebrating with many more of you as we embrace technology and envisage the social change we can deliver together as we put local organisations at the forefront. Thank you so much.


Mosun Layode

Thank you, Ndidi, this is a great start to Day two. I am so excited, and I actually like that quote as well. ‘Fast and far together’. Thank you for making the time to kick-start day two and for all the work you do in the development space. Have a wonderful day.


Ndidi Nwuneli

Thank you so much Mosun and congratulations to you all.