Unleashing the Potential of Philanthropy
July 27, 2023

Written by Purity Mumo


Communities across the globe encounter intricate challenges on a daily basis. These encompass issues like poverty, environmental crises, and limited access to healthcare, to name a few. Such areas demand investment and development, often beyond the capacity of governments alone. Herein lies the paramount significance of philanthropy. It possesses the transformative potential to accelerate progress precisely where it is most needed and support causes that ignite real change in the world. The far-reaching impact of philanthropy benefits individuals, the environment, and society at large, fostering a better world for all.

Moreover, philanthropy wields the power to influence enduring social change. When organizations receive support, a profound “ripple effect” ensues, touching countless lives, and even shaping future generations. Indeed, philanthropy stands as one of the pillars of a resilient society. When people unite to aid others, whether through monetary donations or volunteering time, they reconnect with the essence of humanity. Through these acts, communities forge stronger bonds, paving the way for collective growth and prosperity.

Considering the preceding insights, envision a world where philanthropy embarks on tackling issues that are more significant, reshaping large systems, and influencing cultural narratives such as capitalism, equity, democracy, and systemic racism. In this reality, philanthropy’s boundless potential would be harnessed to drive substantial change.


Influencing systems change:

Systems change is a complex concept with multiple interpretations from various experts, applied across diverse fields. However, there are three fundamental and universally acknowledged elements of systems change. Firstly, it involves addressing policies, procedures, practices, and cultures throughout the entire system, promoting a holistic and transformative approach. Secondly, systems change places great emphasis on amplifying the voices and active participation of those who are served by the system, ensuring inclusivity and responsiveness to diverse perspectives. Lastly, the primary objective of systems change is to improve experiences and outcomes for all stakeholders involved, driving positive advancements and fostering a thriving ecosystem for everyone.

Systems change is currently a burning issue and a prevailing topic of discussion in the philanthropic sector, underscoring its critical importance in driving meaningful impact. Deemed a catalyst for systemic change, philanthropy has at its disposal three distinct approaches: lenses, frameworks, and movements. The first approach involves utilizing a systems change lens, where individual foundations integrate this perspective into their philanthropic mission, effectively driving transformative impact. The second approach centers on adopting shared systems change frameworks, offering guidance and cohesion to philanthropic endeavours and collective investments that align with shared interests. Lastly, philanthropists can contribute by supporting systems change movements, which bring together a diverse array of public and private partners, united in their quest for broad-based and meaningful change.

During the impactful 8th East Africa Philanthropy Conference on systems transformation: catalyzing collective action, hosted in Zanzibar by the East Africa Philanthropy Network for instance, relevant and critical insights emerged:

 “With each step we take to mobilize and unite, the very foundations of systemic injustice and inequality begin to crumble. We ought to harness our diverse abilities, align our actions, and build transformative movements that reshape our world for the better. Addressing social injustice forms the bedrock of sustainable wealth creation, and our pursuit of true prosperity and progress must prioritize equality, justice, and inclusivity within our economic systems.”Evans Okinyi, CEO of East Africa Philanthropy Network (EAPN)

He noted that building movements are a collective endeavor, where the synergy of our diverse skills and efforts is essential. It transcends the notion of merely shifting individual needles; instead, it entails mobilizing to move entire pillars that uphold the very structures of society.

In this visionary world, philanthropy goes beyond addressing isolated issues and ventures into tackling grand challenges that have far-reaching impacts on our planet and humanity. For instance, philanthropic organizations dedicate resources and expertise to combat climate change, environmental degradation, poverty, and global health crises.

True philanthropy goes beyond creating superficial comforts for the elite and recognizes the urgent need to disrupt the global systems of production and knowledge reproduction. When philanthropy fails to address these critical issues, it unwittingly becomes a treacherous accomplice of domination, imperialism, and capitalism, perpetuating inequalities and hindering genuine progress.” – Brian Kagoro of Open Society Foundations.

Reimagining Capitalism:

Philanthropy is a powerful instrument in shaping attitudes, values, and beliefs. It holds the potential to exert a revolutionary influence on capitalism through strategic actions and investments. By directing funding towards businesses that prioritize ethical practices and sustainability, philanthropy can shape business norms and encourage the adoption of responsible capitalism. Additionally, through impact investing, philanthropic organizations can align their financial strategies with social goals, driving change in the financial markets and promoting a more conscious approach to capitalism that considers both financial returns and positive social impact.

Furthermore, philanthropy can advocate for policy changes that address social and economic inequalities within the capitalist system. By supporting initiatives focused on fair wages, workers’ rights, and environmental sustainability, philanthropy can contribute to a more equitable economic landscape. Moreover, philanthropy’s collaboration with corporations can influence how corporate resources are deployed for social initiatives, ensuring that corporate philanthropy becomes strategic and impactful. By investing in research and advocacy efforts, philanthropy can further elevate the discourse on the role of capitalism in society, stimulating informed discussions and promoting alternatives that foster a more inclusive and sustainable economic system.


Upholding Democracy:

Philanthropy is a positive force within a democracy, offering mechanisms to counterbalance the “tyranny of the majority” and empowering minority voices to influence public discourse and policy decisions. Philanthropy holds the state accountable, identifies gaps in service delivery, and promotes innovative approaches to societal challenges. Furthermore, it plays a vital role in bridging social and political divisions, fostering constructive dialogue and compromise in liberal democracies. Its investment in experimentation and innovation drives social change and progress, ultimately strengthening democratic values and creating a more equitable and inclusive society.


Confronting Systemic Racism:

In the fight against systemic racism, philanthropy plays a crucial role in supporting initiatives that address racial inequalities and promote social justice. By providing funding and resources to organizations led by Black and minority leaders, philanthropy empowers those at the forefront of dismantling racial disparities within communities. Through targeted investments, philanthropic institutions contribute to the development and implementation of innovative solutions that challenge systemic racism and uplift marginalized populations.

Furthermore, philanthropy acts as a catalyst for change by amplifying marginalized voices and experiences. By funding research, advocacy, and community-based programs, philanthropy enables marginalized communities to articulate their needs and aspirations, making their concerns more visible and influential in policy-making processes. It also engages in strategic partnerships and collaborations to leverage collective efforts in combating systemic racism. By working alongside grassroots organizations, advocacy groups, and social justice movements, philanthropy strengthens the impact of its investments and contributes to broader coalitions dedicated to dismantling systemic inequalities.

Additionally, philanthropy has the flexibility to respond quickly to urgent needs and emergencies. During times of crisis, philanthropic institutions can mobilize resources swiftly to support communities disproportionately affected by racial injustices, providing essential relief and empowerment. Overall, philanthropy’s role in confronting systemic racism is multifaceted, encompassing financial support, amplification of marginalized voices, strategic partnerships, and rapid response mechanisms. By committing to address racial inequities, philanthropy plays a critical part in building a more just and equitable society for all.



In light of the foregoing, philanthropy is currently at a crucial turning point, characterized by significant and far-reaching events that require creative and forward-looking responses. The global and regional crises, like the COVID-19 pandemic, have displayed the sector’s ability to offer solutions and adapt to unprecedented challenges. Nevertheless, they have also exposed inequalities within the ecosystem, prompting the need for purposeful transformation and flexibility. The landscape of African philanthropy is undergoing distinctive shifts, encompassing factors like localization, a south-south approach, and harnessing local resources for effective mobilization. To address these changes effectively, the sector must be nimble, strategic, and innovative. Pressing concerns like climate change, governance, and technology play a pivotal role in shaping the future of philanthropy in Africa, presenting an opportune moment for thoughtful and purpose-driven actions. Join us at the 4th African Philanthropy Conference and the second African Philanthropy Academic Conference in Senegal, where we will collectively explore actionable approaches and essential tools to drive the transformative change we all yearn for – our aspirations call for such convergences.