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Individual Giving: Inspiring and Leading Change

by Mzamo Masito, Sarah Collins, Didi Mogashoa 

Philanthropy is most often associated with big names and big money, the distant domain of foundations and billionaires. But, in Africa, a culture of giving is part of the fabric of our lives and our communities. The word ‘philanthropy’ is derived from the Greek terms ‘to love’ and ‘human being’. Understanding philanthropy in this broader sense – as a simple love of humanity – opens many opportunities for ordinary people to get involved in helping their communities on a small scale, and to understand that what they are doing is indeed philanthropy. Creating and supporting sustainable solutions is not restricted to large financial investments; it is also a matter of building on community values.

Mzamo Masito, Sarah Collins and Didi Mogashoa are three South Africans who have grown small social initiatives into drivers of social change. Through their experiences the three have learnt many lessons about the nature of philanthropy in South Africa and how small actions of support can be most effective.

Mzamo Masito is managing executive and Africa brand lead of Vodacom. He is also the founder of African Men Care, an organisation that provides mentorship and financial support for schooling to young people. Masito grew up surrounded by people in his community caring for one another. He believes that encouraging philanthropy on a small scale begins with redefining the term and recognising the numerous philanthropic activities that many people are already involved in for what they are, to enable a more holistic view.

‘So many people in townships and rural areas take care of others and help their families and communities on a daily, informal basis,’ he says, ‘but they do not see what they do as “philanthropy”: to them it is simply ubuntu. We need to find other words, such as “communal” or “good citizenship”, that will give philanthropy more meaning in an African context and on a smaller scale.’ He believes too that it is important to change the perception that it is only once people have become “well-off” that they can give back. ‘Particularly in an African context,’ Masito notes, ‘talent and time are more valuable than rands and cents.’

The goal is scalability: growing small initiatives into bigger, more effective organisations. Masito notes that, at a grassroots level, there are many overlaps, with many small organisations attempting to accomplish the same goals. ‘The idea is bigger than the organisation,’ he states categorically, encouraging small groups to grow by joining others that do similar work.

Pursuing any growth comes with challenges. Masito has seen in his own work that scalability is difficult for small NPOs if the fundamentals are not in place. ‘Often, there is a lack of knowledge and administrative education, and hiring professional skills or services such as accounting, administration or tax is expensive.’ To this end Masito advocates government support of community-based organisations in the same way it has been done for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) through relaxed regulations and other means. ‘We should be assisting the people who are already doing these things on a small scale.’

Sarah Collins agrees on the importance of scalability, and that a sustainable business model is crucial. Collins is the creator of the Wonderbag – a non-electric, portable slow cooker. For Collins it was important to do something in her community that addressed a root cause of poverty, so she focused on the disempowerment of women as a result of a lack of time.

Pursuing any growth comes with challenges. Masito has seen in his own work that scalability is difficult for small NPOs if the fundamentals are not in place. ‘Often, there is a lack of knowledge and administrative education, and hiring professional skills or services such as accounting, administration or tax is expensive.’ To this end Masito advocates government support of community-based organisations in the same way it has been done for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) through relaxed regulations and other means. ‘We should be assisting the people who are already doing these things on a small scale.’

Sarah Collins agrees on the importance of scalability, and that a sustainable business model is crucial. Collins is the creator of the Wonderbag – a non-electric, portable slow cooker. For Collins it was important to do something in her community that addressed a root cause of poverty, so she focused on the disempowerment of women as a result of a lack of time.

By freeing rural women from hours spent cooking and collecting firewood, the Wonderbag enables them to participate in the economy and significantly improves their quality of life. The Wonderbag is also manufactured and distributed in local communities, which creates its own cycle of empowerment.

Crucially, Collins explains, the Wonderbag works both for her and for other women at all social levels. ‘As a consumer, if I am using the product and see that it works and that I save a few rands each month on electricity, I can immediately understand the much larger transformative impact it would have on a woman who relies on firewood to do her cooking,’ she clarifies. Experiencing the direct benefit of a Wonderbag establishes an emotional connection for consumers, which encourages them to get involved with the Wonderbag Foundation and donate the product to others.

‘Individual philanthropy is alive and well,’ states Collins. ‘Communities across the world, no matter how disadvantaged, want their neighbours to be successful and live in harmony. People want to do something, but they also want to connect to tangible solutions and see where their money is going. They need to connect with organisations and projects that are really shifting the needle.’

Collins believes firmly in a bottomup approach to development solutions. ‘Positive change happens by listening to communities and hearing what people need.’

Didi Mogashoa epitomises this approach. Growing up in Mamelodi East township in Pretoria, Mogashoa was struck by the difficulties faced by children who could not get to school every day. Echoing Masito’s words, she recalls that, while growing up, their house was always full, because her parents often cared for the children of relatives or neighbours. They did not view this as philanthropy: ‘It was just part of who we were’.

As an adult she moved away and fell out of touch with the day-to-day realities of her former neighbours, but, returning to visit, she saw that old childhood friends were now poverty-stricken parents, unable to provide for their children. Mogashoa began to visit orphanages, schools, community centres and churches in the area to discover what the community felt was most needed to alleviate the poverty.

The result is Didi and Friends, an NPO that raises awareness about underfunded orphanages and charitable projects. It also provides basic supplies and works to educate orphaned and abandoned children. Mogashoa’s objective is to empower children through education and life skills, enabling them to become proactive members of society.

There were challenges: Mogashoa rues not outlining her intentions and her desired outcomes clearly – to herself or the community – when she started Didi and Friends. As a result she spent time on providing day-to-day living necessities, instead of focusing her funds and her time on a more long-term, sustainable activity: investing in and assisting with education.

Like Masito, Mogashoa places high importance on mentoring and building relationships with the children she works with, which motivates them to see beyond their own situations and encourages them to dream of bigger things. She describes one of the most rewarding parts of her involvement as watching children start to do well at school and become more confident.

Mogashoa notes that slight changes, such as having a proper school uniform and shoes, and being able to go on school outings, enable children to see themselves as equal to their school peers. ‘We are passionate about building confident future leaders, but also about creating the freedom for children to simply be kids. A small thing, like a child winning a writing competition against competitors from private schools, shows me the difference that our support is making.’

‘There is room for everyone to be in the philanthropy space,’ says Mogashoa. In becoming involved, however, it is important to communicate and build relationships. Understanding the kind of help that is wanted and needed ensures that the solutions and assistance provided are relevant. And, notes Collins, individual philanthropy encompasses many actions. ‘It’s about building a culture of sustainable giving. Start by shopping with consciousness.’

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