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Africa Grantmakers' Affinity Group connects funders

The world's newest country, the Republic of South Sudan, presents challenges for international grantmakers, particularly those who are currently funding on the African continent or those interested in doing so.

Two obstacles cited by philanthropy leaders are the ongoing tensions that exist between people in the north and those in the south and early signs indicating national leaders are leaning toward using strong-arm rule instead of embracing genuine democracy.

Niamani Mutima is executive director of the Africa Grantmakers' Affinity Group (AGAG), an organization created by a core group of philanthropy leaders, including staff from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Kresge Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

She acknowledges there are challenges to grantmaking in the new nation.

"I'd be real surprised if a lot of funders started working in South Sudan because traditional foundations don't like to go into countries until they are more stable — and it will take a while for that to happen."

AGAG is a nonprofit organization that promotes increased and effective grantmaking throughout Africa — a continent with 54 countries and a billion people.

It takes more than nationhood for grantmakers to enter new geographic funding areas, especially where conditions are still risky for people and resources, says Bhekinkosi Moyo, a Zimbabwean and program director at TrustAfrica, which is an AGAG member.

Still, that doesn't mean funders in Africa aren't willing to take risks, Moyo says, citing the Zimbabwe Alliance. This newer collaboration of funders and advocates began grantmaking in 2010 and is comprised of several AGAG members, including TrustAfrica, which serves as the alliance's fiscal agent.

Alliance members pool their resources to help build and strengthen an active civil society sector. Their goal is to use the sector as a tool for democratic transformation in a nation with a current leader who has been in power for more than 30 years, he says.

AGAG's Mutima has watched the alliance move forward, despite its on-the-ground challenges.

"There is a lot of angst around the fact that President Robert Mugabe seems to be so entrenched in Zimbabwe, yet there are always grantmakers who go into countries in crisis or into post-conflict countries to fund NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) working for change," she said.

Like the alliance, AGAG is a membership organization that offers funders opportunities to share information and experiences through its network. Mutima recites a Nigerian expression to illustrate the importance of such interactions: "Lack of knowledge is darker than night."

Since 2001, AGAG has received five Mott Foundation grants totaling $295,000 through its Civil Society program. Although AGAG is a project of the California-based Tides Center, its membership extends beyond the U.S. to funders based in North America, Europe and Africa.

In all, AGAG has 42 members who support initiatives in every country on the African continent.

But it wasn't always that way. AGAG's roots grew out of a membership group created in the 1980s for funders in one country alone. The group was called South Africa Grantmakers' Affinity Group. It expanded its geographic focus in the 1990s to reach a specific region of the continent and changed its name to the Southern Africa Grantmakers' Affinity Group.

The current name was adopted in 2000. At that time, the group's 19 members agreed to encourage its development as a membership organization that served grantmakers funding throughout the continent. They also decided to hire paid staff — instead of using only volunteer members — to guide the organization.

In late 2001, AGAG hired Mutima, who previously worked for the Africa-America Institute for more than 17 years, traveling back and forth between many African countries and the U.S. to help develop and strengthen African leaders. She also had worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as director of services to the field for a special project called African Training for Leadership and Advanced Skills (ATLAS).

Mutima's extensive knowledge of the continent and connections with its leaders gave her the necessary background to manage AGAG's activities, including coordinating annual retreats and ongoing learning opportunities and commissioning or conducting research on grantmaking issues continentwide, says Andrea Johnson, chairwoman of AGAG's steering committee and program officer for Carnegie.

Sudan AGAG has since hired a second, full-time person. Having full-time staff devoted to handling AGAG's day-to-day activities freed steering committee members to address strategic, long-range issues, such as identifying AGAG's core activities and its organizational goals, Johnson said.

"We wanted to map it out — see who the funders were on the continent and why they were there," she said. "We wanted to ask deeper questions so we could get to the issues behind the numbers."

AGAG's surveys found that grantmakers currently funding in Africa support — among other areas — children and youth, civil society, health and economic development, education, environment, strengthening organizations and institutions and women and gender. Additionally, AGAG's 2011 report — Making the Right Fit: Supporting NGOs in Africa Using Direct and Indirect Funding — explores how funders either make grants to NGOs directly or provide support through intermediary organizations.

In addition to supplying members with the latest news and research findings about grantmaking throughout Africa, AGAG also provides basic information on the same topics to the general public, Johnson says. Through its free online database, individuals and organizations can research AGAG members' profiles to learn which country or countries each member funds in and what issues they support. The public database also provides links to all members' web sites for anyone seeking more funder information.

For Mutima, who sprinkles her conversations with African sayings much like a gourmet chef uses spices and seasonings, AGAG's information about the continent is meant to be shared.

"Wisdom is like fire. People take it from others," she said, quoting a proverb used by the Hema-speaking people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

"Just as important, AGAG membership gives us a circle of professional colleagues who work on the continent and care about its future."

(Note: This report is provided as a service to our readers and a service to the group or individual mentioned in the release. Usually, only minor editing is done. The group or individual is responsible for all information provided.)

 

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