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Philanthropy is like dating…

March 6, 2010

If you want to meet new people stop hanging out in the same old bars!

I’ve been glad to see the self-reflection going on in the social entrepreneurship space about diversity and more specifically, the lack of diversity among social entrepreneurs.

As one Skoll blogger put it, is it that only White men are innovative?

When there is a bit of colour (not that there aren’t any White Africans),   majority of the Africans on the roster of the major fellowship organizations have had the good fortune of receiving Western educations at some point in their careers.

So, why is it that those selecting social entrepreneurs to nurture and support are having such a hard time finding Africans on the continent who are creating valuable social ventures?

This is where my dating analogy comes in.

Recruiters of social entrepreneurs have been hanging out in the same bars and have been meeting the same potential fellows.  Those bars are, for the most part, located in North America and Western Europe.

The major, and I think potentially harmful, result of this is that there is a serious dearth of African social entrepreneurs being supported in their innovations for Africa.  Instead we are perpetuating the same old formula where Westerners come up with solutions for African problems and try to deploy them on Africans who have given varying levels of consent.(I smell another blog post coming!)

And while I’m at it I should point out that diversity is not just different skin colour, its also different lived experiences.  This, I think, is where the rubber meets the road.  Its one thing to have someone like me, Western educated, teaching at an American university, and able to speak the language of social entrepreneurship.  It’s entirely another thing to have someone who hasn’t left Nairobi, or a rural village, and to identify them and support their community transforming work.  These amazing social entrepreneurs are there all across Africa and I would love to see them recognized.

To find such entrepreneurs you’re going to need to get on an airplane and go to where they are, spend time with them and the communities they serve, and figure out, from the bottom up, what kind of help and support they need.  It may not look like the traditional networking package offered by the usual social entrepreneur fellowships.  I don’t know what it looks like but we need to get bigger ears and keep them to the ground.

Diversifying the field of social entrepreneurship requires a deep deep commitment to diversity.  One that goes beyond rhetoric and that is willing to put money where the mouth is.  Investing in offices and recruitment officers on the African continent who will traverse the various countries in search of amazing Africans who are silently transforming their communities.

My question is whether the funders of social entrepreneurs are willing to truly and really engage. To commit their resources to visiting different bars on different continents?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Naya Mondo permalink
    March 20, 2010 12:06 PM

    This discussion reminds me of Binyavanga Wainaina’s article on How to Write about Africa!

  2. Jade permalink
    April 13, 2010 1:41 AM

    I have been reading your blog with alot of admiration and indeed i agree with most of what you say here. i however feel there is a piece missing in this conversation, when us as Africans living in Africa continue to perpetually depend on the west and continue judging them on the ways they attempt to help, given the mistakes they make while trying to do so. where is the voice of African philanthropic men and women??? (both white and black). when we say that there is a big divide between the rich and the poor its to mean there are those who are really rich in our continent, where is their contribution to finding African solutions for African problems from a point of knowledge and not ignorance?

  3. January 25, 2012 5:09 PM

    I agree, I love Wainaina’s work!!
    And yes, we do need more voices of African philanthropists. These are starting to emerge. I attended the Association of East African Grantmakers conference in Arusha in 2011 and it was wonderful to see a room full of philanthropic practitioners engaged with the issues!

  4. Wawira permalink
    May 3, 2012 6:16 AM

    Hey Wanjiru, you might want to look at an organization called Spark* for this one. They are at They’re working with some amazing changemakers in PNG andSouth Africa and starting in Kenya next year. Let me know what you think.


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