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Published On: Fri, Aug 15th, 2014

The lessons of philanthropy

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By Raheem Oluwafunminiyi

A number of significant wealthy billionaires bestride the Nigerian socio-political space like a Colossus. Interestingly, the wealthiest black man in the world is a Nigerian. To make the discourse the more startling, the wealthiest black woman in the world is also a Nigerian while several others who we do not even know or hear of top the billionaire list. Not surprising though, many of our wealthy personalities have placed much premium on using their wealth to either massage the ego of political stalwarts and friends, promote political schisms or even go as far as intimidate people who depend on them for survival. Some are known to go the extra mile to flaunt their wealth through the acquisition of fast and flashy cars, building of castles in Aso-Rock and even marrying new wives to add to the already saturated number of legitimate harems in their household.

While this writer is not in any way opposed to how wealthy individuals should spend or use their wealth, they in fact should in whatever way they deem appropriate, yet it is known that this wealth is usually amassed at the expense of the very mass of the poor. Today’s billionaires cannot take away the importance of the millions of people around the world who serve as potential clients of the products they sell, one which ultimately adds monetary value to the pockets of big business corporations owned by these billionaires. Without ‘us’ there cannot be ‘them’ and so when an individual becomes wealthy through the people, it is expedient and mostly imperative for the latter to do same by giving back to that society in many ways.

Rather than engage in charity works, what a number of our billionaires in this part of the world does is to keep accumulating wealth and do it at the expense of wealth itself. They accumulate so much wealth that they turn out not to know how to spend it (to quote a one-time politician) and at the end die without taking a dime with them to the grave. Our penchant for primitive accumulation of wealth, especially at the detriment of the society we live is part of the reasons there exist a wide disconnect between the have and have not around us. Such accumulated wealth becomes so huge that it turns out to be our worst nightmare that we begin to fear the next man who we think has an evil intent even when such fear is unwarranted.

There is a growing movement today which has taken up the banner of social justice and ultimately sparked a golden age of philanthropy unseen since the days of Rockefeller, Carnegie and Morgan. A recent study conducted at Boston College discovered that 0.22 per cent of families with incomes of $1 million or more contributed about 13 per cent of charitable giving in the United States. Accordingly, the number of grant-giving foundations since the early 1980s doubled from a paltry 22,000 to some 65,000 today. This should not be a surprise to many as our contemporary international political system have inadvertently been transformed with the power many states wield supplanted by powerful and emergent non-state actors who use their clout and influence in ways beneficial to mankind. These actors have today come to see the many challenges faced by humanity as theirs and as such have made it a point of duty to pull resources together to make our world a better place. Among this actors are wealthy individuals who through business sense, entrepreneurship and capitalism have emerged as leading philanthropists, using their wealth to address challenges that otherwise go largely unaddressed by the State. A typical example is Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft Corporation who helped pioneer ‘catalytic philanthropy’, an idea whose aim was not just to give money but fuel ideas that work, discarding those that don’t and expecting a tangible return on investment measured in social impact. This systematic problem-solving initiative have not only transformed the paradigm of non-profit work but also heralded social change and helped produce public policy tools on a scale never seen before.

Bill Gates is one of the biggest philanthropists in the world and just in 2010; the Gates Foundation launched alongside Warren Buffet the Giving Pledge which served as a commitment among the world’s wealthiest to pull a bulk of their wealth into philanthropy. Happily and since 2010 when the initiative was launched, over 125 individuals and families have bought into the idea. This is simply to help fight a number of causes around the world.

Back to Nigeria, one can hardly hear of such pretty initiatives pioneered by our wealthy class. Unlike most Americans who share the desire to help their fellow man, the wealthy class in Nigeria see this as an uncharitable venture. This writer, after a brief research, recently discovered that a paltry number of foundations set up by our wealthy class exist today in Nigeria. Top on the list include Tony Elumelu, Toyin Saraki, Aliko Dangote, TY Danjuma, Sir Emeka Offor Foundations, to mention a few. Each of these foundations or charitable organisations was set up primarily to address many of the challenges our society faces today. An interesting personality to look at is Gen. TY Danjuma, a onetime Minister of Defence, who is believed to be Nigeria’s biggest philanthropist. His foundation, The TY Danjuma Foundation is arguably one of Africa’s largest charities set up with a $100 million endowment to “champion and promote causes in education, free healthcare, policy advocacy and poverty alleviation”.

Sir Offor was said to have donated a total of $1million to Rotary International. He also committed another $1million last month to fight Polio in the three remaining endemic countries of Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. His singular contribution has earned him the title of First Polio Ambassador in Nigeria. His philanthropic gestures are not limited to cash donations as according to sources, he is involved among others in massive educational initiatives like the Book For Africa project which helps to supply books to countries around the world through generous funding from individuals. Sir Offor is known as the largest donor in the history of Books For Africa, and the largest private sector donor in the history of the programme.

Today, philanthropy is meeting the needs that government and private sector have not. These individuals have not only led a movement capable of bringing much succour to the world but also played a critical role in advancing human progress. Today, the wealth we so much crave for and lustfully accumulate remains immaterial if we cannot channel them towards charitable ventures. There are a number of challenges we face as a people in Nigeria yet it is a truism that government cannot solve them all alone. It is the duty of these individuals who have more than enough to fill the yawning egap.

Our wealthy class owes it a duty to understand that the culture of ‘me’ and ‘thyself’ alone cannot bring fulfilled happiness and lifelong comfort. The reason we are faced with myriads of challenges in Nigeria today is because of the lack of love and it is until we all go back to our traditional culture of giving even when we have little, we may continue to run afoul of what is required of us not only as humans but as true children of God.

Raheem Olufunmiyi via


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