A New Movement in Philanthropy - Acumen

A New Movement in Philanthropy

By Acumen on February 08, 2012

Candidates for the Acumen Fund East Africa Fellows Program

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Blair Miller’s blog on February 5, 2012


I have spent the majority of my professional career working in emerging markets and one of the reasons I love what I do is because I know I am on the cutting edge of innovation.  Every time I go to Kenya, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, or South Africa, I am fascinated and energized by the amount of innovation coming out of these regions.  My late mentor C.K. Prahalad deeply understood this and it is captured in his paper The Innovation Sandbox.   But C.K. is certainly not alone.  Mckinsey recently published the report entitled “Lions on the Move” about the huge market potential and innovation coming out of the African continent.  And there is an incredible Ted Talk on the hot bed of innovations in India. I could go on and on and if you spend time in these regions you know exactly what I am talking about.

But, my recent excitement is not only about business model innovation it is about philanthropic innovation.  Due to the rise in income in many individuals in these regions a group of philanthropists are emerging, mostly business leaders, who are developing new models of philanthropy and innovating in exciting ways.  Please note: I don’t want to discount that philanthropy has always been a part of these economies, as the majority of people do give back on a daily basis, in particular to their home communities (I highlight this in a recent blog about my trip to Nigeria).  But, I do believe something different is happening.

To put this in perspective, some examples I have seen are the MTN Foundation (creating a very strategic model for CSR with real metrics) and The Tony Elumelu Foundation (focusing on impact investing and human capital) based in Nigeria, the Praekelt Foundation (leveraging mobile technology to improve health outcomes in Africa) based in South Africa, and Nilekani ID Project based in India (here is a great article on this rising phenomenon in India).

What makes these philanthropists and their models unique is that they deeply know their markets (compared to many outside philanthropists or foundations) and, in addition, many of these leaders are one or two generations out of poverty which allows them to personally understand development and the limitations of traditional aid. In fact, many of these leaders are favoring trade vs. aid.  See Ngozi Okonjo Iweala’s Ted talk and check out Dambisa Moyo’s book “Dead Aid”).

There must be a movement to build more partnerships between western donors and non-profits and local philanthropists and foundations, as there are shared learnings that these collaborations can create.  We have experienced this first hand in the Acumen Fund Regional Fellows Programs (East Africa, India, Pakistan, and West Africa).  We have committed to raising the majority of capital for these programs locally and over the long term our plan is that all of this capital will come from local sources.  In order to do this, we found an amazing partnership with the Edmond De Rothschild Foundations whose global capital was able to galvanize and compliment the support of local capital.  As a result, the Regional Fellows Program was launched in partnership with the Edmond De Rothschild Foundations and Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB).   Working with KCB and Rothschild has taught us a tremendous amount around global and local collaborations, using culturally relevant language, and leveraging a local and global brand to build local credibility and networks.  This experience has made us recognize that non-profits have to not only be willing to listen to the poor in the regions in which they work but also listen to the wealthy.  These collaborative partnerships will ask us to iterate on our models and develop new ones.  This is hard but, speaking from experience, I know our program in East Africa would not be what it is today without the synergy between Acumen Fund, KCB, and Rothschild.

So as this emerging market philanthropic movement takes place Western philanthropists and non-profits must take advantage of this opportunity to grow and learn by forging partnerships and raising local capital.  These types of collaborations have the opportunity to unlock scalable new models for social change that truly represent the global community we all imagine.

Blair Miller is focused on developing Acumen Fund’s work in leadership, and she leads all of Acumen Fund’s Fellows programs including our flagship Global Fellows Program and our expanded regional Fellows programs which operate in East Africa today and will soon operate in all of Acumen Fund’s geographies. Blair holds an MBA from the University of Michigan and a BA from the University of Virginia. Follow her on Twitter @_BlairMiller.

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