SAVE-OUR-SELVES: A Quick Note on Horizontal Philanthropy, Survival and Development

November 9th, 2020

Words by Alexandra Tokozile Mliswa

3 min read

|

Community Philanthropy

If you have found yourself reading this, I’d like to imagine that you already have a good enough understanding of what philanthropy is. So, I’ll delve into a brief explanation about the ‘horizontal’ part of it all- but of course, not without a little background.Philanthropy was not a new concept to me when I started doing some work at SIVIO Institute for their ‘Phil Lab’ (Philanthropy Lab) mid-2019. My view on philanthropy was centred around the rich giving to the poor or underdeveloped communities waiting to receive grants from your Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations and then, using them to address the social injustice or developmental question of the day. What I have just described is what is known as vertical philanthropy- a top-down system of giving. ‘Giving’ italicized because that’s what philanthropy is.Before this point, it had never occurred to me that philanthropy could be multidirectional. It sounds silly saying it now but honestly, the reality that you didn’t have to be rich to be a philanthropist had never properly occurred to me! neither had it occurred to me that poor people could really help each other and themselves in both moments of dire need (disaster/crisis relief) and in generally improving the quality of their lives (development). -  by this I mean that I hadn’t really accepted 2 important characteristics of horizontal philanthropy -

  1. That community members can meaningfully contribute to the development of their own communities and so improve the quality of their own lives, and
  2. That these community members did not have to be rich in order to do so- the resources they have no matter how limited they think they are would be useful

So, in a nutshell horizontal philanthropy is people of the same income level practising giving amongst themselves. We already have some long-standing examples of this basic notion of pooling of resources in Zimbabwe; - co-operatives, “maRound”, burial societies etc.

Why I’m drawn to the idea of horizontal philanthropy in particular is  because it breathes life into the idea of human agency.

The victim narrative perpetuated by vertical philanthropy is in my view rather grim and a little deterministic. The idea that the poor are completely helpless and, no matter how much they will it, cannot change their own fates doesn’t give us much credit as Africans or as human beings, nor does it speak to the resourceful and entrepreneurial nature of the Zimbabwean people that I have seen over years and that I continue to witness every day.

Let’s bring it back home, apart from various evidence that points to the fact that philanthropy has not only, always existed in African cultures but is actually a part of our identity and societal fabric – it’s important that we make a deliberate mental shift from the idea that we must look up to other people for help and that they must look down to give it but rather to start fostering a culture of looking next to us – and us in turn being looked to.

I am going to avoid getting into an academic discussion about vertical philanthropy vis-à-vis horizontal philanthropy but what I do want to do is to press on how in hard times (which is really all time for the past few years in Zimbabwe – COVID-19 or not) we can only really rely on our communities and also that we are better off doing so.

Let us take the current global climate right now, there is a global pandemic whose full effects are yet to be experienced, together with Zimbabwe’s enduring poor economic state, we might not know what comes next but common sense dictates that whatever we were getting in the way of aid, there will be less of it.

  1. The limited, limited resources – whatever little money there was to go around there is even less now. Aid resources have been redirected towards fighting COVID-19 but other health, food and crisis related problems still exist. Simply put, there wasn’t much to go around to begin with and there is even less now.
  2. The number of aid beneficiaries just went up – with a global crisis, countries that had a stable economy and a relatively stable health care system (China, the United States of America, Italy, Spain) are struggling to cope and those that were already unstable – take Iraq, Iran, Syria and the Niger for example are a lot worse off.
  3. It works! Pooling of resources has been seen to work both in general development and in crisis relief as well as promise a more “sustainable” development as it promotes a feeling of ownership and overall unity in the community which, we could really use in Zimbabwe right now !

So How do we save ourselves? Here are a few ideas that you may already be familiar with, but check out SIVIO Institutes Phil Lab for more about all this!

  1. “MaRound”/ giving circles – encourage them, recognise them modify them to suit your community’s needs.
  2. Community Foundations by residents, by people related to residents, by people in the diaspora

So, we are done , I hope reading this has; taught you a little bit about philanthropy, encouraged you to share the article or the ideas herein with your friends and relatives and maybe even inspired you to give – whatever you can or are willing to, whenever you can.