Funding: Cash-strapped NGOs court local philanthropists

THE PUNCH Newspaper

Although last week‘s revelation by American billionaire, Bill Gates, that he has committed up to $750m to fighting polio in Nigeria is cheery, non-governmental organisations in Nigeria are coming together to woo local moneybags, writes AKEEM LASISI

When the Co-Chair of the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation, Mr. Bill Gates, visited Nigeria last week, the revelation he made in terms of his philantropic efforts in Nigeria was cheery. According to him, the foundation has spent up to $750M on polio eradication in the country.

While the gesture had seen the scourge drop by 99 per cent, the community of non-governmental organisations would particularly be relieved that Bill Gates has done so much for Nigeria since some of the charity went through their channels. This is against the fear that due to the global economic recession, most international donors have greatly reduced their donations to Nigeria.

The fact is that many of the donors have their funds in businesses, especially the stock market, which has been in trouble in the past few years. Even where the grantees are not directly involved in business, corporate organisations that support them are not finding it easy. A good example is that of McArthur Foundation, one of the10 largest private philanthropies, the value of whose endowment of approximately $5bn dropped by about $1.7bn in 2008. Such a development has left different tales on the lips of many benefiting charity organisations.

In Nigeria, a good number of such had an opportunity to share their experiences and dialogue on the way forward recently at a forum organised by Development Alternatives and Resources Centre, Lagos. Realising the need for NGOs to re-strategise, forge partnership and reflect on other means of survival, DARC had first launched an initiative called, Harnessing Local Effective Philanthropy, to promote effective local philanthropy in Nigeria.

“The objective is to encourage productive partnerships between private foundations, corporate institutions and non-governmental organisations in Nigeria, and to encourage more local support for development work,” said DARC‘s Executive Director, Ngozi Ezi-Ashi.

Welcoming Danjuma Foundation

When the a former Minister of Defence, Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (rtd), declared that he was more or less at a loss over how to spend a $500m he earned from an oil block business early in the year, many people were more than puzzled. The pragmatic among them, however, urged him to establish a foundation and give back to the society. The DARC forum provided participants an opportunity to know about the existence of such a foundation.

A day in the forest of papers

Since 1998 when she founded Communication for Change, an NGO that principally uses film to explore development issues, Sandra Obiago has had different experiences with various donors. But maybe when next she wants to recall her experience with the USAIDS especially, she may have to title her story, A Day in a Forest of Papers.

This is a way of capturing what she went through. Speaking on Building Partnerships: NGOs and Challenges with Building Local Partnerships, she highlighted the challenges and gains in working with international organisations, business organisations and government agencies. Managers of NGOs should watch the differences in the attitudes of the different groups, she noted.

Fear of plagiarism

For Mrs. Bisi Bright of Live Well Initiatives, her experience with some corporate organisations is the mixed type. One hint she gave at the forum, however, is that ideas in proposals submitted to some of them are plagiarised at times.

“We have seen people replicating ideas or progammes submitted to them,” she noted.

The issue involved here is that some smart company officials can deliberately decline to fund or support a particular proposal, only to execute or replicate it for their selfish end.

But Bright should be sure that she is not alone in this kind of experience. For instance, a Lagos-based writer and development worker, Odia Ofeimun, once recalled how a commissioner in the government of a South West state hijacked the proposal he submitted for the administration‘s support.

The forum enjoined every NGO to get a lawyer and ensure it protects every proposal with a copyright.

Watching the pockets of the big foundations

The Bill Gates Foundation

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the world‘s largest charitable foundation. Its assets of approximately $22bn dwarf most other foundations. The Gates Foundation gives away approximately $1bn annually.

Its overarching philanthropic goals are to promote education and health for the world‘s underprivileged. The Gates Foundation funds a variety of health initiatives in the developing world, such as the search for vaccines for AIDS and malaria. Its educational initiatives include a minority scholarship programme and a campaign to provide computers to needy public libraries across the United States and Canada.

McArthur Foundation

Based in Chicago, McArthur Foundation has awarded more than US$4bn since its inception in 1978. It is one of the 10 largest private philanthropies in the US, with an endowment of approximately $5bn. Its value, however, dropped by about $1.7bn in 2008 due to economic recession. It awards approximately $230m annually in grants and low-interest loans in the US and nearly 60 other countries.

Its four major programme areas are global security and sustainability, human and community development, general grant-making, and the MacArthur Fellows Programme, also known as “genius grants.”

The Ford Foundation

Ford Foundation is a private foundation incorporated in Michigan and based in New York City. It was created to fund programs that were chartered in 1936 by Edsel Ford and Henry Ford.

The foundation makes grants through its New York headquarters and through 12 international field offices. In fiscal year 2007, it reported assets of $13.7bn and approved $530m in grant for projects that focused on strengthening democratic values, community and economic development, education, media, arts and culture, and human rights.

The Rockefeller Foundation

It is another prominent philanthropic organisation and private foundation based in New York City. The preeminent institution was established by the six-generation Rockefeller family,

Its central historical mission is “to promote the well-being of mankind throughout the world.”

Among other major achievements, it financially supported education in the United States ”without distinction of race, sex or creed”. It established the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and Harvard School of Public Health, two of the first such institutions and developed the vaccine to prevent yellow fever among other achievements.

By year-end 2008 assets were tallied at $3.1bn from $4.6bn in 2007, with annual grants of $137m


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