Giving in the Spirit of Mandela Day: The State of Charity and Development in South Africa
Ted Hart, CEO – CAF America
Nelson Mandela International Day, launched by the UN General Assembly in 2009, is a global call for service inspired by the legacy Nelson Mandela left behind. Celebrated annually on July 18 in honor of Nelson Mandela’s birthday, it is important to remember the message that led to its creation. Nelson Mandela called on the current generation to shoulder the responsibility of addressing the social injustices of the world. As Nelson Mandela demonstrated in his own life, one of the most impactful ways to cure society’s ills is to develop a targeted philanthropic vision. In a modern South Africa – the nation that Mandela freed – Mandela’s example of personal generosity and individual sacrifice has been followed even after his death. The simple idea that donating makes a difference continues to impact philanthropic trends and shapes the future of giving in South Africa.
A recent joint study by the South African Grantmakers’ Association, the Center for Civil Society, and the National Development Agency found that 54% of South Africans had given money to a charity or another social cause in the month preceding the survey. An additional 45% of respondents reported that they gave money, food, or goods directly to impoverished members of their own communities. The 2014 World Giving Index, published by Charities Aid Foundation in the UK, demonstrates that such generosity is, despite already being robust, steadily on the rise amongst South Africans. The Republic of South Africa moved up 35 spots in the World Giving Index’s global league table of generosity from 2013 to 2014 alone. So what does this mean for global philanthropists? On its face, the data suggest that individual South Africans are dedicated to following Mandela’s legacy of selfless service to the local community. A closer look, however, reveals that while the vast majority of individuals may be donating money, time, and goods, the average monthly value of formal charitable contributions only amounts to about 2% of the average monthly wage of working age South Africans. This should serve as an invitation to all global grantmakers. South Africa is not only a country where charity is on the mind of nearly all, but one that also has a great need for development in order to maximize the charitable spirit ingrained by Nelson Mandela’s legacy.
Nelson Mandela’s governing strategy centered around addressing the social and economic issues that plagued the nation under the policies of Apartheid, such as poverty, inequality, poor healthcare, and racial tension. In a post-Mandela South Africa, commitment to improvement in these areas is still a priority for those making charitable contributions, with the top three gift recipients being organizations focused on youth health and education, HIV/AIDS research and treatment, and combating poverty. The strength of these initiatives is bolstered by the fact that respondents in the aforementioned study listed the same three causes as the “most deserving” of their support. This zeitgeist among local donors is borne from a culture of human solidarity that has been fostered by the current generation of South Africans, and serves as a bellwether for grantmakers in the global community seeking to have a positive impact in the region. While the attitude toward philanthropy for many South Africans remains increasingly positive, however, South Africa remains a country with a great deal of civil unrest that can stand in the way of development and progress. For this reason, it is important for global grantmakers to understand the local culture and what drives South Africans to donate time and resources. This knowledge makes it possible for grantmakers to build upon what is already a strong culture of giving, and identify the NGOs with the vision, structure, and organization necessary for sustainable impact.