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Celebrating Black Philanthropy Month 2012: Six Principles of Giving for New Times

The contemporary black philanthropy movement must be inclusive of our young people as beneficiaries and as leaders of giving. Our mainstream organizations should all make explicit efforts to address youth issues.
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Last August witnessed a momentous event in the global history of the black giving Movement. Led by the African Women's Development Fund USA (AWDF USA) and its online community, the Pan-African Women's Philanthropy Network, a coalition of black women's and other philanthropy groups from over 30 countries established August as Black Philanthropy Month.

Also initiated in commemoration of the United Nation's Declaration of 2011 as the International Year for People of African Descent, Black Philanthropy Month is an opportunity to celebrate and revive the rich worldwide traditions of giving, self-help and innovation that continue to be one of the ties that binds our diverse communities.

A Milestone Year

Much has happened in the world of black giving since the declaration of Black Philanthropy Month. At the historic Pan-African Women's Action Summit (PAWAS) in Minneapolis last August, Congressman Keith Ellison as well as the Minnesota Governor's and Twin Cities' Mayors' Offices officially recognized Black Philanthropy Month, including proclamations acknowledging the contributions of women and black giving to all communities.

One of the Movement's mothers, Dr. Wangari Maathai, Africa's first female Nobel Peace Prize winner, passed away as the world recognized a new generation of Pan-African leadership with the joint Nobel Peace Prizes of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa's first female president, and Leymah Gbowee. Her Excellency Joyce Banda became Africa's second female President. The accomplishments of these exemplary leaders were made possible by the grassroots giving of countless African peoples and their allies worldwide, making them a testament to the power of our Movement.

To kick off this year's Black Philanthropy Month, we have issued Pan-African Women in Action, a live report from the movement, including video and photography. It chronicles the collective challenges, visions, successes and wisdom from contributors including Sonia Sanchez, Dr. Julianne Malveaux, Tiffany Dufu, Her Excellency First Lady Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, Dr. Musimbi Kanyaro, Crystal Roman, Judge LaJune Lange, Dr. Natalia Kanem, Gael Sylvia Pullen and many others. It is available for free download at In it you will find a Pan-African Women's Manifesto--a set of recommendations from PAWAS speakers and delegates to orient and build the black and women's giving Movement.

The Movement's leading organizations have continued their efforts to strengthen the giving and leadership of Pan-African Women's Philanthropy, including the African Women's Development Fund, the African Grantmakers Network, the Community Investment Network, Global Fund for Women, the Black Women's Donor Action Group, DAWN, the Next Generation of African American Philanthropy, AKEWO, the African American Leadership Forum and others.

The 2012 Cultures of Giving report by W. K. Kellogg Foundation documents that black communities gave $11 billion to charity in 2011 alone. And a recent World Bank report documents that African immigrants in the U.S. gave at least $11 billion to their home countries for charitable and family support.

So, together the U.S. African diaspora gave an astounding $22 billion!

Classic Wisdom for New Times
Although our Movement has made great strides over the past year, our communities still share daunting challenges: high rates of infant/maternal mortality, orphan, high school dropouts, poverty and violence, to name a few.

This recession has been a depression for many African-descent communities in the U.S. and abroad. Black Philanthropy Month provides an opportunity to consider new models and practices to address the new challenges of the times.

Today seems more volatile, uncertain and complex than ever. We need to build on our collective lessons learned as a people for new times and reverse the system breakdown that threatens the very fabric of our communities.

So, building on our research, experience and the Movement's shared wisdom, we would like to suggest some principles of black philanthropy that our communities throughout Africa and its diaspora can use to increase the impact of our giving.

Six Principles of Effective 21st Century Black Philanthropy

Principle 1: Giving is universal

We have the proof of ancient wisdom throughout Africa and its diaspora, timelessly expressed in the Nigerian philanthropy proverb: Wealth is not what a man has but what he gives away.

We have the research, beginning with the work of scholars in the 1980s that pioneered the black philanthropy field, classic work documenting that a unique African-American giving tradition was established from the earliest days of this country's founding.

The current U.S. research alone should prove once and for all that African peoples give. In fact, W. K. Kellogg Foundation's report also reconfirms that African-Americans are the country's most philanthropic group. AWDF USA is currently doing research on U.S. African immigrant giving to complete the story of African-American giving, but available studies already show that U.S. African immigrants' donations far surpass the combined giving of celebrities and U.S. foundations to Africa.

Nonetheless, for the most part, we often don't recognize our giving as important, take it for granted and do not see ourselves as philanthropists.

Furthermore, some philanthropy pundits are still making uninformed statements such as "black people don't give" or "African people do not have a tradition of philanthropy." Worse yet, philanthropy in Africa is often misconstrued as something the West needs to teach Africa, reviving the worst legacies of neo-colonialism and cultural chauvinism.

Hopefully, this column, and the continuing work of many scholars, authors and organizations in the Movement, finally proves the fully documented fact that every society has structures and practices for pooling social, intellectual, human and financial capital to address collective social goals and problems. For example, view and share the D5 Coalition's video, "I am a Philanthropist" for a compelling portrait of African-American and other diverse giving stories. Also, be sure to get a copy of Valaida Fullwood's Giving Back for beautiful stories of black giving.

Whether we call it philanthropy, helping, or sharing, giving is universal. It's time to finally put to rest the myth that African-descent people don't give.

Getting informed allows you to claim your identity and heritage as a philanthropist--a first step in increasing the impact of your giving in these tough times.

Principle 2: Embrace the diversity within our diversity

Giving is universal but there are diverse variations on the theme.

We call them esusus, susus, giving circles, harambees. We have remittances to extended family, donor advised funds, foundations, and sister funds. But whatever type of giving we practice, they are all part of broad and global giving tradition that defines the cultures of Africa and its diaspora.
One form of giving is not superior to another. There is a time and place for all the rich forms of giving in our community. Learning about and encouraging our diverse culture of giving will rebuild our communities.

Principle 3: Giving is not just about the money

Many in our community lack hope today--not seeing a way out of economic and general community distress.

But at its most basic, philanthropy expresses a faith in a future where hurt can be healed , hope redeemed and justice nurtured. Indigenous communities in east and southern Africa, express this concept of human interdependence in the word, ubuntu, which means "I am because you are; and you are because I exist."

We practice ubuntu through philanthropy when we share our time, talents and voice through caregiving and advocacy.

Combining our high levels of donations, volunteerism, extended family support, caregiving with advocacy, we have powerful tools for social change in our communities.

So, remember that you can give in a way that makes a real difference even if you are not in a position to make financial gifts.

Principle 4: Uplift women

We all know that in most communities, including ours, women take on a primary role for caregiving, volunteerism and community giving. In fact, the research shows that sustainable, equitable development in any community is only possible when the rights and talents of women are recognized and developed.

A women's rights and development agenda needs to be part of 21st century black giving if our communities are to survive and thrive.

And while Pan-African Women's Philanthropy is part of the broader women's movement, we are also part of the racial and social justice movement. Inclusion for us also means working in partnership with others to promote social justice for black men, who are disproportionally profiled, imprisoned and under-educated throughout the African diaspora.

It also means finding common cause with immigrants, refugees, poor people and others to advocate for their rights.

Unless we support each other to address the dismal indicators affecting African-descent men, women and youth, our future is dismal.

Principle 5: Engage the youth

Youth are not only our future leaders, they bear the brunt of many of community's worst social conditions, with education and health care crises being the most obvious, but certainly not the only examples.

The contemporary black philanthropy movement must be inclusive of our young people as beneficiaries and as leaders of giving. Our mainstream organizations should all make explicit efforts to address youth issues; cultivate and highlight next generation leadership, while learning from and exposing them to our giving heritage and ways to use it to define and promote their community agendas. Doing so will create the pipeline of new Movement leaders we so desperately need.

Principle 6: Giving together for change

Unfortunately our giving is fragmented along the same lines of race, skin color, gender, national origins, class and others that continue to divide our communities. While culturally-specific and interest-based organizations are necessary and appropriate, more is needed for change in these times.

Mobilizing across our community faultlines has been at the key of every successful social movement in our history--from the Underground Railroad to the Civil Rights, Women Rights and Anti-Apartheid Movements.

Local and global coalitions that pool giving and advocacy with the diverse people that now comprise America's black community, along with our allies of all backgrounds, will help build the critical mass that we need to impact the complex social, health and economic problems that disproportionally affect us.

When we give with others and with a broader social justice vision, we increase the chances that we will make a difference for ours and the entire community.

What You Can Do

During Black Philanthropy Month, recommit yourself to giving with others, to sharing ideas and support. Then keep the practice going all year. You can join or start a new AWDF USA local network to be part of our coalition for change throughout Africa and its U.S. diaspora. Click here for our activity calendar and for more information, email us at or call 408-634-4834.

Join our blog and let us know how you are keeping Pan-African giving strong in your community, or leave a comment here at Huffington Post.

As you revive your giving vision and practice, remember the ageless, Pan-African wisdom expressed in the Ethiopian proverb: "Apart the fingers of a hand are weak but, together, they can slay the lion."

You are our only hope.

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