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West Africa Civil Society Institute Strengthening Civil Society


The future of Africa lies in creating jobs to transform communities. (photo: )

The future of Africa lies in creating jobs to transform communities.

Africa's Middle Class - A Time to Act

Without a shared vision of justice, a world without injustices is impossible. The noble ideal that we can eliminate injustices is a false hope sold to communities. This is often due to non-transformational approaches used to fight injustices. Job creation is the mechanism for social justice philanthropy to make a difference. As one considers the social determinants perpetuating injustices, the silver lining might be found in creating jobs, transforming communities’ engagement with their environment.

Thus, the pursuit of social justice should be rooted in a group’s ability to harness resources to redesign possibilities for a community. Borrowing from principles of design thinking (a methodology to solve complex problems to create a preferred future), social justice should become a roadmap for routine innovation. This will require unrestricted capital that could be sourced from philanthropy; in this case, the African middle class, through digital platforms lowering the cost of collection and investment.

Social justice philanthropy is an innovative financing leverage of transformation seeking to limit and arrest the adverse effects of inherent systemic challenges. To contribute to Africa’s transformation, it needs to reverse the social determinants of injustice by making a difference in the lives of those who are not thriving.

So, faced with daunting challenges, design thinking principles help to adapt, to resist, to challenge, to transform and to abandon the past holding too many back. Our strength is in systematically interrogating motives and purposes of our actions. Our yardstick should be whether we meet communities’ definition of progress.

Ten years ago, I had the opportunity to contribute to the design and implementation of an HIV/AIDS programme in the Democratic Republic of Congo working for the United Nations Development Programme. While I reviewed reports and data, it was the conversation with an HIV positive woman that brought it home. She had turned to prostitution to feed herself. Had she had an alternative to making a living, she may have taken a different path limiting her exposure to HIV. I was not changing the social determinants that caused her to contract the virus in the first place. She was hungry, but our programme did not include nutrition, it focused on treatment. So how else was she to feed herself? I did not have an answer that satisfied her hunger nor satisfied the purpose of my contribution to the country.

This raised a fundamental issue, for me, on the interdependency between social justice grant makers and communities. One might argue that like development aid, it helps members of some disadvantaged group on a specific issue such as access to anti-retroviral treatment, and yet fails to change the conditions that made the intervention necessary in the first place.

In other words, we need to have a clear, compassionate, and hopeful vision for the change that jobs for more people can create. In doing so, the way we assess impact in communities will change. One could consider Fundación Paraguaya’s multidimensional approach to socio-determinants of poverty. Focusing on the family unit to determine the value and level of social injustice could be a sound basis to rethink the way we address the issues inhibiting socio-economic progress.

Trevor Noah, the South African comedian and the host of The Daily Show, wrote in his autobiography about the social determinants that shaped the person he became. His mother understood the inherent values of a family unit and a community, and from her, he received early on, the tools to keep the possibility of success through challenges as an end in mind. Too often, the worth of many individuals is not rooted in their ability to transform society as a contributor. She, like many, refused to be an inactive recipient. The skills and attitude of design thinking can transform that. They are the best tools to make social justice a force to transform the minds of many Africans and people living in a world where poverty, hunger, diseases and other factors inhibit some from seeing the possibility of success through challenges.

My take is that 33 per cent of Africa’s population can and must do more. Their investment and commitment to embrace civil society organisations across Africa with a clear focus on eliminating the root causes of social, economic and environmental injustices will be a catalyst for shared prosperity. Social justice philanthropy requires the ability of Africa’s 350 million middle class to donate USD 1 a month, reaching USD 4.2 billion a year, enabling prosperity where injustices linger.

If we, each one of us, change and put our 1 USD a month in the collective digital fund, we will go farther than we have ever been as Africans. It is possible. More of us need to co-create with fresh ideas, by listening to communities and immersing ourselves in the realities shaping our future.

Carl Manlan is the Chief Operation Officer for Ecobank Foundation, an economist, a 2014 Mo Ibrahim Foundation Fellow and 2016 ASPEN New Voices Fellow. He writes this editorial for WACSI in a personal capacity. 

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