Ashesi University, Ghana


Africa rising...and counting.

by Simon Pennington - 6 March 2018


When I tell UK clients and friends that I am off to Africa for a few days to support the training and development of university fundraisers (with CASE), there are sometimes some eyebrows raised. The Western image of Africa remains coloured by chaos and poverty, and of course, those are still everyday issues in many communities, but there is also rapid change – a 2017 World Bank Report lists seven of the 12 fastest growing economies in the world as being on the continent. With rapid growth comes wealth, and with wealth, if you’re an optimist, comes a desire to bring about positive change, to help others, and to give back.

The Springbok Surge
South Africa is where this is seen most clearly. The best South African universities have been fundraising and building alumni and stakeholder networks for years, and have enjoyed significant success. The Annual Survey of Philanthropy in Higher Education is less comprehensive than the Ross-CASE equivalent in the UK, but it highlights the pace of change. In 2015, philanthropic income to 11 major universities was R1.2bn (around £650m), an 82% rise on the figure two years earlier. The most successful university brought in R440m (£23.8m) of that, up from R181m in 2013 (this total is more than twice the total of the second most successful university). And encouragingly, although the change was small, South African universities had shifted from getting slightly more income from overseas donors than South African donors in 2013, to slightly more from home than abroad in 2015. The largest gift made to any University in South Africa in 2015 was R85m (£4.6m). There are some cultural differences, including a greater reliance on Foundations and Companies than we see in the UK, but there is a lot that is familiar as well.

These numbers don’t put the South Africans up with the most successful institutions in the UK, nor are they on a par with the rapid growth and success in Australia, but in terms of cost of fundraising (the median in South Africa is 15% of funds raised) and speed of growth, they show huge potential.

It’s encouraging to see the rise in both income and donor numbers, but what is perhaps most encouraging is to see the data at all. Counting and measuring income, spending, donor numbers and rate of return has not been as natural or consensual in African countries as it has been in the UK, where there was a sense in the early days that evidence and comparative data would be essential to put a case for more investment and would spur insight and knowledge. The African mind-set has been much more sceptical and instinctively opposed to measurement and comparison.

As in the UK, one of the key drivers has been the presence and leadership of CASE. In South Africa, this was developed in partnership with the local expertise. Some major players have not participated up to now, but it is encouraging to see universities such as Cape Town, Kwa-Zulu Natal, Wits, Pretoria and Johannesburg on the list.

The wider continent
Turning to the rest of the continent, there is much more limited benchmarking information, so conclusions are harder to draw other than on the basis of anecdote and case study. The country I know best is Nigeria, where there have been some real success stories, but also fragility. One of the early pioneers at Vice Chancellor level was Roger Makanjuola at Obafemi Awolowo University, one of Nigeria’s best, but here the momentum has not been maintained. I have been providing some input to another excellent institution, University of Ibadan, where fundraising was originally founded to support the University’s contribution to alleviating a natural disaster, a flood that hit the community. It has taken time, but is starting to develop in its own right as a permanent income stream and activity of the University. Ibadan is close to a first gift from Aliko Dangote, Nigeria’s richest man.

Victor Dugga, a poet, playwright, professor, philosopher, fundraiser and friend exemplified the best of Nigerian attitudes in breaking down hurdles at the University of Jos, but again momentum has been hard to maintain after the departure of a key leader. As this suggests, there have been individual pioneers, but not sustained cultural change.

Private sector institutions have sometimes found a greater degree of traction. Whether because they are nimble in their decision-making, appeal by virtue of their status to American donors or quicker to invest in something that shows a return, excellent examples would include Strathmore in Nairobi or Ashesi in Accra. The latter is the most inspiring campus I have ever visited; built on a hilltop and employing members of the local community as administrative staff, the focus is on fusing management and technology education to tackle Ghana’s problems and create genuine economic and social value. Every donor is named and thanked on a campus donor wall, from the Microsoft Directors who were colleagues of the Vice Chancellor in his earlier career to the campus gardener. If I had the means to make one major gift to any University, it would be here.

Challenges that remain
With all the growth in advancement numbers, and attendances at CASE Conferences to develop skills, many big challenges remain. Donor numbers and participation remain very low – only one South African University has managed to push the alumni giving rate above 0.5%. Trust remains an issue across much of the continent – the concern that financial systems, academic ethics and political stability will all be strong enough to make sure that gifts reach the right destinations and are used for the purposes for which they were given. Many Universities also have powerful alumni associations that constrain their priorities and can badly inhibit the effectiveness of advancement offices. And good systems – databases that properly manage stakeholder relationships, for example – remain a rarity.

What next?
The changes I hope to see reflect some of these challenges. Some version of Ross-CASE benchmarking picked up in other African countries would be a great development – initially Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana would be priorities. In South Africa, participation in the benchmarking survey should become the norm for universities active in this space.

The development of a cost-effective and easy-to-manage database remains a real priority. CASE has had some conversations with technology providers, and the provision of data management technology, alongside a new online materials and templates resource library is part of CASE’s plan for the next stage. Role models such as Victor will continue to emerge and shine a light to others. Social media offers the opportunity for African institutions to be smart and effective in their alumni and stakeholder communications.

I am currently working with CASE to secure further funding and partnerships to nurture and extend the work in Africa. For the last 15 years CASE has run conferences featuring advancement leaders from North America and Europe alongside African advancement experts. We’ve had delegates from almost every African country attend one or more of these events. It’s important to acknowledge here the incredible long-term support for CASE’s work and other African HEIs by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Kresge Foundation in particular. Our job now is to find new funders and partners to pick up the baton, to fund African Universities to fund themselves, and in so doing to change the world’s image of Africa and its potential for good.

That's why I'm particularly pleased to see CASE and Loughborough University collaborating on a new initiative, creating the position of Enterprise/Research Associate in Development and Higher Education. This post's primary purpose is to produce materials and resources that will shape the future work of CASE in Africa and enable African HEIs to develop their cultures of philanthropy with a view to realising their institutional missions. The post holder will co-create and test the materials with a selection of African universities. Applications close on 21 March 2018 and interviews will be conducted between 4-6 April 2018.