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It was Muhamed Abdel Moneim Al-Fayed who was once quoted to have said: I will continue to distribute blankets, sleeping bags, warm clothing and food on a regular basis; in the hope that my modest efforts will give some comfort to those people we are able help. Not a few would in all modesty commit themselves to such gestures especially in this part of the world where wealth accumulation is an exception rather than the norm. Muhamed AL-Fayed is the Egyptian business magnate who as at 2013 was worth US$1.4 billion, making him the 1,031st richest individual in the world for the year 2013. His AlFayed Charitable Foundation (ACF) for almost 25 years has been working assiduously to ensuring that the lives of children who are traumatised, impoverished and sick are bettered. Apart from other wide ranging charity supports, the ACF provides specialist medical equipment, living essentials and importantly engages in raising awareness and support for many children’s hospices among others. For a man whose worth is in the billions, it is not surprising why he has made it a first point of duty to commit himself to series of charitable works and philanthropic actions and made that heart-warming remark whose objective is simply to help humanity.
It is an undisputable fact that a number of significant wealthy billionaires bestride our contemporary Nigerian socio-political space like a colossus. Interestingly, the wealthiest black man in the world is a Nigerian. To make the discourse the more startling, the wealthiest black woman in the world is also a Nigerian while several others who we do not know or hear of top the billionaire list. Many of these Nigerian billionaires have been known for their wealth and nothing else. In fact, most people across a wide section of our polity usually know a particular wealthy individual by his or her wealth but never by any meaningful impact he or she has made or had on the society. Not surprising though, many of our wealthy personalities flaunt their wealth on a range of trivial things and in manners that does not augur well for the society. Most are known for using their wealth to massage the ego of political stalwarts and friends, promote schisms among ethnic, religious or political groups and even go as far as to intimidate people who depend on them for survival. Some are known for their taste for expensive and state-of-the-art flashy cars while others enjoy erecting castles in Aso-Rock and elsewhere. As if that is not enough, few go on to marry new wives as an addition to the already saturated number of legitimate harems in their household. While this writer is not in any way opposed to how wealthy individuals should spend or use their wealth, they in fact should in whatever way they deem appropriate, yet it is imperative to state categorically that our wealth, just like life, is transient and so should of necessity be spent in ways that would impact the society we live.
At a time when our world is becoming even more than a global village, quite a number of individuals have emerged, taking advantage of the global capitalist economy and enabling environment, to develop ideas that eventually sell. The individuals behind Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and a host of others in other sectors of our respective economies are pointers to the new wave of young and emergent entrepreneurs and how fast globally competitive our world has become for those who have the temerity to turn simple ideas into money making machines. These individuals, turned billionaires overnight, are fast realising the power of modest giving and so have decided to channel part of their wealth into charitable organisations or philanthropic gestures to help find solutions to human challenges.
These individuals are today part of a growing movement lifting the banner of social justice and open distribution of wealth which has ultimately sparked a golden age of philanthropy unseen since the days of Rockefeller, Carnegie and Morgan. A recent study conducted at Boston College discovered that 0.22 per cent of families with incomes of $1 million or more contributed about 13 per cent of charitable giving in the United States. Accordingly, the number of grant-giving foundations since the early 1980s doubled from a paltry 22,000 to some 65,000 today. This should not be a surprise to many as our contemporary international political system have inadvertently been transformed with the power many states wield supplanted by powerful and emergent non-state actors who use their clout and influence in ways beneficial to mankind. These actors have today come to see the many challenges faced by humanity as theirs and as such have made it a point of duty to pull resources together to make our world a better place. Among these actors are wealthy individuals who through business sense, entrepreneurship and capitalism have emerged as leading philanthropists, using their wealth to address challenges that otherwise are largely unaddressed by the State.
A typical example is Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft Corporation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation who helped pioneer ‘catalytic philanthropy’, an idea whose aim was not just to give money but fuel ideas that work, discarding those that don’t and expecting a tangible return on investment measured in social impact. This systematic problem-solving initiative have not only transformed the paradigm of non-profit work but also heralded social change and helped produce public policy tools on a scale never seen before.
Bill Gates is one of the biggest philanthropists in the world and just in 2010; the Gates Foundation launched alongside Warren Buffet the Giving Pledge which served as a commitment among the wealthiest in the world to pull a bulk of their wealth into philanthropy. Happily and since 2010 when the initiative was launched, over 125 individuals and families have bought into the idea. This is simply to help fight a number of causes around the world among which is Polio eradication and control amongst others.
Back home in Nigeria, a number of wealthy individuals are known to have decided to join the growing philanthropic movement and observed to have played prominent roles in partnering with other charities in managing or solving some of the teething challenges we face as a nation today. Having carefully conducted a simple research recently, this writer discovered the existence of a significant number of foundations set up and owned by our wealthy class in Nigeria whose objective can indubitably be deemed commendable. Top on the list include Tony Elumelu, Toyin Saraki, Aliko Dangote, TY Danjuma, Sir Emeka Offor Foundations to mention a few. Each of these foundations or charitable organisations was set up primarily to address one challenge or the other even the government of the day do not yet have answers to.
For the sake of clarity, one interesting personality that has raised the banner of philanthropy in recent times is Gen. T.Y Danjuma (rtd), a onetime Minister of Defense, who is believed to be Nigeria’s biggest philanthropist. His foundation, The T.Y Danjuma Foundation arguably one of Africa’s largest charities, was set up with a $100 million endowment to “champion and promote causes in Education, free healthcare, policy advocacy and poverty alleviation” among others. The foundation’s endowment have provided scholarships to indigent students, partnered with government and international agencies in fighting diseases like River Blindness and made giant strides in many other aspects of human endeavour. For Tony Elumelu on the other hand, he is widely termed as one of Africa’s top philanthropists. Apart from pledging $2.5 billion to President Barack Obama’s Power Africa programme few years back, the Nigerian economist, banker and investor is said to have donated a staggering $6.3 million in 2012 to help flood victims in Nigeria. His foundation among other objectives “strives to deploy its resources to generate solutions to challenges that inhibit the growth of the African private sector”. The foundation has aided the private sector in ways unimaginable since our return to democracy in 1999 and given them right platform to grow in a highly challenging society like ours. Aliko Dangote’s name cannot but be mentioned as he too is in the business of philanthropy and has made useful contributions totalling $35 million to a number of causes. Apart from being the biggest employer of labour within the private sector, he has contributed heavily to flood relief, an NGO developing lo-cost housing and universities in Nigeria. He also donated $US 500,000 for victims of munitions blast in Brazzaville, Congo in 2012.
Another interesting Nigerian billionaire worthy of mention here and who recently has been in the news for his massive philanthropic donations is Sir Emeka Offor, the Executive Vice Chairman of Chrome Group. Through the Sir Emeka Foundation, one of the earliest foundations in Nigeria which has been in the business of philanthropy for close to 20 years, Sir Emeka has provided millions of dollars to support an impressive number of initiatives. One surprising angle to his foundation is that it is not limited to Nigeria alone but the world at large. This is largely true if one considers the foundation’s initiatives in partnering with international organisations like Rotary International to fight Polio in the three endemic regions of the world which include Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Also, the foundation has been in a long and fruitful partnership with the Carter Centre, Atlanta, US where the fight against River Blindness endemic in most parts of Eastern Nigeria and elsewhere has been a priority.
In July 2013, to boost the global efforts in polio eradication, the foundation donated a total of $1million to Rotary International and another $1million this year to speed up the fight against and eradication of Polio in the three remaining endemic countries of Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Such singular contribution has earned the foundation’s founder the title ‘First Polio Ambassador in Nigeria’. Sir Emeka Offor strongly speaks out in favour of polio eradication in Nigeria and the world and believes every child should have a “right to health”, esteeming the mantra of noble global humanitarian body like World Health Organization (WHO).
The foundation’s philanthropic commitments are not limited to cash donations alone as several sources note the involvment among others in massive educational initiatives like the Book For Africa project which helps to supply books to countries around the world through generous funding from individuals. The foundation is known as the largest donor in the history of Books For Africa, and the largest private sector donor in the history of the program. The foundation has benefitted the following 19 African countries through book and computer donations: Nigeria, the Gambia, Somalia, Liberia, Tanzania, Namibia, Senegal, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Botswana, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Malawi, Egypt, South Sudan, Chad, Uganda and Niger. It is not uncommon for African philanthropists to support education and literacy projects in their own countries. It is unprecedented; however, that an African business leader like Sir Emeka Offor and his foundation would financially support projects of this size and scope across Africa. Projects of this scale are more often conceived and executed by government entities such as USAID, DFID, the EU, and various United Nations offices, but never by a single individual or foundation.
Undoubtedly, the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation does not only provide support to fight the eradication of Polio but also assist Polio survivors to make living more meaningful for themselves. It is therefore not a surprise when not too long ago, a whooping sum of N2.6 million was donated to the Nigerian delegation that will be taking part in the 10th edition of the International Wheelchair & Amputee Sports (IWAS) Federation Games coming up in Stoke Mandeville, UK. It would be recalled that in the last Paralympics Games, Nigerian athletes won six (6) out of the twenty (20) gold medals up for grabs. Going by records, majority of the participants from Nigeria are Polio survivors. These individuals have been trained in various sports and have been chosen to participate at the upcoming IWAS World Junior Games 2014 but due to lack of funds their hopes of being part of the Games appeared dim. The Sir Emeka Offor Foundation determined to put smiles on the faces of these athletes who are Polio survivors and ensure the fulfilment of their dreams, quickly intervened to support the Nigerian Paralympic athletes to the Games.
Mostly, it is known that not all entrepreneurs move out of their comfort zones to feel the pulse of the people. There is no doubt that there is a huge disconnect between the wealthy and not so wealth among the people of the world today. This stark reality is perhaps one of the major reasons behind many of the social unrests witnessed around the world in recent times. In Nigeria, for example, the widening gap between the haves and have-nots has brought huge challenges for the country, most especially in the area of unemployment and lack of social welfare. Hinged on the principle that the very poor and needy can become active and productive members of society, The Sir Emeka Offor Foundation has taken the bold initiative and stepped in in its own little way in stemming these challenges. Following in the footsteps of the likes of Bill Gates and humbly learning from the succinct words of Bertrand Russell that: “Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind,” the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation continue to strongly dedicate its endowments to helping people in need become independent and self-sufficient by reaching out to lift them up. Apart from being a platform and model for development efforts in Nigeria and beyond, the foundation hopes to set an example for the next generation of successful Nigerian businessmen who will have it at the back of their minds that they too can make money while also making a difference.
One could go on and on however, there is a reality today that philanthropy is meeting the needs that the government and private sector have not. These individuals have not only led a movement capable of bringing much succour to the world but also played a critical role in advancing human progress. Today, the world’s billionaires feel their wealth is immaterial if it cannot be channelled towards charitable ventures. There are a number of challenges we face as a people in Nigeria currently yet it is a truism that government cannot solve them all alone. It is the duty of these individuals who have more than enough to fill the yearning gap. If there are as much Tony Elumelus, Toyin Sarakis, Aliko Dangotes, T.Y Danjumas, Sir Emeka Offors among others in Nigeria who have a growing interest in key aspects of our daily lives, we may possibly be seeing an end to those very problems that today have become monstrous for us to solve.
Our wealthy class owe it a duty to understand that the culture of ‘me’ and ‘thyself’ alone cannot bring fulfilled happiness and lifelong comfort. The reason we are faced with myriads of challenges in Nigeria today is because of the lack of love and it is until we all go back to our traditional culture of giving even when we have little, we may continue to run afoul of what is required of us as good neighbours. Thomas Carlyle (1795 – 1881), the Scottish historian and essayist could not have been wrong when he observed that “No great man lives in vain. The history of the world is but the biography of great men”. History has never forgotten those who took pain to change the course of humanity for good and with the Tony Elumelus, Aliko Dangotes and Sir Emeka Offors of this world, it is not hard to say that on the sands of time, their names have already been written.
Raheem Oluwafunminiyi wrote via email@example.com
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