Grantmaking Practice

Reflections from Johannesburg: Social Justice Philanthropy

Contributed by Dr. Elie Abouaoun, Executive Director of the Arab Human Rights Fund

I attended a meeting convened by Trust Africa, the Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace (PSJP) Working Group and the African Grantmakers Network, in collaboration with the Global Fund for Community Foundations and the Arab Foundations Forum, in Johannesburg in October 2012. The conference explored a framework to develop and deepen work on social justice philanthropy in Africa and the Arab regions. The small group of individuals, reflecting diverse perspectives, initiated a discussion on how to advance debate, build a body of knowledge, inform good practice, and strengthen the impact of social justice philanthropy in Africa and the Arab regions.

Beyond being a space to deliberate  some key contextual issues, the participants reflected on what social justice philanthropy means within the African and Arab contexts and examined how  this translates into concrete actions and practice. The group also explored how social justice philanthropy currently plays out in areas of conflict and situations of peace-building. We discussed other crucial issues, including the different ways in which social justice and peace philanthropy is practiced,  the challenges, key obstacles and  big gaps in knowledge about giving in this area, and key ingredients  for effective giving to social justice and peace efforts.

Participants also brainstormed about how to move the field of philanthropy globally to use a social justice or peacebuilding approach and what discourages people and foundations from doing this sort of philanthropy.

My contribution on behalf of the Arab Human Rights Fund focused on changes in philanthropy during the last two decades toward development-focused philanthropy and the emerging concept of social investment. I raised the question of the variety of stakeholders currently involved in philanthropy focusing on the role of duty-bearers and the corporate sector in this field.

I also tackled the issue of civil society constituencies in the Arab region and to what extent civil society organizations in the region are able to reflect the social norms of their constituencies. We also explored the level of the people’s awareness of their rights and duties. These factors affect  the mobilization of resources for and therefore the achievement of social justice.

Last but not least, we examined the role of international funders in supporting trends of domestic and regional philanthropy. We concluded that there are very few initiatives of this nature in the Arab region. The meeting was an excellent initiative to launch a necessary debate about the way collaborative action can be undertaken by various stakeholders to advance philanthropy for social justice.

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