By Maurice Makoloo, East Africa Director at Ford Foundation and Chair of WINGSForum 2020, Stigmata Tenga, Executive Director of WINGSForum co-host the Africa Philanthropy Network, and Benjamin Bellegy, Executive Director of WINGS.
In his novel “Things Fall Apart”, renowned African writer Chinua Achebe tells the story of Eneke the bird which said that because men had learnt to shoot without missing, he had learnt to fly without perching. The point is that it is important to make adjustments in life that are reflective of new realities. When we defined the theme IMAGINE for this year’s very special edition of WINGSForum, we didn’t imagine how it would anticipate the moment we all find ourselves in.
IMAGINE is about searching deep inside our collective wisdom, knowledge and creativity for new images, vision and ideas to transform our present and future. It is based on the idea that we need to engage in more radical reflections and action to address and leverage new power, new technology and new economic models. It is about imagining ourselves and the society we want and building the philanthropy sector we need to get there.
In the midst of what is already the biggest global economic and public health crisis of our lifetime, the topics that we had identified have suddenly gained even more relevance. And the exercise of imagination and collective forward-thinking we were inviting the network to engage in has now become more urgent than ever.
Take for instance, the rapid technological enhancements and its ambivalent outcomes for humanity are made obvious by the crisis. While on one hand- it has become a solution and a means to salvation from to overcome challenges, catalysing adaption of new economic models, and keeping people connected; on the other hand, it has increased surveillance risks, dehumanization of exchanges and threatens of massive net job destruction.
Likewise, the exposure of fragile economies in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis demonstrate the urgent need to grow inclusive economies, de-concentrate economic flows, re-elevate globally interconnected economic systems, and embrace new ways to measure “progress”.
And as far as the issue of power is concerned, the COVID-19 pandemic presents an opportunity to explore the limited adaptations in power distribution, creation of genuine alternative ways to decision and doing. We need innovative ways to shift power dynamics and harness unrecognized power for social justice and the greater good.
While the relevance of the Forum has increased, it has become even more challenging over the past few months. At the time we are writing this piece, despite the glimmer of hope in some regions, the global situation does not allow us to bring the global world community together in Nairobi, Kenya, in November as planned. The advent of a global pandemic makes the logistics of coming together impossible this year, but it is equally impossible to just “shift” to a digital format because much of the interactions and collaborations that make the WINGSForum so valuable simply cannot be replicated in a digital format. Indeed the imperative of an in-person meeting cannot be overemphasised. It is the only occasion for our growing network to meet and for the broad spectrum of philanthropic actors from all continents — from family philanthropy to corporate and individual giving, from high net worth individuals to community philanthropy — to come together, connect, learn and get energized every three years.
Instead, we have decided to postpone it to fall 2021 at a date to be announced later this year. It will still take place in Nairobi, Kenya and will remain the first-ever WINGSForum to be held on the African continent, the cradle of philanthropic practice and a region of great development and tradition in philanthropy. The next iteration of the gathering is also special as it will have a celebration for the 20th anniversary of WINGS.
In the meanwhile, we have also decided to design an approach that is more creative. WINGS will offer a rich Omni-platform with a variety of formats for interaction.
During fall 2020 and early 2021, we will offer opportunities to learn and engage together through a series of global discussions that will cover our main themes of IMAGINE and advance our collective reflections on philanthropy’s transformation in a (post) COVID-19 world. Some sessions will be open and free of access to a broad audience while others will be designed for WINGS members to engage with specific issues.
We hope that this re-imagined process will allow for a broader engagement and that it will help us dive even more deeply in the reflections we must engage in as a field.
The COVID-19 crisis offers the philanthropy sector an unprecedented opportunity to make a profound difference. We are challenged to catalyze the change in mindsets, power structures, business models, and industry. The last months have evidenced communities coming out for one another in innovative, powerful and very inspiring ways- a powerful reminder of the critical value of philanthropy. In the same vein, it is important that philanthropy itself needs to be reimagined in light of this new normal.
Today, a years-long tectonic shift that afforded at least some time for human behavior to evolve has suddenly turned into an earthquake in which change is being forced to occur rapidly and sometimes painfully. The coronavirus pandemic has placed an enormous burden on livelihoods of people, increasing social and economic inequality, vulnerability and marginalization. It risks fueling a backlash and setting humankind back a generation — or worse.
This COVID-19 crisis is not just one of public health, it is also an economic health and wellbeing crisis that threatens the very possibility of creating a more just, equitable and healthy world. It is a clarion call, more than ever before, for philanthropy to exhibit and maintain its key tenets. Philanthropy must continue to enhance the emerging connections across governments, the private sector, other non-state actors and the public generally. Philanthropy needs to keep hope alive through efficient and effective continued deployment of its financial and non-financial muscle to restore lives and livelihoods. Critically, philanthropy has to help lay the foundations for a more inclusive and equitable post-COVID 19 world.
It is a crisis that has brought a sense of urgency to our work and highlighted the need to act. Now, more than ever, we must create the possibility for new potential for technology, alternative power structures, and more humane economic models. Philanthropic organizations must IMAGINE a different future and become catalysts for transformative social change.