With only a few days for people, organizations, and institutions to prepare, the COVID-19-related lockdown in South Africa had been initiated at the end of March 2020. The general sentiment was that the spread of the disease could be avoided through regular handwashing and sanitized surfaces —a simple act of prevention—but less than 50 percent of the population at that time had access to piped water in their homes and millions of people were using inadequate sanitation facilities such as pit latrines.
Since 2014, the Motsepe Foundation has been collaborating with 165 schools and churches in need of infrastructure support across South Africa. Through extensive community engagement facilities, including water and sanitation, science and technology laboratories and classrooms were built and equipped with supplies for long-term usage. The success of these partnerships in solving the unequal access to basic amenities and improving the quality of education provided to vulnerable students was celebrated until all schools were closed, and pupils were sent home to fend for themselves.
Schools in South Africa are valued by students as centers that offer them far more than what President Mandela defined as “the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Schools are spaces of refuge for children who come from poor backgrounds and are in need of a decent meal, access to sanitary products and decent sanitation, and tools such as computers and other technology that allow them to feel connected to the global world. By preventing access to these liberties, we suppress their overall well-being and their ability to improve their lives.
Philanthropic capital can be employed in diverse ways, but the need for philanthropy is born from people’s constrained capacity to better their own lives.
In an attempt to fast-track the provision of water, for both the facilitation of basic human dignity as well as safety during this pandemic, the South African government initiated a Solidarity Fund, which sought contributions from the public for the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the supply of water. The Motsepe Foundation, following our US$60 million pledge with associated companies, is part of the team leading this initiative. To maximize the returns of philanthropic capital invested by businesses, foundations, and ordinary citizens, the purchase of PPE and other equipment such as water tanks has been focused on creating opportunities for local enterprises—particularly those that are owned by women.
Government procurement is an influential exercise in facilitating the growth of small to medium businesses, of which a third in developing countries are owned by women. Government procurement can be used as a tool to enable economic inclusivity and instill values of equality and equal access within our society.
While the public sector distributes funds based on necessity, and the private sector invests based on their projections to maximize profit, philanthropic capital aims to capitalize on impact. Leaders in other parts of the world are reckoning with rebuilding all that was lost because of crisis-related disruptions, but African philanthropic capital has been centered on development for decades already. The funds being diverted towards the provision of water and sanitation are simultaneously empowering local businesses, giving communities the necessary security to further their own development-related initiatives.
Philanthropic capital can be employed in diverse ways, but the need for philanthropy is born from people’s constrained capacity to better their own lives. The philosophy of the Motsepe Foundation is “Ubuntu,” which is a concept that teaches us about the exponential gains of assisting in the life of a single person. Many of the beneficiaries we assist are inspired to continue a cycle of giving for exponential development gains.
While schools bring optimism to children who aren’t necessarily exposed to environments that support their dreams at home, philanthropy is able to bring independence to communities facing turmoil. As we enter a new era, plagued by uncertainty, we rely on our human impulses to be empathetic, generous, and considerate of how our actions may affect those around us. Philanthropic capital can provide goods and services that others lack, but it can also instill values of equality, justice, and hope that effectively enable collective efforts in building a prosperous future.