In 2018, the OECD published a report, their first ever, on the role of private philanthropy in development, which revealed some interesting findings.

From 2013–2015, philanthropy contributed US$6.6 billion to development globally. Two-thirds of this amount went to middle-income countries; as a continent, Africa was the largest beneficiary. Although philanthropy, in comparison to Official Development Assistance (ODA), contributed only about 5% to global development, it still played a crucial role, particularly in sectors like health, education, agriculture, human rights, civil society, and the environment. Philanthropy was, in fact, the third major source of financing for health worldwide.

Private philanthropy has also become a more significant resource for development since the 2007 global economic crisis that led to recession. The economic crisis caused ODA to plateau, creating a huge funding gap. Private philanthropy, particularly to least developed countries and middle-income countries, was the “knight in shining armour” that came to the rescue.

The OECD study mapped out the scope of how much private philanthropy contributes to development. Engaging all possible avenues for financing development is critical to achieving the SDGs. Private philanthropy, they acknowledged, is clearly one such avenue.

Philanthropy in Ghana

As Ghana looks towards achieving its own development goals, and to moving beyond aid, it must seriously consider the role philanthropy plays. The May 2019 Ghana Beyond Aid (GBA) Strategy and Charter does not currently recognize philanthropy as a possible source of development financing. It is essential that this be corrected. To quote the SDG Philanthropy Platform for Ghana’s 2017 report, “Philanthropy — both indigenous and global — could be an important source to support and supplement existing government aid, as demonstrated by the significant levels of philanthropic support provided towards the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Estimates show that a total of 151 foundations contributed USD 394.2 million dollars towards the implementation of Ghana’s MDG priorities between 2002 and 2012.”

Particularly because current philanthropic resources predominantly come from donors in Europe and America, the GBA strategy must consider how local philanthropy can become a useful avenue for sustainable development financing. The Akan adage says that a bird cannot fly on borrowed wings, so moving Ghana beyond aid means reducing dependence on external funding.

Ghanaians already give generously. They give to family, to friends, to their religious and community groups, and to public charities. The focus of this giving has mainly been the socioeconomic wellbeing of the ultimate beneficiary, who may or may not be the immediate recipient.

Challenges and Opportunities

One major challenge moving forward is the dearth of data on philanthropy in Ghana, despite it being common practice. It is also difficult to define local philanthropy. Research within academia and civil society can contribute to the government’s conceptualization process by clearly identifying the scope and typologies of philanthropy. A number of avenues for research could include the following:

  • Donations from High Net Worth Individuals (HNWI): On 14 March 2017, the findings of the Knight Frank Wealth Report for 2017 were published. The report found that “Two hundred Ghanaians joined the elite class of dollar millionaires in 2016, raising the tally of the high net worth individuals (HNWI) with US$1 million or more to 2,900 people from 2,700 in 2015.” That same wealth report predicted that by 2026, Ghana will have 5,200 new dollar millionaires. The increase of wealthy persons in Ghana, within a giving culture, presents a potential avenue of consistent support for socioeconomic needs, if the environment is created to incentivize this kind of giving.
  • Remittances from the diaspora: According to a recent World Bank report, remittances from diasporic Africans is likely to reach almost US$40 billion by the end of 2019. In some countries, including Ghana, remittances account for more than the official development assistance provided by donors. This remains a viable source for development financing with proper channelling. Ghana could learn from some examples on the continent, such as the Rwanda Diaspora Mutual Fund.
  • Member donations to religious bodies: Ghanaians are religious — 70% Christian and 18% Muslim, according to the 2012 Ghana Statistical Service report — and most donate generously to their places of worship. Churches and other religious institutions could channel some of their resources towards socioeconomic development needs in a more coordinated manner.
  • Individual donations: It is an expected duty of every well-meaning Ghanaian to give towards the support of family, friends, and community. It is part of the cultural ethos of building solidarity, reciprocity, communalism, and fellow feeling. Giving is thus not new to Ghanaians. Where aggregated, properly channelled, and given the right support structures, donations could have a greater impact.
  • Individual volunteerism: Individuals donate not only cash but also materials and time through volunteerism. A properly structured voluntary sector framework could reduce the dependency on external aid for Ghana in the long term.


The government of Ghana must create and support an enabling environment in order to harness the power of philanthropy by recognizing it as a possible development resource, nurturing it to enable this role, and working in partnership with various institutions to sustain it. This enabling environment for local philanthropy can be created in the following ways:

  • Mine relevant information
  • Curate knowledge to inform policy formulation, implementation, and monitoring
  • Develop and enact relevant policy, legislation, and regulations
  • Build institutions to nurture and support local philanthropy
  • Engage the relevant constituencies, facilitate collaboration, and coordinate effective and systematic interventions


The Ghana Beyond Aid Charter and Strategy is a welcome initiative, demonstrating an inspiring vision towards Ghana’s sustainable development. However, it fails to recognize the role that local philanthropy could play in achieving this goal. Without it, the GBA agenda may not achieve its objective of long-term sustainable development.

The focus of GBA is economic development, which is essential, but development should not be narrowly perceived as GDP growth only. It should include quality of life, wellbeing, health, and freedom. In Ghana, as in other parts of the world, philanthropy has a major role to play if development is to be sustainable, and that philanthropy must ultimately come from within the country rather than from external donors.

The West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI), the SDG Philanthropy Forum, the National Philanthropy Forum, Star Ghana Foundation, and other organizations and platforms have been working on the issues of local philanthropy and remain available for further engagement and collaboration.


Photo by Benny Jackson on Unsplash