Grant Funding Landscape in Africa: Part 2

April 29, 2024

Grant Funding Landscape in Africa 

This is a four-part series, where we engage Irene Ikomu, The Muyi Group’s CEO (Chief Executive Officer) on her insights and thoughts on funding in Africa with a special focus on Grant Funding. Check out our Insights page for other parts.

Part 1 


Question: What basics give an organization a competitive advantage in getting grant funding?  


So, grant funding comes in very many different facets, and from diverse sources. Some of the biggest grant funding in Africa that we know comes from governments (both local and foreign) in the form of development aid. Most people are familiar with USAID (United States Agency for International Development) and GIZ (Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit) as some of the biggest government-mandated grant funders from the Global North.  

Grant funding can also be raised from international non-profit organizations that are independent of governments but receive donations from a myriad of donors because of their international reputation. Institutions like Plan International or Oxfam will both implement their programs but also offer grants to smaller like-minded entities. They run mass campaigns and fundraising events to get their funding because they are trusted.   

You also have funding that comes from private companies through their associated corporate foundations. Many of these benefit from tax incentives given to businesses that set aside a portion of their profits for charity work. Corporate philanthropy comes in many forms, from simply donating money to encouraging employees to volunteer within the community. Some examples include the Bosch Foundation, MasterCard Foundation, Ford Foundation, Coca-Cola Foundation and MTN Foundation. They are linked to businesses and the business is setting aside a certain percentage of their profit. They focus on diverse issues.  


You also have funding that comes from high-net-worth individuals- billionaires and millionaires- which is the biggest pool of private philanthropy money. These vary from very iconic and well-known figures to more conservative individuals and families who want to make a difference. The top philanthropists here include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Open Society Foundation by George Soros, The Bloomberg Philanthropies, and The Omidyar Group among so many others. Some individuals have pledged to give away most of their money such as Warren Buffet who wants to give away 99% of his wealth, McKenzie Scott has used her fortune, inherited in her divorce from Jeff Bezos, to fund nonprofit organisations and prominent in Africa are Nigeria’s Tony Elumelu, The Oppenheimer family from South Africa and Sudanese-British billionaire Mo Ibrahim.  


Once one understands the several types of grant funding available, specifically what they focus on, the values they espouse, and what their different requirements might look like, it gives you a broad understanding of the funding landscape and helps you develop your grant fundraising strategy because each will have slightly different criteria for how, who, and where they fund. Getting a basic understanding of the landscape of who funds what is critical for anyone just starting. Also, know that anyone can access funding- individuals, non-profits (big or small), social enterprises, and even businesses. Most funders will list out criteria of what they want their money to do, who they are interested in supporting, and what areas they would like to make a difference in.  


So, now to the question: what gives an organization a competitive advantage in getting grant funding? 


There is a reason the Sustainable Development Goals are universally popular and promoted. They captured the biggest challenges we face as a planet. Conduct an internal audit to see how many of these SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) you could be addressing and how. Most grant funding will be directed to one or a couple of these. What is your contribution to making the world a better place? Once you have that matrix, then below are other considerations, though not exhaustive.  

Storytelling is such an important part of the philanthropy/grant funding world. A good place to start is to look inward at what you do, what problems you are solving, and what your unique selling point is. What is that unique approach that you have that no one else has? Are you the first organization to do things and work in a specific area? 
And then you build your competitive advantage by looking at ways to communicate your mission and work to the right audience. How are you communicating your mission? Is it clear and does it align with whoever you would like to fund your work? Certain things appeal to different grant funders, for example, development funders like USAID will focus their funding a lot on development challenges like ending poverty.   


When you swing the pendulum more towards private philanthropies and private foundations, it is more aligned to what is the mission of that funder as a business. Is their foundation interested in making the Internet accessible to all? Or is it interested in supporting early-stage entrepreneurs? Or it is looking for the next leaders of your generation. Private philanthropy, you find, is very much influenced by the personal stories of the founder. For example, if a close family member battled with cancer, that could become a compelling cause to them. 


What is especially important in grant funding is that even though this money is free, grant funders must know that this money is going to be managed well. So, building an advantage also means building the right systems to execute projects- financial, monitoring, project management, and oversight. The more you have these in place, the more attractive you are. Do you have the right checks and balances in place? Will this money be used the way you are saying it is going to be used? Do you have the capacity to do what you say you are going to do? 


Reach and impact are another crucial factor to consider. Unlike other types of funding, grant/ philanthropic funding is motivated by impact. What kind of difference will the money make? How many people are going to be directly benefiting from the money that that you are getting and what is that going to do to change their lives? A lot of that needs to be documented and communicated very well. It then becomes easy for you to tell people where each dollar, each Rand, each shilling, and each naira will go. 


Another one is innovation. And I do not just mean innovation in the sense of technology as it is used lately, but innovation in terms of how you are solving the problem you are addressing. A lot, a lot of the problems that grant funding is trying to solve have been around for an extraordinarily long time. Your innovation in terms of what solution you are offering to a certain problem gives you a ridiculously huge competitive advantage. 
A good example in Uganda is Fundibots, which is the only organization in the country that is trying to teach robotics and make robotics available in every school. It is such a unique approach and a unique approach to the terrible problem of access to quality education and changing opportunities available for future generations from developing countries that are often perceived as left behind in the pace of development. 


So, now go back and sit with your team and produce the top 5 aspects of your organization, enterprise, or business that give you a competitive advantage and could be attractive to grant funding.