‘Our work revolve around three focus areas using the Power Participation Initiative, Youth Opportunities, and Fiscal Justice Program’

by Innocent Unah

July 10, 2017 | 4:57 pm
  |     |     |   Start Conversation


Ford Foundation, a leading global philanthropic organisation that focuses on reducing inequality and enhancing human dignity around the world, has been making impact on different sectors in Nigeria for over four decades.  Innocent Chukwuma, Ford Foundation’s Regional Manager in charge of West Africa spoke to Innocent Unah, Senior Analyst at BusinessDay Media recently. Excerpts of the interview are reproduced below.

The Ford Foundation Global CEO will be visiting Nigeria soon. What is the thrust of his visit?

We have 10 regional offices around the world, outside our headquarters is in New York.

So he visits every other year just to be with us, know what we do, and meet with our guarantors both within government and non-state actor, and generally familiarize himself with the work our partners do in the region.

This is also an opportunity for us to leverage his presence to meet with key stakeholders in the regions we work as government functionaries, leaders of business, and key society actors, and through that interaction increase the profile of both the Ford Foundation and the work that we do in the regions.

It also enable him to have what we call experiential learning about the work because it’s one thing to be in the headquarters and read about it but when he comes out and gets immersed in the work that our partners do it gives him a richer understanding and also enable him to participate in thought-provoking and idea-generation discussions that will help deepen the work we do and understanding of the context in which those works are done.

As I was trying to have a brief understanding of the Ford Foundation, what struck me is that the Foundation tends to focus on reducing inequality and social inclusion . . .

That’s our current focus, we identify inequality as the overarching challenge that 21st century is going to be facing. So it is central to the work we do around the world and our work is structured so that each region identifies the key inequality that is prevalent in their context and develops strategies and program to help contribute in reducing them.

But generally the foundation itself supports visionary leaders at the front end of social justice – so we are social justice philanthropists that support individuals, ideas, and institutions that make impact in advancing social change.

I will give you an example. In West Africa our key aspiration is to contribute in deepening democracy in the region. Creating inclusion and making the region safer for women and children is at the centre of our focus. The way we phrase it is to support democracy, inclusion, and safety within the west Africa sub-region with women and youth at the centre of our work; and that derives from the progress we have made over the past 10 to 15years focusing on politics and governance.

Look at how the West Africa region has evolved. 20 years or so ago you could count only a handful of countries that were democratic. At a time it was only Senegal, and Ghana joined in 1992. But if you look now there is no country in West Africa that is not a democratic government, if you understand it to mean organizing periodic election although it means more than that. But the most visible indicator of democracy is periodic election.

How can you describe the level of success the Foundation has recorded in the region so far?

We are at a stage where we have contributed significantly in making the sub-region democratic and have zero tolerance on militarily rule but there also other aspects of the work where we are seeing new challenges. If you take for instance the situation in Nigeria, in 2015 we achieved a major democratic milestone in terms of inter party change of government for the first time in the history Nigeria. But if you look at that election in terms of representation, women were reduced from both the 2011 and 2007 figures. For example in the parliament by 2011 election women made up 11 per cent of parliamentarians in Nigeria. But by 2015 election, it reduced to 7 per cent. If you also look at representation of young people below the age of 30 years, constitutionally majority of them were actually excluded. If you look at the constitutional provision for election to the National Assembly, if you are below 30 years you cannot contest.

Meanwhile the median age in Nigeria is 19 years and people under the age of 30 years make up 70 per cent of the population, which means 70 per cent of the populations are zoned out of participation in politics.

Our focus on inequality targets women and youth with a view to providing them opportunity to participate effectively, not just as mere voters, but also as having the opportunity of being in leadership positions and decision-making platforms that impact their daily life.

I have been in many youth forum in which they discussed that the youth should be more involved in politics.

Has the Ford Foundation considered the issue of money in politics and the fact that the youth may not have the capacity to compete against the money-bags? Have you created a system that can handle that?

Campaign finance is certainly a major hurdle against women and young people participation in electoral politics, but there are approaches that are been used in other parts of the world and if adopted here could address some of those hurdles. For instance, in countries like Senegal and Rwanda you have what they call parity policy and law that seek to create opportunities for women and youth in governance. In the case of Senegal the law provides for 50-50 representation. If you go to Senegal today women constitute about 42 per cent of their parliamentarians; in Rwanda it is about 56 per cent.

So through promotion of parity policies you can have a situation where the marginalized is given proper representation.  In Nigeria, similar result can be achieved through review and amendment of our constitution to lower the age of standing for election in parliament and other positions. You can achieve that and that’s why one of our partners in Nigeria is YAGA in Abuja, with the campaign of ‘Not Too Young To Run’.

It’s a movement that has received significant international attention and support. It is all about the movement of young people into political positions. Another level is also engaging political parties to have policies that promote the involvement of youth and women. Nothing stops political parties from saying 30 per cent of the people we field in election will comprise women and youth. It happened under Obasanjo.

Remember after the youth conference of 1995 when there is adoption of global pact that 30 per cent of positions in government should be reserved for youth. The Obasanjo Government implemented that policy, I think, to a reasonable extent. Jonathan did as well. It’s actually under this government that is supposed to be change government that we have seen a dramatic drop. The one under both Obasanjo and Jonathan were deliberate polices of the PDP.

How are you working to address the challenge considering . . .

We are also working with partners who also engage with political parties to see if they can adopt such policies but beyond appeal to government, beyond appeal to political parties and beyond appeal to legislation and all of that, they should on their own to see the reason to make this amendment.

There is also an important work to be done at level of building women and youth platform that champion their interest. In Senegal one of the youth platforms that enabled them to have the kind of change we saw in 2012 election was called YANAMA. It is a French word that means enough is enough, and this movement was made up of artists, reggae musicians, and young activists. They all came together and campaigned across the country; they composed music to explain the situation young people are in and that helped them a lot.

Not only in Senegal. They have taken that campaign to contribute a lot in the Burkinafaso change that we saw few a years ago and even up to Congo Democratic Republic.  Such good practices can also be brought here for Nigerians to learn. I know in 2012, we had our own equivalent of enough is enough campaign that stopped the increment in fuel price. And the thinking was that it will grow to also give young people active voice in politics, but it didn’t happen.

So it is those kinds of things that we need to do to make young people to do rather than sit back and withdraw from political and economic activities. So essentially we realize that they have the power of number, they have the power of youth and more importantly they have the poor of access to new technology that is been used all over the world to mobilize and get them interested in representation in government.

So that’s an area we hope to see more momentum with the work we have done up to now has help to increase the credibility of the electoral process help increasing the transparency of the process but what need to happen now is a movement of inclusion of excluded people mostly women and youth

To achieve this you mentioned some of your partners, how do you get the local partners that will help to drive the vision this youth and women inclusion in governance?

We look for partnerships across different levels. Here we have to work with non-profit organizations that are at the front edge of change such as NGOs and community-based organizations that are involved in mobilizing people. To do this we are actively engaged in seeking partnership with local philanthropists.

We want individual to begin to invest in social change work which is one of the reasons why we are collaborating with Africa Capital Alliance to organize this convention on the 19th of July (this month), with impact investing and social change in Nigeria as the theme. We are also actively engaging and working with state actors to ensure that the environment is made conducive for these things to thrive.

But that is just one aspect of our work because we have three program areas that we focus on in Lagos office here. What I have describe to you is some of the work we do under thePower Participation Initiative, which, as I said, works towards mainstreaming women and youth to take active role in politics and decision-making platforms that impact their lives.

Another area that we are working on is what we call Youth Opportunities, where we invest in learning systems that provide young people with the right kind of skill to make them to be able to create jobs or find jobs which is currently lacking. With the level of unemployment in Nigeria which is double that of an adult, we have a serious challenge which is that young and able-bodied people who are willing to work do not find job. It makes them open to all kind of influences that can be inimical to society so we are investing on developing the ecosystem of TVET, that is, technical vocational educational training with a particular focus on the Niger Delta.

We are also involved in Fiscal Justice Program, which is about contributing to make sure that public revenue and expenditure are used to address the needs of the most marginalized people. You can’t explain why in a regional country of tremendous human and natural resources, majority of the population have still not been able to get above poverty level. That is unacceptable.

Our fiscal justice work is making sure that we improve accountability in public finance management, transparency in utilization of public resources, and also ensure that that the  tax system is fair and not  unduly heavy on those at the lower rung of the ladder, and ensuring that illicit financial flow are reduced. Because when you take money generated from one economy to another economy where you are taking it to will become richer and richer and the place u are taking from will become poorer and poorer, and then the gap widens. Those are three critical areas that we work on – poor participation, youth opportunities and fiscal justice- all in a bid to push for our goals of building an inclusive democratic and safe West Africa sub region with women and youth at the centre of driving that change.

For potential partners does the foundation go out deliberately to identify them out or do they approach the foundation? How does it work?

There are varieties of ways through which we partner with non-profit and other actors that look for our support. One way is that it comes directly through what we call unsolicited proposal and we do pay attention to them. One could approach us to find our priority areas and explain his to us. If there is a match, there could be a potential support and we also from time to time do market survey to see key actors in the space that we want to support, invite them to events that we organise in our office here or elsewhere, and get to know them better.

And through that partnership opportunities can come or we can also look through other funding agencies who we will partner with to see who they are funding and who their key partners are, and to see if there is a fit. So there are varieties of ways, but the best one is to approach us so there will be a prior discussion before you send proposal. The unsolicited proposals have rare chances of being selected because you don’t know what we are focusing on and you just send proposal.

Talking of philanthropy, there are times when some of the partners make contributions in terms of advancing the course of the foundation but in their private business they still engage in practices that tend to undermine the goal they are pursuing. How do you intend to handle that? 

It has been a key issue in the philanthropy world. I think it was martin Luther king jnr. who said in 1964 that philanthropy is good but they should not make the philanthropist ignorant or unaware of the circumstance of the economic injustice that make philanthropy relevant in the first place. It is good to give but also understand that they are fundamental contradiction in the way society economics are structured that some people are privilege than others.

And if you go into that you will find out that some people give in fraction of what they earn in charity but the bulk of money they make come from certain investment that are sometimes inimical to the goals they are pursuing in the philanthropic world and it makes sense to get them to align it.

If you subscribe to a just world, rather than just put in a small fraction of your money, also make sure your business practices are right. Your investment, when you invest the bulk of your money, you make the decision invest them in not just high yielding sector but also in sectors that do not cause problem for you so that you will now try solving it again. And that is what we call mission-related investment – to make sure that your mission as a cooperate and your giving are in line.

For example in the Ford Foundation we have an endowment of 12 billion dollars from a 25 thousand dollar gift by Henry Ford and Esel Ford that founded this foundation in 1936. Through the gift and subsequent support they gave which was invested in an endowment, it has grown to 12 billion dollars. These 12 billion dollars are invested and 5 per cent of it is given annually as grant; we give 5 per cent 500 million dollars to philanthropy, but the 95 per cent balance of our endowment is invested in sectors that yield returns.

So about 10 -15 years ago discussion started happening around what do we do about this 95 per cent and it not just us. It is a discussion that involves other philanthropies and people started writing that it is important, if you say that you stand for this, to also ensure that what you are investing this 95 per cent will sustain your cause.

I am not saying we are making bad investment, but it is to be conscious that the power of 95 per cent of your income, if well not managed, could undermine what you are trying to achieve with the 5 per cent.

Earlier this year our board approved for the foundation to take 1 billion dollars out of this endowment and stretch it over 10 years at an average of 100 million dollars a year, and also see that they can only be invested in stocks and investment opportunities that align with our social justice group and through that call on other foundations to follow us.

The convening we will have on the 19th at the Wheatbaker from 3 pm to 5pm is an advocacy campaign to sensitize corporates and high net worth individual that this is the way the world is going, and through that see if we could mobilize more actors in Nigeria and the sub region who would think alike.

Is this going to be a one-off event or regular, annual event?

No I hope it is going to be more regular, and we are in discussion with both African Capital Alliance and BusinessDay. It is something we could be doing on annual basis to begin with so that people can look up to it, and going beyond convening and also recognizing individuals and corporates who have made key steps in that area. We will think of ways of rewarding and recognizing them and through that process encourage others who are thinking alike to do same.

We have a very good example with the Onosodes and the donation they made to Lagos Business School where they gave them a gift of half a billion naira though not done in a busy and noisy way. But they made strategic investments to support the goals and mission and vision of that world class institution.

Anyway we want to see more of that.  Who would have thought that the Onosode family could do this, because he (Gamaliel Onosode) spent life in the corporate world, where he was managing business for profit?

There could be so many Onosodes out there who could be encouraged to do similar thing because through that you grow the society. If you go to the United States, a state like Indiana, if you look at the contribution of philanthropists in the development of Indianapolis the capital of Indiana, it is amazing.

The University of Indiana is one of them. If you go there you will see almost every big building there is donated by one family or the other.

So we want to see more people that have ‘been blessed by God’ investing in circumstances that will reduce the level of poverty and inequalities in our society, so our society can be safer and more stable.

by Innocent Unah

July 10, 2017 | 4:57 pm
  |     |     |   Start Conversation

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