By Afe Babalola
This week, in continuation of my discussion of the issue of poverty in the country, I will highlight how philanthropy can aid development.
Philanthropy as a Tool for Development in Nigeria
Nigeria is at the moment faced with several problems ranging from dilapidating infrastructure in every facet of public life, poor or inadequate medical facilities, ill-equipped educational institutions etc.
As stated earlier, no single government can be expected to provide a solution to these problems and more. Regrettably, most of the problems of the country have been blamed on its leadership, and perhaps this is understandably so given its huge human and natural resources. However I am of the view that when the story of the current challenges of Nigeria come to be told decades down the road, both the government and governed will take the blame in not too dissimilar measures. For one, certain qualities and concepts such as service and philanthropy, the hallmarks of many great countries are terms with which many Nigerians are not familiar. Majority of Nigerians do not believe in rendering any form of service without taking something in return”. For many the idea of selfless service is anathema.
For example, no aspect of our national life is more problematic and deserving of urgent attention than Nigeria’s educational sector. Our universities are obviously ill-equipped. No Nigerian university is ranked among the top 1000 universities in the world. Most of the first generation universities in Nigeria still utilize structures built several decades ago at the height of the oil boom in Nigeria. Most of our public universities are universities only in name. The challenge of poor funding is indeed a formidable one as no tertiary educational institution can provide quality and functional education without adequate funding. Funding is at the heart of any serious academic enterprise and even when government is not able to fully support tertiary institutions, some institutions, especially the private types have found alternative means of sourcing funds, particularly through donations, endowments, and gifting. Universities have always utilized funding to pioneer research in existing and novel areas of academic enterprise.
Additionally, some Nigerians and corporate entities have by their initiatives demonstrated that they can, without necessarily waiting for governmental intervention, contribute their quota towards educational development. Some of these initiatives have been in the form of scholarships and endowment to outright donation of infrastructure to assist universities. During my tenure as Pro-Chancellor of the University of Lagos several well-meaning Nigerians made immense contribution to the endowment of the university. This endowment today continues to provide funding for students who but for the existence of the endowment would have had their educational aspirations truncated.
On my part, I founded the Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti with a vision to lead education reform by example. My major motivation was a desire to ensure qualitative educational opportunity to the present generation.
During construction, over 5000 workers were employed by the various contractors. The immediate effect which this had on the community was a decrease in crime rate. Persons who out of idleness would have strayed into crime found themselves gainfully employed.
The university today is in its ninth year of existence and by the special grace of God Almighty has been positioned to fulfil the dreams behind its coming into existence.
Who Can Be A Philanthropist?
Let me say straightaway that philanthropy is not restricted to a particular set of people nor a particular clime. Everyone who has something worthy of sharing is a potential philanthropist. What this simply translates into is that one does not need to be a millionaire or a billionaire before he becomes a philanthropist. The most important requirement or element is the possession of spirit of giving – willingness and readiness to help others in need, especially the poor and the less privileged.
Most, if not all persons pray for favour. What most do not, however, realise is that they can themselves give uncommon favour to their fellow men. There was the case of two men standing side by side in a church; one was praying for the success of his multi-million dollar contract bid with a multinational oil company, whilst the other was asking God for a miracle in the form of his supper that evening. Without a doubt, the former is very well placed to provide the uncommon favour or miracle which the latter seeks. As funny as it sounds, this to my mind is a scenario that plays out often not only in our places of worship but also virtually in every minute of our daily existence. It is therefore imperative that everyone identifies areas where he or she can contribute meaningfully to the lives of others. In so doing perhaps we might just be performing a miracle.
Philanthropy is rooted in love and compassion. It is of immense benefit not only to the person who practices it but also to the beneficiary and the society at large. Mankind stands to benefit in the long-run from acts of philanthropy. It is said that no man is to himself an island. We are all part of a larger picture. Love is our eternal duty. It is the creed by which we are expected to live our lives and in so doing contribute our quota to humanity. Andrew Carnegie, at one time the richest man alive, in the last years of his life gave away about $350 million (conservatively estimated at $65 billion in today’s money). In an article titled: “The Gospel of Wealth” he advocated the responsibility of philanthropy by the new upper class of self-made rich. Carnegie proposed that the best way of dealing with the new phenomenon of wealth inequality was for the wealthy to utilize their surplus means in a responsible and thoughtful manner. This approach was contrasted with traditional bequest (patrimony), where the rich hand down their wealth to their heirs alone, and other forms of bequest e.g. where wealth is willed to the state for public purposes. He argued that surplus wealth is put to best use (i.e. produces the greatest net benefit to society) when it is administered carefully by the wealthy. He also argued against wasteful use of capital in the form of extravagance, irresponsible spending, or self-indulgence, instead promoting the administration of said capital over the course of one’s lifetime toward the cause of reducing the divide between the rich and poor. He also famously declared that the man who dies rich dies disgraced.
The rich in our society should imbibe the culture of giving as it appears that the present crop of rich men in our society are rather interested in watching their financial portfolio grow and nothing else matters to them. N1billion kept in a bank vault will remain N1billion. However, if money is giving to others, it increases the velocity of money and stimulates economic growth. The more the money is allowed to go round, the more opportunities will be created for creation of businesses and jobs for the populace.