Philanthropy Around The World: Spotlight On Malawi

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world with close to 75% of the population existing well below the income poverty line of US$1.25 a day.

The majority of the country’s 17 million inhabitants rely on subsistence farming or fishing both as their livelihood and for survival. Food security, however, is frequently threatened by adverse weather conditions including both drought and heavy rainfall.

Widespread poverty means the average Malawian only expects to live to the age of 40 as a result of malnutrition, malaria and the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS. Around a million children have lost one or both parents to the latter disease. More than 16% of the population are orphans and vulnerable children under the age of 18. Most families caring for orphans and vulnerable children don’t have sufficient means to provide even the basic necessities with the result that many of these children lack parental care, proper nutrition, and adequate shelter and have limited or no access to education and healthcare.

Philanthropy in Malawi has traditionally been primarily centred around the idea of the spirit of African brotherhood, in other words, always being there for somebody in need. However, there is no formal structure for philanthropy in the country with the result that any initiatives are somewhat adhoc with limited impact. In recognition of the dire need in the country, government does offer tax exemptions for materials imported for philanthropic causes. A number of politicians have philanthropic foundations although these are often driven by political agendas as opposed to making a long term positive impact.

The Bilal Trust Malawi is dedicated to Islamic charity work, operating a number of institutions in Blantyre including a teacher’s training college and business management college. A UK charity, African Vision, focuses its philanthropic efforts north of the capital, Lilongwe with projects such as bicycle ambulances, building schools, community based childcare centres, distribution of essential items, school feeding programmes, amongst others.

A number of high profile international celebrities have initiated philanthropic efforts into the small southern African country. The most well-known of these is singer Madonna who is regarded as the single largest international philanthropic donor to Malawi. She founded Raising Malawi, a charitable non-profit organisation dedicated to bringing an end to extreme poverty and improve human rights in Malawi. Raising Malawi joined forces with global non-profit BuildOn to build schools in Malawi and claims to have built 14 schools in rural regions.

Madonna’s efforts, however, have not been without controversy with the government arguing that she has exaggerated her philanthropic efforts in the country.

Tennis player, Roger Federer, though his foundation, supports the Malawian government’s Early Childhood Development (ECD) programme by providing funding to build pre-schools across the continent. The Roger Federer Foundation has invested US$13 million to support a decade long ECD programme. The support includes health, sanitation, nutrition, materials, parenting education, construction and capacity building.

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