Philanthropy as active citizenship in South Africa


Gabrielle Ritchie, Director: The Change Room

19th May 2016

Do you regard yourself as an active citizen, as someone who is involved in and part of society around you?  If you do, you no doubt also feel a sense of responsibility for what goes on around you, and see yourself as very much part and parcel of your community, its dynamics, politics, economics and culture.  If you see yourself as an active citizen, you most likely have a deep sense of caring about what happens around you.  And you probably want to “make a difference”.  I am talking about an involvement beyond one’s day-to-day work/home/family existence.

As many citizens as there are, so too are there as many ways of being an active citizen.  This kind of energised and committed involvement in what goes on around, and the belief in your own potential to influence the future in some small (or big) way, can manifest in a wide range of forms.  Popular or common channels to express one’s commitment to the future of one’s neighbourhood, city, country, and/or globe included, amongst a myriad others:

  • starting or volunteering at a non-profit initiative in your community (eg. literacy support, support for girl children and other vulnerable groups, aged citizens care, feeding those without homes, animal rescue, after-school programmes)
  • involvement in community-level “improvement” initiatives (eg. street and park clean-up, donations of books to your local library)
  • participation in resident’s associations and pushing for improvements through a city council
  • writing a blog on what goes on in your geographic area, or your area of socio-political interest
  • writing op eds for news platforms on topical issues
  • involvement in community arts, music, theatre, choir, sports etc
  • initiating and/or signing petitions in support of a political, policy or environmental issue, for example
  • protest action, or support for protest action, related to local, national or global issues
  • speaking out in the face of injustice – on local, national and/or global issues.
  • making information widely available that is of public value that might otherwise be inaccessible to most

A key way of demonstrating your sense of commitment to social development is, of course, through financial donation and support for causes and organisations with which you share values and goals.  All initiatives need financial support, and providing this at a level appropriate to your own capacity to give, is a critical channel to express active citizenship.

You might already be doing some of the actions in the bullet-list above, or some of the many that are not listed.  This post, though, is to encourage you also to provide whatever financial support you are able, in whatever way you are able.

The Inyathelo Philanthropy Awards, South Africa’s annual awards programme recognising those who have made remarkable philanthropic financial contributions to social development, has demonstrated the extent to which anybody can be a philanthropist.  Across South Africa, individuals contribute what they can in support of a cause they believe in, an initiative they belief to be key to improving the lives of those around them.   These awards have not been about how much individuals have been able to give, but rather what they have been able to achieve with the levels of giving of which they are capable.

Philanthropy in South Africa (see @philanthroPISA for local tweets on this topic) is wide and deep and full of different kinds of giving in terms of how, why, when, to whom and how much.  There are examples of every kind of giving.  Where do you fit in? What kind of philanthropist are you? And how does philanthropy fit into your efforts to be an active citizen?

To read stories of inspiring philanthropy in South Africa, go to









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