Women show way in philanthropy

5 April 2020

The gesture by billionaire heiress – Mary Oppenheimer and her daughters to donate R1-billion to the Solidarity Fund set up by govern­ment to ward off the contagious Cov­id-19 – has given the country a glimpse of how better life could be if more wom­en were in control of the levers of economic power.

Mary has trusted her government enough that it would use the money in a responsible way and benefit the down­trodden who need help the most.

The statement by Mary and her chil­dren shows a human face – their rea­sons to choose to donate to the Solidar­ity Fund is telling.

They state that the objectives of the fund align with their corncerns as a family which are “basic needs, food, medicine, general care and gender abuse”.

The face of wealth in South Afri­ca must change so that philanthropy can have a more humane face. It is on­ly when women control more wealth that the face of philanthropy will also change.

Big philanthropy – more than ordi­nary small donations that most people make – is an exercise of power. And this power can better be exercised by wom­en for it to make a real difference in the lives of people.

Research conducted for the Women’s Philanthropy Institute has found that households headed by women at all levels of income and wealth give more money and are more likely to give than similarly situated men.

Mary’s brother Nicky and Johann Rupert – two of the richest men in the country – have opted to shun the ave­nues provided by the government and instead anointed companies related to them and the big banks to offer loans to struggling small businesses. The mes­sage is that their money is too precious to be administered by the government. This is the ugly face of philanthropy.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is largely seen as captains of industry go-to guy, so why don’t Nicky and Johann trust his administration, particularly the cash-starved Ministry of Small Busi­ness Development, to prudently admin­ister their R2-billion pledge.

One of the reasons put forward by the Rupert, for choosing Business Part­ners to administer the distribution of the R1-billion kitty is that it has expe­rience in lending to small businesses.

Nicky and Johann forget one simple fact about the structure of South Afri­ca’s economy – that the small business sector has thousands of informal busi­nesses who will not qualify for their loans. The Department of Small Busi­ness Development, as it stands, is the on­ly institution that has an appetite to offer assistance to informal businesses, often called the unseen economy by capital.

Former Chinese leader Mao Zedong was indeed correct many moons ago when he said: “Women hold up half the sky.” South Africa must free the poten­tial of her women if she wants to achieve her goal of creating a better life for all.

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