Charity Fundraising Increases as Nation’s Burdens Worsen

Ethiopia is working hard to tackle the many difficulties that its people are experiencing. Conflicts, evictions, and displacements are now common topics in Ethiopian news. These issues pose a significant impact on an already struggling economy. In response to these extraordinary challenges and their consequences, people and organizations are uniting to mobilize resources. Ethiopia has seen a wide range of fundraising strategies, from individuals and groups that collect items for vulnerable communities, to digital platforms that mobilize financial resources from around the world. In this piece, EBR’s Lidya Tesfaye examines the expanding practice of charity fundraising.

Eshetu Melese, better known by his YouTube handle as comedian Eshetu, is a well-known Ethiopian who, during the first week of March, raised more than USD 1.6 million in just over 24 hours. Famous musicians participated in a crowdfunding effort that was managed through the world’s number crowdfunding platform, GoFundMe. The goal of the fundraising effort was to support Mekedonia Charity Homes, a home for the elderly and mentally disabled.

Yared Shumete, an activist who participated in Eshetu’s campaign and is best known for his fight to have ethnic information deleted from identification cards, has been running a separate campaign. His goal was to generate money and in-kind donations for the Borena drought victims in the Oromia Regional State. Later, Yared’s campaign was disallowed by the State’s authorities.

After the ban, Yared announced the start of a new initiative for people who had been internally displaced, this time located in Debre Birhan, in the Regional State of Amhara. The goal of Yared’s most recent humanitarian effort, named “Zemecha Derash,” is to aid individuals who have fled the Regional State of Oromia. During the first week of March 2023, EBR met Fikirte Deginet (name changed upon request) at the Red Cross headquarters at a fundraiser for the drought in Borena.

“I am here to help people who are in trouble,” Fikirte told EBR.  “I would rather point my finger at the government only after I have done my part.”

Fikirte believes the government’s delayed response to problems is the cause of the numerous philanthropic groups and individuals engaged in fundraising. Fikirte claims that her participation in the activity is not just for her own gratification, but also because she feels it’s her responsibility.

“The one thing that gives us hope for the children of this nation is helping one another,” Fikirte argues.

Ethiopians are being forced to endure awful experiences one after the other, with individuals and organizations attempting to help communities deal with these extraordinary hardships. Their efforts have saved both personal lives and jobs, despite the fact that they are not centralized and hence difficult to account for. The life of Tsinat Tesfaye, a single mother of two, was saved by a charitable act. Two years ago, Tsinat experienced a fire catastrophe that resulted in the loss of her home and business, causing damage totaling ETB 1,500,000. After the loss she endured, only her neighbors came to her aid.

“This shop is yours as much as it is mine,” she said firmly, showing her small shop to EBR. “I was able to send my children to school thanks to the support of my neighbors.”

Tsinat claims she does not have a complete record of everyone who has ever intervened to save her when she was at her lowest point. Yet, she feels that she owes everyone a debt of gratitude because her community—not the government—came to her rescue.

Fundraising for charity is not new for Ethiopians. However, as the nation has experienced unprecedented challenges in recent years, the practice has become more organized. Technology is also contributing significantly to its growth.

Hannan Mahmud is one of the founders of Babul Heir Charitable Organization, an organization that provides meals for more than 4,000 people daily. The organization was established by her and her 16 friends. They raised money for the charity by selling the jewelry that was given to them as wedding gifts, and some of them contributed supplies and even items that belonged to their deceased relatives.

Hanan believes that charity brings justice, creates affection among people, and brings them together. In Hannan’s opinion, who also serves as the organization’s manager, doing good for others not only benefits the recipient directly but also benefits society and the nation as a whole. It also has significant social and spiritual benefits.

“As long as people are keen to help each other, everyone has something to give,” Hanan told EBR.

Ethiopia has witnessed different fundraising methods, from bank transfers to platforms like WegenFund (an Ethiopian-based donation platform), that have helped manage donations from across the world. For more than 22 years, the Wegene Ethiopian Foundation (WEF), a nonprofit and non-governmental organization, has provided assistance to the impoverished people of Ethiopian families by tackling three critical aspects of poverty: housing, family, instability, and education. With resources generated in their newfound homeland, the United States, the founding board of directors encouraged Ethiopians in the Diaspora to give back to their country.

“We are not the ones who select the causes,” says Dr. Belachew Chekene, co-founder and director of WegenFund, talking to EBR about the more than 100 causes the organization is currently mobilizing resources for.

Four groups can create a cause and mobilize resources on the WEF platform: civil society organizations, individuals, religious institutions, and startups.

In Ethiopia, generosity and kindness have long been the binding forces between neighbors. The biggest emphasis is placed on its social value. Numerous studies have confirmed the positive effects of generosity on society. They even go so far as to say that acts of kindness and voluntarism have a part in the economy. And in some nations, they even bear a heavy burden for the whole nation.

There is some research that relates the rise of inequality to the rise of philanthropy and how the latter can play its fair share in closing the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor. According to research by Kevin Laskowski published on the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), as the wealth accumulated by the rich increases, the possibility of huge sums of giveaways also increases, part of which can create great opportunities for the less fortunate.

According to studies from Boston College’s John Havens and Paul Schervish, between 1998 and 2052, almost USD 6 trillion of a USD 41 trillion intergenerational wealth transfer will go to charity. The number of American grantmaking foundations climbed by more than half, the value of all foundation assets rose by a third, and the amount of grants given out more than doubled in the ten years that followed that projection. The expansion of philanthropy extends beyond foundations. Donor-advised funds, other giving vehicles, and contributions to them all have seen significant growth. New hybrid organizations, such as low-profit limited liability companies (L3Cs) and benefit corporations, are also garnering attention.

Anteneh Girum, an economist, seems to agree in part with the positive role of philanthropy. He also acknowledges the wrong perception surrounding charitable organizations and their potential to channel significant support to areas that would take decades for the government to address.

“In reality, charitable activities play a vital role in the economic sector of a nation,” Anteneh told EBR. “Charitable organizations can have a positive impact on the lives of citizens and share the huge burden of a country by building hospitals, schools, and orphanages.”

Anteneh underscores the work of Mekedonia and how it is supporting more than 7,000 people. Abebech Gobena Charity, an orphanage, raised tens of thousands of kids, which would have taken decades for the country’s economy to address fully. These citizens, who were supported and given a better opportunity, will in turn contribute to the economy, according to Anteneh.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), USD 4 billion is needed to provide assistance for Ethiopia in 2023. OCHA acknowledges how difficult and almost impossible it will be to get assistance for such an amount in just a year. Different reports mentioned that in the Southern Omo region of Ethiopia, more than 14,000 cattle died due to drought, and more than 337 million people are facing food shortages.

In the Somali Region, as a result of the drought, thousands of people are displaced. As a whole, around 20 million people are waiting for aid throughout the nation. The cost of humanitarian aid increased by USD 142 million, reaching USD 674.3 million compared to last year. And out of the amount of humanitarian support that is required for 2023, only USD 22.8 million was raised, which is only 11Pct.

Following that, the Red Cross, collaborating with different volunteers, has called for fundraising and support. The support is not only in cash but also in-kind, with an aim to raise around ETB 206.3 million, especially for the States of Oromia and Somali.

“My business would have never been back in operation without the social support I received from my neighbors,” Tsinat told EBR.

EBR 11th Year • April 2023 • No. 116


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