Philanthropy’s role in supporting LGBTI rights in West Africa and beyond

The Baring Foundation’s International Development programme has just made its first grants in West Africa to address discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) individuals and communities. The Foundation’s Deputy Director, David Sampson, explains why.

We shifted our international development programme to focus on LGBTI civil society in sub-Saharan Africa three years ago, with a particular focus on LBQ women and trans people. Whilst the challenges facing LGBTI people in sub-Saharan Africa may seem daunting for a European private foundation, we believe that philanthropy has a key role to play. Three key things guide this belief:

  • There is a courageous, vibrant and diverse civil society in sub-Saharan Africa that supports LGBTI people. It is increasingly sophisticated and employs a huge range of strategies to effect change. Examples include Pan Africa ILGA, which supports human rights advocacy at the regional and international level; LAMBDA Mozambique, which was instrumental in decriminalising sexual conduct between same sex couples in the country; and org, a media advocacy organisation that defends the rights of lesbians, transgender and intersex persons. However, the vast majority of civil society groups are young and small – in 2016 73% of trans groups were under five years old and in 2017 50% had no paid staff.
  • They are also critically underfunded. The Global Resources Report tells us that $525 million was spent in support of LGBTI communities globally in 2015 and 2016. Of this $287 million went to North America and only $53.5 million to sub-Saharan Africa. Much of this funding went to the ongoing fight against HIV/AIDS. For some parts of the LGBTI community, spending is almost non-existent – LBQ communities in sub-Saharan Africa received $2 million and trans communities received $3.8 million.
  • Expert regional funders exist to increase funding and support developing civil society. We have long-standing partnerships with UHAI EASHRI in East Africa and The Other Foundation in Southern Africa. Both use participative grantmaking to support work prioritised by local civil society.

However, this general increase in civil society activity is slower and more challenging in West Africa.  

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