“Susu,” an indigenous way of pooling resources for future expenses for the poor, has been described as a developmental tool.

The description was given by the Vice Chancellor and Principal of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, Professor Adam Habib.

Prof. Habib also challenged African researchers to study their own experiences and give the world of academia their unique accounts of practices and events.

He was giving the keynote address at the forth International Society for Third-Sector Research (ISTR) African Civil Society Network (ISTRAN) conference in Accra last Tuesday.

The two-day conference was organised by the West African Civil Society Institute (WACSI) and the University of Ghana Business School (UGBS), on the theme, “Civil Society and Philanthropy in Africa: Contexts, Contradictions, Possibilities.”

Giving

Speaking on the sub-theme: “Giving in Africa,” Prof. Habib said the system of ‘susu’ was not peculiar to Ghana alone.

He said it was the “pooling of inadequate resources to survive the ravages of difficult circumstances,” and was a social economic advantage for the poor to survive.

Prof. Habib said it was also practised by other African countries.

For instance, some migrant communities in South Africa pooled scarce resources together to send the corpse of a migrant home for burial.

Differentiating giving in Africa from other philanthropic acts of the West, Prof. Habib said giving in Africa challenged widely held perceptions.

One of such beliefs, he said, was that giving was from the wealthy to the poor.

He said in Africa, where people lacked money, they gave time, with the patterns of giving differing in various communities.

Thus in certain communities, ‘susu’ was used as a survival mechanism.

Be unique

Prof. Habib said philanthropy in Africa, at a time when the fortunes of the continent seemed to be dwindling, needed to be in a socially responsible state.

He said that could only be achieved with a vibrant civil society organisation that was autonomous to critically engage on the issue.

He said political leaders were sometimes so greedy that they could not be counted on for philanthropic acts in sectors of the economy for growth, thus it needed an adversarial civil society to push them to do the right thing.

Prof. Habib also did not mince words as he challenged researchers in civil society circles, that “instead of mimicking from the Western model of philanthropy, research your own unique experiences.”

The President of ISTRA, Mr Stephen Rathgeb Smith, said the Board of Directors of ISTR was happy to be in Ghana and to collaborate for solutions to global challenges.

A former Dean of the UGBS, Prof. K. A. Domfeh, who represented the Dean, Pro. Joshua Yindenaba Abor, in his remark, said the theme was timely as civil society action and philanthropic assistance was needed in various sectors of the economy.

The Executive Director of WACSI, Nana Asantewa Afadzinu, in her welcome address, said with the changing times, it was important for civil society organisations to foster discussions and engage the government to mobilise resources internally.

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