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Mar 25, 2009

The Insider: Meet Bahia Akerele

Bahia Akerele 
is an independent consultant based in the Washington, D.C. area who works with national and international foundations as a strategic planner and project manager. As a West African (half Liberian and half Nigerian), she has a particular interest with philanthropy in Africa.

She’s pictured above with children in a Liberian refugee camp in Ghana. Read on to learn more about Bahia, including how she got started in philanthropy, her plans to promote African philanthropy, and her advice for those interested in a career in philanthropy.

Double major, Africana Studies and Sociology, Connecticut College; Masters in Social Work, University of Connecticut School of Social Work; Graduate Certificate in Public Relations and Marketing, Goucher College

Current Position: Lead Consultant and Principal, Akerele Consultants
Bahia’s current and previous experience includes projects with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Africa program, and Associated Black Charities in Baltimore, MD. In 2008, Bahia completed a fellowship at the City University of New York Graduate School, Center of Philanthropy and Civil Society, where she was selected as an emerging leader in philanthropy.

How did you get started in philanthropy?
“I really just stumbled upon it…literally. I was at a job fair hosted by Idealist and applied for an internship to work at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Although my background at the time was in direct service, I was always a policy person and had an interest in who designed the programs we got to implement on the ground and who funded what and how much….all determinants to the services my families in direct services received. Finally, I come from a family where philanthropy was always practiced and was part of our contribution to the country and to our society. So the concept was very real to me as I had seen my mother and grandmother practice this in their lives.”

How prevalent is philanthropy in Africa?
 “The concept of giving is strong in Africa and central to the African sense of self…which is really a sense of community. The concept of philanthropy in Africa or rather the African Philanthropist may at first seem like an oxymoron because we, that is Africans, are often painted in a negative and depressed light. Now I am not being romantic and trying to suggest that Africa does not have its issues. What I do want to share is that with all its problems, Africa is rich with human capacity and natural resources, not to mention new and emerging markets.”
As your goal is to promote African philanthropy, how do you plan to accomplish this?

“There are many Africans and friends of Africa, who have directed their funds, resources and talents to Africa whose stories need to be told…. from the local women in the Sandaga market, who contribute to the education of orphans in Dakar, Senegal, to the Ghanaian orthopedic surgeon Dr. Oheneba Boachie-Adjei who conducts medical mission trips to Ghana peforming complex spinal surgeries on children - these are only a very small example of the philanthropic giving that Africans at home and abroad are engaged in. These stories and activities are worth sharing with the world and those who want to join in and help. The vehicles I will use are through my consultant work and my blog.” (Bahia has launched the blog, The African Philanthropist, to share these stories of giving. Visit ithere.)

What advice do you have for those interested in a career in philanthropy?
“Before working for a philanthropic organization, I believe you have to have “on the ground” training. One has to work ‘one on one’ with families, what we call direct services, to see the impact of policies, often well meaning policies and programs, on families, children and communities before being placed in a position that funds and supports these programs.

Be a part of the non profit sector in your area by joining list serves and groups on line, and on Facebook. Connect with others in the field. Read, read, read and keep informed of the trends that are happening in the non profit sector and philanthropy. Go to conferences, volunteer if you can’t pay to go, and look for free or reduced rate ones. Internships are also a very good way to be exposed to philanthropy. The value of a mentor is also very critical in all professions but especially in philanthropy where the network is very very close..and opportunities are first shared through the network.”