The complexity of private philanthropy and gift giving through tourism in sub-Saharan Africa

  • Amy Scarth

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The prevailing narrative and image of the African continent curated to drive international compassion for Africa’s woes has influenced individual values around the world. This has driven a growing inclination to intervene in ‘development’, a concept often misunderstood. It is now apparent that the global North are increasingly shifting their compassion for distant suffering towards alleviating it directly and achieving physical and personal encounters with beneficiary ‘Others’. The evolution of global tourism is considered instrumental within this shift, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), providing fertile grounds for travel philanthropy as a relatively new player within private philanthropy for international development and the complex arena of sustainability and ethics, which inspired this research.

    This study generated new critical understandings of the travel philanthropy phenomenon and by investigating different SSA contexts, a new conceptual model emerged, with policy and practice implications for sustainable development. Through an in depth exploration of travel philanthropy, arguably a multifaceted, ambiguous term that is theoretically weak, a broader theoretical framework is presented based on empirical evidence gathered in Uganda, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe. Limited knowledge about the real complexity of gift-giving and aid interventions through tourism, as well as its differentiation from other forms of aid was addressed. The major void in understandings about travel philanthropy meaning, significance and impact, from an economic, social, cultural, political, and ethical point of view and, most importantly, from the perspective of intended ‘beneficiaries’ required deeper investigations. This was done by identifying what is occurring, how the travel philanthropy system functions, and why.

    This qualitative study is inspired philosophically by critical realism and informed by systems theory to explain matters of causality, enabling the under-researched concept of travel philanthropy to be challenged through the development a conceptual model of causality of observable and unobservable phenomena. The study looked behind the scenes of travel philanthropy, through 70 in-depth, semi-structured interviews undertaken across stakeholder groups, including individuals within local communities, tourism businesses, and NGOs. Travel philanthropy is identified as an exchange economy and by looking at the bigger picture of this fragmented aid landscape, beyond isolated interventions, it is interpreted as an impact generating system applicable across case studies. The research confronts the notion of passive recipients in SSA and presents the complexity of human behaviour producing the system. It highlights the significance of social/racial objectification amongst stakeholders, raising ethical dilemmas, as well as efficacy concerns and weaknesses in evaluation across this niche form of philanthropy within the development aid field. Here, the influence and complexity of giving-receiving pathways and the paradox of the free gift in SSA are also analysed.

    This study aligns with current academic and policy discourses around the UN Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), informs sustainable and ethical pathways to gift-giving/receiving engagements and accelerates responsible tourism business management practices in SSA. The research also contributes to wider debates in social science concerning aid and donors’ intervention implications in developing countries and while the primary purpose of this research was not to measure the ‘impact’ of travel philanthropy, it provides a much needed ethical and efficacy framework capable of capturing its complexity, paving the way for future research.
    Date of AwardApr 2021
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Brighton
    SponsorsEconomic and Social Research Council & South Coast Doctoral Training Partnership
    SupervisorMarina Novelli (Supervisor), Tim Laing (Supervisor) & Vicky Johnson (Supervisor)

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