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Centre of Strategic Philanthropy in Conversation: Florence ‘Cuppy’ Otedola

by Xiaoyu Dai, Research Assistant at the Centre for Strategic Philanthropy

The Centre for Strategic Philanthropy (CSP) launched the first event of its new series ‘CSP in Conversation’, a succession of intimate interviews discussing key philanthropic and development initiatives in global growth markets – specifically Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia.

In this first instalment, the CSP sat down with Florence ‘Cuppy’ Otedola, Founder of the Cuppy Foundation, and Chris Brooks, Interim Director of Philanthropy at Save the Children UK, focusing the discussion on Cuppy’s philanthropic journey partnering with the international non-governmental organisation (INGO) to improve the welfare of youth in Africa.

Born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1992, Cuppy is now an internationally renowned DJ, philanthropist, and activist, who is passionate about creating equal opportunities for children and young people in Africa. In 2018, she founded the Cuppy Foundation, aiming at enhancing quality education and child protection in Nigeria, especially for girls and students with disabilities.

With a specific focus on children and broadening the scope of its philanthropic endeavours, Cuppy and the Foundation successfully established a partnership with Save the Children UK in 2019. As a prominent international organisation, Save the Children have an extensive local network and over 60 years of experience working with and supporting children to reach their full potential in Africa. They also enthusiastically welcomed the opportunity to work directly with a young African philanthropist with a passion for supporting Nigerian youth. Given Cuppy’s philanthropic priorities in Nigeria and Save the Children’s long-running expertise in the country, working with Save the Children was an ideal match.

Over the last several years, the partnership between the Cuppy Foundation and Save the Children UK had provided support to more than 9,100 people in Nigeria during a time of tremendous uncertainty. Such collaboration between a young celebrity and an international charity is unconventional.

Given this context, the panel discussion opened by discussing how philanthropists can partner with established international organisations to maximise the potential impact of their giving.

As stressed by Chris Brooks, the convening power of philanthropy is ever-growing. In terms of the Cuppy Foundation, the collaboration with Save the Children significantly benefits Cuppy’s vision in creating structured, focused, and systematic philanthropic impacts based on their experiences, expertise, scalability, and responsiveness.

The key element of establishing such collaborative relationships is the consistency of their focal point. For Cuppy, she highlighted her constant belief in flattening the horizon of opportunities for every single child, maximising reach for the beneficiaries and the outcomes of her support. Similarly, Save the Children UK pursued the vision of ‘ensuring every last child grows up healthy, educated and protected by 2030’, which is aligned with Cuppy’s work and enthusiasm considering children are central to her priorities.

“The collaboration between the Cuppy Foundation and Save the Children articulates the spirit of true partnership. It is a great illustration of what we have done to optimise the impact of both organisations. Cuppy really believes in what can be achieved collaboratively to support children in Nigeria,” said Chris Brooks.

In this collaboration, Cuppy serves a crucial triple role for Save the Children as a donor, a member of the African Advisory Board and as an Ambassador. In light of Cuppy’s digital brand that wields considerable influence, she utilises social media effectively to advocate passionately for key social issues, which also provides Save the Children an opportunity to revitalise its branding and increase appeal among new audiences. Embracing the power of digital technology, especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, is regarded as a crucial strategy for further involving the next generation of philanthropists, calling for action, and more importantly, raising public awareness of various social causes.

The multiple roles with different responsibilities involve a substantial time commitment, and often cause Cuppy to reflect on her role in the broader philanthropy ecosystem. As an African young woman actively engaging in the white male-dominated philanthropic space, Cuppy noted, “I do find that sometimes I have to shout to be heard and the philanthropic space is actually not that accessible.”

Despite the considerable obstacles, given her ability to navigate male-dominated industries even in her day-job as a DJ, she came into the philanthropic field with energy and vision, focusing heavily on both giving and creating equal opportunities for African youth. Hence, she called on women to put themselves in these ‘inaccessible’ spaces to generate substantial impacts, followed by recalling how she became one of the driving forces in building a network of women with a passion for gender equality and improving opportunities for girls and women.

Another inevitable challenge that philanthropists must tackle is developing mutually beneficial relationships with local and national governments. When talking about how next-generation philanthropists play a crucial role in shaping the long-term sustainability of national and regional development programs, Cuppy recalled her visit to a program in Borno State situated in north-eastern Nigeria, stressing that apart from implementing new initiatives, propelling the government’s existing projects is also critical for creating wider impact. Adding to Cuppy’s standpoint, Chris reaffirmed the importance of supporting and getting buy-in from the governments to drive systemic, sustainable, and long-term outcomes.

“This is our time not to go against government, but to help them how we can. It means that we should be in partnership, and we should look at what they have, what they need help with, how to avoid government failure and how to really add value to part of the systems they build from an outsider’s point of view,” said Cuppy.

When responding the questions from attendees, Cuppy and Chris shared concrete examples and experiences on topics including the specific context of Nigeria, current achievements, and implementation of philanthropic programs targeting marginalised groups. It further provided more instructive lessons for the audience in understanding their working strategies for driving real and sustainable social change.

The Centre for Strategic Philanthropy would like to very warmly thank Cuppy and Chris for their enlightening participation in the ‘CSP in Conversation’ series!