Africans Giving for Africa

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Wednesday, 9 April, 2008 - 09:14

On behalf of CAF Southern Africa, I would like to enter the public conversation on resourcing for civil society which has been taking place in various media over the past few months.

On behalf of CAF Southern Africa, I would like to enter the public conversation on resourcing for civil society which has been taking place in various media over the past few months. For example, in a recent Sunday Times article, Andile Ncontsa of the Old Mutual Foundation states:

‘Our nation is beset with the agonies of deprivation and social inequality, yet philanthropists and their beneficiaries still rely on the fleeting bliss that comes from giving and receiving, rather than seeking any lasting cure for these ills and measuring the sustainable impact the investment is making.’

Similarly, in a recent SANGONeT NGO Portal article, Shelagh Gastrow of Inyathelo asks:

‘How … do we grow a philanthropic movement in South Africa that will support our civil society within a paradigm that explores strategic options, focuses on delivery and excellence and involves sustainable support?’

But in a recent Cape Times article, James Taylor of the Community Development Resource Agency (CDRA) argues that the proud legacy of civil society organisations in South Africa is being subsumed by the ‘delivery’ imperative imposed by funders:

‘In South Africa, the corporate social investors, the new philanthropists and the state itself are showing little real understanding and appreciation for the unique assets that organisations in civil society represent. For all of these, easy abandonment of the space previously occupied by civil society organisations, including community-based membership organisations and NGOs, risks losing the holders and drivers of democratic impulse.’

While Margie Keeton of Tshikululu Social Investments said in a recent Gordon Institute of Business (GIBS) Forum:

‘If you want to spend money in CSI with the goal of making a difference in the lives of poor people, you have to move away from sentimentality and you have to make choices. Poverty cannot be engineered away or eliminated by direct assault. It is chipped away slowly by people themselves, people who see themselves not as victims, but as victors.’

The Context

In contributing to this debate, I would like to share the strategic thinking we are doing at CAF, and then make some suggestions about a way forward that is both practical and developmental. The dictum guiding CAF’s work is ‘Committed to Effective Giving’. With this maxim in mind we are currently engaged in discussions aimed at bringing more focus to the role we can play within the burgeoning marketplace within which South African funding and development transactions are happening. As part of this exercise we have been looking at the ‘system’ within which we operate.

Even a cursory glance at this diagram illustrates that we are currently functioning within an extraordinarily complex system. This system holds within it multiple levels of interaction, responsibility and accountability.  Taking into account the issues raised by the writers quoted above, which in summary are:

  • Sustainability;
  • Social Impact and how to demonstrate that;
  • The unique role of organisations of civil society within a democracy, and
  • The necessity for a ‘People-Centred’ approach to development - how then are we to proceed?  

Some Suggestions on the Way Forward

Sustainable development is without doubt the key issue facing social investors and all other players represented in the ‘ecosystem’ diagram above. The diagram itself is an illustration of the first commitment that needs to be made - all the actors need to acknowledge and then perform their own unique roles, responsibilities and accountabilities within the system.  So, for example, we must move away from the scourge of ‘donor-driven’ programmes. The inherent dignity and experience of people in developing communities must be the primary driver of development. The ‘system’ must allow that imperative to emerge - and the only way for this to happen is through practical cooperation between all the actors within the system.

Secondly, the organisations of civil society, the NGOs and CBOs that are the recipients of funding must once again find a strong and united voice. Very often it is these organisations that ‘speak’ for marginalised and dispossessed communities. We need a confident, coherent and powerful civil society voice once again - it was a really painful thing to hear comments such as ‘the South African NGO sector is in chaos’, going unchallenged at a recent meeting of senior CSI and NGO managers. 

Thirdly, we should now finally move away from the notion of ‘charity’, and towards social investment in the interests of ‘sustainable value creation’. This is not only a shift of principle (the notion of ‘investment’ implies mutual responsibility and accountability), but also a significant shift in practice. If there is better cooperation, if there is less willingness on the part of NGOs to shape their programmes around the agendas of donors, if we can agree on strategies, and then effectively implement these, we will be in a better position to demonstrate social impact. Also, the process of cooperative planning and implementation will in itself yield opportunities for ongoing learning and innovation.

Then we should acknowledge that South Africa needs to be moving more proactively towards self-sufficiency in terms of funding for social development. Overseas development assistance will not be with us indefinitely. With this imperative in mind, CAF Southern Africa will be hosting a conference with the theme ‘Africans giving for Africa’ in spring 2008. The primary aims will be to demonstrate and discuss innovative social enterprise models that involve people-centered development projects; social investment that taps into and leverages local resources; and new thinking which blends the potential of private capital and business knowledge, with the entrepreneurial actions of poor communities.

I hope that this contribution to the current ‘conversation’ stimulates yet further dialogue. In spite of the complexity of the enveloping ‘system’, we are all working towards similar goals. If there can be ongoing dialogue, associated innovation, and improved practice, it is inevitable that systemic change will follow. Through these engagements we will be moving nearer to the shared vision of a sustainable, measurable social development sector, peopled by a constituency of powerful activists and professionals, in service to both the ‘democratic impulse’ and the alleviation of poverty and its associated ills.

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