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The social contract concept directs us to reflect upon our agreements for living together. With roots in antiquity, it is often dismissed as too steeply rooted in classical liberal thought, connected with antiquated, authority-driven notions of state and nation creation. As such it would be viewed as unhelpful for addressing the complexity and diversity of contemporary contexts of crisis and change where transition is increasingly mobilized from below. Despite ‘liberal peacebuilding’ taking a beating over the last decade, this Special Issue shares in-depth research that defies simplistic associations of the social contract with liberalism and makes the case for its importance in discussions on fragility, conflict and peace. As we witness deeply divisive and polarizing politics affecting states and societies globally, the framework introduced here arguably has wider utility.
 
Ramaphosa's call for a new social compact will fall on deaf ears unless there are some fundamental changes to the way in which the pandemic is being managed. Policy discussions over the last few years have usefully attempted to frame the social contract concept. The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) emphasize the importance of societal expectations matching state capacity to deliver services, with the OECD also highlighting elite will to deliver. The OECD underscores political processes through which the bargain is ‘struck, reinforced and institutionalized’, and the complex role that legitimacy plays in shaping expectations and facilitating political processes (OECD 2008, 17).
 
The UNDP draws attention to parallel and overlapping social contracts ‘multiple formal and informal structures that mediate and shape the relationships between people and the state’ (UNDP 2016, 3, 10). These framings offer insight into needed directions for reframing the concept for contemporary contexts, yet they have not been sufficiently grounded in case study scholarship.
 
 
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has called for “a new social compact among all role players business, labour, community and government to restructure the economy and achieve inclusive growth”.
 
In South Africa, ‘social compact’ has often been used narrowly to describe pacts between stakeholders on specific sectoral issues. A resilient social compact, as we use the concept, requires a dynamic agreement between the state and society on how to live together, and how to address issues of power and resources.
For such an agreement to contribute to peace and societal well-being, it must be reflected in the mechanisms, policies and responses that uphold the agreement. This needs to be done in a way that’s flexible and responsive, especially in times of crisis.
 
A resilient national social contract is a dynamic agreement between state and society, including different groups in society, on how to live together, how power is exercised and how resources are distributed. It allows for the peaceful mediation of conflicting interests and different expectations and understandings of rights and responsibilities (including with nested and/or overlapping social contracts that may transcend the state) over time, and in response to contextual factors (including shocks, stressors and threats), through varied mechanisms, institutions and processes.
 
This approach recasts the concept of social compact (or social contract) as a tool for addressing issues of conflict, crisis and transition. Research across nine countries, including in South Africa, found that social cohesion is a key driver. Social cohesion builds on the concept of social solidarity, which lies in areas of trust and respect, belonging and identity, and participation.  Its achievement also rests on progress by other drivers. These are inclusive political settlements addressing core issues dividing people, and institutions delivering fairly and effectively.
 
To move in the direction of a resilient social compact, Ramaphosa’s call will fall on deaf ears unless there are some fundamental changes to the way in which the pandemic is being managed.

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Non-profit organisations (NPOs) play a vital role in trying to resolve the challenges and inequalities within our communities and society at large. The important role they play in South Africa cannot be underestimated.
 
Tshikululu Social Investments, the country’s leading social investment fund management and advisory firm, has undertaken a survey of over 170 NPOs around South Africa to assess the effect that COVID-19 has had on this crucial sector.
 
The twin burden

“We are keenly aware of the twin burden of financial survival in the midst of increasing and overwhelming need within the NPO sector. As part of our role in supporting these organisations, we wanted to understand the nuances of how the COVID-19 pandemic has specifically impacted NPOs during this time,” says Graeme Wilkinson, Social Investment Specialist at Tshikululu.
 
“We also wanted to give these organisations an opportunity to share with us, and the broader social investment community, how they were coping with the challenges that COVID-19 presents,” he says.

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Read the e-newsletter here: Issue 723: To forge a resilient social compact for Covid-19 in South Africa

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