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A dire consequence – the demise of the South African NGO

Categories: Sustainability
By Catherine Wijnberg

Globally the NGO network is suffering, as the economic downturn has led to Corporates and Governments alike reducing funding support. International funders such as the World Bank, USAID and LHL have slashed their budgets and the impact on the social support sector everywhere is dire.

Yet here in South Africa, we have gone beyond the simple matter of lack of money due to a reduced economy, to what appears almost to be a deliberate strategy to pull funding from civil society and divert it elsewhere. In South Africa, we have discovered Enterprise as the new utopia, and if not enterprise, its dreamy cousin, Social Enterprise.

In practice, this means that traditional funding from sources such as the Lotto is now being denied to reputable organisations like the Highway Hospice in KZN, who provide essential support to hundreds of dying patients annually, on the basis that they “should be sustainable by now”. In other words, the Lotto has decided that the Hospice should be a Social Enterprise – an organisation that makes money while it helps people to die with dignity? Possible perhaps in affluent populations, but completely unreasonable in the poor communities in which it operates.

Another onslaught is the proposed emphasis on Enterprise Development in the new BEE Scorecards – whereby Social Development or CSI funding traditionally reserved for NGOs will be 5 points in the scorecard, whereas Enterprise Development will score 8-times more, at 40 points. If that isn’t an unbalanced pull, I don't know what is.

I am a fervent champion and supporter of the Enterprise Development (ED) sector, and actively promote the crucial role it plays in growing our economy and creating much-needed employment. However, the millions that have been (and are) squandered through weak and ineffectual  Government-funded business support agencies, inappropriate opportunities offered to unqualified entrepreneurs through schemes like EMIA, and the general poor performance of most State-sponsored ED initiatives, leaves one feeling that this is a knee-jerk response to compensate for their poor results. The reality is that successful Enterprise Development is a specialist task that needs to be carried out by experts and take place in tandem with social development, not in place of it.

The proposal that in future only NGOs who support purely black people will gain BEE scorecard points is for many, the final straw. Who will support the other people dying of cancer, the other school children who need remedial reading, the other disabled who cannot feed themselves? Certainly not the Government, because if they were doing it none of the NGOs would have been started in the first place.

If this comment seems overly harsh, the question is perhaps what strategy has Government got in place to support this essential sector? What tools are there to encourage funds to flow to civil society to balance the overwhelming emphasis on business, and black economic empowerment?

It seems that the NGO world is its own worst enemy, for it has been quietly and effectively getting on with the job without fanfare for years. Sadly, as we only value our seatbelt when we run into a bus, so too will we only realise the worth of the NGO community when they cease to exist.

South Africa is on a disastrous course – as we withdraw our support for Civil Society we risk becoming a country unable to care for our people, and if a country cannot care for and respect their most marginalized citizens, how can it call itself a civilized society?

About the Author

Catherine Wijnberg is the Director and Founder of Fetola (www.fetola.co.za ) a fast growing economic development agency and not-for-profit organization made up of respected development practitioners across Southern Africa.

Catherine has owned and operated small businesses in three countries across five different sectors, and has successfully conceptualized, designed and implemented several award-winning community and business development programmes, including the Legends programme, that grows for-profit & non-profit organisations all over South Africa.

Her most recent initiative, the Graduate Asset Placement (GAP) Programme, seeks to place 24,000 unemployed graduates into internships over the next three to four years, creating in the region of 8000 permanent jobs.

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