The Solidarity Fund, an independent non-profit programme, was put in place shortly after South Africa went into lockdown in March 2020. It was created as the first of three phases of a comprehensive economic response to the pandemic. Nomkhita Nqweni, former interim CEO of the Solidarity Fund, explains the rationale behind the programme, how its mandate has changed over the months, and how it reports to its stakeholders.
The Solidarity Fund was established with great urgency. What did you need to put in place to ensure the adequate management and uptake of this Fund?
When the Solidarity Fund was created, we had to act quickly to set up systems that would enable it to operate immediately and effectively. We registered as a nonprofitorganisation, put governance structures in place, appointed a board of independent directors, and set up various sub-committees to oversee disbursements, fundraising, and auditing – all done virtually within the course of a week. By 2 April (just over a week after lockdown was announced on 23 March), the Fund had approved R100 million of funding to procure personal protective equipment (PPE) and made arrangements with the newly formed Business for South Africa’s (B4SA) procurement team to begin placing orders.
Everything was done pro bono. We had limited resources relative to the national fiscus, so we focused on a few areas to deliver as much impact as possible. The mandate of the Fund was to focus on three key areas: supporting the national health response, contributing to humanitarian relief efforts, and mobilising South Africans to unite in ‘flattening the curve’.
What funds have been raised and how much came from corporate South Africa?
As at the end of October 2020, the Fund had received a total of R3.12 billion in donations; R2.96 billion has been received from companies and organisations, R84.43 million from payroll giving, and the remaining R83.31 million from individuals. The Solidarity Fund’s website is constantly updated with donations received and companies and organisations which have donated more than R1 million to the Fund are noted by name.
What progress has been made to date in the key focal areas?
Our health response initially focused on procuring PPE from other countries, as South Africa imports 92% of its medical supplies. We ordered 41 million items, including gloves, gowns, masks, sanitisers, boot covers and face shields, and close to 36 million had been distributed across the country by the end of September. The Fund allocated R250 million to support the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) to increase the number of Covid-19 tests it could process. Considering the test processing backlogs that the country experienced, we invested another R88 million to capacitate seven medical school university laboratories to extend the capacity of the NHLS’s testing programme.
The Fund also focused on some legacy projects that would deliver impact beyond the pandemic, supplying hospitals in ‘hotspot’ provinces with R405 million worth of critical equipment they will be able to use in the future, and allocating R250 million to the National Ventilator Project to produce 20 000 non-invasive ventilators.
As part of the Fund’s humanitarian relief efforts, we earmarked R120 million for Phase 1 of our Food Relief Programme, rolling out more than 280 000 food parcels between late March and early August, and R200 million for Phase 2, which will see a food voucher rollout in urban and rural areas, as well as farming input vouchers for rural communities. We also allocated R17 million to initiatives supporting victims of genderbased violence (GBV), with funds going to the National Shelter Movement, which supports a network of 78 shelters across the country, 55 Thuthuzela Care Centres, and the GBV Command Centre, a national call centre facility managed by qualified social workers.
The Solidarity Fund announced its second phase of GBV support on 16 September, opening the call for funding applications on 22 October from community-based organisations (CBOs) in the GBV sector. They stand to benefit from a once-off grant from the Fund ranging from R50 000 to R250 000. This second phase has been allocated R75 million to be disbursed across approximately 360 organisations, with 75% going towards community-based support, and 25% targeting programmes achieving systemic change.
How does the Solidarity Fund identify implementing partners with which to work?
The Fund works with a wide range of highcapacity partners to optimise national support coverage and impact.
Partners are identified once a project strategy and plan has been clearly outlined. They are identified based on access and proximity to beneficiaries, reach, potential for impact, geographic spread, speed to execute, and the capability and capacity to activate relevant community networks.
What are some of the challenges the Fund has experienced?
Each project is different and may experience different sets of challenges. For example, when we approved our initial GBV project, the country was on alert level 4, which posed challenges with accessing the goods and services we needed to procure for the shelters we had selected to support. This resulted in delays with getting PPE and safe transport to the shelters and care centres.
What is the expected duration of the Fund and how will it evolve as national Covid-19-related needs shift over time?
Our current funds are allocated to projects which will take us into 2021. As we enter the second phase of the Fund following seven months of operation, our efforts will be focused on interventions in the health sector where required, and possibly with a larger focus in the humanitarian and behavioural change pillars.
Visit www.solidarityfund.co.za to access the Solidarity Fund’s latest figures.
– NOMKHITA NQWENI, Former Interim CEO of the Solidarity Fund from March to November 2020 and Chief Executive: Absa Wealth and Investment Management, www.solidarityfund.co.za