The development sector plays a crucial role in tackling issues of inequality and advancing social justice. However, as South Africa battles to heal from its violent history and legacy of injustice, the sector – like all other sectors of our society – is being compelled to critically examine the sustainability and impact of its work. In this article, Zyaan Davids, Thought Leadership Manager at Trialogue; Kanyisa Diamond, Development Practitioner working in the social investment sector, focusing on education; and Khaya Tyatya, Director of Programmes at Zenex Foundation, join the growing call – so well articulated in the Social Justice Sector Review Report released by the RAITH Foundation in 2020 – for stakeholders in the development sector to meaningfully engage transformation beyond compliance.
The history of philanthropy in this country is chequered at best. Thankfully, we are moving away from companies covering their exploitation of natural and human resources with unsustainable donations towards more responsible and sustainable business practices.
But progress is slow. The development sector – non-profit organisations (NPOs), civil society institutions, grantmakers, and funding recipients – must be willing to go deeper and interrogate its approaches to developmental solutions if it is to keep pace with the developmental needs of our country and continent, and deliver real impact.
A working definition of transformation in development
Under-resourced communities that are recipients of development programming are often excluded from the decisions about how the solutions intended to serve them are crafted, and how programming is informed and executed. Despite the best intentions, this narrow approach to development entrenches the disempowering narrative that previously disadvantaged groups can only be recipients of development programming, while the decisions, control, and economic power remain predominantly with the funders and implementing NPOs.
For the purposes of this article, transformation in development refers to the process of achieving equity in all facets of the sector, including providing equal opportunities for previously disadvantaged groups to access funding, be represented in and lead decision- making in organisations, and influence the broader sector. Transformation also requires that support be given to communities to co-develop their own programmes or interventions to solve their self-diagnosed challenges.
NPOs: BBBEE is the starting point, not the end goal
NPOs with a total annual revenue of less than R10 million need only demonstrate that their beneficiaries are 75% Black to attain a Level 1 Broad- based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) rating, while organisations with a total annual revenue of between R10 million and R50 million can attain a Level 2 BBBEE status if they have 51% Black beneficiaries, and a Level 1 status if they have 75% Black beneficiaries.
This assessment does not consider the degree of transformation in ownership, management control, skills development, enterprise and supplier development or socioeconomic development, as it does with entities that have a total revenue of R50 million and above.
There are very few NPOs in South Africa with a total annual income exceeding R50 million (85% of the 117 NPOs surveyed by Trialogue in 2021 had an annual income of less than R20 million). This means that there is no obligation for the majority of NPOs to interrogate how transformed their organisational structures and processes are.
The Codes should therefore be understood as a starting point, rather than the end goal on the transformation journey. Interrogation of transformation must go beyond simply seeking 75% Black beneficiaries to more deliberately examining how each of the aspects rated under the Code translates within organisational processes, structures, and cultures. These include management control, skills development, enterprise and supplier development, and socioeconomic development.
Funders: Are your funding practices exclusionary?
NPOs with a well-established track record tend to be more attractive to funders. Often, this is because they are seen to have the requisite experience and expertise, the capacity to comply with governance and administrative requirements, the financial muscle to take on big projects, and the necessary social capital and relationships with donors.
Meanwhile, smaller local and community- based NPOs, often founded by community members who have lived in and understand the dynamics of the communities they serve, are overlooked as viable implementing partners because they do not have a long list of projects to demonstrate their experience, or the financial backing to compete with their counterparts. As a result, they remain at the periphery of influence in the sector.
Developmental decisions and solutions cannot be predominantly informed by only a few people, representative of a specific demographic and/or class. The grave risk of perpetuating a sector that lacks diversity is that a conducive space is not created for all the possible solutions to social challenges to be identified or trialled and, ultimately, the possibility of selecting the best-suited, and often most cost-effective solutions, is missed.
Accounting for the reality that it takes consistent, long-term funding to establish an organisation and build its track record, funders must critically assess whether their own funding practices provide enough opportunity and support for smaller and more informal organisations to participate meaningfully in the sector and deliver innovative and inclusive programming in a way that will eventually transform the sector and achieve long-term impact.
Funders must be willing to broaden their definition of what constitutes credible experience and a sound track record. They should also consider reviewing and adapting their due-diligence criteria for different types of grants to ensure that, where and when possible, funding opportunities are being made available to less established and recognised organisations.
To mitigate the potential risk involved, funders could start by using discretionary, special or capacity-development-oriented grants to ensure that smaller local NPOs are able to implement projects, thereby facilitating opportunities for those NPOs to enhance their experience and track records.
Funders can also increase their pool of implementing NPOs by funding initiatives that are explicitly designed for established organisations to partner with smaller ones. This is a more inclusive and innovative way of thinking about grantmaking and can go a long way towards transforming the sector.
Since funders have the most apparent power to challenge the status quo, rather than perpetuating duplication in the sector, they must make more significant provision for start-up and less-established and known organisations that may do things more exploratorily, experimentally, and bravely and, mostly importantly, have lived experience of the challenges that they are working to address.
Entrenching asset-based community development
There is an urgent need for all development stakeholders to commit themselves to more meaningful transformation – and not just for transformation’s sake. They need to understand the necessity and long-term benefits of ensuring that people served by the sector are adequately represented, supported, and trusted in the conceptual and implementation phases that development work.
In stark contrast to deficit models, asset- based community development may not be a new concept but has yet to be entrenched as the starting point for all programming. Funders and implementers must take the time to understand a community’s self-diagnosed pressure pointsandneeds,andplayanenabling role in helping communities to identify the best solutions, leveraging lived experience, insight, skills, and resources they already possess.
Development practitioners should serve as the key that unlocks the potential of the people they serve, rather than as the hinge upon which imposed solutions and programming depend.
Drawing from our painful past
For the development sector to shift from standing in the service delivery gap to enabling progress through empowerment and innovation, a balance must be struck between responding to immediate social challenges and effecting long-term change. However, long-term change requires acknowledgement of the root causes of our social ills and unmatched levels of inequity. Rather than avoiding the truth about the extent of our traumatic history, and trying to develop around it, the sector can draw insight from it to inform more holistic programming.
Following looting and violent protests that brought South Africa to a screeching halt in July 2021, Trialogue hosted a dialogue for corporate social investment practitioners to connect and think creatively about how to leverage corporate access and resources to provide immediate relief as well as systemic change in our fractured society.
In this session, founder and CEO of the Centre for Mental Wellness and Leadership, Nomfundo Mogapi, framed the conversation within the context of the collective transgenerational trauma that underpins the broader issues of poverty, unemployment, and inequality in South Africa. “We need to look at how to invest in long-term interventions that shift the core architecture of South Africa, especially on a psychological level,” she said, explaining that viewing events through a ‘trauma lens’ helps us to better understand people’s actions, shifts how we work towards finding solutions, and how we empathise with, rather than villainise, people with different lived experiences to our own.
From political leadership retaining a liberation mindset ill-suited to governing, to communities experiencing shame and frustration because they have been unable to emerge from “the disenfranchisement of the past”, much psychosocial healing needs to take place. Importantly, community leaders and people on the frontlines require psychosocial support to allow them to facilitate healing in their communities. This also applies to development practitioners engaging with the communities they serve in ways that empower them, rather than making decisions on their behalf.
Although this article provides a working definition, it is fundamentally important that the sector collectively reflects and agrees on a common understanding of transformation in relation to the work that we do, and understands the detrimental impact that lack of transformation has on that work. This will require conversations about transformation to take place within organisations first.
Secondly, a multistakeholder process must be initiated to establish a platform for sector- wide discussions about transformation in development. Data collection on all aspects of transformation – including funding trends, representation, and influence – is also needed in order for the sector to hold itself accountable to society. The multistakeholder and data collection processes could be driven by NPO associations, university departments focused on the development sector, collaborative bodies, and/or funder associations.
Representation of previously disadvantaged groups on NPO boards, at management level, and among staff must be tracked, with special attention paid to the leadership roles of executive directors and CEOs of organisations. NPOs must be more reflective about how long leaders have held their positions and more deliberate about putting in place transformative succession plans. It is important to ensure that NPO leadership is reflective of and has a deep understanding of the target communities that are being served. Diverse representation in NPO leadership positions – which is directly linked to influence in the sector – is crucial for meaningful transformation.
Donors must be willing to critically review their funding processes and systems, honestly interrogate which types of organisations are unintentionally being excluded from funding opportunities, and which types of organisations have been funded over longer periods of time. Donors have the power to not only challenge, but to change, the status quo in the development sector.
Transformation has become a burning platform, and the development sector is ideally positioned to drive the more meaningful and lasting change that our country so desperately needs. For the development sector to be truly representative, hard questions must be asked of all its stakeholders, including government, donors, NPOs, researchers, academics, and community-based organisations. Transformation should be prioritised as an imperative, both within organisations and across initiatives and programming.
- Civil society must overcome its fault lines to transform South Africa. Mark Heywood, Daily Maverick, 18 November 2019.
Available at https://www.dailymaverick. co.za/article/2019-11-18-civil-society-must-overcome-its-fault-lines-to- transform-sa/
- How can Covid-19 be the catalyst to decolonise development research? Melanie Pinet and Carmen Leon-Himmelstine, Oxfam, 4 June 2020.
Available at https://oxfamapps.org/fp2p/how-can-covid-19-be-the-catalyst-to-decolonise- development-research/
- Social Justice Sector Review Report: Critical Reflections on the Social Justice Sector in the Post-Apartheid Era. The RAITH Foundation.
Available at https://bit.ly/3H0pPtG