Philanthropy in South Africa: Support for defending digital civil society

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Image from Heinrich Boll Foundation. Creator: Niklas Hughes

Gabrielle Ritchie: Director, The Change Room

16th November 2016

Philanthropic funding is critical for a host of democracy-defending and –strengthening initiatives that would otherwise have little or no financial support at all to implement the tough work that needs to be done to defend our democratic space.  In South Africa, we must remain vigilant about our freedoms and must continue to push to ensure that rights – as per our constitution – are realised for all.

So where does digital fit into discussions on democracy, development and donors?

I have been thinking a lot about digital civil society – which, in my view, is the same thing (at least currently they remain the same) as civil society using digital technology.  A few weeks back, I had the energising experience of being part of an Enset/ Resource Alliance panel discussion in Cape Town about South African civil society and the digital space, which I will be writing about in the next week or so (so watch this space!).  It’s a huge topic, with so many sub-topics, not all of which link up neatly together.  The digital space and its implications for civil society has been a hot topic for precisely this reason – there is SO much to discuss!

One of my most favourite, self-proclaimed philanthropy wonks is Lucy Bernholz. Her latest blog post is about digital civil society and the looming threats to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, all the more threatened with the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency.   Her urgent call is that we all need to stand up, make our voices heard, and resist attempts to close down civil society space.

This is not a challenge limited to the US.  Far from it.  Increasingly across the African continent, there are noises and threats regarding the closure (or further constriction) of digital space, in addition to pressure on the physical civil society space – where it does exist – to organise and express challenges to governments.

As Bernholz says:

All our civic action – from philanthropy to protest, from petitions to polling – now takes place on a digital infrastructure. Every organization that is dedicated to helping the vulnerable, to free expression, or that understands it is simply an institutionalized form of our right to peaceable assembly and private action for public benefit should realize now that their existence depends on the rights now threatened. As civil society has closed elsewhere, so has it now been directly, overtly, and rather unabashedly threatened from the people elected to lead our government. 

The most important point that Bernholz makes, though, is that we all need to get ourselves trained up around digital space, the ways (both actual and potential) in which this space is threatened, and what we need to start doing about it. Right now.

Bernholz mentions a number of angles, including “capacity building, consulting, governance training, and technology support need to address digital governance and practices”.  And she goes on to stress that “It is not optional, it’s integral to running a safe and effective organization”.

In other words, this isn’t something we need to watch out for coming down the line.  Rather this is something that we need not only to be monitoring now, but we need to be managing the risks already, and putting place policies and practices that will ensure we are able to continue to work effectively and safely.

Ute Scheffer’s September 2016 article, No right for digital participation in many regions of the world, offers insights into the current state of play with regard to journalism and clampdowns on expression and organising.   According to Scheffer, South Africa ranked 39th of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index.  This is above the US, and only one place behind the UK. There are two thoughts on this – one is that this is very revealing about the squeeze on press freedom in these apparent bastions of democracy and freedom; the second is that having a reasonable ranking means we must maintain and increase (not loosen) our vigilance.

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It is critical to bear in mind that, with regard to digital civil society – and the digital space in which we operate – it is not just about access to news and information, but is also fundamentally about forms of communicating, organising, advocating, mobilising, and attracting resources in support of organisational and campaign work.

Organisations in South Africa working on these issues (and supported with philanthropic funding) suddenly become central to South African civil society then, right?  So who are they, what are they working on, and how do we find them?  Below are a few of the best known organisations working to defend our freedoms with regard to information, and the sharing of information in print and in the digital space.

Start engaging around our digital space, people – global trends (and Lucy Bernholz) indicate that the time is now.

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On Philanthropy: TED Talks on Generosity

On Generosity is a curated TED playlist. These 7 talks provide 1.5 hours of content, and explore different aspects of philanthropy. “…stop thinking about which product to buy for yourself and try giving some of it to other people“ How to buy happiness – Michael Norton In most of the world there is a positive […]

via TED Talks on Generosity —

This is definitely worth a look-in: a great, short, accessible piece listing key TED talks that cover philanthropy, giving, and generosity in general.

Disruptive Philanthropy: must philanthropy be disrupted?

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Image from: Cause Capitalism

Gabrielle Ritchie

Director, The Change Room

20th October 2016

Collaboration, partnership, disruption, innovation, grantmaking for empowerment, risk, big bets  – these are all key concepts in the current philanthropy moment.  The African Philanthropy Forum has just had what looked like a fantastic 2-day annual meeting (17th – 18th October 2016) in Rabat, Morocco – with many of these topics on the agenda.

The next philanthropy forum gathering on the continent is the Independent Philanthropy Association of South Africa‘s annual gathering, which takes place in Johannesburg from 25th – 26th October 2016. In line with this forum’s overarching theme, Disruptive Philanthropy, the programme offers a session juxtaposing the notions of Disrupting Philanthropy and Disruptive Philanthropy.  This is a great topic, and worthy of some investigation – since our current general love of the notion of disruption, dating back at least as far as 2010 as a  hot topic for philanthropy forums, doesn’t look to be fading any time soon.

There is a volume of resources available on disruptive philanthropy, the meaning of disruption relative to philanthropy,  how to be more disruptive with one’s philanthropy, and so on. Jho Low, Director of the Jynwel Foundation explains that disruptive philanthropy captures the idea that:

to effectively address the complex challenges faced by society, people need to treat giving as a significant, long-term investment in their collective future

The Charities Review Council, in their outline for their 2014 Forum, DISRUPTIVE PHILANTHROPY: IMAGINE, CREATE, INNOVATE,  defines disruptive philanthropy as:

a transformative event or moment, an act of giving and relationship building that is a departure from the status quo. It may not be easy, endorsed or comfortable, but it is necessary to inclusively create a shared vision, a new sustainability, innovation, imagination and growth

This second definition expresses a far more disruptive energy than the first definition above, which reads as safe and as not much of a departure from existing, smart, effective grantmaking. Jho Low does go further, however, and breaks the Jynwel Foundation’s disruptive mission into five practical steps:

  • Dig deep. The foundation researches and talks to experts until it discovers the root of any given problem.
  • Collaborative design. Motivated by cross-continental thinking, it works to bring partners from all walks of life together in order to plan its programs.
  • Think very long term. The foundation believes that nothing can be solved in 3-5 years, so it makes commitments of 15-30 years or longer.
  • Invest big. The foundation actively looks for places where its funds will have the greatest social return, and invests accordingly.
  • Measure to grow. Each program is carefully evaluated every step of the way, and partners are brought in to make the foundation’s efforts even more powerful.

Lee Fox, of Cause Capitalism, seems to suggest the approach that a disruptive philanthropy might require a different approach to grantmaking.  She comments as follows:

the ideology of disruptive philanthropy identifies how a new population can participate in a way that was historically only accessible to an elite group.

Disruption implies a tipping up, a disturbance, a changing of the shape of things.  For philanthropy to be disruptive, it needs to disrupt not just the social challenges it seeks to address and the solutions it seeks to support. It also needs to disrupt its own dynamics, how it functions, sets strategy, develops grantmaking programmes, and distributes its funding.

Indeed, would these very terms and practices still be valid in a disrupted philanthropy? Would we need to talk about a qualified disruption?  Is philanthropy inherently conservative?  Is it possible to maintain the existing relations of power with regard to decision-making and fund management, and still achieve a disruptive social result?

Certainly for philanthropy to be disruptive, philanthropy itself must be disrupted.  Anything short of this implies a lack of capacity for self-reflection about one’s own participation in existing philanthropy power relations – relations that themselves serve to maintain a certain status quo and that would serve to prevent any real disruptive potential for philanthropy.  If disruption, relative to philanthropy, is understood as defined by Jho Low above, then perhaps it is not so disruptive after all?

As with social justice, however, different meanings would be ascribed to different combinations of the terms “disruptive/ disruption” and “philanthropy”.  In the case of social justice, “social justice philanthropy” and “philanthropy for/in support of social justice” mean different things – appropriately, I believe.  The first refers to the very practices of grantmaking, where social justice considerations are taken into account and implemented in how grant decisions are made/ who makes grant decisions.  The Other Foundation is an excellent example of efforts at more participatory grantmaking processes, and of working to practice social justice philanthropy.

The second phrase refers to philanthropy that supports social justice initiatives but where the grantmaking process and practice are “business as usual”, and the social justice aspect refers to what is supported rather than who makes decisions and how they are made.  Similarly, disruptive philanthropy could (or should?) imply a funding context in which the very practice of philanthropy and funding is in itself both disrupted and disruptive, and challenges existing / traditional/ “business as usual” grantmaking.  This would support an agenda of going beyond the limits of simply funding initiatives that are designed to disrupt, which is perhaps better described as “philanthropy for disruption”, or “philanthropy in support of disruption”.

If a philanthropy is working to support disruptive initiatives, rather than being designed as disruptive in itself, my sense is that such philanthropy continues to operate in a “safe zone” and has the longer-term potential to get stuck in its own echo-chamber, limiting its capacity to be an energetic catalyst in a genuinely disruptive process toward fundamentally disruptive solutions.

Data for a better South African philanthropy

Gabrielle Ritchie: Director, The Change Room

28th September 2016

Data is at the centre of many current debates in the development sector.  Certainly, data on philanthropy, grantmaking and donor funding is in hugely short supply in South Africa.  In a recent blog I attest to the absence of helpful data that can serve to inform strategy both for grantmakers and grantseekers, and that can support the rigorous development of a philanthropy infrastructure for South Africa.

Lauren Bradford, Director of Global Partnerships at the Foundation Center in the USA, recently wrote an article about the need for data globally to support the development of grounded understandings of patterns, trends, impacts, successes and failures in the grantmaking and philanthropy space towards improving grant impact.   Bradford makes a fundamental point when she explains that “… for data to be collected, processed, analyzed, and eventually shared—all while taking into account individual country contexts around the world—the data has to exist in the first place”.  South Africa is a perfect example of the absence of philanthropy data, and highlights the extent to which real analysis – of effectiveness and impact in grantmaking – is impossible in such a data-empty context.

The Foundation Center has adopted a particular strategy to tackle this yawning gap, towards developing a much-improved understanding of the impact of the billions invested in social development of one kind or another, and towards amending approaches where results have been disappointing.  Bradford outlines this approach as follows:

Foundation Center has developed a partnership program that it is implementing with philanthropic infrastructure organizations around the world to work to create a culture of data, build much needed data management capacity, and create and use data for more effective development and grantmaking outcomes. This program aims to strengthen local foundations, and associations of foundations, to develop their own long-term sustainable in-country data strategies, better understand and fill their capacity gaps through skill development, and highlight and provide tools to enable foundations to better work with data. 

One project undertaken by the Foundation Center in Kenya was designed to support those working in the Kenyan philanthropy sector to:

  • identify and agree on principles for collaborative data and knowledge management
  • identify the biggest data challenges and needs in the Kenyan philanthropy context
  • use appropriate technology effectively for collecting and sharing data and knowledge
  • agree on a set of the most important goals and priorities for data collection and knowledge management for philanthropy – both in their own organisations and as a sector in Kenya.

There are a number of disparate research initiatives and projects related to philanthropy, sources of funding, funded sectors, funded activities and foundation practice.  There have been efforts at developing an indication of the size and scope of philanthropy in South Africa – with varying degrees of success.  For example, National Treasury has recently produced a research report covering aspects of South African philanthropy, and Inyathelo: The South African Institute for Advancement is still completing a size-and-scope study funded in 2013 through the National Lotteries Commission (no update/ current status available).

Lauren Bradford closes her article with the following persuasive encouragement to get involved in, and take responsibility for, contributing the development of the philanthropy data field:

“… next time you’re doing research to guide your decision making and you’re wondering why you can’t find data you need—from general information about an organization to a particular program’s impact or funding—ask yourself: Do you think the data exists? If not, think about how you might help to create it.”

Importantly, the “Treasury Report” indicates that almost a third (32%) of the Foundations contacted for the study did not provide any information on the required facets of the provided matrix (and received a rating of ‘None’ on the disclosure of information scale).  This references directly to the challenges of trying to identify trends in South Africa philanthropy, and to the general lack of data – which is further addressed in a report titled A Snapshot of South African Philanthropy, published in February 2016. This snapshot report provides the most recent general overview of the state of the philanthropy sector in South Africa.

To develop a national data project that would best serve the development sector – both grantmakers and grantseekers – the Foundation Center approach is sound.  We need to be thinking how, in South Africa, we could develop a similar framework to encourage the development of a national data platform on philanthropy, grantmaking, sector foci, grant amounts, strategies, partnerships, collaborations, funding impact, failures, and other key philanthropy considerations.

We need to be thinking: Does the data exist? If not, how might I help to create it?

 

Funding our future with philanthropy

Gabrielle Ritchie

Director, The Change Room

22nd September 2016

South African civil society is broad and diverse, and its funding requirements can feel somewhat like a bottomless pit. This is particularly highlighted in the arena of social and welfare services, previously provided by the state with some support from non-governmental organisations.  Increasingly though, NGOs are the only structures providing any kind of social support such as counselling, trauma support, wellness services, and health information and related services at community level, and they are receiving wholly inadequate levels of funding for this critical community health provision.

Since citizen engagement and civic action take place increasingly through the formal structures of nonprofit organisations, NPOs in South Africa are currently the key vehicle for effecting systemic change. Given the scale of the current non-NGOised student movement across South Africa’s tertiary institutions, it remains to be seen how effective such movements will be in achieving and sustaining the desired change without formalised funding and grant management.  This is an important area for monitoring, towards understanding the dynamics and efficacy of non-funded movements.

While there are many social movements and organisational forms which don’t require funding to effect their mission, it is certain that for social change and development organisations to be effective in achieving their aims, effecting change and delivering services, funding support is required.  This begins to map out the basic link between social change nonprofits and philanthropy – where both endeavours are points on continuum of change and work best as partners in development.

Nonprofits are central to ensuring and securing a positive and progressive social development agenda. Likewise, philanthropy is also critical in achieving social change, through (amongst other practices) funding support for the work of non-profits and, where appropriate, working in partnership to craft strategies and programmatic agendas for change.  Resourcing Philanthropy is an online resource that provides an extensive review of The Atlantic Philanthropies Reconciliation and Human Rights funding programme in South Africa.

This resource delves into the many ways in which funders can work with organisations, co-craft agendas, convene donors and grantees, use their power-linked networks to leverage additional influence and support, and provide operational support (among many other grantmaker strategies and practices). This is little-explored territory in the South African context, and the Resourcing Philanthropy platform provides a first effort at really unpacking how a grantmaker’s approaches worked (in this case The Atlantic Philanthropies) and the ways in which their grantmaking strategies achieved measurable change and positive impact.

Partners for Change

Nonprofits, as change partners working with philanthropic funders, serve also as the operational vehicle through which funders are able to craft and service their own funding and change agendas. A number of important questions arise in starting to examine the potential for organisational-philanthropy partnerships in effecting real change.  These include (as a starter list):

  1. What is the change we want to achieve?
  2. How does this map to the context, and to current change agendas?
  3. Who sets these agendas, and who should be part of this agenda-setting process?
  4. Is there potential for a shared social change agenda, when there might exist inherent tensions between funding agendas and organisational agendas?
  5. What is the role of citizens, government, business and philanthropy in crafting and effecting social change?
  6. What is the role of philanthropy and of donors in achieving this, and how can this role best be played?

The philanthropic practice of giving, or grantmaking, or donating (and so on) inevitably carries with it the deep dynamic of an unequal power relationship.  This is likely to be the case in instances of giving and receiving between individuals; between entities; within a community – as much as it creates a power dynamic if this relationship exists between countries. In discussing and practicing philanthropy, funding and grantmaking, these dynamics must be considered and tackled in efforts to build partnerships to effect social change and development.

For nonprofit organisations, this funding dynamic is essential to take into account in how NPOs position themselves in a potential funding relationship. As formal organisational structures, nonprofits are the entities that provide the platform, or conduit, or vehicle through which foundations, trusts, corporates and government are able to achieve their goals.

Too often, NPOs understand themselves (often in spite of some stern self-talk) as the recipients of good will, rather than as partner agents in a trajectory of change.  More and more, NPOs need to shift their frame of perception and positioning, to disrupt fundamentally the begging bowl approach.  Philanthropic funders could contribute here by challenging themselves more thoroughly on what a “disruptive philanthropy” might look like, and how they can genuinely contribute to a new, transformational kind of funding practice, adopting strategies that have a greater chance of achieving social change.

NPOs, as part of civil society, occupy pole position when it comes to shaping how nonprofits operate and position themselves, and how they can grow and strengthen civil society.  A core dynamic in this is the NPO/ funder relationship.  Philanthropists therefore need to tackle the power dynamic inherent in their fund-holding position, in an effort to forge real partnerships based on mutual interest, shared values and agendas, and a clear vision of a desired future.

Philanthropy (foundations, private individuals, and wealth management advisors, amongst others) needs to take on the task – with donor and grantee partners – of pursuing and building a new kind of funding approach and grantmaking practice in South Africa.  Achieving change, in line with a social justice approach to development, cannot only be about the work of nonprofits.  It must, necessarily, be built also on a more inclusive, consultative, progressive approach to grantmaking.

Previous articles that touch on this topic include those listed below:

https://philanthropediasa.wordpress.com/2016/05/12/philanthropy-advisors-and-service-providers-building-the-infrastructure-for-south-african-philanthropy/

https://philanthropediasa.wordpress.com/2016/04/01/knowledgeonphilanthropy/

https://philanthropediasa.wordpress.com/2016/06/02/why-i-love-philanthropy-and-why-it-can-only-do-so-much/

GrantCraft is one of my most favourite resources for guides on, and insights into, grantmaking practice, the challenges of effective grantmaking, and a range of related topics.  Those listed below focus specifically on partnerships:

http://www.grantcraft.org/videos/supporting-a-new-partnership

http://www.grantcraft.org/curated-content/cross-sector-partnership-formation

http://www.grantcraft.org/guides/supporting-grantee-capacity

The article below is an excellent challenge to whether grantmaker-grantee partnerships are in fact possible, or are currently more fiction than fact:

http://www.blueavocado.org/content/foundation-nonprofit-partnerships-fact-or-fiction

 

 

The struggle is real: NPO funding support in South Africa

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Gabrielle Ritchie

Director, The Change Room

8th September 2016

I have been engaging recently, through training workshops, with a range of South African non-profit staffers who know what it’s like out there on the ground.  These aren’t the big-city non-profits.  These are people seriously slogging it out in under-resourced areas, looking into the big yonder and wondering how they will continue to fund the delivery of essential community services.

These services include, for example (and usually amongst many other services):

  1. HIV counselling and testing – most times these are the only entities in an area who provide this service.
  2. Trauma counselling – always these organisations are the only facility that has any capacity to provide support to those who have suffered violence, abuse, trauma, loss.
  3. Sex worker support – access to health advice, testing and treatment in a context where state clinics are unsensitised (and often hostile) to sex workers and the context in which they work.
  4. Sexual health education and resource-sharing – particularly for youth, where there are clearly insufficient resources and information available to guide and advise.
  5. Support for women survivors of gender-based violence – always the only place that women can turn to.
  6. Diversion programmes – designed to support juvenile offenders towards avoiding a life of wrong-doing and imprisonment.

These organisations are not about charity.  While they are about welfare, this is welfare in the “big” sense of the word, where these non-profits provide services and support to individuals within communities towards improving their emotional well-being and providing a place where they can be served, understood and where their issues can be held.

This is fundamentally an issue of social justice.  This is about access to wellness services.  This is about attending to the basic health and wellness needs of communities.  And this work is always under-funded, and often goes unpaid. Non-profits providing these essential services are struggling to get the attention of the state, of corporates, of individuals – and, most especially, appropriate levels of support from provincial funding pots in the departments of health, education and social development.

The work being undertaken, and the services being delivered, by these organisations are right up against the raw coalface of under-resourced and impoverished areas.  The work is often difficult and, because of under-staffing, can be hugely overwhelming.  It is becoming increasingly critical – for community support, development, and general physical, social and economic health – to ensure the long-term endurance, resilience and sustainability of these “social services” organisations.   There is no doubt that the government relies absolutely on such non-profits to deliver a range of health, wellness and support services – without which communities across the country would literally be left in the lurch.

Whether these kinds of services are needed is not up for discussion – they are critical in a global and local context of increasing inequality and social dysfunction.  Whether they must receive appropriate levels of support from  government is also not for debate – the government fully relies on this huge group of organisations, and the thousands of staff and volunteers who work at these NPOs, to  provide basic levels of community support. Whether they actually receive the required support is also a non-discussion – countless organisations rely on staff who are willing to continue working for months without salaries in times of zero funding.

These organisations are the heroes of our non-profit sector. There is nothing fun, exciting or edgy about the constant demand for their services, nor the overwhelming need for delivery of this huge range of social support interventions provided by these organisations.  But there they are – slogging it out, eking out their existence, working to make sure they are able to keep their doors open.  For the sake of the individuals who have nowhere else to turn.

Google “community counselling centre” or “sexual health centre/ clinic” in your area.  You will be amazed at what comes up. Find a local non-profit community counselling centre or clinic services centre and see how you can support the work they do. These organisations are the only option – and they are critical to our national well-being.

 

Capacity building for South African NPOs – what works?

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by Gabrielle Ritchie

Director, The Change Room

5th September 2016

 

Do we know what capacity development approaches work best in building the skills in NPOs to ensure resilience and sustainability?

There are a growing number of capacity development offerings and initiatives in the non-profit sector, many of which utilise millions in donor funding.  Donors are critical in supporting this work – and the idea is that such training and skills development contributes to ensuring that grantees are sustainable beyond any particular donor grant.

In theory, capacity development for NPO sustainability seeks to ensure that organisations are better able to (amongst other things):

  • jack up their governance
  • manage their finances effectively
  • plan thoroughly
  • develop persuasive and impactful communications
  • monitor their work to ensure an appropriate evidence base for their strategy development and planning
  • brush up on and fine-tune their fundraising skills
  • ensure effective leadership of their organisation

So what approaches are being developed, how is this being tackled, what are we learning from all of this work, and are we finding good practice examples of effective capacity development that genuinely contributes to the longer-term sustainability of South African non-profits?

Firstly, this has been an important area around which donors have convened groups of their grantees.  Based on capacity status and assessment, donors are bringing similar-level grantees together – particularly (but not only) as part of their own exit planning either from South Africa (as was the case with The Atlantic Philanthropies) or from a particular funding focus area.   Secondly, this is a key area of investment for donors who are seeking to contribute to the overall resilience of South Africa’s NPO sector.

The intentions behind the training are excellent, but as with any capacity development endeavour, we really need a thorough assessment of the overall impact of these interventions, along the following kind of lines:

  1. What are the real challenges faced by non-profits working at community level?
  2. Is there a hierarchy of challenges that is different for (for example) urban-based non-profits and rural-based organisations?
  3. What might the key point of influence be in ensuring that resource mobilisation behaviour shifts across and organisation?
  4. What training methodology works best?
  5. Is knowledge-development the most important component of a sustainability capacity building intervention?
  6. What role does mentorship and post-workshop support play in ensuring that new knowledge and skills translate into different resource mobilisation behaviours?
  7. Based on reviewing a number of capacity-development initiatives, which have demonstrated an on-the-ground difference in the resilience of participant non-profits?
  8. What specific approach/ component/ knowledge area has led to this positive impact?
  9. Is this success translatable to other contexts?

These are some of the questions we should be asking specifically of our South African context, so that our capacity development initiatives are focused, designed for impact, and structured in a way that has a best shot at ensuring a shift in how people approach the ongoing task of resourcing their organisations.  A good understanding of these issues would take us a long way to developing effective training – and putting donor money to best use.

Thoughts?  Please share any comments or thoughts you have on this topic.

For other posts on skills required for fundraising, go to https://philanthropediasa.wordpress.com/2016/06/10/sustainability-practice-areas-for-non-profit-organisational-resilience-the-basic-skills-set/