You can’t postpone poverty – sustainable community organizations are needed
NOTICE: The pandemic has amplified the lack of an appropriate national framework for funding community organizations and a lack of consistency in funding for nonprofits in the country.
by Pinampi Maano
Covid-19 has highlighted the critical role community organizations can play in supporting health – from health interventions to critical engagement in research and development.
But the pandemic has also taken a heavy toll on the sustainability of these organizations, and it is time for the government to ensure that nonprofits (NPOs) are part of the post-Covid recovery plan.
When South Africa entered lockdown at the start of the pandemic, many civil society organizations were unable to continue providing essential health services on behalf of the government. Many nongovernmental organizations have not been paid because government entities have struggled to confirm service delivery.
We have learned the hard way that poverty cannot be delayed. While the government delayed payments for service delivery for government programs to confirm quality assurance, civil society was unable to hold the government accountable for their non-delivery.
The pandemic has amplified the lack of an appropriate national framework for funding community-based organizations and a lack of consistency in funding for nonprofits in the country.
It is therefore time to review the obsolete NPO law of 1997. We must provide adequate support to those working on the ground. The law entered into force on September 1, 1998 (Gazette 19199 of August 31, 1998). The world has changed since then and we need a law that reflects the current state of affairs. Even the Millennium Development Goals are now referred to as the Sustainable Development Goals, which denote the essence of adaptability to evolving socio-economic issues.
This lack of support has the impact of undermining the very sustainability we hope NPOs will achieve. For example, the government, which is able to pay for salaries and allowances, often attracts top talent from community councils where they volunteer to serve on government councils in paid positions.
On the other hand, community organizations struggle to attract or have competent boards with the right skills due to the lack of allocations. Many claim that passion cannot pay the bills, therefore, they choose to sit on government boards where they are paid for their time. In this way, community organizations end up competing with the government for people with the right skills, knowledge and experience.
Another problem that hinders the sustainability of community organizations is the limited culture of volunteering. While many people do mandatory internships with community organizations during their studies, few return to volunteer without pay once they are qualified. This robs organizations of critical skills.
Obviously, community organizations cannot build sustainability without funds. They cannot support government health research and development initiatives without mechanisms for sustainability.
My concern is that since NPOs are not making a profit, why don’t we have a national level of effort reimbursement framework? The government employs civil servants, and they are paid according to the levels, and that culture is uniform. However, the same cannot be said of NPOs.
NPOs clearly complement government efforts in fulfilling the service delivery mandate, yet operation continues to be on the agenda.
Twenty-seven years after democracy, a transformation agenda remains a pipe dream within the NPO sector. But who is to blame? Who should correct the anomaly? We are here, as a sector, ready to work with anyone bold enough to balance the equation. Otherwise, history remains our biggest and critical focus.
The government must therefore take the lead in strengthening the non-profit sector, and communities must work to support and support these organizations so that we can promote an appropriate framework for long-term sustainability.
We can start by having a barometer that tracks the progress of community organizations to highlight gaps in compliance, capacity and support. This will allow government and donors to make evidence-based decisions about where and how to invest their support.
In addition to funding, the government should support sustainability efforts with capacity building, mentoring, and support collaborations so that community organizations can move from start-up to compliance and eventually sustainability.
Supporting community organizations to support social justice interventions is a win-win situation. Strong community organizations not only help the government meet its delivery goals, but help communities help themselves.
And when that happens, we all win.
* Maano is the executive director of Kgorogo Social Investments; Co-chair of the NW-PCA and chair of the Civil Society Forum in the North West Province.
** The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of the IOL.