South Africa’s non-profit sector plays a critical role in our society, helping to address societal issues like hunger, housing and unemployment. They are producing outcomes that the government and the private sector cannot achieve on their own. And right now, they’re the ones with the answers. This could signal a sea-change in the traditional ‘top-down’ dynamic between the private sector funding entities and NPOs, and start a journey towards a more productive partnership, where all parties recognise the resources and skills that each brings to the table.
The grassroots experience and insights of NPOs have not always been recognised: the traditional thinking has been that NPOs should learn from the private sector’s excellence and sustainability, not the other way around.
The COVID-19 pandemic is changing that. The crisis has thrust the NPO sector into the forefront of the country’s fight against the pandemic, with non-profits providing lifesaving support on the ground for some of our most vulnerable and marginalised communities, in the face of unprecedented demand for their services.
Their efforts aren’t going unnoticed. The COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting the value of the non-profit sector in supporting our nation’s people, and the critical insights they hold to plan the way forward post-COVID. Many private sector funders are realising just how much knowledge NPOs have at a grassroots level, and that their understanding of the needs of specific communities is invaluable when making funding and CSI decisions. Everybody’s in uncharted waters – and the experience and insights of NPOs are crucial when it comes to making a real difference where it counts.
At Nation Builder, the community of funders and NPOs strive for this very relational balance, where NPOs understand the pressure donors are under to prove their social impact credentials, while donors understand the development challenges the NPOs face. It’s therefore essential not to brainstorm CSI strategies and approaches behind closed doors, but rather to engage NPOs in the process to ensure that development knowledge and insight help shape a strategy for the greatest impact.
It’s certainly not too late to consult the NPO sector on how to best address the social challenges our nation faces amid the pandemic. Away from the high-profile support funds that have been created to support SMMEs and relief work, numerous NPOs are battling to deliver the massive amount of critical relief work required. They are doing this with decreasing support in organisational funding and difficulty in accessing the available relief funds to provide these services. And once the relief work shifts into rebuilding, the demand for the NPO services will not reduce overnight and this additional demand will need to be financed for months, if not longer.
Helping meet these longer-term needs will be key. We’re going to see massive unemployment, which will demand skills development, training and enterprise development initiatives on an unprecedented scale. To help alleviate this challenge, we’re all going to have to help keep the NPO sector strong as we work to rebuild our society and economy. Theirs is not just an essential role, but an essential voice. It’s time we listened more closely to it, to make a real difference.
Keri-Leigh Paschal is an executive trustee at Nation Builder.
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