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If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

THE advice to NGOs to “adapt or die” in a changing environment is becoming painfully repetitive. It is also superfluous, as we – the remaining NGOs –would not have survived until now if we had not constantly restructured, repositioned and transformed ourselves.

In her response (“NGOs are not about to roll over”, April 19 to 25) to my opinion piece (“NGOs walk where others fear to tread”, April 12 to 18), Thandi Orleyn presumes I expect the government to “step in to ensure the previous levels of [NGO] funding are maintained”.

She presumes correctly. In fact, I want more: the government should fund our operations “to scale”, wherever possible. Given “the urgency of RDP delivery”, it is both legitimate and feasible to expect a “government committed to processes of development” to channel at least some of the billions of available but hitherto unutilised RDP funds to credible, well-managed independent agencies that deliver services in line with stated government policy and priorities.

The mechanisms for the selection, distribution and control of such funding in line with the requirements and needs of the government, funders and both local and foreign electorates and taxpayers require a simple business plan, the basics of which the management team of any medium-sized NGO worth its salt could put together in a one-day workshop.

Since this debate started, the oldest science education NGO in the country has had to shut down its operations in all regions except Gauteng. This is not an “extremely alarmist” scenario, but a sad historical fact.

This NGO delivered valuable teacher and student support in science education to junior secondary schools, backed up by excellent equipment and materials. Presumably, the people who would hail this development as sensible “restructuring” will not be joined by the teachers and students in deprived rural areas who now have to do without an excellent support service in a field that has been prioritised by every conceivable “stakeholder”.

The “forcibly restructured” NGO in question provided its services with a budget of just over R5,5-million. Some R2-billion of unused RDP money has been carried over for the second year now. The fact that a sound and credible development service operating at low cost cannot be supported by a government that has the money is not only absurd – it is a disgrace.

The homespun piece of simplistic Darwinism directed at NGOs by people of Orleyn’s persuasion – “don’t expect to simply carry on like in the past, and to survive” – deserves an equally simple home truth in response: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

Promat, for example, delivers high-quality in- service teacher education at half the cost per student of comparable and usually inferior government activities in this field. There is no good reason for fundamental change to the way in which we deliver this service. There is every reason for government to spend some of its development billions on this project, which benefits everybody – including the fiscus and the taxpayer.

We do not “expect favours from anyone”. We demand that development money be spent on development. It is as simple as that. – Helmut Bertelsmann, Promat Colleges

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Lynley Donnelly
Lynley Donnelly
Lynley is a senior business reporter at the Mail & Guardian. But she has covered everything from social justice to general news to parliament - with the occasional segue into fashion and arts. She keeps coming to work because she loves stories, especially the kind that help people make sense of their world.

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