What is the Southern Africa Trust?

Uniqueness is a quality many strive to achieve in order to set and maintain a position among competitors. But for the Southern Africa Trust, a Southern Africa-based organisation, it is not about being unique so as to compete; rather it is being unique in approach and complementing existing efforts in the quest to overcome poverty in Southern Africa. It is through this need for a regionally unique approach to overcoming poverty that the Southern Africa Trust was established.

Based in Midrand in South Africa, the trust is an independent and non-profit agency registered in South Africa which supports processes to deepen and widen engagement in policy dialogue with a regional impact on poverty.

‘There are many different groups and organisations in the region—many of them doing similar work—but disconnected from one another,” says Neville Gabriel, executive director of the Southern Africa Trust, who has extensive experience working with civil society groups and campaigns such as Oxfam, Jubilee 2000 and the Global Call to Action Against Poverty.

He sees the role of the trust, therefore, as being that of creating the right kinds of linkages between different forms of CSOs working on similar issues in the region, so that the impact of a credible voice of CSOs for ending poverty is maximised.

‘Our other mandate is to ensure that policies respond to the precise circumstances and experiences of the poor.
Policies should not be a product of experts detached from the realities of the poor, but outcomes of processes shaped by the real interests, preoccupations and dilemmas of the poor,” says Gabriel.

Says Jacqui Boulle, a consultant with the trust: ‘What is unique about the Southern Africa Trust is that it is not just a donor, but an advocate for change. Its insistence on the production of hard technical facts to back up its policy arguments is one of the things that separates it from other organi-sations working with civil society.”

And because many of the big, traditional donor organisations prefer dealing with large-scale projects managed by an established CSO, many of the CSOs are often left out, unable to access the necessary funds, leading to disillusionment in the communities in which they operate. But a deeper engagement with as many CSOs as possible does promise a change in the geography that has characterised the circulation of donor funds.

In its engagement with big business, says Gabriel, the trust seeks to go beyond the narrow scope of corporate social investment arms of corporates to the whole spectrum of the activities of that business.

‘Meaning that if we are dealing with a mining company, for instance, we will ask questions of the ecological impact of their business, whether they are ploughing back benefits in any substantial form to the communities they operate in, whether they promote poverty- reducing labour practices, are they participating in building social trust and, if their business is of such a nature that they could source their input material from the communities around them, do they do so?” asks Gabriel.

Such has been the confidence shown in the trust, he says, that within a year of starting its operations—in April 2006—it has identified about 70 CSOs in the region for grant-disbursements and various forms of support amounting to about $4,5-million.

The challenge is that the trust has yet to build up a forceful policy analysis unit and a fundraising unit. But having set aside more than R42-million for grant allocations this financial year, Gabriel believes it is only a matter of time before the trust makes significant inroads to reinvigorate the Southern African Development Community CSO terrain.

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