/ 25 October 2007

Working together to overcome poverty

Since its debut last year the Drivers of Change Awards have grown significantly in both quantity and quality of entries. The awards uphold living examples of innovative approaches to anti-­poverty work.

Last year nominations were received only in English from Lesotho, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. But this year English, French and Portuguese entries came from Lesotho, Mozambique, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

Unlike last year this year we have drivers of change in government, business and civil society categories all working towards changing the quality of life of people in Southern Africa.

After a rigorous adjudication process, the judges selected the outstanding nominations. They searched for innovative, inclusive, sustainable and unique entries that demonstrated a change-­producing impact to overcome poverty. Policy work that involves the poor and embraces diverse voices won the attention of the judges. Special attention was given to consistent practices of organisations and ­individuals that create the best conditions to make a real and lasting difference in the lives of people living in poverty.

Pleasing to note among this year’s entries was evidence of collaborative efforts among different role players in society to overcome poverty. The panel of judges observed that governments alone cannot eradicate poverty but, by working with key stakeholders, more effective results can be achieved to end poverty in the region.

Deserving recognition in this regard is the collaboration between the ministry of planning and development of Mozambique and civil society organisations in the country in the Group of 20, which the judges applauded for the unique creative partnership in policy and strategy development to overcome poverty in the country’s national ­Poverty Observatory.

It is in this spirit of partnership and consistent cooperation that the judges gave a joint special award to the ministry and the G20. This Mozambican model clearly indicates that in a maturing political environment, it is possible for ­governments and civil society organisations to share a common vision in ending poverty and cooperate in a joint effort, while maintaining autonomous and critical engagement.

In the business category conventional corporate social investment and small welfare projects did not impress the judges as they were looking for long-term and sustainable initiatives that represent innovative, change-creating business models. Corporate social responsibility programmes that do not create dependency but support creative and sustainable development won recognition.

Allan Gray emerged as the driver of change for promoting job creation by fostering excellence in entrepreneurship through both funding and education. Gerald Leissner received a special commendation for his contribution to ending poverty and inequality in Southern Africa. His model of doing business created significant wealth to be distributed to institutions involved in broad range activities that address poverty. Such outstanding models of doing business in a context of widespread poverty and extreme inequality set the platform for others to follow.

In the civil society category many high-quality entries were received. Work that did not clearly demonstrate engagement with people living in poverty did not attract the judges’ attention.

At the same time the judges searched for work representing diverse voices that influence public policies to bring about changes to the root causes of poverty. An example is the African Wildlife Foundation, an organisation working towards lifting people out of poverty in Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The foundation won the award for linking sound conservation practices directly with supporting sustainable livelihoods for impoverished rural communities in cooperation with local government authorities.

Special commendations were given to Gender Links for driving change in gender and development in Southern Africa, while Betty Makoni also received a special commendation for her remarkable strides in the empowerment and development of girl children in Zimbabwe, including her work to ensure the enactment of the country’s Domestic Violence Bill.

Through the awards we are able to promote innovative practices and inclusive attitudes that influence the development of better public policies to overcome poverty in Southern Africa.

Neville Gabriel is the executive director of the Southern Africa Trust. Go to www.southernafricatrust.org for more details

How to save Southern Africa’s poor

More than 40% of the population in Southern Africa is living in abject poverty. Major challenges confronting the region include food insecurity, HIV/Aids and extreme inequality.

“Responding to these challenges calls for national, as well as integrated regional, approaches by government, business and civil society,” says Petronilla Ndebele, communications and partnerships manager of the Southern Africa Trust. “However, there is a need to seek new ways to end inequality and understand the root causes of poverty.”

She says although there is commitment to overcoming poverty in Southern Africa, a more integrated and regional approach is needed. This is where the Southern Africa Trust steps in.

Ndebele says bringing together government, business and civil society to hear one another and cooperate to end poverty in Southern Africa is central to the work of the trust.

“Its main interest is for the voices of the poor to have a bigger say in what’s being done to bring an end to poverty,” she says. “It is the only indigenous, regional grant-maker with a regional approach to overcoming poverty.”

The trust was established in 2005 to support civil society organisations in the region to participate credibly in policy dialogue to ensure the poor has a voice.

“If the voices of the poor are not asserted in these processes, other interests are likely to dominate in both the design and implementation of the policies,” the trust believes.

It has five programmatic interventions that seek to cause policy change to overcome poverty, namely Learning for Better Poverty Reduction Strategies, Knowing Civil Society Organisations, Inserting Voices of the Poor in Policy Processes, Strengthening Civil Society Capabilities and More and Better Financial Flows to Civil Society.

The trust uses the learning from its engagement in policy interventions to target and focus its grant-making in ways that close the gaps in policy processes. The emphasis is on sustainability. To date the trust has provided grants to 75 organisations in Southern Africa. — Mail & Guardian reporter