A high-tech eye in the sky to guide people out of poverty

Where poverty persists it is not only social development that is at risk, but the democratic process itself

‘A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilisation.” — Samuel Johnson.

In the past few years South Africa has positioned itself as a developmental state, the fundamental aim of which is to ensure that key institutions direct and support social and economic development processes, rather than depending on market forces.

The effectiveness of the developmental state will depend ultimately on who benefits from development. Unless it is able to achieve economic empowerment and improved standards of living for the poor, it cannot be said to be developmental or truly democratic.

South Africa’s high and persistent poverty levels continue to constrain many of the government’s socio­economic development ambitions. This stems from the complex interrelationship between development factors.

For example, although education can play a crucial role in sustainable poverty alleviation, government efforts to provide better school infrastructure, curricula and educators are often emasculated in instances where learners are malnourished, abused or suffer from poverty-related health problems.

Poverty, therefore, has the ability to trap people in cycles of adversity, which can render much of the good work done across the development arena ineffective. Where poverty persists unabated it is not only social development that is at risk, but also the democratic process itself, because the prospects of sustaining democratic government in a poor society are weaker than in wealthier ones.

Poverty is a multidimensional phenomenon and is not related only to cash shortages that result in homelessness, hunger and ill health, but also to restricted access to education and other basic services.

In addition, it is characterised by a lack of participation in decision-making and in civil, social and cultural arenas.

Nevertheless, a lack of cash frequently goes hand in hand with other disempowering factors. In 2005 the percentage of South Africans living on less than the 2007 benchmark of R462 a month was 48%, vividly highlighting the enormity of poverty levels facing the nation.

CSI and development practitioners are called upon daily to respond to calls for assistance from communities and organisations that are working to uplift those affected by poverty. What is clear is the neediness of these worthy requests.

What is frequently missing is specific information on the profile of communities in which projects are being implemented, such as detail on the poverty rate, demographics, malnutrition and access to services. In many instances funders are not aware of existing role players — corporates, government or NGOs — that work in specific communities and address similar issues.

As a result, opportunities for collaboration and improved impact are not uncovered. Investment in projects, issues and areas becomes skewed, resulting in vast areas of saturation and others that are neglected.

In an attempt to enhance the flow of knowledge in this area, The Social Mapping Tool was developed by Trialogue in partnership with Africa­Scope, an organisation specialising in spatial mapping of data (www.africascope.net).

The project is funded by the Business Trust as part of its Community Investment Programme (www.btrust.org.za).

The Social Mapping Tool provides a powerful visual presentation of how funders’ spending aligns with poverty indicators and how these change over the life span of an investment.

Layered upon a wealth of socioe­conomic indicators, The Social Mapping Tool uses Google Earth as its platform, which allows one to zoom into the communities where support is being offered, get a feel for the landscape and locate other projects working in that community.

For those interested in aligning their investment with other corporate or government programmes, this tool highlights areas of cooperation. It can be used live, in real time, in presentations, or copied into reports.

The Social Mapping Tool makes decision-making relevant and strategic, therefore enhancing accountability of where, how and why millions — if not billions — of rands are being spent in specific ways.

The Making CSI Matter conference will provide an opportunity for participants to view this innovative, enticing, “beam me down Scotty” tool, moving poverty alleviation and social investment from old world to new age.

Trialogue is a BEE organisation specialising in consulting, research and publishing in the areas of CSI and sustainable business development

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