/ 29 April 2011

Best for the poor

Five years on, the people of Southern Africa are showing an increasing interest in the Drivers of Change awards.

More organisations and individuals are keen to showcase the novel approaches they are taking to alleviate poverty.The recognition afforded by the Drivers of Change awards opens opportunities and draws attention to organisations’ and individuals’ work on reducing poverty.

It is not only an affirmation of excellent work but also confers trust and reliability, which makes their initiatives more attractive to funding and partnerships. The awards create a platform for people and organisations to network and learn from one another. But, above all, they inspire others to think and act differently so that progress in alleviating poverty happens faster and more widely.

Since 2006 the Drivers of Change awards have received 205 entries. Nominations have included people and organisations in 14 southern African countries, other African countries and some abroad. Seventeen drivers of change from eight different countries — Angola, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe — have been recognised for action that has made a lasting difference to the lives of people living in poverty and has changed how we think about what needs to be done to drive poverty down.

They have all demonstrated a new kind of leadership characterised by visionary innovation, partnerships with others and practical results in efforts to overcome poverty in Southern Africa. Recognition of the awards as an innovation hub is evident in the increasingly high level and the good quality of the nominations received, as well as the level of guest speakers who appear at the awards event.

The Southern Africa Trust and the Mail & Guardian have run the Drivers of Change awards in partnership for the past five years. Usually announced a separate awards alongside the Mail & Guardian‘s Investing in the Future Awards, 2011 brings you two joint awards.

The Drivers of Change Civil Society and the Investing in the Future Non-profit Organisation award categories will now be merged into the Investing in the Future and Drivers of Change — Civil Society Award.The Drivers of Change Business category and the Investing in the Future Corporate award will be merged to become the Investing in the Future and Drivers of Change — Business Award.

These joint awards will be given not only in recognition of what the winners have done to improve the lives of the most vulnerable and marginalised in Southern Africa but also to hold up working models of how we can do things differently and more effectively. The awards recognise initiatives that are particularly innovative, done through partnerships with others and push the boundaries of what is possible.

In particular they will recognise efforts that offer systemic and lasting change rather than just temporary and immediate benefits to the people they are intended to reach. These awards are intended to drive change in, and not just to recognise, current practices and models of development. For example, the goals of poverty reduction and economic profitability are not mutually exclusive.

Both can equally empower poor people and improve their quality of life by providing them with productive opportunities and jobs, the capacity and resources to turn these chances at a better life into self-made economic and social progress, and access to smarter products and services for which there can be a very big market. The poor do have productive capacity that can be used as inputs to and markets for business to create more profitable products and services.

Companies that undertake value-creating activities, including buying their inputs from the poor, engaging the poor in production and distribution and creating markets for innovative product and service offerings to low-income citizens, could qualify as winners in the business category. They are driving change through corporate social investment or responsibility, which is often more “donation” or compliance-oriented, in a way that creates a general improvement in the quality of life of the poor.

Neville Gabriel is the executive director of the Southern Africa Trust and a member of the panel of judges for the awards

People from Southern Africa can send in their nominations for the 2011 Drivers of Change awards, which are now open. Nominations are being accepted in four categories: government, business, civil society and individuals. Nomination forms are available in French, Portuguese or English at www.southernafricatrust.org or www.mg.co.za/investing. The closing date for nominations is July 29. The winners will be announced in Johannesburg on October 27.