/ 23 December 2015

Commit to staying the course

Ntando Mahlangu with his 400m unofficial world record at Junior World Champs
Ntando Mahlangu with his 400m unofficial world record at Junior World Champs

Imagine being a 10-year-old who has never walked. Now imagine being the same boy, three years later, holding up a trophy for being the 400m-sprint champion at the 2015 Junior World championships. You’ve just run faster than the current world and Paralympic champions. 

Being involved in this transformation is what Michael Stevens of Jumping Kids Prosthetic Fund calls his “proudest moment of 2015”. The fund has a footprint in sub-Saharan Africa and works with childhood amputees, supplying prosthetics to children of school-going age. In 2015, it sent five children to compete in the Junior World Championship Athletics in the Netherlands, on short notice — the children had just had major success at SA champs — securing funding just two months before. 

“One of the kids we have worked with over the last three years. When we met Ntando Mahlangu he had never walked and was overweight and under-stimulated. He broke two world records at the championships, including one where he ran the fastest time ever run in his category — faster than the current world and Paralympic champion. He is only 13 and the next step is Rio next year. Knowing he has gone from zero to hero in such a short space of time and what it took to get there make it a great story and my proudest moment.”

This story, and many like it, came to the fore in the Mail & Guardian’s research into what has been happening in the CSI (corporate social investment) field in 2015. While heart-warming stories abound, Stevens issues a caveat: “It has become harder to access funding. Funders are also becoming stricter in how their funds are used. Even though there is an allowance to use 25% of funding for operational items, funders are attaching clauses to make sure that 100% of funds are used for beneficiaries. This is both positive and a challenge: positive in that it gives funds to the cause and makes sure they are spent on it; negative in that it means that NGOs need to find operational specific funding, which is more difficult and sometimes not possible. It can mean the job can’t get done, as no resource can be allocated to manage the project.”

Michelle Phipson of The Columba Leadership Trust, which since 2009 has developed over 3 000 future leaders (20% of whom are educators), says: “Many corporates have cut back on their CSI spend, citing the slowdown in the economy as the main contributing factor. At Columba Leadership, we are moving towards long-term, sustainable partnerships with our corporate investors. Rather than focusing on a once-off contribution, we are creating long-term sustainable relationships, with the emphasis on creating long-term, sustained change in schools across South Africa.” 

Edward Kieswetter, group chief executive at Alexander Forbes Group Holdings Limited, says the relationship between corporate funders, NGOs and beneficiaries has “become more vital, transforming into impactful partnerships in many instances”. 

“We believe that each partner should commit to putting something on the table that contributes in the development of local communities.” The view has long been promoted by NGOs.

Says Phipson: “Aligning business objectives with CSI objectives and choosing your NGO partner strategically creates a relationship where shared value can really be unlocked. We recommend that companies also stay the course with their chosen, strategic NGO partners. Many corporates are hesitant to commit to multi-year funding, but this makes it extremely difficult for an NGO to plan ahead. Any business relying on investment lasting one year, when the need is longer, will be at risk.”

Janet Ogilvie, operations manager at food security NGO INMED South Africa, says that while business imperatives like BEE points are becoming more important, “the people I work with seem to have a true desire to improve the lives of their fellow South Africans”. 

“There is the feeling among my funders that healthy children learn better and eventually become an intelligent work force, which benefits the whole country. Helping the parents to become economically self-sufficient allows for brighter futures for their children, but also results in less crime overall. 

“Companies now require adult beneficiaries to be [part of] registered entities (such as co-operatives) as opposed to a loose agreement of people working together. They also require more proof of economic development, which requires all beneficiaries to keep accounts they did not previously keep. Financial training of beneficiaries has become an important factor in our projects.”

Jean Armstrong of HIVSA, a Gauteng-based NGO that focuses on building capacity of communities within the social and health sectors with a focus on HIV prevention, treatment and support services, says: “I have found that communities are more clear on what they want and seem more empowered to express their views and expectations — they really value when corporates enter into relationship as partners and do not predetermine what their needs are.”