The writer says civil society organisations must prepare themselves to be resilient to endure the breakdown of public service institutions and delivery, funding constraints and an increased demand for their services. Picture: Boxer Ngwenya/ANA
As state failure rises, citizens increasingly ditching formal political organisations and foreign funding falls, South African civil society will have to become more impactful, efficient and relevant.

In fact, civil society, community organisations and movements will have to become more resilient during these increasingly complex, uncertain and troubling times.

With South Africa assigned junk status by two global credit rating agencies, traditional sources of funding for civil society, including non-governmental organisations, community-based organisations and social movements, are likely to decline.

The likely drop in income follows on the back of falls already in foreign (industrial country) funding following the aftermath of the 2007/2008 global financial and eurozone financial crises.

More recently, the rise of populists and conservative governments in many industrial countries and the accompanying opposition among their electorates to their governments’ providing development assistance to developing countries, have meant that these governments have, and will have, less enthusiasm than previous levels of funding to developing countries.

US President Donald Trump’s election last year further raises the spectre that official development assistance to Africa under his presidency may be dramatically slashed.

The US, through the government, private sector and philanthropy, is the biggest source of funding for development assistance, including civil society, to Africa and South Africa.

South African civil society organisations must prepare themselves to be resilient to endure the breakdown of public service institutions and delivery, funding constraints and an increased demand for their services.

Andrea Ovans writes in the Harvard Business Review that organisational resilience is the “ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity”.

Most resilient organisations have a strong set of internal values - and they live their values.

South African civil society organisations must have strong internal value systems informed by the democratic constitutional values. There is often a mismatch in civil society organisations between the values they stand for externally, and the internal organisational values they act out.

Civil society organisations must get better at stretching the resources available - however little. They must become more inventive, improvise more and be more innovative.

Civil society management must give employees the space to be inventive, innovative and to improvise.

This means that if faced with a unique problem, without a ready solution, employees must be able to come up with their own answers.

But the leadership of civil society organisations must also try to establish their organisations as learning organisations, participatory and friendly spaces.

All of this means civil society groups must restructure themselves as organisations. They will have to streamline their internal operations, strengthen their internal governance and accountability systems and improve transparency.

Individual boards should be appointed on the basis of what skills they can bring to civil society organisations.

Many civil society organisations have traditionally appointed board members just because of their civil society involvement.

However, in these times of stress, civil society should look for individuals who bring particularly technical, professional and financial skills, which the organisations need, but do not have.

Furthermore, they will also have to prioritise programmes, and ensure that they are relevant and impactful. Monitoring and evaluation of programmes for effectiveness must become the norm.

Civil society organisations must use technology better to bring new efficiencies, to mobilise resources and market what they are doing.

Civil society organisations will have to collaborate more effectively with each other, pool resources and integrate their programmes more creatively.

They will also have to partner more effectively, individually and collaboratively, with communities around issues that matter to communities.

But civil society organisations must also use the public resources available in communities better - the schools, churches, government delivery sites and people. They will have to bring in volunteer skills - young people, retired professionals and those with time to spare who want to make a meaningful contribution to society.

Civil society will have to explore building its own social enterprises in partnerships to get vulnerable communities to provide their own food, products and ‘public’ services and ultimately to sell the surpluses of these.

These social enterprises could be in the areas where public services are not working: for example, community-driven water sanitation, renewable energy and education provisions, or agricultural production.

Civil society can then push for the products and services of these social enterprises to be inserted into the supply chains of big business, whether state, private, local or foreign ones.

Civil society will also have to explore alternative revenue streams. As the funding from abroad shrinks, civil society will have to start to tap more into local sources of funding.

A number of potential sources of funding have been underdeveloped and untapped. These include funding from the middle classes, including the new emerging black middle class and young professionals.

Corporates have generally not provided funding for social justice initiatives. Corporate social responsibility programmes often have had very limited impact. Yet, social justice programmes are desperately necessary to strengthen the country’s democracy and social fabric and to promote peace.

Many corporates have mostly focused on black economic empowerment (BEE) as a form of redistribution or social justice. However, BEE deals have in many cases enriched politically connected individuals, the so-called “political capitalists”, who are already well-off, rather than poor communities.

BEE is a potential new revenue stream for civil society, which should insist that all BEE transactions must involve a civil society organisation.

Civil society must also more actively engage government civil society funding initiatives - whether the National Development Agency or the lottery to fund civil society more transparently, fairly and effectively.

For example, a report by the Funding Practice Alliance found that the National Development Agency was “failing” in its mandate to distribute funds to deserving civil society groups. It found that the funding from the lottery has not been effectively distributed to charities either, often going to government agencies, well-connected ‘civil society’ organisations, and sport bodies which could generate their own money in many cases.

Civil society groups must collectively put pressure on government civil society funding organisations to get them to become more accountable, distribute funds more fairly and more meaningfully.

Specifically, civil society organisations should get more involved in how lottery money is spent to ensure that it goes to deserving beneficiaries.

Furthermore, civil society must also get more engaged, play a stronger oversight and hold the department accountable, over how Social Development distributes resources to charities to ensure that scarce public resources are not wasted.

State funding for civil society through a dedicated tax for civil society is another unexplored option.

The proceeds of such a tax designation could be put into a civil society fund, which would be managed by civil society.

Alongside such a mechanism could be more generous tax incentives to companies for giving to civil society.

The new tougher, uncertain local and global funding environments confronting civil society demands organisational agility, imaginative leadership and synergic partnerships.

* Gumede is chairperson at the Democracy Works Foundation. He is the author of Restless Nation: Making Sense of Troubled Times (Tafelberg).

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Sunday Independent