NPOs struggle to meet needs of the vulnerable
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The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown have exacerbated the struggles of the most vulnerable in society, placing a heavier financial burden on the people and organisations trying to help the hungry and the poor.
When the lockdown was announced in March last year, Pastor Ghydala Ngulungu panicked because he runs a crèche and a feeding scheme in Capricorn Park, Vrygrond.
He operates a non-profit organisation (NPO) named RC GEN, which is part of the outreach programmes of his church, RC GEN. On average, Ngulungu has 50 children at the crèche and he estimates he feeds 400 to 500 people a day.
He said donations had been erratic and there were days when he doubted he would be able to assist the ever growing number of hungry families: “We have only one company supporting us and I am using my own money from the church to keep it going.
“It was very difficult. We used to cook for the children at the ECD (Early Childhood Development Centre), during the lockdown. I was afraid that while they were at home they were not eating so I made parcels and took it to their homes. And we gave food parcels to parents.”
Joanne Harding, the director of the Social Change Assistance Trust, said the lockdown hasn’t been easy for non-profit organisations. “The NPO sector in many instances provides services to vulnerable people in areas which should be covered by government.
“The trust mobilises resources from the public and business and during lockdown, these fundraising activities were challenged. Much needed funding was also diverted to Covid responses which focused on food distribution and PPE. Although the NPO sector played an important role in the distribution both of these, it was often not their core business. There were funders who were flexible and adaptable and I am sure there are many NPOs that are grateful for this, allowing them to respond in a way that was needed.”
Dr Armand Bam is the head of Social Impact and a senior lecturer in Business in Society at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB). He agreed NPOs were “the glue that binds society, providing the social safety net and supporting advancement of social justice and socio-economic inclusion, to the benefit of all the role-players in the social contract – business, government and communities.”
He advocated for corporate social responsibility programmes of big businesses to be more responsive to the financial needs of NPOs.
Bam said business also needed to reconsider its approach to funding NPO salaries if the sector was not to close more doors and shed jobs.
“Businesses don’t pay their employees with new computers or furniture. They pay them with money. Why then, when considering support to NPOs, is the approach any different? Corporate social investment initiatives need to accept this reality and release themselves of this constraint and address the funding shortage for posts before it is too late. Organisations will otherwise share this burden of not having staff to perform the services being funded.”
Ngulungu and many others who operate NPOs don’t have the luxury of time when it comes to debating the future of their organisations. He said it has been encouraging to see NPOs come together and he hoped this would help them to continue serving the people who need them most: “It helps a lot when charities come together because all those donations and support can come together and we can do our duty to help the communities. It’s not about us, it’s about the people.”