We first need to acknowledge that the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) sector is key component of the societal development. The sector is boasting approximately about 100 000 registered NGOs and about 50 000 non-registered. It’s a sector that cannot be pushed to the periphery of the developmental trajectory. The NGOs and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), from their respective sector of operations, have the roles and responsibilities to discharge especially where the government is struggling to discharge constitutional mandate. The civil society sector must indeed take a leading role in serving the interests and needs of its constituency, especially where the government is withdrawing its social support. This is found in countries where the state is pursuing the neo-liberal policies. And South Africa, with the adoption of the Growth Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) shortly after the advent of democratic dispensation, assumed that tag.
This sector is characterised by two diverse organisations, the first organisation is service oriented while the other one is focused on Human Rights, Lobby and Advocacy and Monitoring. The former organisation is primarily providing social services to the underserviced and marginalised communities and while the latter play more of a watch dog role. It is further broadly and acceptably believed that stable and vibrant NGO sector assist in easing the impact of poverty in many communities, capacity building, enhancing public debate and participation and promotion of the democracy. Consequently, the existence of the healthy and vibrant NGO sector is imperative to efficiently discharge these roles.
For this sector to make an impactful contribution and maintain its relevancy and sustainability it must forge strong partnership with the public and corporate sector, innovative funding models and viable resources mobilisation strategies. These are key fundamentals needed to keep the sector vigilant. Having secured these fundamentals, the sector will thus be expected at all time to guard against any possible capture by partners. Any capture would result in the sector becoming weak and inefficient. In most countries, many NGOs collapsed as a result of the amount of influence partners wield in their partnership arrangement, especially partners who are providing financial support. These funders expect, in return for the support they give, the NGOs to jettison their original mandate and mission and assume theirs, hence there is a need for innovative funding models and resource mobilisation strategies. There must not be a total dependence on partners.
Apart from the above-shared fundamentals, the sector still finds itself confronted by other scores of challenges. The sustainability of the sector is also threatened by corruption, lack of transparency and accountability, presence and visibility. The South African context also demonstrates that well-managed NGOs are the ones that are likely to receive funding from donor community. They are however unfortunately find themselves playing a proxy role, implementing mandate of their donors as opposed to serving the interests of the poor and marginalised communities that they are expected to serve.
It is critical that the NGO movement in discussion, its representation is cascaded down through all layers of governments with strong affiliates and well outlined thematic programmes. The programmes that respond positively to the needs and aspirations of the constituencies and general members of the society. For a strong NGO movement to exist, there must be provincial and districts offices. And its operational scope and presence should be aligned with the structural design of our government. It must at all time take into account that the local government is a coal face of service delivery which makes presence and visibility in this sphere of government imperative. This will help the NGO movement local structures/affiliates to constantly stay in contact and interaction with their constituency. Lack of presence and service to the membership at local level is one of the critical elements that weaken the provincial and national structure/office. The NGO movement local structures must set up constituency offices within all local and district municipalities such that they can easily engage with these layers of government, local business and potential funders on their societal developmental programmes.
Lack of professionalism in the NGO sector has been identified as one of the precipitating factors towards the ineffectiveness and ultimate collapse of the sector. The professionalization of NGO movement structures at all levels of operation it becomes key element that will position it at the apex of the NGOs sector in the country and beyond. It must uncompromisingly dispose itself of unscrupulous role players and civil society activists. The issues of accountability, transparency and compliance must be encouraged at all times. Dealing successfully with these key fundamentals of governance, NGO movement will definitely earn necessary mileage to compete with already well-established NGOs like SaveSA. However being complaint to these requirements and subsequently attracting much needed financial resources and recognition NGO movement must not lax its guards against any possible capture and in the process losing its original mandate. The individual affiliates at all material times must equally be vigilant against wedge drivers who might tenaciously endeavour to factionalise them and paralyse the entire NGO movement structure.
Despite highlighted challenges, there are existing opportunities that could be exploited to keep the NGO and CSO sector vibrant. NGO movement must be able to establish and maintain a reasonable proximity to the state and forge a working partnership thereof.
This article was written by Tshepo Legodi, NGO Development Activist.
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