The former Marketing and Communications Director of the National Development Agency Bridget Masango provided the SANGONeT team with some insights into the NDA as well as tips on how to raise funds for your organisation.
How long have you worked at the NDA, what is your background and what are your personal development interests?
I have worked for the NDA for 4 years and 3 months. Prior to the NDA I had 18 years experience in business and corporate communications. In addition, I have gained experience in advertising, the construction sector as well as running my own agency. As far as personal development interests are concerned, at some stage in the future, I would like to focus on offering consulting services to all sectors.
What are the key development challenges facing SA today?
People dying of HIV/AIDS are my major concern. Specifically, within the non-profit sector, the loss of knowledge and continuity in projects has a substantial negative impact across communities. Within the NDA and its partnerships, the impact of HIV/AIDS has also been felt on our capacity building programmes.
I also am concerned by the limitations of conventional media and communications. Many of the poorest and most needy citizens are not equipped with the literacy skills to empower themselves, especially when both spoken and written English are the predominant forms of communication. The country’s human resource capacity need to be developed along with our ability to disseminate knowledge in the rural and poorest areas. Although the National Community Radio forum is making inroads, this is not enough. Community radio must cover more development issues.
Finally, the lack of co-ordination of foreign funding coming into the country as well as the projects stemming from various development issues has repercussions in terms of duplication and replication of initiatives, which can be extremely wasteful, given our limited resources.
What are the biggest challenges facing donors in SA today?
The following issues immediately come to mind:
- Donor “disconnect” is commonplace. In other words, donors are often not familiar with development issues.
- The lack of a comprehensive database of civil society and needs. Such a database would allow us to channel resources and funds accordingly for projects currently underway.
- Sustainable projects are few and far between. We need to understand why this is and what needs to be done to increase the number of sustainable initiatives.
What are the biggest challenges facing the South African CSO Sector, in general and from a funding point of view?
The historical activism of civil society organisations (CSO’s) sustained it during the harsh years of apartheid. Now, this energy needs new focus. Because foreign funding is largely channelled to Public Sector, there is a vacuum in funding for CSO’s, which needs to be filled by alternate sources, such as the corporate sector.
From the NDA’s perspective, we face a huge challenge in identifying how to make an impact given that the NDA receives a budget of R100 mn p.a. Often, the NDA faces a dilemma identifying which initiatives to prioritise in order to deliver the most value, each one is so vital! For example, a recent invitation was launched for CSO’s to request funding and approximately R4 bn in requests were submitted to the NDA. This presents a huge gap in terms of the resources we have at our disposal.
When was the NDA established and how has the organisation responded over the years to SA’s various development challenges?
The NDA was established on 1 July 2000. It previously operated as Transitional National Development Trust (TNDT), which was launched in 1996. The NDA’s function is unique on the continent. No similar institution has been identified across the Africa or globally. Also, the NDA has evolved over time.
Initially, the NDA responded to requests and applications at and operational level. However, this proved to be an unsuccessful approach because the applicants - many of whom were illiterate, failed to qualify for funding. It was decided that the exclusivity resulting from this approach was not in line with democratic principles and the NDA therefore tried a more proactive approach. Using data from Statistics SA, the NDA was able to target the poorest communities with the greatest needs.
Although this approach was more in keeping with the desired outcomes of the NDA, budget constraints limited our ability to implement and sustain the initiative and a decision was taken to invite requests for proposals (RFPs) in targeted areas where the poorest communities exist. This is the current approach. The NDA teaches applicants to complete RFPs in order to receive funding.
Amongst the key observations that we have made during this period is the fact that partnerships are essential. Combined efforts and Public Private Partnerships (PPP’s) seem to generate the most sustainable results. Our partnership with SASOL is one good example of success in this area. We are also making inroads into the Expanded Public Works programmes.
At a strategic level, the NDA is strongly committed to forming alliances and joint initiatives. We are well aware that we cannot operate in isolation. It is also vital for us to align our activities to Government priorities, given that we report into the Department of Social Development.
Is there a particular development approach that underpins your organisation’s work?
The NDA combines three different approaches, namely:
• Requests for proposals (RFPs)
• Project formulation; and
• National NDA projects or flagship projects which can be replicated nationally. Examples include our food security project as well as bee farming and franchising. In this regard, the success of the North West province pilot project has provided a solid foundation for future regional initiatives.
Is there a level of donor co-operation or co-ordination that informs your organisation’s work?
The NDA places a great deal of significance on its relationships with its donors. Within this context, the NDA signed an agreement with the EU, which expired on the 31 December 2004. A new agreement is currently being considered. However, the EU has emphasised that it wants visible impact from any initiatives that it funds.
A number of other Memoranda of Understanding have also been concluded. For example, USAID funds the NDA’s research-based initiatives and ABSA bank has established a scheme whereby they match us on a rand-for-rand basis with respect to investment in projects. Corporate involvement requires capacity in NDA and we are certainly capable of undertaking projects that are established on the basis of PPP’s.
In terms of the NDA’s mandate, we act as an intermediary between government and CSO’s to eradicate poverty. Our role is to serve as a gateway between donors and CSO’s. Another role we play is that of intermediary, whereby we undertake action research to inform development policy.
What is the geographic scope of your organization’s work?
The NDA is structured in a decentralised manner. Currently, there are nine offices nationwide. Whilst many members of the CSO community argue that this is insufficient, the NDA is of the opinion that we cannot have an infrastructure that is too unwieldy and complex, as this will definitely hamper service delivery. Besides R100mn is not enough to localise services based on each individual province’s specific requirements.
Our experience has taught us that each province is unique and that we must avoid assuming that a successful project in one province can be replicated without substantial adaptation to meet the specific requirements in another region.
Despite this understanding, we have successfully been able to cluster most provinces into regions, with the exception of Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Eastern Cape, the poorest of the provinces.
Where do you see the NDA ten years down the line?
In ten years time I see the NDA acting as a key player in development in the SADC region. There are many opportunities to take significant initiatives to next level. I believe that the past four years have involved a process of consolidation and that the NDA is ready to take on more challenges.
What institutional qualities and characteristics do you think are important for CSOs at the individual level to make a success of their work?
In my opinion, there are two types of individuals working in the CSO sector with vastly differing attitudes towards work. One type of individual is passionate and dedicated, whilst the other merely sees development as a "cash cow". I would argue, where is the integrity in this approach?
I strongly support the view that members of the CSO sector need to take ownership of their development into their own hands and not rely on external influences, for example government or civil institutions. If people pursue the goal of self-directed growth they stand to reap the benefits. I would also like to see the mindset of communities change towards "taking charge of development".
What advice do you have to offer to unknown and new CSOs to get onto donor radar screens?
My advice would be the following:
- Ensure that you have a viable, workable programme and be aware that pre-planning is essential.
- Half-baked ideas are likely to provoke a negative response. Many donors instinctively react by assuming that the inquirer is just “looking for cash".
- Finally, spend time formulating a programme and try to visibly demonstrate any initiatives already taken. Donors like to see some indication of the impact of your initial efforts and the personal investment you might have made in trying to make the project work.
What trends do you predict for the future of funding in SA?
I foresee some donor frustration with the impact of public sector projects. This may result in funding being channelled directly to CSOs. Also, there are strong signs of donor fatigue, with many donors indicating that they are becoming despondent over a lack of results from projects they have supported.
I also envisage a highly organised, well co-ordinated CSO sector. The current lack of an integrated approach to development will lead to a response to survive and CSOs will be forced to cooperate with each other.
Another trend will be that of elevated resource streams such as those derived from internal corporate giving as well as social giving programmes, the value of which will be harnessed to further strengthen the role of civil society.