Having a bigger say in development

Tuesday, 27 August, 2002 - 23:00

Non-profit sector needs to be added to the state's private-public partnership
equation
The implications of recent research findings on the non-profit (NPO) sector
are as far reaching for public

Non-profit sector needs to be added to the state's private-public partnership
equation

The implications of recent research findings on the non-profit (NPO) sector
are as far reaching for public policy as for the sector's strategic planning,
according to Eugene Saldanha, a director at the Non-Profit Partnership.

"The estimation of the size and economic significance of the sector means
that there could be large and vital social resources out there and more needs
to be known about it. In particular, the state's main statistical agency - Statistics
South Africa - should be mandated and resourced to regularly collect and publish
information on the sector."

He adds that there is a need to question the notion of public-private partnerships
that define the state and the private sector as the only relevant actors in
policy-making and delivery.

"Although it is already present in a number of policy documents, more
needs to be done to emphasise and strengthen the notion of the three-way relationship
between state, private sector and the non-profit sector."

There is, he says, strong anecdotal and case study evidence that the social
capital of South Africa's society is embedded within and sustained by a vast
array of non-profit organisational forms that relate in one way or another to
every aspect of social life.

"In terms of strategy, alliances and networks are going to be important
determinants of who wins and loses in the new game. Until now, non-profit organisations
have perceived the lack of a sustainable funding base and of organisational
and managerial capacity as their two major problems."

Other perceived problems were the lack of government support and a paucity
of public contributions.

"The qualitative survey revealed that while we need an effective public
policy and legal framework for channeling funds to NPOs, the government is moving
in the right direction." He concludes that "the South African NPO
study reiterates the importance of knowing more about the non-profit sector".

Statistics South Africa, together with the department of social development,
the Reserve Bank, the South African Revenue Service, and the National Development
Agency, should collaborate to ensure that the kind of information we have collected
continues to be collected and published. Ideally, a similar method should be
used.

All key stakeholders will gain:

  • A more accurate picture of the contribution of the non-profit sector
    to gross domestic product, total employment, and poverty elimination.
  • A much clearer picture of revenue flows, demonstrating in particular
    the impact of state funding on poverty, and the size of non-profit contributions
    to the sector and how they are used.

In additition, the NPO sector will be able to enhance its identity and knowledge
of its role in the development and democratic process.

"No better rationale can be advanced for justifying this claim on South
Africa's scarce public resources."

The report predicts a markedly different reality for NPOs compared to what
they confronted before 1994. It points out that in the short to medium term
the country's economic position is unlikely to change.

This will fuel the oppositional political discourse of the labour movement
and the radical NPOs, which are increasingly defining their identity and arguments
in terms of a globalised, anti-neo-liberalism platform.

Their rhetoric and strategic outlook are consciously aimed at undermining co-optive
strategies for constructing and sustaining the institutional infrastructure
of the public space that is required and for realizing social, economic and
political objectives.

Ironically, the left-wing build-up is exactly what may keep the corporatist
pact in place, as the private sector and the state collaborate to maintain or
increase social spending via NPOs.

On the other hand, the government will probably increase pressure on NPOs to
align their priorities with its own development project. And, as the role of
local government increases in importance, it will have profound implication
for NPO activity. Engagement between the two will be at an increasing localised
and fragmented level.

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