The SANGONeT Team were delighted to be able to welcome Godfrey Mokate , the newly appointed CEO of the National Development Agency. Here's his take on some of the issues we raised in our interview
How long have you worked at the NDA, what is your background and what are your personal development interests?
I’ve been with the NDA for 2,5 months. Before this, I worked as the Deputy Director General at the Department of Provincial and Local Government. My academic qualifications are in the field of development. For me, the prospects brought about by this opportunity to work at the NDA are very exciting. From an intellectual perspective, I feel greatly inspired to be working in a field in which I have much experience. It is very stimulating to be back in this environment again.
What draws me back to this environment is my concerns about income disparity or the “income gap” as a cause of and consistent contributor to poverty in South Africa (SA). The income gap has enormous implications for the very nature of how development will unfold in this country as it affects social and economic development at the most fundamental level. This gap will shape the structure of social relations in society with far reaching implications, determining the extent of poverty for a long time to come.
What are the key development challenges facing SA today?
Without a doubt, this would be the enormous scale of poverty in the country. Current measures to address the poverty problem are disappointingly short term in nature, dealing with the symptoms of poverty without addressing the causes. For example, given the scale of hardship in SA, the provision of social grants is a necessary measure, but not sustainable in the long run. If we don’t start engaging with the structure of the inequality in this country, the income gap will continue and in spite of gains made through our first class tax system, if increasing numbers of people are unable to enter the formal economy, the tax base will remain small, making social welfare unsustainable in the long term.
What are the biggest challenges facing donors in SA today?
For international donors, I would argue that the biggest challenge is that SA portrays itself as a developed country. For them this creates a huge dilemma as methods used in other developing countries can’t simply be applied here. Let’s look at government departments as an example. They are consistently being criticized by the media for not spending donor money. However, our government has the authority and influence to set its own agenda with its own unique strategy. While it does not necessarily turn donor money away, these funds are not always easily absorbed by state programmes.
With respect to local donors, I would say that they are simply overwhelmed by the magnitude of the poverty problem. Private sector donors in particular, are on a steep learning curve, lacking the skills and the competence to develop effective grantmaking programmes that will address all aspects and levels of development. For example, many companies confuse corporate social investment (CSI) with marketing. It’s very common for CSI to be completely exploited by corporate marketing experts turning them into brand building opportunities.
Most critical, is the inability of these companies to understand their own role in creating poverty in the first place. If they want to put poverty eradication on the agenda, then they should examine their internal conduct as an important point of departure, looking particularly at their treatment of employees and reflecting on salary disproportions. We have a shocking situation in this country where a large number of formally employed people are poor.
What are the biggest challenges facing the South African CSO Sector, in general and from a funding point of view?
NGOs deal with the second economy. In this environment, people are not as organized as others; their life is about survival for the moment. As a result, NGOs themselves are not always able to function in a structured manner. This has a negative impact on perceptions of the sector.
Most NGOs emerge as a result of direct needs; however, the competition for scarce resources forces them into becoming entrepreneurial units driven by strong personalities with the ability to market themselves. However, organisations that are driven by personality cults are not sustainable because people come and go, while organisations stay behind --- highlighting the importance for strong institutional development.
Essential to the purpose of NGOs is that they make a difference. So even if they close down, they must leave behind a legacy in the communities in which they worked.
When was the NDA established and how has the organisation responded over the years to SA’s various development challenges?
The agency was developed in 2000 as a result of an Act of Parliament that was passed in 1998 outlining its mandate. In 1999, as an interim measure, the NDA was preceded by the Transitional National Development Trust.
Initially, the approach of the NDA was to respond to requests for funding at the operational level. However, this approach was inadequate for the targeted beneficiary groups, which were mainly grassroots organisations.
In the future, we need to re-define the focus of the NDA and narrow the mandate of the agency to eradicate poverty by identifying the specific indicators of poverty, for example, the income gap as an indicator of poverty.
Moreover, our future approach is to address poverty by developing institutional capacity. We want to focus on interventions that empower the community on the whole, such as support for co-ops, which deal with a number of variables within a community at any given time. Such entities are significant microcosms as they engage with issues of democracy and equality.
Is there a particular development approach that underpins your organisation’s work?
Until recently, the NDA has done quite well distributing funds compared to other institutions. It has been very efficient in its distribution of money and approach of giving funds to as many projects as possible. However, the question is: What has the impact of these grants been? In spite of all the money disbursed there are still too many poor people out there and we need to re-visit our approach in an attempt to understand the key levers of poverty. If we say that poverty is confined to certain identifiable geographic areas, we need to identify approaches to drive support to those very areas.
Personally, I am supportive of a multi-stakeholder approach, where various parties identify problem areas and pool their resources to identify solutions, for example, the Eastern Cape Development Corporation, which is a multi-stakeholder forum, made up of government, business and other civil society groupings to address specific nodes of poverty in the Eastern Cape.
In the future, I see the NDA working more closely with the Development Bank of Southern Africa, the Independent Development Trust and the Industrial Development Corporation to identify a-coordinated strategy towards poverty eradication at localized levels.
Is there a level of donor co-operation or co-ordination that informs your organisation’s work?
Government expects the NDA to coordinate donors, creating a platform for state engagement. To this end, we are working on a strategy, which we hope to implement in the medium term. We have already started a consultation process with donors. This is something I have a great deal of experience in. I was instrumental in setting up a similar initiative for local government by establishing the Local Government Transformation Programme.
What is the geographic scope of your organization’s work?
The NDA is a national organisation and therefore works in all provinces. We have segmented SA into five regions and have a physical presence in all the nine provinces. The NDA supports projects all over SA through its network of nine provincial offices. However, statistics indicate that the Eastern Cape, Kwa-Zulu Natal an Limpopo Provinces are the hardest hit in terms of poverty indicators. The NDA, therefore tends to have more projects in these areas and acknowledges the need for some sort of formula for resource allocation that will take these factors into account.
Where do you see the NDA ten years down the line?
I see the NDA as a central point of reference for how to deal with poverty both at an abstract and practical level. I want to take this organisation to the level, where it will become the first port of call for government seeking to consult stakeholders about the consequences of negative policy making. To ensure that we embark on this trajectory, the competence base of this organisation will have to change. In fact, this is where I think I can contribute best.
What institutional qualities and characteristics do you think are important for CSOs at the individual level to make a success of their work?
Organisations must possess social intelligence. This is what shows that NGOs are organically rooted in the communities that they work in. In my opinion, if an NGO is not in touch with the pulse of the community that it works in, it lacks social intelligence.
What advice do you have to offer to unknown and new CSOs to get onto donor radar screens?
The best advice I can offer is for these organisation to be very clear about the problem that they are trying to address and what makes them or their approach better than anyone else’s. NGOs must demonstrate analytical competencies to show what value they are adding.
What trends do you predict for the future of funding in SA?
The problem of NGOs should not be one of money. It should be about how they can leverage support for what they are doing on the ground. The NDA is not going to receive funding to create platforms; it is going to draw people into a process to address the poverty problem. Similarly NGOs should consider their future as one of constructive engagement to leverage support for development that eradicates poverty.