The NGO environment in South Africa continues to be characterised by various strategic changes that impact on the state and well-being of the NGO sector. The closure and collapse of key NGOs as a result of increased competition for funding and related opportunities, changing donor and programme priorities and high turnover of senior staff are some of the key issues facing the sector.
Increasingly, this situation is raising important questions about leadership in the sector, and the individual and collective capacity of NGO leaders to respond and overcome these challenges.
NGO leaders face extraordinary challenges which are very distinct from those faced by leaders in government and the private sector. They are often isolated and unsupported, and faced with a set of complex and interrelated challenges relating to NGOs’ social change mission, increased pressure for accountability and transparency, the need for unquestioned integrity and to maximise limited resources, and the ability to network and position their organisations in an often uncertain external environment.
This situation is ultimately affecting the role, position and development impact of the NGO sector in South Africa.
In response to this situation, SANGONeT and Project Literacy initiated the NGO CEO Circle in early 2006 to create a platform for discussion within the leadership of the NGO sector in Gauteng, and to encourage networking, collaboration and peer support. An important objective of the forum is to create a safe space for decision-makers to discuss common institutional and strategic development issues, creating the opportunity to highlight problems and share solutions.
Building on the success of the NGO CEO Circle, and to coincide with the launch of Prodder - NGOs and Development in South Africa 2008, SANGONeT hosted the inaugural NGO CEO Summit on 29 November 2007 at the Balalaika Hotel in Sandton.
This Summit was jointly organised by SANGONeT and the Leadership Forum, and formed part of SANGONeT's 20th anniversary celebrations. The event was a first for leaders in the South African NGO sector in Gauteng, and is based on the Leadership Forum's annual CEO Summit - now in its seventh year - which is exclusively for leaders at the helm of business in South Africa.
The theme of the inaugural NGO CEO Summit was "Leadership Fitness: From Challenge, To Engagement, To Performance". Participation was limited to 40 NGO CEOs in order to ensure quality discussions and interaction through peer-to-peer, face-to-face exchange of experiences.
Discussions were thought-provoking and informative, with most CEOs sharing similar experiences and challenges in leading their NGOs.
The event also presented CEOs with an important networking opportunity, one of the key benefits and outcomes acknowledged by most participants.
SANGONeT aims to convene the NGO CEO Summit annually in Gauteng, and based on interest generated, will also consider hosting the event in other parts of South Africa.
- David Barnard, Executive Director, SANGONeT.