NonProfit Consortium

capacity building npos CSO sustainability
Wednesday, 29 March, 2006 - 14:50

Finding the Legal Tools to Defend Ourselves

Executive Director, Tracy Fortune has worked at the NPC since 2003. She qualified as an attorney in 1998. Prior to joining the NPC, Tracy was a Director in the Law firm Papier1 Charles Incorporated, from 2001–2003.

Tracy has  always had a very serious concern about the fact that  justice is often only  available to those who can afford it, and she has particularly enjoyed being involved  in matters where she  has played a role in ensuring  that large numbers of people, who are  otherwise  unable to  afford it, have  access to legal assistance.

In her work as an Attorney she played an instrumental role in obtaining a landmark judgment for Land Claimants to claim a solatium for trauma suffered as a result of forced removals. Tracy also played a key role in the Macassar Disaster project, where approximately 6500 (largely indigent) claimants from the community of Macassar were assisted to claim for personal injuries suffered as a result of exposure to sulphur dioxide.

In her current role as Executive Director of the NPC, she is keen to see as many NPOs (and indirectly poor communities) as possible, benefit from accessing legal assistance through the NPCs law clinic, seminars and workshops.

Justice: Access for All:

In Tracy’s opinion one of the key development challenges facing South Africa today is poverty. She observes that the key challenges would be in raising both the levels of employment and the skills base of South African society. 

According to Tracy, over the past ten years, South Africans have seen that the growth of the economy has not necessarily benefited the poorest of the poor, who have not been able to access many of the opportunities flowing from that growth. In fact we have seen a growth in the gap between rich and poor.

The challenge lies in guaranteeing that - as the economy continues to grow - all South Africans stand to benefit. Tracy thinks one of the contributing factors to the growing gap in living standards has been the slow pace of transformation. She notes that we have, for instance, seen a number of laws put in place to address economic reform, such as BEE, affirmative action, skills development etc.

However, the pace of implementation has been slow and she believes that this needs to be addressed. South Africa needs to step up the pace of transformation to ensure that those who have been unable to participate in the economic mainstream are given access to the opportunities that will emerge from our growing economy. We also need to hold those responsible for transformation accountable.

The Origins of the NPC:

The NPC was established in 1998 within a context of declining resource flows to Civil Society Organisations (CSOs). In addition, legislation that came into effect after this period contained very little material benefits for CSOs. These factors led to a massive call from CSOs to influence government policy and access government support for programme implementation.

In particular, more enabling legislation that would improve resource flows from the general public and private corporations, via tax incentives was needed. With this, came concerns around issues of governance and accountability.

Programmatic Focus:

To address this need, the NPC developed two programmes, vis-à-vis the Advocacy and Research Programme and the Tax Communications and Support Services Programme. Very broadly, the objectives of these two programmes were to advocate for law reform and to disseminate information that would inform CSOs of legislative developments in order to improve their financial sustainability.

Three key initiatives for the NPC have been their campaign to raise awareness of the impact of tax incentives (or the lack thereof) for local funders, a Section 21 campaign, which promotes equitable treatment for nonprofits within the framework of the current Companies Act and the Statutory campaign - involving a focus on the overarching enabling policies and legislation which govern local CSOs. 

Since 2003, the NPC has undertaken a process of careful reflection, leading to a redefinition of organisational purpose and strategy. Building on its past experience and unique strengths, and taking account of the social context in this second decade of democracy, NPC has emerged with a vision and mission that is set to make NPC play a more meaningful and practical role in improving the impact of NPOs as well as strengthen collaboration for social development.

Organisational Structure:

Nine staff members are currently employed by the NPC. The NPC has a national focus and their operating budget is about 3,5 million per annum. Any advocacy and lobbying activities would have an impact on all NPOs. Whilst the NPCs law clinic is in Cape Town, and therefore largely benefits NPOs in the Western Cape, training programmes and seminars are conducted in all the provinces.

The NPCs Driving Purpose:

The NPCs vision is that of a vibrant civil society contributing to the advancement of democracy and social and economic development. The organisation’s approach has been to work at strengthening civil society, particularly the ability of NPOs to sustain themselves – by having an enabling legal framework in place, which ensures easy incorporation of legal entities, access to resources and simplified compliance procedures.

Through their workshops, seminars and partnerships in particular, the NPC has ensured that policy development has happened in line with the needs of the sector. We have also over time, adjusted our programmes to meet the needs of our beneficiaries e.g. our seminars have changed from mere information dissemination programmes to hands-on practical workshops.

One of the major challenges the organisation has faced in the past year has been lack of resources. They have responded by reducing overheads and restructuring the organisation.

Strategic Focus for 2006:

The NPC has become known particularly for its work in policy development around the legal and regulatory framework for NPOs. Therefore, the impact that the legal and regulatory framework has on the flow of resources to the sector will remain an area of focus.

Research conducted by the NPS has shown, however, that a large number of NPOs, particularly the smaller community-based organisations are not accessing the benefits contained in the various pieces of legislation, largely because of the complexity of the legislation as well having little knowledge or understanding of the legislation.

As a result, the NPC will seek to consolidate and strengthen their support services to NPOs, particularly CBOs, in accessing the legal framework and ensuring legal compliance. NPO governance and, in particular, self-regulation of the sector will be priority areas.

The NPC is highly committed to making a difference at the community level and affording both recognition and support to organisations involved in direct service delivery at this level.  The organisation plans to concentrate its efforts on developing the capacity and affording these organisations equal opportunities to improve its impact and receive the required support.

Looking Ahead Ten Years:

According to Tracy, the NPCs strategy over the past two years has been increasingly focused on moving towards the sustainability of their work and its impact on the sustainability of our sector.

In ten years time, South Africa should have a fairly settled and enabling (yet not static) legal framework in place. A lot of the policy changes by then would be incremental.

With regard to the NPCs support services, Tracy sees this being mainstreamed across South Africa in some of the following ways:

  • The incorporation of NPO Law into the curriculum at Universities and tertiary institutions
  • Access to legal assistance for all through a variety of sources such as:
    • law clinics at universities;
    • paralegal and advice offices;
    • pro bono services of attorneys.

The NPCs role would be to build the capacity of others to provide assistance with the institutionalisation of the various services outlined above.

This Profile was produced by Diane Babak, Information Services Manager, SANGONeT.

To read other NGO Profiles, click here.

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