Director of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, Secure the Future in Africa iniative, Phangasile Mtshali, helped us to understand the enormous amount of work currently underway to assist with the looming HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa.
How long have you worked at the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation (BMSF), what is your background and what are your personal development interests?
I started working full time for BMSF in September 1999. However, a prior relationship did exist between myself and BMSF in that I already had responsibility for a lot of their public relations (PR) work. Since February that year I had been tasked with launching the “Secure the Future” (STF) programme.
My original training was in journalism and I worked as a cub reporter, focusing on community, development and women’s issues. I also managed the Illanga Women’s Club and was fortunate enough to be working at the Sowetan when Aggrey Klaaste was there and actively championing the Nation Building initiative. Subsequently, I moved to PR and established my own PR consultancy. My activities have always had a social development slant and this is a strong area of interest for me.
What are the key development challenges facing SA today?
In my opinion, key challenges would be HIV/ AIDS as well as issues relating to human capacity and the loss of skills due to HIV/ AIDS. The impact of this can be felt across all sectors including development.
What are the biggest challenges facing donors in SA today?
Firstly, I would emphasise the importance of the capacity of the community to access and utilise donor resources effectively. Secondly, although we have a vibrant civil society there is an impression that it is fragmented and often monopolized by a few non-government organisations (NGOs) who do not necessarily produce the impact required to demonstrate the effectiveness of the sector.
What are the biggest challenges facing the South African NGO Sector, in general and from a funding point of view?
The concentration of resources within a select group of NGOs has already been observed. In addition, I am concerned about the ability of nonprofits to attract and retain skilled staff with the necessary competence and experience, especially in the more complex areas of governance, leadership, programme management and financial management.
The historical legacy of apartheid education has left civil society at a serious disadvantage in the global ‘competition’ for donor funding. In my experience international NGO’s in the USA and UK have acquired an almost “corporate” capability and their fundraising initiatives are often very sophisticated. For example, proposals often include a 10-30% administration fee over and above the amount targeted for the programme itself. This fee may include costs such as staff, research, overheads etc. In comparison, many local NGO proposals often reflect the lack of required expertise that would inspire the necessary confidence of the donor to pursue the opportunities presented to them and hence they only get funds for projects without any allocations for institutional growth and staff development.
When was the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation established and how has the organisation responded over the years to SA’s various development challenges?
I would prefer to answer in my capacity as the director of STF Southern Africa, as this has been the flagship project for BMSF locally. STF’s mandate is to focus on HIV/AIDS. It consists of a US$120million commitment by Bristol-Myers Squibb to find sustainable and relevant solutions for the management of HIV/AIDS in women and children and provide resources to improve community education and patient support. STF was initially launched in 1999 in five Southern African countries, namely South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland. In 2001, the programme expanded into four West-African countries to include Western Africa: Senegal, Cote d'Ivoire, Mali and Burkina Faso.
Is there a particular development approach that underpins your organisation’s work?
As a large pharmaceutical company, one of the critical approaches driving the organisational philosophy is that of innovation. In the instance of BMSF, this is reflected in BMS mission to enhance and extend human life. BMSF turnkey programmes such as STF, the single largest corporate investment in HIV/AIDS that I am aware of, has a very ambitious and creative approach to overcoming the many devastating effects of HIV/ AIDS on African society. Our approach has always been to identify areas of most need and explore ways in which BMS can interface and facilitate impactful interventions.
Is there a level of donor co-operation or co-ordination that informs your organisation’s work?
Partnership is a key guiding principle of STF. The STF initiative relies on a panel of advisors for strategic guidance and advice. All our programmes make a point of inviting stakeholders’ inputs. We also conduct rigorous analysis of other initiatives to ensure that our efforts generate the required impact and are of sustainable value to the community. In this regard, I am an advocate of the need for more co-operation and co-ordination of donor activities to avoid unnecessary duplication of initiatives. It can be very onerous for NGO’s to report using different formats for each donor and I believe these requirements could be more standardized if more collaboration took place between donors. Another valuable resource would be easy access to a list of programmes by donors such as SALGA, UNAIDS etc. so that we could keep one informed of our current activities and even lessons learnt from past endeavours.
What is the geographic scope of your organization’s work?
Where do you see this organisation ten years down the line?
I can only speak on behalf of my involvement in the STF programme, not the entire BMS organisation. Specifically, the STF programme has a 5 year time-span. We have successfully discharged our mandate and all funds have been committed but still to be disbursed over the next three years. We anticipate the funded programmes will have substantial impact. Already the programme has generated research that is internationally acclaimed and informs policy. Briefly, there are three legs of the programme, namely: medical research and care, community outreach and education and the legacy programme. Most significant of these in terms of the emphasis on civil society’s role is the legacy programme which aims to combine and apply lessons learned in the creation of landmark models of action. This programme comprises of a community-based treatment support programme and a non-governmental organisation (NGO) training institute which was established in order to build skills and capacity in areas such as governance, leadership etc. The importance of information, communication and technology (ICT) skills for CBO’s has been emphasized and is supported through the establishment of a “virtual” BMSF NGO Training Institute.
What institutional qualities and characteristics do you think are important for NGOs at the individual level to make a success of their work?
Past experience has surfaced the following common themes, these are: proper governance (which I cannot emphasise enough), leadership, sound management skills, investment in people. I also believe that ICT is a vital ingredient of any nonprofit’s communication activities in order to gain exposure and promote public awareness of their activities.
What advice do you have to offer to unknown and new NGOs to get onto donor radar screens?
I see it is a core responsibility of any reputable nonprofit that they document their work and seek opportunities to publicise what they are doing at events and conferences. This includes regular communication with local stakeholders such as government and the community. Try wherever possible to seek partnerships/ alliances with organisations that have established reputations.
I recommend that they make use of available ICT’s such as the internet, SMS and public broadcasting technologies, both to raise awareness of their initiatives and to enhance and professionalise their work activities. Furthermore, the current investment by government in developing school ICT infrastructure presents a huge opportunity for NGOs to leverage for NGOs. Many of these facilities need to be assessed for their viability in other areas of community development and information literacy training apart from those presented in a conventional youth education setting.
What trends do you predict for the future of funding in SA?
Firstly, if current trends are anything to go by, funding will continue to spotlight “public” disasters and emergencies. As a result, we need to ensure that less publicly covered issues are given focus. These include HR development, caring for carers and food security amongst others.
Secondly, in order to be sustainable, NGO’s need to attract funds directly and to be more accountable. One of the major advantages of civil society institutions is that they can be more flexible than other types of public institutions because they are generally less bureaucratic and are in touch with real people and their issues.
Finally, I’d like to encourage the donor community to focus on the passion and commitment that is often displayed by many of the less ‘capacitated’ NGOs. In my experience, these qualities will take an NPO a lot further than one which appears professional but lacks the edge. Sometimes, all it takes is for the donors to just have faith in an initiative, passion is what sustains initiatives.