SANGONeT - Reflecting on 2009: Challenges and Opportunities

ngos sustainability
Wednesday, 9 December, 2009 - 11:52

David Barnard reflects on the past year and writes that the global financial crisis impacted directly and indirectly on SANGONeT and other NGOs’ work. During this period, funders reduced or revised their financial commitments and priorities, NGOs were confronted with the challenges of reviewing their sustainability, diversifying their funding base and assessing the overall relevance of their work

We have almost reached the end of 2009 - a very challenging, but also rewarding year for everyone associated with SANGONeT.

As with most other NGOs, the global financial crisis impacted directly and indirectly on our work. As funders reduced or revised their financial commitments and priorities, NGOs were confronted with the challenges of reviewing their sustainability, diversifying their funding base and assessing the overall relevance of their work. What complicated our response as a sector was that these challenges had to be addressed in an environment characterised by significant poverty and social need; while recognising that we would only be successful if the NGO sector receives the necessary support and its unique role and contribution is recognised by all other development stakeholders.

Fortunately for SANGONeT, given the relevance and scope of our activities, the impact of strategic changes introduced in recent years and the dedication of our staff, we successfully navigated a difficult operating environment and continued to implement a wide range of projects and services in support of the NGO sector in Southern Africa.

The highlight of our year was the successful hosting of our annual “ICTs for Civil Society” Conference in October 2009. Held this year in both Johannesburg and Cape Town, the two events focussed on the relevance of social media for NGOs and were attended by almost 300 delegates. The conference was the culmination of many events and outreach activities which we conducted throughout the year, including the “SANGONeT Roadshow” which covered Durban, Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria, as well as a number of social media training sessions which we conducted for NGOs throughout South Africa, many implemented in conjunction with the African Commons Project.

We also continued hosting quarterly NGO CEO Circle meetings for NGO leaders in Gauteng, and joined a number of key NGOs based in Johannesburg in planning and implementing various advocacy activities aimed at addressing the resource constraints and sustainability challenges facing the NGO sector in South Africa.

Raising awareness about ICT issues amongst NGOs, encouraging them to engage in ICT policy processes and assisting them in strengthening their internal ICT capacity, define the overall mission and vision of SANGONeT. Implementing various advocacy and awareness-raising activities therefore represent an important dimension of SANGONeT’s work.

Access to cheaper and affordable broadband will present NGOs and all other sectors of South African society with significant opportunities to improve the impact and competitiveness of their activities. In early 2009, SANGONeT joined the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), the Shuttleworth Foundation and South Africa Connect, under the umbrella of the South African National Broadband Forum, to actively campaign for a National Broadband Strategy for South Africa, Including cheaper and affordable Internet access for all South Africans.

At the same time, we expanded the SANGONeT Thetha ICT Discussion Forum project to five Southern African countries (Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Botswana). Implemented in conjunction with research and events partners in each country, the project focuses on key issues that will inform the regional “ICT for Development (ICT4D)” process in the next 10 years.

In order to develop a comprehensive understanding of the ICT trends in the local NGO sector, and to strengthen our efforts in ensuring that government, the private sector and other stakeholders gain a deeper appreciation of the sector, we worked with World Wide Worx, South Africa’s leading Internet research company, in implementing the 2009 “State of ICTs in the South African NGO Sector” research project. The preliminary findings were released during the SANGONeT Conference in Cape Town and the final research report will be available in January 2010. The research confirmed that South African NGOs are leveraging technology, but not nearly achieving its full potential.

We also coordinated the 2009 South African NGO Web Awards, with the winners announced at the SANGONeT Conference in Cape Town.

SANGONeT continued the roll-out of the SANGOTeCH technology donation programme in South Africa and Botswana, and in June 2009 expanded the initiative to Kenya. We hope to expand SANGOTeCH to all the countries in Southern Africa in 2010.

We also implemented a pilot project focusing on the relevance of mobile phone applications in support of small-scale farmers in various African countries and assisted the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) in Namibia to improve its capacity in monitoring the recent elections in Namibia with volunteer monitors using mobile phones as work-anywhere easy-to-conceal multimedia reporting devices. Using open source software primarily developed in Africa, the reports of the monitors were immediately mapped and distributed to the mainstream media and the public at large.

Last, but not least, we continued to implement various online information activities under the auspices of our Civil Society Information programme.

The NGO Pulse portal experienced significant growth in terms of both visitor statistics, and the number of articles published and contributions received from NGOs and other development stakeholders. We continued publishing the weekly NGO Pulse e-newsletter, and in June 2009 introduced the bi-weekly NGO Pulse Vacancy Digest. We also continued implementing the Prodder NGO Directory and the SN Announce e-mail advertising service, which will both receive significant upgrades in 2010. We also continued publishing the monthly Lwati e-newsletter which provides a detailed overview of SANGONeT’s activities.

The combination of these information services provide NGOs, as well as any stakeholder with an interest in the work of the NGO sector, with the most comprehensive source of information on the NGO sector in South Africa.

We also created a presence for NGO Pulse on Facebook and Twitter, and refining our social media strategy will be an important objective for 2010.

SANGONeT and Hivos continued their collaboration in implementing the Citizen Journalism in Africa project which is aimed at developing citizen journalism in Africa, with a specific focus on South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Uganda and Mozambique.

Looking ahead, 2010 will no doubt presents SANGONeT with a number of new challenges and opportunities. Key priorities will be to consolidate and refine our information activities, linked to NGO Pulse; deepen and expand our engagement with NGOs throughout South Africa to inform the focus and nature of our activities; and grow our range of activities in the rest of Southern Africa.

On behalf of everyone at SANGONeT, I would like to wish all our clients, partners, funders, supporters and NGO Pulse readers a happy and peaceful festive season. Thank you for your support during the past year and I wish you a wonderful and prosperous 2010!

David Barnard is SANGONeT’s Executive Director.

(The SANGONeT office will close on 11 December 2009 for the end-of-year break and re-open on 4 January 2010)

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