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Nonprofit Boards are either seen as a decisive force to ensure accountability of nonprofit organisations or, as problematic institution not contributing to the basic business of the nonprofit. There seems to be a general perception that non-performing boards are the rule, and not the exception. The basis for this perception depends on who you speak to:

  • Staff ask “what is the board doing”
  • Management complains that board are not fulfilling  their duties or are overstepping their boundaries
  • Funders and Compliance bodies complain that board are not exercising their oversight duties
  • Boards complain that they are merely rubber stamps
  • Communities and staff complain that board members merely serve to pad their CV’s

And the list goes on.
 
The kind of problems that is raised regarding Boards include:

  • Purpose: It seems inconceivable that there can still be uncertainty regarding the purpose of a board of a nonprofit. The volume of literature on this topic is extensive and abundant. There also seems to be a basic approach of training our way out of board problems. The main functions for the board can be summarised as:
    • Set the organisation’s mission and organisational strategy (both on near-term and long-term challenges and opportunities), and modify both as needed. Ensure effective organisational planning
    • Ensuring prudent use and conserving of all assets – fund, property, people, and goodwill. Manage resources effectively
    • Evaluate and help managing risk. Ensure that applicable laws are obeyed and acting in accordance with ethical practices
    • Mentor Director or CEO – select executive staff through an appropriate process, evaluate, ongoing support and guidance to the executive, Monitor performance, and hold accountable for performance (and if required replace)
    • Enhance the organisations public image. Advocating for the organisation and building support in the wider community and related change systems such as government departments, funders etc. Both linking the organisation to the wider community, but also being the bulwark against “attacks”
    • Assess own (board’s) performance
  • Performance: While legislation and regulations ensure that most nonprofits have boards and gives some indication on the purpose, this does not seem to address the perceived lack of performance of boards by the various parties. The reason for this can most often be linked to the fact that many board members, executives and organisations as a whole, do not understand or accept the purpose of the board.
    • If your board must do all the tasks as indicate above, why is the organisation not ensuring that they compose the board of individuals with the skills, resources, diversity, and dedication to address these aspects? Board composition is not an abstract exercise – it is about difficult and grueling process of  finding and adding the right board members
    • The roles and responsibilities, and by implication performance, of the nonprofit boards seems to create confusion. Why then, after recruiting you board according to required skills, not assign responsibilities according to these skills, and evaluate performance according to these skills.  Why not extend organisational processes such as clear and measurable job descriptions, and performance appraisals to the Board.
    • Accept that not all board meetings are going to produce “game-changer” decisions and inputs. A large portion of the “important” work that the board does can be periodic or occasional – this needs to be differentiated from the routine work that has to done on more regular basis. If not, the possibility of inflating routine issues to strategy level is real – or alternatively neglecting the strategic focus of the Board.
    • nonprofits operational staff have quite a few regular (monthly) meetings relating to various issues – staff meetings, management meetings, project meetings, operational meetings, financial meetings etc.  The assumption is that these operational meetings and decisions are contributing to the overall strategic mission and plan of the organisation.  (If not – what is the purpose?). It is the function of the Executive Director or CEO to translate – for both the board and the staff- the operational matters to strategic activities, and ensure the flow of the information between the structures. In short – if you have something to discuss internally in the organisation, you should have a higher level “something” to convey to the board. If the CEO has mastered the skills to communicate to the Board an integrated and functional account that presents and decodes the organisations situation, Boards will be able to discuss the strategic impact (and also limit straying into operational matters and discussions)

The most important rule for all parties to realize is that the board as a whole, as well as individual members, without doing anything, confer legitimacy to the organisation. Furthermore, there may many laws, guidelines, and literature that confers legitimacy to the Board (which transfer the legitimacy to the organisation) – however no amount of laws or guidelines can compel the board to be high-performing.  This is a goal that board, the executive, and the organisation as a whole must strive towards collectively.
 
A committed board member actively builds relationships for the organisation to succeed, is expressively linked to the organisation, and works on the highest skill level for the organisation - and actively work to improve their own and their organisations performance. A skilled CEO does not see the board as a rubber stamp or “big brother”, but as partner to reach the strategic mission of the organisation.

Both a committed board member, and a skilled CEO do not waste any time discussing the performance of board, if they have not reached shared clarity on the purpose of their board. A knowledgeable board and CEO do not spend time on what is operational and what is strategic, as all are clear on strategic vision of, and risk management  in the organisation - and what strategic and operational decisions have been taken (in advance) to reach strategic vision and avert/limit risks.

The most important relationship in a nonprofit is that of the CEO and the Board (in particular the Chairperson). It this relationship is characterized by lack of trust, lack of meaningful communication and an ineffective division of labour, is does not bode well for the organisation. Organisations need to be clear on

  • Whether the purpose and performance of the board should be thestarting discussion point,
  • Or should be rather discuss the lack of performance and lack of clarity on purpose as the result or consequence of an unconstructive relationship.

Pauline Roux is Managing Partner at the Organisational Puzzle http://www.organisationalpuzzles.co.za/

Virtually in every concern of our society we are experiencing what I term the ‘reincarnation’ of Steve Biko's ideas, not that they ever died, but the conversations around Black Consciousness can go by unnoticed. In my spare time I spend most of my time conversing to ordinary, sometimes fairly educated, ‘semi-elitist’ friends and acquaintances about this that and the other. Some of my friends are well vested academics and others part-time philosophers who speak about all manner of things that get me confused most of the time; however, I neither blame them nor myself for such tangled confusion. Just the other day I could not help but notice how emotive the subject of Black Consciousness is to them, and also to the South African public at large.

Without having to sound politically correct, I believe we ought to first understand what the concept of black consciousness is, its emergence and the movement’s evolution 38 years later after Steve Biko’s death - it founder in South Africa. As one of the key interventions in curbing the obscurity of the history of the struggle for responsible legacy and pedagogic purposes, there has to be a coveted effort to reliably interpret Biko’s credentials in the struggle against apartheid, his philosophical influences in the mass movement and his literatures accurately. 

In an unambiguous disparity to all the rhetoric and rigid intentions with regard to describing the man’s background in furtherance of our own personal desire as does by Andile Mngxitama and his clique who wants to claim Biko’s philosophy as their own and cast those who celebrate his ideas without their approval with a bad spell; Steve Biko made it clear that ‘It becomes more necessary to see the truth as it is if you realize that the only vehicle for change are these people who have lost their personality’. It is a grave danger to narrowly assume that the Black Consciousness Movement can only be carried out by a handful individual who wants to achieve their own personal gains.

In the context of Biko’s outlook on the Black Consciousness Movement, the shared communal values were paramount and individual welfare were always situated within the setting of civic prosperity. This is evident in that Biko embodied the moral belief of communal sharing and kindness, collectively initiating effective community organisations that worked for the mental and physical health of the poor black people through organisations such as the black community programmes, Black People’s Convention, the Zimele Trust Fund, Impilo Community Health Clinic at Zinyoka outside King William’s Town and when he realised there was a need for black identity separate from any white or multiracial identity from the National Union of South African Students, he spearhead the formation of the South African Students’ Organisation 1968 December, at a conference held in Marianhill, Natal (now known as KwaZulu-Natal) and the organisation played a major role in the Black Consciousness Movement and succeeded in attracting large numbers of Black, Coloured, and Indian youths.  

Many of my fellow black people who are left in the trenches of poverty are certainly finding their voices in the Black Consciousness Movement as lessons and life-sacrifices of Steve Biko, who was murdered on 12 September 1977 as per the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission by apartheid operatives is starting to gain traction once again. Majority of my fellow blacks are influenced, shaped and moulded by leaders like Frantz Fanon, Chinua Achebe, Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela-Mandela and other African philosophers who unwaveringly opposed the culture of inferiority and exploitation of black people as pathologically unreasonable and advocated that all black people must reclaim the purposefulness of life, so that the world can, in Biko’s words, understand that:  “The basic tenet of black consciousness is that the black man must reject all value systems that seek to make him a foreigner in the country of his birth and reduce his basic human dignity”. In my view, the Black Consciousness Movement as envisioned by Steve Biko is a vehicle for black people’s conviction to cure our past societal affliction and conquer our collective ambitions.
 
Chumani Maxwele, a political activist, University of Cape Town student and #RhodesMustFall movement founder, will be joined by Dr Federico Settler, a well-known sociologist and academic from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) on 27 October 2015, at Durban’s Maharani Hotel to unpack in-depth this particular topical issue as part of the Democracy Development Program’s series of public forums on race relations in South Africa. Be part of the evolving narrative of the South African context and join the conversations. 

For more information please contact the Democracy Development Program at 031 304 9305 or email info@ddp.org.za

Written by Thula Zondi, Communications Intern at DDP.

HRE 2020 proudly announces the release of its first publication entitled ‘Human Rights Education Indicator Framework: Key Indicators to Monitor and Assess the Implementation of Human Rights Education and Training’.

This resource provides a framework of indicators for civil society organisations, national human rights institutions and government bodies as well as United Nations mechanisms to examine the presence and quality of human rights education policies and practices. The framework aims to support a review of the status of human rights education within national planning, the formal education sector, and the training of professional groups. It is a means of understanding the scale and quality of such practices and identifying gaps and areas for improvement.

Human Rights Education Indicator Framework is available for download at www.hre2020.org. Sections of the framework that are relevant to key sectors can be downloaded individually. In the upcoming months, the HRE 2020 website will also provide additional monitoring resources, such as examples of human rights education-related surveys based on the Indicator Framework.

HRE 2020 is a civil society coalition that supports and strengthens the implementation of international commitments to human rights education. It seeks to ensure a systematic monitoring of governments implementation of human rights education provisions in international human rights instruments, including the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training and the World Programme for Human Rights Education. HREA is a founding member of the coalition, together with Amnesty International and Soka Gakkai International.

For more information, refer to www.hre2020.org.

On Saturday 19 September 2015, Student Sponsorship Programme (SSP) held their 2017 intake annual exams where shortlisted grade six scholars who applied for the five year scholarships at some of South Africa most prestigious high schools were invited to write. The exams were held at Parktown Girls’ High School in Parkview. 

Five hundred brilliant young minds and South Africa’s future leaders showed up in the early morning, braving the cold. Each individual was eager to prove that they were the most excellent scholar yet! At only twelve years of age, they all knew exactly what was at stake. There was a hunger and drive that is rare to find even amongst the most influential adults today. These children believed in themselves and their ability to change their lives. They seemed to understand that the future of this country belonged to them and they yearned to become effectors of that change.

On the other side were the parents and teachers. Their shared anxiety, hopes and dreams for their children brought them together. They shared their challenges and aspirations and cheered each other’s children on. They understood too well, the value of receiving quality education and they only want the best for their children. The highlight of the day was when the first examination session ended, the future leaders walked out and heard the community of parents, teachers and their peers clapping and ululating for them. The emotion cannot be explained. Their faces lit up, some smiled and laughed, some sobbed but they all had a great sense of achievement. The beauty was that this sense was given by the people who matter most at these stage of their lives; their parents and teachers.

It is a great honour for Student Sponsorship Programme to have an opportunity to engage with these young great minds. Student Sponsorship Programme is grateful to our sponsors, partner schools, mentors, the media and all contributors for enabling us to make an impact in our communities.

Your support enables SSP to develop these scholars potential through academic excellence and inspire hope in the lives of so many South Africans.

For more details about how you can get involved, refer to www.ssp.org.za

On 29 September 2015, Police Minister, Nkosinathi Nhleko, released the crime statistics covering the period 1 April 2014 to 31 March 2015. An estimated 1.8 million crimes were reported in that period; police operations detected 356 919 crimes, of which 266 902 were drug-related; and 1.7 million people were arrested. 

The statistics paint a dismal picture in terms of personal security. Contact crimes, including murder, attempted murder and aggravated robbery are up by 0.9 percent. Murder is up by 4.6 percent bringing the number to 17 805 as opposed to 17 023 the year before. This amounts to 49 people a day or one murder every 30 minutes. The world average for murder rates is 7.6 per 100 000 people, while the South African average comes in at 36.5 per 100 000. 86 police officers were killed in the period, and a total of 1 537 police officers were attacked. 49 murders were committed by children during 2014/15. Attempted murder was up by 3.2 percent, sitting at 17 537. These statistics are all the more disturbing since they reverse, for the third year running, the decrease in this category that has been evident since 1994. The rise in murders in South Africa is also contrary to the international trend, where murder is showing signs of decreasing. Aggravated robbery was up by 8.5 percent. Also on the increase were carjackings, truck hijacking and aggravated business robbery. On average, 207 cases of street robbery were reported daily to the police. Cash in transit robberies were also down for the period under review. 

One area in which there was a decrease was that of sexual offences, where there was a drop of 5.4 percent, from 56 000 cases last year to 53 617 this year. It has to be borne in mind, though, that statistics in this area are often complicated as the numbers of victims who report especially intimate sexual crimes is notoriously unreliable, so the actual figure might well be higher than those given.  The Minister pointed out that if these statistics were read in terms of 10 and 5 year periods then the one would observe a ‘bigger picture’ of overall decreases in many categories of crime, thus suggesting that these statistics should not be read in isolation.  

The Minister emphasised in his speech that the crime statistics invite a response not only from the police, but also from the public who have a great role to play in solving crime, and in creating environments which are conducive to alternate forms of conflict resolution and to the restoration of personal and social morality. This is indisputably true, but it does not take away from criticisms levelled at the police. It has been pointed out, for example, by several analysts that crimes such as armed robbery and business robbery are typically crimes committed by organised groups, often consisting of repeat offenders, and usually small in number. Good strategies, judicious use of crime intelligence, and specialised agencies should usually be able to reduce such crimes effectively. Yet these very categories are on the increase. 

It has also been pointed out that with a budget of about R80bn, state of the art technology, and more than 194 000 personnel, a much better result should be expected in terms of crime reduction. Nor is one able to ignore the demoralisation of many in the police force and the consequence thereof on effective policing. It is also a matter of concern that the head of the police is facing a board of enquiry with regard to her fitness for office; this must have a damaging effect on the morale of the force and indeed on the overall quality of leadership in an area where bold, decisive and creative direction is paramount.  

Other issues also contribute to the ongoing criminal environment. The correctional services emphasis is still largely based on punishment and not by any means sufficiently on rehabilitation; this contributes to the high recidivism rates and the absorption of offenders into the mainstream of criminal activity. One of the most important contributors to the criminal environment is obviously the enduring and growing inequality in our society, with its attendant anger, desperation, and sense of exclusion from even a minimally decent life. As this becomes more evident, with the rich/poor gap evidenced by greater ostentation on the part of the beneficiaries of good fortune, we must expect the desperation and anger to increase, thus adding to the volatility in our country. These problems can be remedied to some degree by greater political will, wiser leadership and the promotion of more strategic policies and resource allocation; however, public officials and political leadership in the security establishments must be held to a stricter level of accountability on multiple levels.  

It must be borne in mind that in the period under review the police force incurred civil claims to the tune of R9.5 billion due to misconduct. How this plays out in terms of good example and public trust is questionable: especially since R94.3 million was for assaults. We also need to remember that when public figures and supposed role models are deemed to be beyond the law, such behaviour legitimises antisocial pathologies and allows for the spread of a sense of being above and beyond the law.  

Finally, it was particularly worrying, in light of the recent wave of xenophobia, that for the first time crimes committed by foreigners were highlighted. There seems to have been no good reason to single out non-South Africans in an environment already riddled with suspicion against them.     

All South Africans, but especially those who are poor and vulnerable, deserve to know that they can look forward to reasonable security and public safety in a world in which they are forced to battle to uphold their dignity. We need to heed again the insight of Aristotle when he reminded us that ‘poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.’ 

  • Peter-John Pearson is a director at the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference.

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