Economies of scale

While the news of a shrinking economy does not alarm some of us in the nonprofit sector, who have been engaging business-at-large vigorously to support community initiatives to bleak responses, it is worrisome what this means for the country.

Our society is burdened with social injustices and inequality that is seen nowhere else in the world at this scale; this, coupled with the levels of poverty and unemployment that persist, spells pending doom that may see this country experiencing higher rates of violent crime, corruption, looting and a decline of the social cohesion we have worked so tirelessly to foster.

At a time like this, corporations need to demonstrate bold and decisive leadership which looks beyond short-term profits and declares that this here land is home and we are all here to stay; because when you call a place home you make it so by investing in some paint, furniture, reinforce walls and make it livable: something which it increasingly isn’t for many in the far flung communities referred to as rural.

The recent debate over a fuel retailer’s employee whose selfless act saw many donate and pay it forward, further divided commentators when the retailer joined in on the PR roller-coaster. One problem that peaks out when you consider their haste to get involved is similar to that which exists throughout corporate SA. The decision to publicly acknowledge their employees act of kindness as unique and compelling, should have been met with the embrace of existing personnel development initiatives within the organization. It speaks to a public relations and human resources environment that neither speaks to each other or completely disregards the values enshrined in their wonderfully written annual reports and business plans.

Corporations have staff development and training programmes, which start at the retail floor from something as simple as an employee of the month programme; which is what the normal process of acknowledging this employees act would follow. Thereafter, top management would drill in on this special case due to the media attention and review the employees performance over a certain period and elect to enrol him into their leadership development programmes. This would make sense and prevent staff demoralization, which i suspect may occur from how this whole thing unfolded, not to mention that this should effectively equip the employee with the skills that would serve him the rest of his career and life.

It is further disingenuous to ask said employee to nominate a cause worthy of receiving a donation from the retailer for an amount of money he, himself may never see in his lifetime. This may have been in lieu of paying him a bonus and thus upsetting the personnel ecosystem. This further raises our ire because bringing up those figures against the backdrop of employees, like the one being commended and glorified, who earn meagre incomes that may not meet their monthly needs, is like a smack in the face of all who feel the pain of low-wage earners across the country, further strained by this shrinking economy.

It is reminiscent of what Supplier Development programmes similarly do, on-boarding small businesses into the programme to develop them while maintaining a separate database for companies who actually supply them, and never shall the two converge. It reminds us of the commitments that big business makes about investing in our local economy only to learn much later that those same corporations hyper-inflate prices of bread, airtime and cement, manipulate our currency and misrepresent financial results. In a country where the King Codes on governance demand good faith transacting, it seems there isn’t much of that currency going around.

It is this same good faith we need in the civil society, where big business commits to work with public and non-government institutions to radically reduce inequality and poverty. We need immediate support of impactful programmes that get young South Africans busy, utilizing their hard earned degrees to shape up our economy, provide assistance to state institutions as the public workforce has not and cannot grow fast enough or large enough to support and police all the bureaucratic and legislative policies that have been adopted in this land. Policies such as the Protection of Personal Information Act and the Consumer Protection Act cannot see their full potential otherwise.

While I dare not advocate for a larger public workforce, it is imperative that we start seeing real public-private partnerships underpinned by good-faith. We need bold leaders that see beyond the politics of the day and near-term profits, and who can unashamedly walk into a conference of its investors and make a compelling argument for long-term investment in our country, so that one day we may have another heart-warming advertisement about the richest square mile in Africa, lending its wealth for the upliftment of the square mile right next to it.

Sustainable Good

Giving food parcels to disaster-stricken and impoverished communities is not sustainable. We, at Almal Foundation, have done this many times before and we continue to do so as it is a necessary intervention, particularly in emergency situations.

Nevertheless, we understand that this practice is not sustainable, as the beneficiaries continue to need supplies and support which becomes harder and harder to give – think of the analogy of giving a man a fish, as opposed to a fishing net.

Disaster relief is one of the most inefficient, costliest and more frustrating campaigns that a growing organization can take on. To summarize, you put out a call to society at large (and with the advent of social media this is a global community) for support and donations. People either don’t trust you enough to donate money, prefer to give the aging food and clothing items already in their house or see the call-to-action and contribute to a local or office collection pool that buys and donates these items to your organization. As the organization collecting these donations, you must now make means to traverse all these locations collecting and thanking, packaging and cleaning (clothes must be washed as a policy because some donors will not wash the clothes they give). This onerous task must happen within set timelines because the beneficiaries need that stuff, pronto, obviously! The absolute worst part of this is that, if you ask for these items and receive them, and then make a second call the next week or month for more, because obviously the beneficiaries are still in need – because bodies need constant replenishing – the donors are shocked that that problem still exists, and now registers much lower on their conscious which means no more donations for that cause.

The bigger organizations understand that to play in this space, you need to establish partnerships and long-term agreements with food retailers and large business because that lowers your logistical obligations and can be co-ordinated better. However unfortunate, this pushes out smaller players from the space. This can be problematic, given that reaching the remote parts of the country requires smaller organizations in those communities to bring attention to the community’s needs.

The cost of all of this ends up being more than you would expect, and this diminishes the value of the support being provided. If every person who donated a tin can of fish rather donated the value of that item, that money could be pooled together with other donations of similar value which would then allow the organization to purchase food and other items at discounted bulk rates, meaning more food, and because it is being purchased closer to the communities, lower transportation and storage costs.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when you consider what this means for local development. I believe in an approach that sees communities in need, being the ones who are ultimately tasked with uplifting themselves, and this can be achieved by directing food purchases to farmers and businesses closer to the affected communities, which in a small way stimulates economic activity in that area. Secondly, funds collected can be used to train and then equip locals to rebuild damaged homes and infrastructure, paying them stipends and imparting skills in the community.

We work aggressively to build relationships with small business owners, who employ the bulk of society and are found in the heart of communities. We want to work with the people who have to live and work in these communities, and we want to create a network of active citizens who show up for each other and do sustainable good. We want to buy food from the small-scale farmers who live in the rural communities that we purport to support, and help them.

Lastly, sustainable good must respect the dignity of its beneficiaries. This is the most sacred part of what we do. Southern Africa is plagued by poverty, inequality and social injustice and we believe that the over-arching values that must be maintained across the board in this pursuit, is in respecting the dignity of all, especially here at the cradle of humankind. It is incredible what we can achieve when we respect and honour those who are most in need in the same way we do those who have more than they need, we simply have to remember that sisonke sibambisene – we’re all working together.

Simphiwe Ngema is the Executive Chairperson of Almal Foundation npc and a Human Resources professional. – 05 June 2019

First issue Editor’s Note

Khulisa Magazine is one of the most awesome projects we have worked on at Almal Foundation. I am very excited to be producing the very first issue.

Being that the magazine is launched on Women’s Month, it was imperative that this issue resonate with the current mood of society when it comes to the issues close to the hearts of women, like myself.

Lately, a number of discussions around feminism and what it means have been debated amongst various forums and social network discussion boards. Whilst the answer tends to be different for different people, we have tried to gather as many different voices and stories about different women in different parts of society.

I believe we can all learn from each other and work towards a society that does not see the liberation of women as a threat to it but rather as a boon that can help liberate society from its social ills.

The purpose of this magazine is to showcase the actions of small organizations such as ours, and the impact that these initiatives have in society. We want our readers to see the value of supporting non-profit organizations and to feel like they are a part of us by staying in touch through this publication.

The most humbling of activities was the opportunity to engage with Mayor Mkhulisi, a powerhouse with strong leadership credentials. We had the honour of sitting down with Her Excellency and learning more about her and what she understands Women’s month to mean.

Readers can look forward to her interview and plenty of other useful articles from other impressive young ladies in our society.

Future editions will be published by guest-editors, as part of the magazines purpose of empowering young leaders with experiential learning opportunities. See you soon!