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