Let’s not just celebrate World NGO Day: let’s actively support our NPOs

Every 27 February, people around the world celebrate World NGO Day, and the people that work tirelessly to contribute to society all year around. This year, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on just how essential the non-profit organisation (NPO) sector is, and the role it has played in maintaining and supporting South Africa’s most vulnerable communities through a global health crisis.

In a country where more than 7.2 million people are out of work and the unemployment rate is at 32.5% after being further impacted by Covid-19, the reality is that millions of South Africans are in dire need of support in a multitude of forms.

We’ve seen first-hand how NPOs who work alongside the community can spark growth and opportunity within the community. But, in a time of growing needs and shrinking resources, the NPOs are being asked to do more with less. Their already limited resources are at breaking point. In the past year, the sector has shown us their incredible resilience, finding creative and smart ways to meet a plethora of needs on a shoestring budget.

As Stu Walker, projects director iThemba Projects – an NPO in the Nation Builder network – says: “What I think it all boils down to is trust; trusting a process and a group of dedicated, transparent and courageous people, even when times look bleak.”

NPOs can’t do it alone. This World NGO Day, we need to celebrate in deed as much as in word. Our business community can help by extending its support to include volunteerism and encourage network sharing. Even the smallest businesses have a role to play in building a South Africa which offers hope and opportunity for all. If ever there was a time to engage with our NPOs, and find creative ways to support their mission, it is now.

Obviously, their key priority in a time of crisis is fundraising. They need money to ensure basic needs are met, fund education programmes deliver psycho-social support, and generally make an impact in the lives of those who need it the most.

We also need to ask our NPOs how they are doing. After nearly a year of non-stop demands, they’re in need of some nurturing and support themselves. Are they able to look after their own staff? While they give their all to meeting the vast needs in our society, are they themselves able to ensure their employees and own families are cared for? The support that our NPOs give is only as strong as they are themselves, and it is vital that we, as a broader society, care for them too.

As a leader of an NPO herself, Minah Koela, executive director of Beautiful Gate – another NPO which forms part of the Nation Builder network – says she has had to look at what they do and ask what value they are bringing to the table.

“We’ve had to ask ourselves difficult questions and find out what is truly needed. We’ve been forced to look at ourselves as leaders and the impact that we have on the families and children that we work with. Covid has shown us that we need partners, champions, cheerleaders, mentors, encouragers and tough love to be able to rebuild and restore what has been taken from us. This requires us to think out of the box and be courageous,” says Minah.

If our nation is to weather this storm, we need to foster greater collaboration than ever between the private sector, government and the NPO sector. If we can help forge a dynamic and resilient NPO sector, we will be better placed to create vital communities throughout South Africa.