SA’s NPO sector looks to a more sustainable future

Covid-19 has seen incredible collaboration between South Africa’s non-profit organisation (NPO) sector, the private sector and government as they look to find ways to cope with the massive socio-economic demands brought about by the pandemic and the economic recession.

Keri-Leigh Paschal, the executive trustee of social impact initiative Nation Builder, says there has been ‘a groundswell of collaboration’ in the past 18 months as NPOs look to share insights, innovations and resources to navigate the pandemic – and it could lead to a fundamental shift in the way people invest in the sector, and make resources go further.

“The pandemic has been incredibly hard on the NPO sector, which has had to deal with a combination of rocketing demand for its services and reduced funding. But it’s also been a time of immense learning, as NPOs and funders find innovative ways to do more with less, and we’re seeing a newfound sense of collaboration between different stakeholders as they look to balance short-term needs with long-term sustainability,” said Paschal.

One of the good news stories to emerge from the pandemic has been the rise in the number of public-private partnerships (PPPs), like the Solidarity Fund, which have played an important role in mitigating the effects of the pandemic. Non-profits are also increasingly collaborating among themselves, whether partnering informally in local programmes or developing sustained collaborations to share resources and reduce costs.

A Nation Builder survey of more than 870 NPOs last year painted a picture of increased need, decreased funding and NPOs who had not been able to access any of the various government relief efforts – particularly during lockdown 2020. At the same time, it highlighted the fact that increased social investment, awareness of social issues and changes in funding practices were critical to the long-term future of the sector.

Meleney Kriel, CEO of Viva Foundation in Mamelodi, said when lockdown started in 2020, many individuals and organisations started feeding schemes to assist community members, despite funding cuts. As a registered NPO, Viva shared resources and supported their initiatives through networks, relationships, expertise and funding. This partnership has seen around 2 million meals distributed.

In Hillbrow, NPO MES launched numerous relief initiatives in partnership with other NPOs, volunteers, churches, government, individual and corporate donors and the general community, who all came together to assist and donate when the pandemic started.

“We saw a collaboration movement that we’ve never before,” said MES chief executive Leona Pienaar. “And the best thing about it was that it did not end with the hard lockdown, and that many of these partnerships continue to evolve and grow as we navigate a new norm.”

As relief work starts shifting back to a longer-term development focus, with new challenges, needs and funding dynamics, Paschal says collaborative and innovative partnerships will become a part of both NPO and social investors’ future strategies.

“What the pandemic has done is to accelerate the move towards some solutions and outcomes that we have needed in the sector for a long time. We’ve seen a lot of innovation coming through in areas like financing and grant-making, and a clear realisation that we can’t carry on doing things the way we have always done them if we’re going to continue to have a meaningful impact,” said Paschal.