Stop, Collaborate and Listen

President Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address last week left most of us excited and eager to play our part. There was a sense of hope and optimism that South Africa is on a renewed path of growth and progress. It was also a welcome relief when the president referred civil society as partners in ‘turning the nation around’ through their determination to see poverty and HIV defeated, and he gave the impression that government was willing to partner and collaborate with these organisations.
Not-for-Profit Organisations (NPOs) and Community-Based Organisations (CBOs) were among those highlighted as integral players in addressing poverty and inequality. These on-the-ground organisations know the heartbeat of our nation better than most of us in the private or government sectors.
As a country, we can learn much from these organisations’ insight and wisdom. They can teach us how to engage and support the interventions that address the complex and inter-connected societal challenges faced by many of our nation’s people.
The NPO and CBO voice is, however, often not heard above the noise of the many donor and business voices who are desiring to address the same social challenges.
The national call to ‘send me’ that was put to the people of South Africa during our President’s SONA speech is an essential one, and one that will require of us to not only take action, but to rather listen first. Listen to the people who are facing these challenges, ask what is needed to turn things around. Speak to the NPOs and CBOs who work day in and day out to understand and solve the systemic and immediate poverty in South Africa. While businesses undoubtedly play a huge role in transforming our nation through their funding and resourcing capacities, it is important to remember that business should partner with the NPOs and CBOs. Businesses can enable these organisations to work to transform society, but should be cautious of assuming they can have a greater impact on their own as opposed to when partnering with civil society.
To assist us all in taking up the challenge of ‘send me’ we have consolidated a few top tips from businesses that are in fruitful relationships with NPOs, as well as the NPOs themselves.
“Stop talking and listen. Spend more time listening. Don’t think that you have the solutions before the solution is there.” (Charmaine Smith, Infundo Consulting)
“Listen to people. Hear their real need. Drill down and learn how to ask the right questions to find the route to help.” (Mathilda Fourie, Vastfontein Community Transformation)
“Be willing to commit to a long-term relationship/partnership with NPOs. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel or try to do everything yourself. Ensure that you’re aligned in vision.” (Pieter Wasserfall, Six33 Group)
 “Make it known that you are a partner, not just a funder, which makes it easier to chat openly, be honest and pick up on problems in time.” (Thembiso Kodisang, Investec)
“Be adaptable. Solutions and challenges change often. Don’t be the smartest person in the room. Rather be around people that have done it or trying to figure it out. Collaborate and be agile to adapt and change as time goes by.” (Ivan Swartz, Labit)
May we all put up our hands to take on the call. May we all be engaged, listen, understand and bring what we have to play a part in addressing poverty and inequality.
Paschal is the Executive Director of Nation Builder, a platform that equips business leaders with resources and a community that helps them achieve the greatest possible positive impact in our country through effective social investment.