Crafting CSI programmes that make a long-term difference – it’s about partnership

By Joanne van der Walt, Sage Foundation Programme Manager for Africa

I attended a fascinating conference, hosted by the Africa Grantmakers Affinity Group in New York which highlighted how quickly philanthropy in Africa is evolving. Budgets are under pressure, the role of technology is becoming more important, and the needs of the communities we serve are changing fast.

It’s critical for corporations to invest their social and community development funds in a targeted and sustainable manner.

Here are a few observations that I’d like to share with businesses involved in corporate philanthropy and corporate social investment (CSI).

Budgets are tight

With the US government cutting funding for many programmes in Africa and with some African countries facing lower tax collections as a result of economic headwinds, many projects and programmes are under more financial pressure. They urgently need stability and financing.

Against this backdrop, it is important for corporations to bring a steady approach to the non-profit sector. We need to be committed and strategic in the way we invest so that the communities and organisations with which we partner can plan for the future and make a sustainable difference.

Get with the tech times

Salhu Haile, from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation in Ethiopia, said at the conference: “Africa is changing, philanthropy is not.” The CSI sector should be looking at whether it’s doing enough to support partners at grassroot level with technology that can empower them to do their jobs. From mobile phones to accounting solutions, tech can help NPOs to build capacity and grow efficiencies in their operations.

Don’t get obsessed with short-term metrics

Understandably, companies are eager to ensure that their NPO partners use their grants and donations in an effective and efficient manner. We shouldn’t be putting small NPOs under the administrative burden of producing complex reports every three months—they just don’t have capacity for it.

Most delegates at the conference agreed that it takes around two years for a project to start delivering success, so we need to take a long-term view. The reporting requirements should be as straightforward as possible, while ensuring that we can see that funds are being spent wisely for the long-term impact.

Take a chance

As grant makers, we need to be willing to take risks from time to time because the risky projects are the ones that will sometimes have the best pay-off. The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, for example, gave $2 million to a local Ethiopian bank for a women’s startup/ enterprise development project. It understood that there was a chance the project would fail, but it didn’t. It lent the funds with a 2% interest rate and every cent was repaid.

Be a true partner

The areas that need the most attention in Africa include uplifting women and education, renewable energy and healthcare – areas that all need to be approached in a spirit of long-term partnership. As grant providers and CSI partners, we need to take a long-term view and build relationships that will endure for years. It was also clear that leadership on the ground and inclusive community conversations were among the success factors that ensured a positive outcome for the NPOs.

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