Like so many of the systems and methodologies in place around the world, Philanthropy is not delivering or performing as it should. Contentious statement? Of course – and naturally corporates or families investing as well as their appointed spenders of funds would furiously negate such an assertion.
But should they? Why is there still so little progress or change at the coalface? Why do so many people carry on living in “poverty”? And what is poverty all about? Is it purely financial? Or do we listen more carefully to the deeper thinkers who claim that wealthy kids at “top” private schools are as poverty stricken as others around the country – but for different reasons and in different ways. Lack of deep attention to their inner growth, lack of time and space to really enjoy their childhood. And worst of all, lack of passion and vision about what it really means to be human!
Linked to this, and the subject of another full dialogue, is the urgent need to re-assess the systems and principles society currently employs within education and development – but for now, the subject we would like to address, in itself with so many layers to deconstruct - is the space we can all make a difference to.
To start with, many of our internal perspectives as a Foundation have come from our active and varied role on the ground, coupled to discussions with large and small players from the powerful (and potentially exciting) PPC forum that was initiated here in SA last year, where a very pertinent topic of conversation amongst those open and honest enough to face reality has been the lack of real delivery on the ground, the amounts of funding involved in each case notwithstanding.
And although there is generally good intent within the sector, the focus on buzzwords like ‘measurable’, ‘cost-effective’ and ‘proven outcomes’, linked to sound but often unrealistic concepts of ‘sustainability, scalability and replication’ too often drive the agenda.
In our opinion, some of the main aspects that should be looked at urgently are:
- A better understanding of the beneficiaries, and their REAL requirements (most people just say ‘YES’ to any question which looks like it will provide something which promises some kind of deliverable and better life)
- Deeper engagement with the communities or institutions to identify their genuine requirements (without the Western ‘we know what’s best for you’ ego driving the process), and at the same time assess their natural assets
- More attention to the underlying causes of the problems, be they financial, social, or health related (too many interventions don’t dig deep enough and instead provide ‘solutions’, ‘fixes’ or sometimes their own models that don’t address the real needs)
- Establishing clearer outcomes relating to the ability of the project to stand alone as soon as possible, and provide appropriate support for this to occur
- Changing the way proposals are structured by communities or NGO’s looking for funds using negative slants around HIV, poverty etc. instead of looking for positive aspects to support
Another ingredient that is the cause of undue tension is time. In general, often driven by donor demands, the NGO world is under pressure to deliver and make a discernable difference as quickly as possible. In most cases, visible measurables or external deliverables are the leading drivers, when more often than not, the underlying issues or problems having not really been addressed. We have all seen the half finished projects or empty disused buildings that litter Africa that are the outcomes of so many failed interventions - and the people and issues on the ground continue as they always have despite all of this attention – but with growing disappointment, resignation and even a level of anger at the continuing status quo.
In addition, if enough depth and understanding of the real requirements within a region or project were focussed on at the start, and meaningful ongoing interaction and feedback between all role-players was undertaken, expensive M&E post project interventions would not be necessary. Obviously a controversial statement too, but the rationality behind close continual engagement is obvious.
Logically then, the success of any project hinges on the initial levels of engagement and understanding undertaken with ALL stakeholders - involving local chiefs and local government where necessary, but specifically with the greater communities and learners where appropriate.
Linked to this, and critical to the long term success of any model is the empowerment of individuals across the whole entity, and once again, although it is heartening to find more and more conscious interventions taking place, the true empowerment of individuals within organisations or communities being assisted is still not addressed or given the accord it requires. No organism works well if the molecules in it are not nourished, and so many, if not most interventions, ever engage or look deeply enough.
This, here and now, is the place to begin. If we all make the conscious choice to look more intensely into all of the interventions we engage in, and allow enough time to make deeper and more considered assessments and prioritisations before engaging – providing the relevant support, and where possible unearth and utilise hidden assets– we can actively begin to effect the changes we all know are so badly needed in the world.
As part of this commitment, perhaps we should consider renaming the Circle?
CPPC as an acronym is not only different, but the additional ‘C’ adds value and intent, and at the same time highlights the Consciousness that we would all subscribe to and live by, enabling us to begin to activate truly meaningful changes in our life journey.
By Gary Shearer
Member of the Private Philanthropy Circle