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Empower people to help themselves

Resource type: News

Philanthropy SA | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]

By Jay Naidoo.  I WOULD like to recommend that we think of philanthropy not simply as a means of “giving back”, but as a means of ‘giving forward’. Taken this way, philanthropy can be seen as a means to promote the stability of African society and culture and the process of economic peace, security and development.

This would promote an opportunity for non-governmental leaders to have a say in running the country. Giving forward is a paradigm shift towards philanthropy in Africa. As leaders, it is our responsibility to participate in shaping the future in a way that offers opportunities for prosperity and security. A secure nation enables its citizens to flourish without fear of attack or harm, and prosperous citizens provide the financial resources and social and intellectual capital to maintain stability.

Markets play a foundational role in philanthropy. Historically, breakthroughs in the social sector were often born from market-based growth sectors. But it is also the way in which civil society interacts with this market that can leverage major societal changes

In the mid 1990s as Cosatu General Secretary I remember resisting the issuing of mobile telephony licences because we felt that this was unilateral restructuring of the economy by an illegitimate regime and that it was rewarding its erstwhile allies with the crown jewels.

We insisted on conditions that led to black entrepreneurs receiving a stake in the right to communication for under-serviced communities.

New operators argued that this was an unfair burden, as research had shown that the market capacity was 500 000.

As I incidentally became the Minister of Communications, these obligations paid off and private sector innovation that resulted in prepaid cards brought communication within the reach of millions of poor today. Now, we face stark choices in SA and internationally Widespread poverty afflicts more than 52 percent of African households. Youth unemployment officially stands at over 50 percent.

Millions of kids roam our townships. Our education system has failed to provide them with the skills they need to enter the global market.

They are unlikely to ever know the human dignity of earning a pay cheque.

You don’t need me to tell you what this means. They are legitimately aggrieved and alienated from a political and economic system that they have no stake in and that benefits a minority.

Daily they see evidence of corruption that sees billions siphoned off by a rapacious elite and are angered by the social and economic exclusion.

NOURISHING: The role of philanthropy in shaping the future is challenged by the twin evils of entitlement and corruption, says the writer


Many of us are here today because we have been both blessed by opportunity and care deeply about our children and our grandchildren. In this sense, the role of philanthropy in shaping the future of our countries is deeply personal.

One of the reasons I joined GAIN as their chairman, is that GAIN is an example of the type of innovative model that works across sectors to solve the enormous challenge of malnutrition – a condition that affects billions of people globally, killing more than 3.5 million children under five every year. We now know that in the critical 1 000 day window, beginning with a woman’s pregnancy and continuing until a child is two years old, nutrition is a key determinant of a child’s potential. We miss this critical window and even if that family wins the lottery, it is often too late to change the potential productivity of that child as it faces a future in which the cognitive ability is impaired, the possibility of stunting is raised and a range of micronutrient deficiencies set.

In South Africa, malnutrition affects one quarter of all children, contributing to their poor school performance and reducing their economic potential. We have modeled the impact and estimate that not dealing with a cost effective intervention, that on average will cost 15 US cents per person per year, will result in an approximate loss of lifetime earnings of 10 percent and up to the loss of 2 to 3 percent of GDP. This ignores the now scientifically established link between under nutrition in the first 1 000 days and the increased incidence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension and obesity later in life that burdens the public health-care system.

This reinforces the cycle of poverty. To address this issue in South Africa, GAIN has invested in fortifying a wheat and maize flour with micronutrients such as folic acid, resulting in a reduction in spinal bifida by 30 percent. Our average investment in a national programme is approximately $5 million (R34m) and lever ages up to 10 percent of investment from the private sector, governments and philanthropic organisations and allows us to exit after five years without the programme collapsing. Certainly the formula is to work out precisely the outcomes that are expected, the contribution of the different partners, the expected milestones and an investment of at least 10 percent of the support in establishing baselines and then monitoring and evaluation.

Government plays a fundamental policy and regulatory role in championing the cause and scaling up these interventions.

How is this model working? Over the past year we supported interventions in more than 25 countries, providing close to 400 million individuals in Africa and Asia with access to better quality foods. While our business models vary by country, our approach always includes both the private and public sector. Countries are not all that different. They are about societies and people. Every life has equal value.

Our investments are designed to leverage both private and public resources to enhance market-based approaches, since 70 percent of our target population purchases their food from the market.

Our target is to reach billions over the next few years. Combined with an effective partnership with government and civil society I would say we are beginning to have a tremendous impact on the very challenging issue of malnutrition facing two billion people in the world.

I want to emphasise the role that private philanthropy has in the evolution of GAIN. Private philanthropy not only played an important role in establishing GAIN; it continues to provide catalytic, high-impact capital that is being deployed to create sustainable solutions at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

Philanthropy has to address the need to deepen organisations that give the poor a voice. I can only go back to my days as a union organiser in which the backbone of the modern labour movement was hostel dwellers. These were workers living in brutal conditions, illiterate and exploited. They had no voice in an apartheid system designed to extract every bit of profit from them. But courageous individuals. often from middle class backgrounds. committed themselves to working with these workers and painstakingly build an organisation that gave people unity, organisation and the power to negotiate improvements in their lives.

And there was the principle of ownership. Workers owned their organisations and defended their rights against fierce attack. Unions gave workers voice and skills and were and still are, leading actors on the political and economic stage. We could not have done without the support, political and moral, that workers worldwide gave us. It allowed Cosatu to play a decisive role not only in improving conditions on the factory floor, but also in the political arena.

Today modern enterprises operate within an ecosystem in which many civil society, political and commercial actors interact with the market. Ignoring social issues can be counterproductive to their very business interests.

Building trust, goodwill and reputation is now part of the capital formation. The public good has to be balanced with the narrower agenda of private sector interests. Ignoring this balance is to return to the days of ‘vampire economics’ where the short-term profit motive creates the civil strife, social exclusion and inevitable downfall of the political and economic system.

Today in South Africa we see major weaknesses in our civil society movements and the body of the citizenry. Part of this is a responsibility I share. In 1994, with the advent of a democratic government, we established a culture which argued that government was going to deliver jobs, houses, education, health and the basic services to our people.

We demobilised NGOs and civil society and made people passive bystanders in their own lives. Today we face the twin evils of ‘entitlement’ and ‘corruption’. It is time to return to the basics of the lessons of our struggle.

And it is never too late. Our challenge is to deepen organisations that give communities the power to negotiate improvements in their lives.

Although this may be troublesome and protracted and place enormous strain on decision-makers, it is a necessary part of the people-centered democracy we committed to when we promised our people a better life in 1994.

Do not underestimate the role that philanthropy as a catalyst for change can and should play in making that promise possible.

Naidoo is chairman of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrizion  and founder of the J&J Development Trust . This is an edited version of his opening address at the Philanthropy conference, ‘Our World, Our Responsibility

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