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Margin to Centre: How Philanthropy Can Help Guarantee Constitutional Rights in South Africa

Resource type: News

Resourcing Philanthropy |

By Gillian Mitchell, Gabrielle Ritchie and Melanie Judge

Resourcing Philanthropy is a new online platform that profiles philanthropic giving through the sharing of information, advice, tactics, tools and insights from grantmakers, non-profit leaders and philanthropists in South Africa.

Drawing on the grantmaking experience and impact of The Atlantic PhilanthropiesResourcing Philanthropy is dedicated to growing the funding sector in South Africa by showcasing grantmaking approaches that are proven to work, in particular those that seek to advance human rights and social justice.

Margin to Centre: the marginalised driving change is a section of Resourcing Philanthropy that focuses on how communities that are supported and assisted through imaginative and bold grantmaking can change their circumstances for the better.

Margin to Centre

South Africa is a society in transition, characterised by deep inequalities and the enduring legacies of past injustices. The South African Constitution, which was founded on principles of human rights, equality and justice, charts our path toward a more equitable society. However, frequently, those at the margins of social and political life are least likely to benefit from constitutional rights and democratic possibilities.

Philanthropy has a role to play in tackling inequality and in supporting those most vulnerable to its ill effects. A philanthropic approach that focuses on those at the margins can assist in bringing these individuals and communities onto the agenda for development priorities.

By bringing the margin to the centre the attention is drawn to vulnerable communities who face discrimination, and who are often neglected in the implementation of law and policy, and in the delivery of services. Philanthropic investments to improve the lives of those who are socially and economically marginalised, can contribute to a fairer society in which both needs and rights can be more equitably met.

Philanthropic endeavours in South Africa are increasingly paying attention to those communities whose livelihoods and rights are compromised in a society with widening inequalities. There is growing support for philanthropy that promotes social justice, and that forms partnerships with communities to tackle the root causes of inequality and its disproportionate impacts on marginalised groups.

Some of the ways in which philanthropy can support marginalised communities to challenge the conditions they face is through partnering in local efforts to:

  • Grow individual, organisational and community leadership to challenge social injustices
  • Enhance a community’s voice to effectively communicate to decision-makers and the wider public about the issues they face
  • Facilitate community participation in shaping social change

Many non-profit organisations (NPOs) seek to raise the voice and profile of those most affected by discrimination and inequality. Articulating the nature of social problems in the voices of those closest to their negative impacts can help to build the case for action and support. Through growing their voice, organisations and communities can communicate more widely about the social challenges they seek to address. The voicing of issues, in a way that calls local and national decision-makers to account, is a key strategy in public advocacy campaigns. Both nationally and internationally, philanthropy is increasingly supporting NPOs to communicate effectively in building awareness, interest and commitment to address complex social issues.

Building leadership in organisations and within issues is another positive focus for philanthropy that focuses on social justice. It involves identifying and backing champions (whether organisations or individuals) to promote the interests and concerns of marginalised communities. One way of doing this is to strengthen key organisations to take the lead on a issues of importance. Enabling organisations to lead, with voice and authority, requires support for leadership development, organisation building, and the resourcing of both individuals and organisations to do the work of leading. Alongside leadership and voice, community mobilisation is also a powerful way to influence law, policy and social practice. Through local organising, NPOs can activate the involvement of the communities at the coalface of social inequality.

The participation of communities in social change requires that NPOs work with, rather than on behalf of, the publics they serve. This ensures their increased accountability to communities.

Public participation also enhances democracy in that it enables local communities to influence public policy, hold government to account, and shape public debate. Supporting marginalised communities to participate in public decision-making is frequently a central strategy in advocacy campaigns.

This article is an edited extract from Resourcing Philanthropy.

Read more in this series:

Resourcing Philanthropy focuses on The Atlantic Philanthropies’ Reconciliation and Human Rights programme in South Africa during the period 2004–2014. Drawing on the documented experiences of Atlantic and its programme partners, this web-based resource showcases various dimensions of Atlantic’s funding practice and its impacts.

Resourcing Philanthropy was funded by Atlantic and developed by Gillian Mitchell, Gabrielle Ritchie and Melanie Judge of eMRJ — an independent association of consultants that provides services and support to NPOs and donors.