As part of its annual research, Trialogue asks companies and non-profits to rank organisations that are perceived to have the most developmental impact. Since 2015, when this question was first posed, Gift of the Givers has consistently ranked in the top two positions. Founder and chairman, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman speaks about the principles that have propelled his organisation to provide R2.3 billion in aid to millions of people in 43 countries, over 25 years.
What do you think contributes to the widely positive perception of your organisation?
People are intrigued by the diversity of our projects. We are a world-class disaster response agency, but we also build housing villages; support agricultural sustainability; drill boreholes and send water to the remotest areas in cases of drought; build and run hospitals in war zones; provide local hospitals with infrastructure, equipment and medical supplies; support primary, secondary and tertiary education; offer lifeskills services; provide wheelchairs, food parcels, detergents, sanitary pads, blankets, new clothing, animal fodder and pet food; are involved in the rehabilitation of bees; have our own entrepreneurship programme, and a range of other projects.
Our recent success negotiating the release of hostages under the most difficult circumstances has also raised our public profile substantively. Donors love our efficiency, preparedness, speed of delivery, transparency, report back and the visible impact of our interventions. Our assistance transcends race, religion and culture, and our aid is unconditional.
What is your organisation’s approach to community engagement?
Relevant customs and culture should be understood, and communities must be treated with dignity and respect. It is important to serve with humility, kindness and compassion, understanding that you are only a conduit of assistance and that aid is given through you, and not by you.
The quality of aid, the way we package and present it and the method of distribution are key factors in winning over people’s hearts, paving the way for success for our entire operation.
How do you build relationships with governments across the world?
We enjoy excellent relationships with various tiers of government, including the presidency, parliament and several ministers. Our relationship with DIRCO gives us diplomatic leverage, as the South African Government negotiates with disaster-affected communities on our behalf, serving as an endorsement of our credibility.
Commendations in parliament for our interventions have captured the attention of various diplomatic missions in our country and we’ve reached a level of diplomatic acceptance that has governments of other countries calling us directly when they require interventions. Where possible, South African ambassadors receive us in affected countries, which carries a lot of weight.
Our greatest selling point is the character of our teams. We have 200 medical and search and rescue volunteers of the highest integrity and capability on standby. When governments and civil servants see our approach to community engagement, the quality of our service, our unconditional assistance and neutrality, they open doors of cooperation in the widest possible way.
The refugee camps that we set up during the xenophobic attacks in South Africa assisted people from many countries. High-level government officials from these countries visited our camps to convey their gratitude. It is these types of interventions that have built our profile within the diplomatic community over the years, making it so much easier when next we have to respond to an international disaster.
Our research shows that disaster relief does not receive a large proportion of CSI spend. How have you managed to build relationships with companies that support your work?
With buzz words like ‘sustainability’, many funders want to invest in building the future, and sometimes forget about the immediate needs. We established corporate partnerships around our education and health initiatives, for example, which receive more corporate
support. That way, when there is a disaster, it’s easier to call on our existing partners to join us.
When companies give us money or items for distribution, we invite them to witness the suffering of the people and the impact that they are actually making. We also build up our own resources so that we can respond to disaster crises independently. We get the ball rolling and companies can see that there is already work being done, and what they will be contributing to.
How and why should companies contribute to disaster prevention?
Nothing destroys a human more than a disaster because the effect is physical, material, emotional and psychological. There needs to be an intervention that will inspire hope, self-esteem, encouragement and positivity. Intervening rapidly and restoring the person back to their previous state is the most dignified approach.