At the Trialogue Business in Society Conference, panellists Samantha Barnard (Phambano Technology Development Centre), Jak Koseff (Gauteng Provincial Government) and Rudi Matjokana (Vodacom) discussed how best to build healthy relationships between the private sector, government and non-profit organisations (NPOs) – from using technology and taking the time to learn the systems and processes of potential partner organisations, to fostering personal relationships.

Embracing technology to enhance collaborative working

According to Samantha Barnard, whose organisation provides technology services and capacity building support to NPOs, there has been a rapid increase in cloud-based operations and her clients are becoming more agile and tech savvy; moving away from old devices that are slow to using mobile devices in order to foster and grow relationships. The cloud has given NPOs a level of transparency and efficiency they didn’t have before. However, the stumbling blocks, Barnard noted, are still the exorbitant data costs in South Africa. “You are seeing a split in the market, where some of the larger NPOs have adapted quicker, they are bringing on the digital skills and doing perfectly well but the smaller ones don’t have enough [resources] to catch up,” said Barnard. The smaller NPOs, if given the proper tools and digital skills, could be the drivers of much needed impact in the sector, she added.

Relationships are more than scorecards; they are personal

Barnard highlighted the imbalance of power and lack of transparency between government, NPOs and corporates. NPOs are often doing gruelling work with minimal resources to enable them to focus on operational costs, making them vulnerable in relationships with government and corporates. Interacting with some corporates, she said, can be disheartening as they only come knocking to meet a scorecard requirement, while working with government presents its own bureaucratic hurdles. Even so, Barnard thinks that NPOs should put themselves in the shoes of those they are trying to approach in order to plan accordingly and work on building long-term relationships.

Rudi Matjokana said that relationship building, even between organisations with different roles in society, must be a lot simpler than it is made out to be. For a rapport to be built, relationships should be personal, humble, steady and network-based. He urged that organisations should play the long game because people don’t forget how an individual or organisation makes them feel, which should be an underlying mantra for getting into relationships. “A network is not built for today, to keep it and a person in it, is not for an immediate benefit,” said Matjokana. The use of technology can foster these long-term relationships, he added. It makes it easier for us to stay in touch, to follow each other’s work but, to maintain these relationships, he said, requires that no one is left behind; that data and digital tools such as big data and artificial intelligence are easily available to everyone.

Understanding how systems work

Jak Koseff admitted that government, for a myriad of reasons, is viewed in unfavourable ways, especially when it comes to the relationship it has with citizens. However, he cautioned that we “need to be vigilant of zone watching,” and went on to explain that institutions operate according to incentives and regulatory barriers and on one level they function as systems. “It’s useful to think of government as a system, even if it’s often a broken one,” said Koseff.

The public sector, in his view, is a wide spectrum which has innovative, corrupt and inefficient pockets. He identified three misalignments of expectations (about operational functions and costs) from the systems NPOs and government operate in. The first being one of expectations, the other of incentives and, lastly, the awareness of abilities, processes and requirements of each stakeholder.

“The incentives [for NPOs] are increasingly going to be about impact demand and their ability to be market driven, [whereas] incentives in government departments and corporates will often focus on process – because process is easier to measure and understand.”

He alluded to the lack of knowledge and awareness of the internal mechanisms from each sector, saying that this often creates blockages in the relationship. “Bureaucracies are excellent shock absorbers and brake pads but lousy accelerators,” said Koseff.  It is advisable to consider the system that organisations are working within for the most effective results. He gave three tips for creating alignments and unblocking relationships specifically with government. First, be clear about what it is you are trying to solve and that all involved understands how it is going to be done. Second, to work out the resource path (what is the money for? stipends, computers, facility requirements, etc.) and lastly, to consider other funding avenues available that allow the organisation’s sustainability.

It is Koseff’s view that government needs to become better at simplifying and leading partnerships by stating the types of impact it hopes to see. Building partnerships will result from said simplification because the system will be demystified, so getting organisations to buy into co-investing in development will become easier. He added that by demystifying its systems, government can ensure that everyone operating within the system isn’t going to be co-opted into unethical behaviour. It can lessen the attractiveness of corruption.

To simplify processes, mitigate risks and curb corruption, Koseff said that government can digitise processes to make them easily accessible and available in more places. He recommended making single forms on a single point of contact. Koseff used the ambitions of the Gauteng Provincial Government as an example. The department has been trying to create a single contact platform where the above is possible. Platforms, he said, can make it possible for alignment around common available and understandable data in order to foster relationships and to make places that need interventions more visible.

IMAGE: Flr- Jak Koseff (Gauteng Provincial Government), Samantha Barnard (Phambano Technology Development Centre), Thabang Skwambane (Conference chairperson), Rudi Matjokana (Vodacom)

Article written by Khumo Ntoane

Photo taken by Cobus Oosthuizen