Poverty and inequality are among the defining social issues of our time. To address these challenges, an engaged civil society comprising a range of stakeholders across the socioeconomic spectrum is needed. This, however, has not been the case in South Africa. According to Trialogue’s annual research into the state of corporate social investment (CSI) in South Africa, in 2017 less than 1% of CSI went to the social justice sector. The need for additional support for social justice is echoed by many in civil society who say that CSI has not done enough to tackle poverty and inequality.
Incorporating social justice into both corporate and non-profit development strategies was the focal issue of the panel discussion, facilitated by Bongiwe Mlangeni of Social Justice Initiative (SJI), at The Trialogue Business in Society Conference 2018. The discussion also considered how sustainable relationships can be fostered with communities and societies at large, for lasting change.
A framework for funding social justice
Driven by its core mission to support social justice, SJI provides grant funding to social justice initiatives across South Africa and has developed a framework that is designed to facilitate the selection and support of grantees. As Mlangeni explained, there are four fundamental aspects to the SJI’s grant-making framework. Firstly, it looks at whether a given social justice intervention tackles systemic issues and, consequently, will be able to effect structural change. Linked to this, the framework seeks to establish whether issues identified by the initiative are rooted in power dynamics, as well as the extent to which the intervention will contribute to the protection of vulnerable and disadvantaged people. A third dimension assesses how redistribution will be made possible through the intervention. Final consideration is given to whether the intervention is designed to restore the dignity of beneficiaries.
Lessons from Equal Education’s learner transport campaign
To illustrate how the framework for funding social justice can be applied in practice, Ntshadi Mofokeng from Equal Education – a non-profit organisation that focuses on educational rights and equality in South Africa – shared an example of a successful social justice campaign carried out by her organisation.
In 2014, Equal Education began a campaign to ensure children from Nquthu in KwaZulu-Natal had access to transport. This was against the backdrop of a district in which only 15 out of 500 schools provided scholar transport at the time. Without safe government-subsidised learner transport, young children were walking long distances to get to school, putting them at risk of violent crimes such as sexual assault and robbery. In addition, walking long distances left learners vulnerable to erratic weather conditions such as heavy rains and cold winters, increasing their risk of falling ill and, in turn, missing school.
Following the diagnosis of the problem, programming was developed based on the specific lived experience of the community of Nquthu. In order to identify potential blockages and risks to the campaign, Equal Education looked at budgets and retained legal advice. It was only after this that it began engaging government to seek clarity and gather further data to strengthen the campaign.
The intervention by Equal Education was underpinned by a clear framework and principles and driven by explicit objectives. As a result of the work done by Equal Education, the Department of Basic Education eventually provided buses to learners in Nquthu through a conditional grant provided by National Treasury. In addition, a national policy on scholar transport was put in place. The success of the campaign in Nquthu constituted a major win for Equal Education and illustrates how social justice can be effective in creating individual impact, as well as systemic change.
It can take a long time before social justice campaigns yield results
As conference delegate Lunga Schoeman from Shoprite highlighted, it can take a long time before social justice campaigns show results and it is important for both non-profits and their supporters to keep this in mind. Though the success of Equal Education’s campaign brought great relief to people who had been involved in it, the fact that they had to tell their story over and over again and perform their suffering for the media should not be ignored. Schoeman also raised the point that it can be difficult to make a business case for long-term interventions, as corporates need to report to their boards in the short-term. It may therefore be a good idea for social justice initiatives to break longer term projects down. Engagement with government, research output, media engagement and training of young people are some of the indicators and milestones that could also be used to assess the performance of long-term campaigns.
A member of the audience mentioned that she found the presentation by Equal Education very helpful in that it made it easier for people to understand the importance of looking at both policy issues and the day to day needs of disadvantaged groups. This was affirmed by Mlangeni who reiterated that Equal Education’s approach adds perspective on how corporates can get involved in social justice. This includes participating in resource moblisation and openly engaging the media – even on difficult topics.
Written by Connie Huma, edited by Zyaan Davids
IMAGE: Bongiwe Mlangeni, CEO of Social Justice Initiative, facilitates session on development strategies for lasting change.
Image © Brett Eloff