Funding social justice

Social justice work advocates for public and private accountability, equal access to Constitutional rights, improved service delivery and the strengthening of democracy. During the anti-apartheid movement, social justice was robust, calling for the abolition of racial discrimination and the promotion of the rights of women, workers and other vulnerable people. “Today, social justice projects in South Africa concern themselves with economic justice, public participation and socio-economic rights, accountability and improved access to services in a range of sectors.” This, according to the Social Justice Initiative (SJI) – a South African NPO that partners with philanthropists and civil society organisations to raise funds for social justice and advocacy initiatives.

A panel at The Trialogue Business in Society Conference 2017, featuring renowned social justice advocates, discussed the state of the sector in South Africa, as well as why, and how, companies should support social justice and advocacy.

Shared humanity

Bongiwe Mlangeni, CEO of SJI, spoke about the need for a significant mind-shift. “We always speak about ‘the marginalised’. The reality is that 90% of people in South Africa are vulnerable. It is, in fact, the 10% who are privileged in this country – they are the marginalised.” Mlangeni further cautioned that, when ‘the centre’ – the vulnerable who are in the majority in this country – explode, it will impact all South Africans, including the privileged minority. She cited the recent public angst, caused by uncertainty about the South African Social Security Agency’s ability to issue grant pay-outs to vulnerable South Africans, as an example of a potential crisis that – had it not been averted – could have led to a revolution. Mlangeni says that “social justice is about more than advocating for Constitutional rights – it is about our shared humanity; Ubuntu.”

Current state of social justice funding

RAITH Foundation funds non-profits that work to address systemic injustice. Programme Director at the Foundation, Dugan Fraser, said that the organisation spent R70–R80 million per annum on issues of voice, agency and rights; building a capable state; transparency and accountability. He and Mbongiseni Buthelesi, of The Public Affairs Research Institute, explained that most of the funding for social justice work comes from foreign donor agencies but that this support is declining, and that the sector is struggling as a result.

Fraser went on to say that “funding social justice is profoundly uncomfortable”, since it compels the funder to confront issues of historical injustice and privilege.

Panellists could not think of any company currently supporting social justice and advocacy. Fraser said that the reluctance of companies’ (that often tender for state work) to damage their relationships with government could be a reason for their avoidance of the sector.

How and why companies should support social justice

Mlangeni believes that companies could get involved in and support social justice in various ways that don’t always have to be political (and therefore considered particularly high-risk). She said that corporate South Africa could play a crucial role in enabling access to rights such as education and employment.

Mark Heywood, Executive Director of SECTION27, explained that social justice is about more than demonstrating; it is about bringing change to, and ensuring transparency and accountability in the public and private sectors. He echoed the fact that companies were failing to support social justice and identified three main reasons why they should, viz: the realisation of social justice creates additional value in society; the currently low trust and confidence that society has in business needs to be restored; it serves business to progress society.

Session facilitator and Trialogue Director Cathy Duff, asked panellists if taking money from the private sector was problematic and could skew social justice work into lobbying. Heywood said that he had been concerned about this when funding became available from Goldfields. After much internal consideration and conversation with the company, he took the money when it was agreed that no restrictions would be placed on how it was used.

Social justice – pro-government?

Contrary to popular thinking, Heywood said that social justice work could in fact be pro-government. SECTION27, for example, works well with the Department of Health – examining which Constitutional rights to access to healthcare are not being met, and helping to facilitate solutions.

Monitoring progress and measuring success in the sector

Corporate donors often want to know what the return on their social investment is. This becomes especially complicated in social justice work, as it is difficult to attribute societal shifts directly (and exclusively) to related campaigns and initiatives. Panellists drew from their own experience to offer alternatives to this linear approach to monitoring and evaluation.

Fraser underscored the need for strengthening relationships between donors and organisations receiving their support, and encouraged both parties to consider new ways of sharing information, telling stories of impact and harnessing the reach of social media.

Heywood referenced SECTION27’s approach which, for example, looked at the amount of value that was unleashed through donor funding that enabled improved access to antiretroviral drugs.

Partnerships needed for holistic social justice

In response to examples of ‘on the ground’ initiatives that are driving Constitutional awareness and education, an audience member commented that “you can’t eat rights”. The panel agreed that this is where cross-sector partnerships become imperative – social justice and advocacy organisations should go about the business of educating the masses about their rights and responsibilities in society, while corporate South Africa should help to invest in and address issues of unemployment.


Session hosted in partnership with


  • Bongiwe Mlangeni, SJI
  • Dugan Fraser, RAITH Foundation
  • Mark Heywood, SECTION27
  • Mbongiseni Buthelezi, Public Affairs Research Institute
  • Cathy Duff, Trialogue (Facilitator)

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2017-12-04T18:37:46+00:00 June 5th, 2017|Social Licence to Operate|