Resourcing Philanthropy Is Guiding SA Development

Ask any development practitioner what the toughest thing to navigate in the sector is and they will mostly likely say funding.  Dig even deeper and you will see that the said issue is not the unavailability of funding. Yes, the sector has seen some significant funding cuts in recent months but there is still a considerable amount of resources going to the sector. The dilemma facing organisations, especially beginners, is finding the right funding partners as this can make all the difference, not just for the reserves of an organisations but its very soul.

Resourcing Philanthropy, a web-based platform profiling humanitarian efforts and developmental initiatives in South Africa, is helping organisations and activists make the most of the wealth of networks and funding partners available to them. The Resourcing Philanthropy website hosts information, experience and insights from grant-makers, non-profit organizations and philanthropists in South Africa.

Resourcing Philanthropy Profiles SA Funding Partners
Resourcing Philanthropy is helping connect development practitioners in SA to the right funding partners. Photo: Resourcing Philanthropy

A great component about Resourcing Philanthropy is that its approaches are based on Asset-Based Community-Driven Development perspectives and practice. When choosing initiatives and funding partners to highlight, Resourcing Philanthropy functions around four approaches namely, 1. Margin to Center, 2. Advocating Change, 3. Risk With Vision and 4. Responsive Collaboration – concepts that ABCD practitioners are familiar with. This means that they put the emphasis on communities and their aspirations and assets rather than put development and communities at the mercy of funders to serve as marketing for them in exchange for cash.

Development is not merely about monetary wealth, shiny facades on infrastructure and technological symbols to replace “the old.” Resourcing Philanthropy understands this. Yes, access to knowledge and things to make life easier might be part of development, but they are not the end goal of the process. A lot of poor communities’ land, resources and even rights have been sold to multi-nationals by their governments in exchange for shiny material symbols that are supposed to equate development. Ecological systems have been disrupted, children and women exploited in factories and heinous abuses against human and animal rights shrugged off by governments and proponents of development in the name of development.

The focus is then on what communities initiate or want to start. Through this perspective, funding partners supplement or partner in equal, fair relationships with communities rather than drive community initiatives.

Resourcing Philanthrophy also prepares organisations on ways to manage not only the funding when they get it, but also their work through a series of In Actions.

Lessons From Daliyah the 4-Year Old Librarian

Imagine a preschool-aged child reading a thousand books before setting foot in an actual school, or a preschool for that matter. Four-year old Daliyah Marie Arana has accomplished this and is already looking to influence other preschoolers to do the same through a program called 1000 Books Before Kindergarten, an initiative started by Daliyah’s mother Haleema Arana. Haleema set this target for Daliyah (who had almost reached it by 3 years of age through her hunger for books) to which she happily obliged.

Daliyah Arana, the 4-year old Librarian
Daliyah Arana, the little librarian, at the Library of Congress with Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress. Photo: Shawn Miller

Daliyah’s accomplishment, a feat so extraordinary for obvious reasons, is a reminder and a sort of consolidation for us overwhelmed, disillusioned and cynical adults who have been meaning to write that book, step into our lifelong vocational dreams or do something with that kitchen space. It is indeed possible – whatever it may be or whoever we may be.

Not to minimise Daliyah’s achievement (not many people can claim to have read their first book by themselves at 2 years and 11 months and tertiary-level texts at 4), nevertheless, a moral all of us who might not be exceptionally gifted can take from young Daliyah is whatever we are dreaming towards is dependent on the effort and belief in our reach.

Daliyah’s story recalls an observation Jesus made about little children in Matthew 18:3 where he said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus was referring to children’s reckless abandon and assured approach to living. Fulfillment to little children comes from them being allowed to do what they feel a pull towards at a specific moment. It is not in whether their scribbles measure up to be framed with the landscapes on the wall or even what tools are available to them for their project. As long as they are able to do what their little hearts tell them to do, they are content.

Daliyah has now been invited to the Library of Congress, America’s national library, and has even served as librarian of the day in her hometown. It is in moments like this where we are reminded that our talents, worthiness and dreams are not affirmed by external approval or acclaim. Sometimes we have to ease off on rationalising the joy out of our passions for the sake of adulting. Victory and fulfilment – the kingdom of heaven, so to speak – are in the abandon of simply doing and believing.

Institutions Acknowledging Young Women

Earlier in the year, South Africans were greeted by the news that the KZN government through the Department of Education would be giving out sanitary pads to poor and rural school girls in that province for the entire school year. As important as this announcement was for poor school girls and their families across the country, it was also a victory for girl children and young women in South African institutional spaces who have had to exist unacknowledged.

KZN Sanitary Pad Drive for School Girls Shines Light on Institutional Spaces
The KZN Department of Education made a historic announcement in early 2017 that has shone a light on the rights of girls and women in SA institutional spaces. Photo: @ANCKZN Twitter.

The KZN sanitary pad initiative is not the first of its kind. There have been several similar campaigns conducted by NGOs and individual activists across SA throughout the years, with some of these receiving some media and public attention. Some universities have also been involved with a few men’s residences at Rhodes University having recently contributed to getting pads for female residences. However, what is often missed in initiatives addressing class, access, gender and even race is the importance of institutional recognition of marginalised people.

In some cases, this oversight is not due to a lack of awareness. Many organisations and activists who worked in development and have had engagements with government-led institutions have been disillusioned and turned off completely from the “infiltrate and influence change from the top/inside” approach. This distancing of activism from bureaucratic influences has spared development practitioners from selling out, having their work, intentions and reputations tainted, exploitation and other negatives force attached to the establishment. However, this position has also made it somewhat difficult to influence tangible change as in the “real world” institutions hold the power.

Because of this disillusionment, the relationship between activists and the powers that be has been reduced to a drawn game of chess. Marginalised people then become tools to be used at the convenience of institutions that feign progressiveness and activists who want to win moral high ground standing over them.

Rather than demanding our institutions to be decent and humane, we are demanding that they expose themselves as morally inferior to us concerned citizens, activists & Co. This has hurt causes we care about as institutions have been able to get away with doing the bare minimum and be applauded for it as progressive. Politicians, preachers and other public figures who have not done any discernible thing for marginalised people are hailed as progressive for the mere mention of women’s rights or poor people’s issues. By keeping institutions at an angry distance, we have come to demand and expect amenities more than observance of rights and opportunities and performance rather than decency.

The KZN example has shown that we expect too little decency and humanity from our institutions so much that simple acts of decency from institutions are translated as progressiveness. Instead of simply demanding resources like pads, quotas or other surface-level services be given to marginalised people, the acknowledgment of their humanity and unique experience(s) should be prioritised to cultivate more meaningful and sustainable change.

It is almost unheard of for governments and public institutions (even the more liberal ones) to acknowledge women’s experiences and factors (biological or otherwise) that affect their existence and advancement in public spaces negatively. An Oxford study conducted in 2009 showed that most girl’s first awareness or teaching on their  menstrual cycles came from being mocked by their peers rather than the institutions they look to for guidance. This part of young women’s experience is rarely acknowledged by schools, churches or their families.

Government departments, schools, churches and workplaces acknowledging young women’s experiences will have a greater impact than superficial institutional gestures like “Take a Girl Child to Work” and quotas. How are girl children going to wholly aspire to get in or take over these institutions if they are told at school level that their bodies are not welcome, are a liability or objects of shame and abuse? Institutions like churches, schools and even government have a bigger hold in people’s decisions and views on themselves. Despite our valid reasons for distrusting institutions, we must persist in ensuring that our institutions reflect and acknowledge everyone in our communities.

Perseverance in Development is Key

Perseverance is a virtue in all aspects of life. Human beings put in labour, emotional investment and their limited time in things and ideas with the hopes that their belief in those particular things will one day be vindicated – hopefully in their lifetimes. This cannot be any truer for development. Perseverance in development is as essential as the noble ideas – ideas like equality, community, fairness and peace – we call upon to inspire us to action.

South African development practitioners and our democratic government have invested heavily in the idea of equality, especially racial and economic equality. The country has made great strides in the former but is still lagging greatly in economic equality with SA being considered one of the most unequal countries in the world.

It would seem that with all that has been invested in our country’s democracy and reducing the gap between the poor and the rich, eliminating this form of inequality is an impossible task (at least in this lifetime) considering that the problem has in fact multiplied. Well, a farmer in claustrophobically industrialized mainland China has proven that man-made giants like structural inequality and the agents that oppress the poor are far from indestructible.

Perseverance in development: Chinese farmer, Wang Elin waited persisted for 16 years to tackle corporate giant
Perseverance in development: Chinese farmer, Wang Elin persisted for 16 years to tackle corporate giant. Photo: The Daily Dot

Wang Elin, a sixty-something-year-old Chinese farmer, decided to take on a multi-million dollar corporation in court on behalf of his village. It had been discovered in 2001 that the corporation polluted the village’s water source for a several years. Wang decided to study the law and confront this giant even though he had only three years of formal schooling. This process took Wang almost two decades – sixteen years to be exact.

In addition to farming and taking up this task, Wang had to acquire expensive law books and even get interpretive devices and dictionaries to convert some of the inaccessible legal terms to his native language which did not even have some of the concepts.

Wang and his village were finally able to file a lawsuit in 2007 which was only processed in 2015. Thanks to Wang’s hard work and unwavering dedication, the villagers won the first round of the case decided earlier this year.

Perseverance in development is key. Although this might not be necessarily true for the overwhelming majority of good doers and development practitioners, well-intentioned people are seldom there for the long run like Wang is. People who do good usually attach their good work to familial ideals – ideals that sadly have no real pull outside of “my mother/father taught me to be kind and honest” anecdotes.

Yes, positive ideals and values move us to take action for positive change. However, development requires us to go beyond what makes us feel like good people and follow through on our convictions. We have stop using the “as long as my conscience is good” excuse when we give up or fail to follow through on our convictions. We have to be courageous enough to overlook our egos when the prospects for Nobel Prize recognition seem distant or even unattainable due to mounting challenges. As development practitioners, we need to “screw your courage to the sticking place” as Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth says and tackle what we feel impassioned about.

Creating African Legacies of Women Empowerment

Doing away with old or long-accepted unjust ideas, practices and sometimes, figures, is like taking a monster out of the sea. The village people being terrorised by this mythological giant will most likely not do as much as form tools to remove it from existence. Citizens will be banned from mentioning it if the tone and content are anything but respectful or fearful. The enforcement of the monster’s reign of terror on the villagers and the observance of acts of tribute will be imposed by some of the most respected members of the group, making deviance (even in its most respectful forms) unthinkable.

However, in almost every tale of ill-treatment and repression of the human spirit, the emergence of a brave and just figure(s) to “awaken” the people is inevitable. Africa, with its history-rich landscape filled with tales of overcoming and rebirth has a multitude of such examples. This is where our heroine, chief and patron of women empowerment and poor people’s rights, Theresa Kachindamoto, comes in.

Chief Theresa Kachindamoto of Malawi
Chief Theresa Kachindamoto of Malawi marked her administration by outlawing child marriages. Photo: Hannah McNeish/Al Jazeera

Empowerment ideologies are sometimes hard to root in the global south or “third world” countries due largely to distrust of Western, colonial perspectives and the violence associated with them. Politics of women empowerment are also especially difficult to foster in these landscapes because of deliberate, sometimes ahistorical attempts to re-center the identities of racialised men after colonialism.  However, distrust of white influences is seldom the sole or main hindrance. Often, oppressive leaders and powerful figures whose legacies and wealth have been built on oppressing their own people fight tooth and nail to maintain their exploitation and abuse.

ENTER OUR HERO

Chief Theresa Kachindamoto, our brave and noble hero, is the traditional authority head of a group of villages in Malawi’s Dedza district. Chief Kachindamoto came into her position after being told by her family of chiefs that she had to leave her job as secretary at a city college and take on the role of senior chief in Dedza district. She obliged, not knowing that she was profoundly to change the lives of many young girls and women in Malawian villages.

A firm advocate for women empowerment, the new chief resolved to begin her administration by focusing on the overlooked and exploited young women of rural Malawi. Chief Kachindamoto was met with countless images of abused and discarded young girls, a reality she, as someone who had grown up in a Malawian village, was familiar with. Teenage girls, as young as 12, were married off by their impoverished families who were looking for financial relief through these marriages and sometimes, just a way of letting go of an extra mouth to feed.

Malawi was ranked 8th out of 20 countries that have the highest child-marriage rates in the world in 2012, with half of the country’s young girl children married before their 18th birthdays. In addition to this, young girls were also forced to enter sexual initiation camps to prepare them for marriage. The girls would be raped by the teacher to “graduate”.

WOMEN EMPOWERMENT IN THE LAW

The chief committed herself to only pushing for a law forbidding child marriage [this was passed in 2015] but to also overpower the traditional leaders under her jurisdiction who were adamant these abuses should carry on under the guise of tradition. She then ordered that the villages in Dedza terminate all child marriages. However, child marriages still persist in some pockets as Malawian customary law, as stipulated in the constitution, allows children under 18 to marry through parental consent. Although a noted benevolent and consultative leader, the chief made it clear to her sub-chiefs that the issue of the girls’ rights to safety, self-determination and empowerment was not debatable.

VICTORY

The response from the families and traditional leaders to Chief Kachindamoto’s decision was almost violent. There was a lot of backlash – most of it amounting to death threats. Many refused to comply because they thought it was an attack on their traditions. Some parents felt that the chief was taking away their hope of a financial payout by sending girls to school rather than preparing them for marriage. Despite the hostilities,  the chief was persistent, stating “I don’t care, I don’t mind. I’ve said whatever, we can talk, but these girls will go back to school,” she says. She eventually got her 50 sub-chiefs to sign an agreement to abolish early marriage under customary law. Chiefs who did not comply with Chief Kachindamoto’s orders were fired and reinstated only when they complied with the orders.

In a space of three years, the chief was able to end 850 child marriages. The chief also committed to funding sponsors and personally paying for Malawian girls to attend schools. She also deployed people to check whether parents were not secretly removing girls from school. More importantly, she partnered up with powerful female figures in Malawi – MPs and other professionals – to show the girls what is possible for them.