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Training social entrepreneurs

The Inyathelo Philanthropy Awards have once again highlighted the role of philanthropy in South African society. They revealed inspiring examples of individuals who have become passionately involved in South African institutions and civil society, from small beginnings to ambitious programmes such as NOAH and SAEP. The Awards included a university Vice Chancellor who took a substantial salary cut to provide for a bursary fund; a family where the parents and all four children are financially committed to making things work in South Africa; a woman who used her family car to ferry people to hospital when there were no ambulance services; a lifetime philanthropist who has over many years continued to support innovation, particularly in the field of health; a young man who gave everything he had from his own small business to help refugees in need – and so it goes on. Those individuals that make contributions to our non profit organisations and anchor institutions such as universities are the start of a continuum of activism that begins with a match between a philanthropist and an organisation, eventually leading to change in the lives of the people who benefit from the funding and the activity.

This whole continuum – philanthropist, activist and beneficiary – is part of a social justice framework in our country. They are linked together in an effort to change society for the good. On occasions philanthropists themselves establish organisations that take their ideals forward whilst there are other instances of evolving partnerships between individuals and like-minded organisations that complement the values that drive their common interest and passion for their causes.

How do organisations and individuals connect? This is always the conundrum for both philanthropists and activists. The traditional fundraising method of writing a proposal hardly works for the foundation or corporate sector, let alone individuals. Funding an organisation requires the development of trust on the part of the philanthropist that the money will be well managed; that it will be used as intended and that the contribution adds value to society. How do individuals who want to make a contribution find their way to those organisations that could be the perfect partner? There are attempts to do this through the internet, but at the cost of personal connectivity and the inability of organisations to follow through with the individuals concerned to grow the relationship.

A real long-term sustainable relationship between a philanthropist and the causes he/she supports has to be built on awareness, interest, trust and confidence on the part of both parties. This can only come about when there are inter-personal relationships and when the philanthropist is invited to observe what the organisation is doing, see and feel the participation and buy-in of the beneficiaries whilst clearly sharing a value system with the organisation concerned.

It is the issue of values that drives the non-profit sector and is the key difference between it and the for-profit sector. Whilst significant resources are being made available to build local business entrepreneurship, government and the donor community should also be exploring supporting initiatives that train people how to run non-profits and programmes that change the world for the better. The sector does not have well trained people as most of them start off their careers as activists with a passion for a cause. There are some outstanding, exciting and innovative initiatives in South Africa’s non-profit sector that are being run by young and dynamic people who have no idea how to sustain these initiatives and how to run an organisation. Whilst there is substantial support for young business entrepreneurs, these social entrepreneurs fall through the gaps. What they do also creates jobs (there are hundreds of thousands of people employed in the non-profit sector) but these jobs come with a values-based consciousness of our society and outcomes that are of benefit to many. What better place for a donor to invest funds? This is the type of work that the South African Institute for Advancement (Inyathelo) and other organisational capacity development organisations do. Social investment in this type of work helps to create systemic change – building social entrepreneurship with its concomitant value base is critical to cementing our democracy.