Demand for services leaves NPOs struggling

Unemployed Melville residents collect food parcels from the Viva Foundation, funded by various generous individuals as well as local businesses at Baptist Heritage Church, 11 June 2020. Picture: Tracy Lee Stark

Business and government should include NPOs in a proactive and participatory way as we shape a post-Covid-19 South Africa, says Bam.

With the impact of Covid-19 rippling through the economy with disastrous effect, the livelihoods of non-profit organisations (NPOs) are under threat at the very same time as demand for their support is rapidly escalating.

A world without NPOs is “unimaginable and untenable, particularly when we need to address issues of social justice and socio-economic inclusion,” said Dr Armand Bam, head of Social Impact at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB).

“The principles of dignity, equality and freedom to participate in all aspects of our society, as enshrined in the South African Constitution, are under threat. We live in the most unequal society in the world and the Covid-19 pandemic will do much to entrench this divide.

“We are proactive as a nation when it comes to developing policies for upliftment, but we struggle to implement, monitor and hold to account the efficacy of these policies. While businesses act as suppliers of resources and government as a protector, it is NPOs that are the proverbial glue that binds us and ensures delivery of social justice goals,” he said.

“The socio-economic inclusion of many citizens in our economy is already under threat and the coordinated effort between institutions and policies influencing productivity within our economy has been hit hard by the extended period of lockdown.

“Products and services from South Africa are less attractive than those in 59 other countries (The Global Competitiveness Report 2019), and as a result there will be less money available from the government through its tax collection efforts to support NPOs and promote socio-economic inclusion and justice for its citizens.”

He further argued that since we live in a society, not in an economy, businesses and government should pay attention to what happens with the non-profit sector.

Bam said that “the new normal” had thrust NPOs into a crisis where expectations to deliver support to citizens and communities were escalating during lockdown, while many were left wondering where the support to ensure their survival would come from.

“As a result, something fundamental in the fabric of our society is being tested – the social contract that exists between NPOs as project implementers, and business and government as suppliers of resources and grants.

“Traditionally this contract has been maintained through the moral agency of NPOs and their willingness to act at a cost well below what the market and government would deem viable for themselves. But this is now under threat as businesses across the country are suffering losses they had not anticipated, and invariably their support to NPOs will be curtailed.”

So, why should business and government care what happens to the sector?

“NPOs are important for upholding and ensuring democracy and social justice. Their recognition as a key partner alongside the public and private sectors must be acknowledged and supported. The resilience expected of the NPO sector and their ‘do good nature’ has been impacted in a similar manner to the private sector. Social distancing has played a role here. It is time for businesses and government to join hands with NPOs and treat them not as beneficiaries but as part of transformational partnerships that move beyond the transactional.”

Bam concluded that business and government should include NPOs in a proactive and participatory way as we shape a post-Covid-19 South Africa.

This article first appeared on Lowvelder and has been republished with permission.

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