19 December 2017 | Tracey Henry CEO |
As each year draws to a close, I take some time to contemplate the opportunities, challenges and growth points of the past 12 months, before shifting my focus to the year ahead.
There are many ways in which I could describe 2017 – it all depends on which lens I select and the topic up for discussion. I choose not to single out the economy, politics or a specific developmental sector, although they are often interrelated and all impact our lives in some way.
Rather, let me reflect on the activities of social investors during the past year. In this instance, social investors refer to private funders who support initiatives aimed at addressing improved educational outcomes, alleviating poverty, supporting employment opportunities, providing access to basic services such as health and welfare initiatives, the advancement of our democracy, and the preservation of our heritage and environment, among others. It includes funding for corporate social investment programmes, skills development spend in terms of the B-BBEE Codes, and empowerment trusts established to benefit broader black economic empowerment.
It has always been the case that investors have endless choices when it comes to deciding on which initiatives to support, and this year has been no different. If we responded to need alone, we would be overwhelmed. If we only responded to models that demonstrate proof of concept, we would never innovate and explore new opportunities. If we adopted a hands-off approach, we would never build partnerships. If we dictated what needs to be funded without consultation, we would be missing out on a vital part of any development framework – engagement and buy-in. If we did not invest in monitoring and evaluation, we would never know if we are making progress and would miss the opportunity to learn from our mistakes. If we did not share lessons and engage in dialogue as social investors, we would be denying access to information that could benefit other funders and the development landscape of South Africa. If we only supported the big bang, systemic interventions, we could miss out on the opportunity to build on short-term gains. And if we turned a blind eye to the fact that there would always be vulnerable, homeless and hungry children in our communities who are not reached through government interventions, the plight of these children would persist, and opportunities for them to flourish and reach their potential would never be realised.
Social investors, regardless of the size of their financial portfolio, will always have limitations. Deciding on what the end state looks like, and how to get there, should be a deliberate process of informed decisions backed by sound developmental principles, many of which are described above.
Social investors also require sound governance and ethical frameworks to guide their decisions. Much has been said during the past year about corruption, fraud and unethical behaviour, and the social investment sector and implementing development partners have not been immune to this. Making well-intended and deliberate investment decisions that do not result in the desired development outcome happens. However, decisions or practices based on unethical and corrupt motives require the highest sanction. Regrettably, accounts of investors and NGOs that have made decisions which have not been for the public benefit, but rather self-gain and greed, emerged during the year. The process to address and remedy such behaviour is long, frustrating and sometimes with no proper penalty. As investors and development organisations, we need to keep our ears to the ground, demand transparency and always be guided to do wat is right.
Social investors need to develop robust governance and risk management frameworks. These are often perceived as onerous and against the “spirit” of giving. But social investment is not about giving. It is about backing initiatives that have a deliberate vision and clearly defined outcomes, involving financial resources and an investment in partnerships that should focus on transforming lives and increasing opportunities to advance. Social investment is not simply a random act of kindness; rather, it is a considered decision to propel people forward.
Looking ahead, the development landscape will not change significantly in 2018, but hopefully we can take a few significant reflections from 2017 to enhance our decision-making for the benefit of the communities we ultimately serve and support. May we continue to be guided during 2018 by informed and deliberate strategies that are focused on positive social impact and a commitment to always do what is right.