Development through (em)power(ed) relationships

Part 3: Power to

Recently Tshikululu has been assisting some of its clients to invest in initiatives that drive more purposefully towards definable impact and even achieve systems change.  These clients are not satisfied merely addressing symptoms when they could be tackling the underlying causes of the challenges society faces.

We are excited to be broadening the scope of what social investment can entail in South Africa: from advising our clients on investments into the country’s first social impact bonds to driving policy change in early childhood development (ECD) through high-stakes partnerships with other donors (to name a few).

However, as with building a school, it is the collaboration between a range of different stakeholders that holds the promise of truly sustainable impact.

Academics and practitioners across the globe have been giving a lot of attention to the idea of collective impact over the past decade[1].

Tshikululu has been very fortunate to help design and manage a few initiatives that we classify as collective impact; initiatives where we invite key stakeholders to gather behind a common objective, while “making the circle bigger” to meaningfully include others.

The Jala Peo Initiative, a project which Tshikululu assisted one of its clients in co-creating with the Department of Basic Education, is one such initiative. It has taken five years to do the ground work, lay the foundations and carefully build the social infrastructure to enable this multi-stakeholder collaboration to take effect. It is still early days, but the first shoots have broken through the soil and there is growing excitement for the future of this initiative.

Jala Peo (Sesotho for “plant the seed”) is about unlocking the resources (inputs, equipment, skills, knowledge and expertise) that are already in communities and directing these in a coordinated way to support schools in its precinct to establish and maintain school food gardens that are then used as outdoor learning laboratories.

The Jala Peo Initiative holds that:

1. every school is entitled to enjoy the quality learning benefits of using an outdoor learning lab

2. the resources for this are already in the local community;

3. a school food garden is not about farming for produce (the National School Nutrition Programme has sufficient budget to buy nutritious food for non fee-paying schools) but about teaching learners about nutrition, natural science and the practical application of knowledge (e.g. maths, history, language); and

4. every stakeholder can contribute something to the initiative and must also benefit something. A local agricultural college can offer soil analysis, but also gains placement sites for its students to do practical field work. The municipality is aided in meeting its mandate of ensuring all schools have access to water. A district health department official is aided in directing the limited school nutrition support budget more optimally (in one district, the education department didn’t even know that the health department had such a budget allocation).

In acting on behalf of one of our clients, we’ve played the role of influential champion, using our networks and relationships to:

    • secure memorandums of agreement with three provincial education departments;
    • enlist the necessary implementation capacity and expertise;
    • convene meetings of stakeholders representing the public, private and civil sectors in three pilot districts;
    • enable the establishment of one Jala Peo Forum per district: a circuit-level forum of stakeholders who meet regularly and give direction to the initiative in support of schools in that area; and
    • enable the deployment of a Project Coordinator to support the Forum in giving effect to its plans and programmes.

The Jala Peo Initiative is already active in the Sibasa Circuit of Vhembe District in Limpopo and in Circuit Five of the West Coast District of the Western Cape. It is about to roll out in the Fezile Dabi District in the Free State. However, we are already learning that we are needing to connect with another sense of power to change/improve.

Social investors can leverage their collective power to bring about change in systems, but in collective impact we also need to find ways of leveraging the collective power of a much broader range of stakeholders, who do not all have the same sense of agency. Unlocking this sense of “power to” within each stakeholder is key.