The case for giving
This paper was supposed to be about reporting. I was supposed to tell you about what constitutes an effective report, and how both donors and their NGO partners can use good reports to help maximise the impact of their work.
“Impact”, of course, is the dominant topic of discussion in corporate social investment (CSI) in South Africa, including at Tshikululu, and for several positive reasons: donors increasingly want to align their CSI to the National Development Plan, companies are ever more invested in the country’s educational and health outcomes, and there is a growing consensus that it is not good enough just to be doing some good.
As a result, there is a great deal more discussion about “performance” and “accountability” and how they contribute to greater and more tangible development outcomes. This is an important and constructive conversation, and a clear sign that South African companies are taking the “investment” in CSI more seriously. But I have decided I’m not going to write any more about that than I already have.
I’m going to write about giving. Just giving.
More specifically, I am worried that with our growing fixation on “development outcomes” and “unlocking change” (jargon that, truthfully, I use a lot) we may run the risk of forgetting about the small, grassroots service organisations that still deserve our respect and support.
I often think about the Helen Bishop Orthopaedic Aftercare Home in Kimberley. While there are hundreds of small organisations like it around the country, the Helen Bishop Home has the distinction of being the only facility in the Northern Cape that provides residential care for children with severe disabilities. The men and women who work there have some of the most challenging, emotionally rending jobs one could imagine: caring for small children who suffer from serious disabilities, including many who are doubly-afflicted by HIV/AIDS or who come from a history of abuse and neglect. And they perform those jobs with unsurpassed grace, compassion and professionalism.
While the Helen Bishop Home does receive government funding, it has for years relied on the generosity of private funders, including the De Beers Fund and the Anglo American Chairman’s Fund, for its modest survival.
The Helen Bishop Home is not, and never will be, a development organisation.
It is not going to foster future engineers, it is not going to create sustainable livelihoods, it is not even going to transform the way that disability care is delivered in this country. Its year-on-year “performance” will never increase faster than the capacity of its beds or the dedication of its nurses. Its draughty hallways are nobody’s idea of “innovation”.
But it is providing a worthy and essential service to a community, and to people who badly need it. Its value, to the country and to its donors, is purely intrinsic.
But there is still substantial value there. While the Helen Bishop Home may not hold the key to South Africa’s economic competitiveness, it is the embodiment of the ideals that we all aspire for this country to represent: compassion, humanity, dignity and a place where the most vulnerable are a little bit less so.
South Africa’s corporate donors are becoming savvier development actors, better attuned to global best practice, and relying more on reporting and analytics to drive decision making. In turn, they are fostering a more robust NGO sector that is more impact minded and performance oriented. These are, undoubtedly, positive trends that should substantially and constructively impact on the country’s development.
But don’t forget about the Helen Bishop Home.
In its original Greek roots, the word “philanthropy” means “the love of humanity”. If “social investment” rightly comes with all sorts of conditions and expectations and reporting requirements, perhaps there is still some small space for philanthropy, which comes with none of them.
Let’s not lose sight of the Helen Bishop Home, and of the hundreds of important, virtually anonymous organisations like it across South Africa. While their development impact may be unquantifiable, they are still worthy of your support – and without it they may disappear. Even South Africa’s most innovative corporate donors could set aside a small amount of their budgets simply for carte blanche giving, with no performance indicators, no reporting requirements, no programme evaluations – simply to support good organisations that do good work.
Simply for the love of humanity.