One of the major frustrations of any CSI manager is knowing who to partner with on which project. Covid-19 has exposed so much about CSI in South Africa; both the lack of collaboration between CSI funders, and the ignorance of CSI managers about the nature of the NGOs they partner with.
A corporate recently partnered with two NGOs for the delivery of food parcels across the country, each revealing different strengths and weaknesses. Observations about their different modus operandi gave rise to some interesting discussions, during which we learned something about the theoretical framework – what one might call the ‘phantom’ framework – underpinning development foundations.
Some NGOs are strategists, and some are implementers, and it helps to know the difference.
Strategists tend to be the NGOs with the names – the Nelson Mandela Foundation, for instance, or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. These people are the brains of development work; they revel in the creative process, always generating new ideas, establishing connections or finding new ways to get tasks done. They plan development work, set the tone and direction for the use of funds, identify risk factors and are generally able to provide clear monitoring and evaluation frameworks after funds have been disbursed. They’re good administrators, too – they have great systems in place for planning, reporting and assessing.
However, strategists are usually not great implementers. Ask them to package and deliver 5000 parcels in 72 hours, and you might find them spending the first 12 hours meeting local leaders, shaking hands for photo ops and posting news of their activities all over social media. They’re making valuable connections and getting the word out, but the real work is not being delivered!
Organisations like the Imbumba Foundation and FoodForward SA are the ones to call when you want the hard graft done. There are many others (Gift of the Givers comes to mind, but they’re both strategists and implementers). Implementers get things done. They will load five huge trucks with tons of groceries, travel 1 200 km at a snail’s pace and, after arriving at a community in need, get to work immediately. They will unload the trucks, repackage the groceries, and set out to deliver, door to door, until the last parcel has been personally handed to a family in need.
Indeed, CSRNEWSSA saw the Imbumba Foundation in action. Their small team delivered 5000 parcels in 72 hours under trying circumstances. They were not interested in meeting local leaders or posing for photos – they wanted to get the job done, and they did.
Recognise the strengths of each
Frustration arises when we do not recognise the strengths and role of each kind of organisation. Those implementers we admire so much may be less adept at planning – the strategy may change frequently, especially during a crisis. They may fail to come to your attention because they’re not good at marketing what they do, and they may be quite annoyingly poor at communication.
And those strategists – they have a great vision, and one that needs to be imparted, but they may really need to acknowledge and work more closely with local implementers. Call on them when you want an overall strategy, connections with a multitude of other, smaller NGOs and effective reporting on the use of the money you disbursed through them. The Barak Obama Foundation and the United Nations itself are strategist organisations. We need them – and implementers need them, too. They in turn, need implementers.
Frustration only arises when we expect the wrong things from the organisations we’re dealing with. As a CSI manager in your company, get to know the NGOs and foundations you work with. Make use of the strategists as partners in planning and using your funds optimally, and get to know the implementers on whom you may rely to get tasks done. Work with both, and do your research, so you know the kind of strengths to expect, and the weaknesses to work around.