Are We Helping the Helpers?


Nonprofits are at the coalface of addressing challenges such as creating job opportunities for the 52% unemployed youth; providing early childhood development amidst one of the worst education systems in the world; working alongside communities with some of the most violent gangs in the world; providing support and health care services to a country with the highest HIV prevalence rate in the world; advocating for human rights in a country divided by racial tension, failed service delivery and state capture.

Over the years, Impumelelo Social Innovation Centre has established itself as an incubator for unearthing a plethora of homegrown and readily available social innovation solutions – African solutions to African problems. We have uncovered solutions to waste management, water and sanitation, health and disabilities, which are now recognised as international best practice models.

Increasingly, the world is turning to nonprofits as a source of innovation in solving social problems. And it seems as if social innovation in the nonprofit sector is booming. The question is where and under which circumstances are these innovations sparked? Not necessarily from leaders in government and institutions as one might think, but quite possibly, it comes from the desperation of nonprofits to address urgent needs within the communities they serve. Anyone that has served within rural communities in South Africa, will understand the desperation and powerlessness one feels when dealing with the complex and multitude of issues that these communities live with on a daily basis.

Something that we at Impumelelo has come to learn is that innovation does not mean reinventing the wheel and sparking up new ideas. True social innovation comes from how available resources, organisational skills, and forward thinking meet in order to achieve the greatest impact possible.

Many organisations find innovative solutions and are able to implement them with a clear strategy. Unfortunately, too many organisations fail at combining innovation and financial sustainability. One of the many reasons for this is that nonprofits are not equipped with the proper skills and strategies to implement new ideas and solutions. Another reason is the trauma and burnout, which prevents nonprofits from being pro-active, innovative and sustainable.

Entrenched in the most vulnerable and at-risk communities, they often are the first responders to traumatic events and volatile situations. Apart from daily trauma and pressure to increase their social impact, they further struggle with ever-changing socio-political-economic circumstances and financial sustainability.

As the nonprofit sector has proven itself as essential for continued social and economic growth, the development of a sustainable sector should be a high priority for all nonprofit, business, private, government and non-governmental stakeholders alike. In the 2015/2016 financial year, 20 592 nonprofits were registered. In other words, on average, 82 organisations are registered on a daily basis. The problem is that funding is drying up in South Africa and the notion of donating for “goodwill” has long passed. Investors and philanthropists want to contribute to sustainable innovations with great social impact.

Our nonprofits have proven their worth and we know that they can come up with the solutions for lasting change. But a fundamental change in the donor dependency crisis is crucial if we want to see the sector thriving, rather than barely surviving. This shift needs an enabling and supporting environment, where the necessary skills are instilled in our nonprofit leadership. We need investors in capacity- building to strengthen our nonprofit sector’s financial sustainability.

It is for this reason that ISIC’s commitment is to help the helpers.

We do this through services such as Monitoring and Evaluation, Master Class Training and Sustainability Consultation. A Social Innovation Awards programme, where we unearth and promote social innovation solutions to Africa’s social problems, underpins these services.

We invest in the helpers that care for South Africans. Do you?