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Magda Hassan
04-05-2010, 10:50 AM
"I sit on a man's back; choking him and making him carry me and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means -- except by getting off his back."
—Leo Tolstoy
"The agenda of grant-making organisations is the agenda of capital. It is an agenda that is designed to make negative effects of capital more bearable rather than to reform the system by which capital is created."
—James Murombedzi -- former Ford Foundation program officer in South Africa (1) (http://www.swans.com/library/art16/barker46.html#1)
(Swans - April 5, 2010) Money talks, but who it talks to and whether they listen is another matter entirely, although that said most people's ears are more receptive to the piper's tune when financial resources are scarce. In South Africa grinding poverty has been a common feature in the majority of their citizens' lives, so external funding has often fulfilled a critical function in supporting the day-to-day activities of many progressive reformers and revolutionaries. Consequently, given the role that foreign philanthropists played in facilitating the formal end of apartheid it is vital to understand the influence, if any, that their monies exerted on the evolution of South Africa's political sphere. An integral part of such a political project involves identifying the leading financiers of social change, and as this article is concerned with the funding of progressive activism, the focus of the ensuing analyses will be on the interventions of liberal foundations in African affairs.
Thankfully, research examining the effect of liberal philanthropy on social change in South Africa has already been undertaken in a Ph.D. completed at the University of Witwatersrand; but unfortunately, despite the relevance of this work to progressive activists, very few people are likely to have read this unpublished dissertation. The study in question was completed in 2005 by Moyo Bhekinkosi and was titled "Setting the Development Agenda? U.S. Foundations and the NPO [Non-Profit] Sector in South Africa: A Case Study of Ford, Mott, Kellogg and Open Society Foundations" (University of Witwatersrand, 2005). This article will summarize the main findings of Bhekinkosi's doctoral thesis, a study that filled a notable lacuna in South African history by investigating the influence that liberal foundations have wielded over development priorities in South Africa. To begin with, however, it is useful to highlight the study's main conclusions:

The research found that many civil society organisations (CSOs) depended on international donors, in particular, foundations, for their operations. There was little mobilisation of resources from local citizens. The result was that CSOs were vulnerable to donor conditionalities and agendas. The four Foundations reviewed and their selected beneficiaries show that most CSOs were not sustainable. If donors withdrew their support, most CSOs would curtail their work, close down or lose their vision and mission. In some cases CSOs changed their missions to follow the money although changing contexts and demands were also relevant factors. Lack of sustainability for CSOs and their greater dependency on international donors made their agendas questionable. It seemed to make them more accountable to donors than to the constituencies they served. (p.ii)
Read the rest of the article here: http://www.swans.com/library/art16/barker46.html

Magda Hassan
04-05-2010, 11:17 AM
This thesis discusses the impact that the Ford, Mott, Kellogg and Open Society Foundations had on civil society organisations in South Africa in setting development priorities. The thesis tested first, the hypothesis that donors set the agenda for their grantees. Secondly, the thesis tested the assumption that aid facilitates grantees’ submission to donor interests. And in the process grantees lose their identity and focus. The research found that most of civil society organisations (CSOs) depended on international donors, in particular, foundations,for their operations. There was little mobilisation of resources from local citizens. As a result, CSOs were vulnerable to donor conditionalities and agendas. The four case studies and their selected beneficiaries show that most CSOs were not sustainable. If donors withdrew their support, a number of their grantees would curtail their work, close down or lose their vision and mission. In some cases CSOs changed their missions to follow the money, nevertheless, changing contexts and demands were also relevant factors. Although lack of sustainability for CSOs and their greater dependency on international donors made their agendas questionable, it also provided independence from internal political interference. CSOs also appeared more accountable to donors than to the constituencies they served. The Kellogg Foundation insisted that organisations had to toe the line to implement the Foundation’s agenda or risk losing funding. George Soros of the Open Society Foundation also called the shots. He set the agenda and his Foundations implemented it. This showed the power of direct intervention by a living donor who operated as a Programme Officer for all his foundations. The question of donor-dependency is closely linked to that of leadership. A number of organisations with good leaders attracted many donors. However the increase in donors, did not sustain these organisations, instead it made them vulnerable to many different donor demands. Thus, donor diversification was both an asset and a threat. However, good leadership prevented CSOs from collapse from lack of transparency, accountability and effectiveness. A temptation to ‘want to look like donors’, a process that is called ‘isomorphism’ by DiMaggio and Powell (1991) characterised many CSOs resulting in them losing their identity, mission and vision. There were positive aspects that international Foundations achieved in supporting civil society foundations. The Open Society Foundation worked to open up closed societies. It supported efforts that aimed at fostering democratic ideals, rule of law, social justice and open societies. The Ford Foundation supported efforts that strengthened civil society, promoted social justice and democracy. The Mott Foundation strengthened the capacity of the non-profit sector by developing in-country philanthropy. And the Kellogg Foundation supported community initiatives that aimed to tackle the causes of poverty. A negative development; however was that Foundations cultivated the culture of receiving rather than giving among their grantees. For this reason, the thesis suggested the development of ‘community philanthropy’ to sustain the non-profit (NPO) sector. Community philanthropy has the advantage of mobilising resources from domestic sources and taping into levels of social capital. Building on domestic sources would encourage a bottom up approach to development. I argue that local self-help initiatives such as stokvels, burial societies and saving clubs could serve as bases for the sustainability of the non-profit sector which suffered from donor dependency, unsustainability and poor leadership. Such an approach would make development ‘people-centered’ and encourage social responsibility among citizens to support their NPOs and its development initiatives.