Chronicles of Cape Town Embrace #5: Back to the drawing board

After the second round of consultation, this time with potential participants in the programme, DGMT CEO, David Harrison and Mark Gamble from Educo Africa decided they were ready to pull together a group of people to thrash out the nuts and bolts of how the initiative could work: “We had chewed on the idea for three months. We identified the challenges, why it won’t work, why it could work, why we should do it, why possibly we shouldn’t do it – we now wanted to get everybody who is interested in this project, that we had previously interviewed around the table to say how can it possibly be implemented and start to outline and implementation plan”. Thus, on the 12th of April (2013) a group of about 15 to 18 people came together in the DGMT boardroom to talk about the implementation plan, to discuss what was at the heart of the initiative and to thrash out in a lot of detail what the “connection” envisioned for the project really was.  Members of the board were also invited to participate in the meeting: “Three of our Trustees sat for the whole day thinking about this project and I think that was very important in leading to their ultimate support for it,” says David.

Specific conversations that happened during the meeting:

  • What does the connection between two people, a care giver and a connector giving support to a child, looks like? What support could be provided and what institutional support would be required?
  • How would such support be structured through faith-based and secular organisations? How would these organisations be supported in turn?
  • How could this network of champion organisations be created to keep the project alive?
  • How can we develop a nucleus or hub that would generate ideas, provide much of the material support and ensure that the network is being created?
  • How do we deal with the tough issues around dependency, patronisation etc?

After this meeting David felt ready to present the idea formally to the Board of the DG Murray Trust. He decided not to take the development of the project any further until they had the blessing of the Trustees, except for one thing, he approached the Editor of the Cape Times, Alide Dasnois, and said to her (in his own words): “Look – arising out of your challenge to us here is the project, we’ve done it – will you come on board as well? And she certainly committed to providing editorial support and coverage. Then it struck me that we could add value to the Cape Times while furthering our own objectives for early childhood development and for this project by supporting a specialist early childhood development journalist in the Cape Times. I presented that idea to her, she jumped at it and that proposal was accepted by our Board.  So while the idea is not to have an embedded journalist focused just on this project – and there is no quid pro quo for our financial support – certainly I think that having a journalist is going to create the space for us to profile the children of Cape Town in a way that has not been done before”. The proposal/motivation for the Cape Town Great Potential Project was subsequently written and sent to the trustees electronically and included in their Board packs to ensure that they had enough time to think about it.

Then came the distribution meeting and one of our Trustees was still not convinced.  David summarises the main objections: “It was felt that the project was too ambitious, that the outcomes were too uncertain, the concept itself was too fluffy to really take root and should not be supported”.  At this point of the interview for this article, I had to interrupt David – having been there I remember the encounter as being quite intense. As an extremely intelligent and wise person who really cares about the issues and programmes that we deal with, the objecting Trustee is highly respected by all of us.  As I listened to the arguments for and against, my own mind was see-sawing with every intervention:

Argument for:  [Me]“Yes, yes that makes complete sense – this is going to be fantastic

Argument against: [Me]“Now that is really a good point, I wonder if David had thought about that?”

Argument for:  [Me]“Absolutely – good answer… I should have thought of that.”

Argument against: [Me] “Wait a minute… if that is true, there is a chance that we will be doing more harm than good.”

Argument for:  [Me]“Of course that is so true also – we should definitely do this!  Wow this is exhausting, when is tea time?”

Etc.

So I had to ask David: “Did these objections ever make you doubt? Was there ever a point when you felt maybe this could not work?”  He answers: “No, but that may be my problem. Certainly based on our experience of social mobilisation in other programmes, I believe that that this is an eminently viable project. It’s hard work, it’s much more difficult to explain and understand than the easier programmatic concepts, but it really is the issues around social fabric that are the hidden underbelly of many, many of the problems in our communities and we’ve got to find a way to articulate them. For me what is exciting about this project, in fact what gives it potential, is the fact that the implementation is possible, but the outcome is still uncertain. What it is intended to do is to provoke discussion about these difficult issues in communities and to find ways – new ways that are not polarising.  It is not about the state versus NGO, it is about us as human beings, all of us, finding a way to overcome the divides and create connections. But I don’t know how this is all going to evolve, and I find that quite thrilling. It will throw up a lot of the issues around relationships in our community – and that is actually ultimately what this initiative is about.

Back to the Board’s decision: While it was acknowledged that this was a high risk project, the general sense from the other trustees was that the issues at stake are so compelling, and so central to the future of our country, that we have to apply our minds to it even if we are not sure of the intervention. They felt that we’ve got to find a way to try it out and that it will evolve over time.  David says: “For me just thinking of the evolution of the DG Murray Trust, I think it was a real landmark moment because it positioned the Trust in a place that very few foundations are willing to operate in – dealing with issues that have uncertain outcomes; that even have an uncertain evolution of intervention, but recognising that the intractable problems of society are those that we don’t have ready answers for and need untried ideas to be explored. 

Thus, with an initial grant of R1 490 000 the Cape Town Great Potential Project had the financial backing to get going.  In our next article we describe the first critical step – establishing the hub.  

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