What will bring about the next real change in our country?

Extracts from our Annual Report 2014

What will bring about the next real change in our country? This is a question that South Africans are asking more and more. It would be a mistake to view it as an essentially political question, intended to show up the present government or promote a party-political alternative. Yes, political accountability is part of it, but the real answer is a lot simpler – and a lot harder. The real answer is… “us”. We will bring about the next real change in the country. Each and all of us.

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Ironically, the robust engagement in national Parliament reinforces the notion that there’s little that we as citizens can do in the face of power-politics; that our best option is to get behind political strongmen and women of choice. But it would be a mistake to concentrate our hope in the few individuals in the glare of the media. Parliamentary processes are essential, but we should also recognise the enormous value of civil society, business, trade unions and unsung individuals in shaping our common future. As we head towards the municipal elections in 2016, the hurly-burly of party politics will only intensify. We – in government, civil society, business, trade unions or as individuals – cannot become paralysed spectators. We must declare what we can do to bring about the next real changes in our country – and work to achieve them.

Social innovation happens in bumps. John Kingdon says that change happens when three ‘policy streams’ converge, namely clear problem identification, viable policy alternatives and political commitment. His framework focuses on policy, but as any savvy South African would tell you, we generally have “good policies, but poor implementation”. Thus, in addition to policy streams, we could identify three implementation ‘practice streams’ that also need to converge for real change to happen, namely proper planning, efficient processes and effective people.

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Every year, the Board of the DG Murray Trust spends four days together visiting projects that we can learn from, listening to people who help us understand the impact of our funding. We have crossed rivers barefoot to visit rural communities, sat locked up with prisoners in correctional facilities and dined with government leaders – all with an eye to ensuring that our next investments make an even greater difference. These visits remind us that there is a wide network of active and committed people, working hard to improve the lives of people across South Africa. Many of them work through civil society organisations, and in fact, the non-profit sector is one of the largest employer groups in the country. The value of the non-profit sector – as an employer, service provider and innovator – is unfortunately downplayed, as government is often positioned as the primary driver of socio-economic change. There are change drivers in government, as there are in business and civil society. One of the challenges we experience while visiting programmes is how little active collaboration there is across these sectors, and how much hidden benefit could be unlocked through smarter, better coalitions for change.

A second concern we witness is how great projects are often hamstrung by small obstacles, such as late payments from government departments for social services provided on their behalf by non-profit organisations (NPOs). To the NPO or supplier involved, these are not small matters and can lead to bankruptcy, with the resultant loss of services to the community. There are other unnecessary administrative constraints that also weigh down service providers. At a time in our country when the need is so great and we don’t have the financial resources to expand services significantly, improving the efficiency of administration should be a national priority.

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In 2014, the average percentage mark for Grade 9 mathematics in the annual national assessments was 11%. We should not succumb to panic and grab at every quick-fix remedy; but neither should any of us – government, trade unions, the business sector nor civil society – hold ideological positions that close our minds to potential solutions that could emerge if we all worked together in different ways. We also need to focus on factors outside of the formal school system that could substantially improve educational outcomes. That is why we put so much time and money into early childhood development and the national reading programme – Nal’ibali. Imagine how educational outcomes could be improved if all our children entered Grade R with both the ability and love of learning!

None of us is an expert navigator of processes of change. We all keep learning through the experience of our implementing partners. We know our mission – to make a dynamic and fundamental impact on the lives of people in South Africa. We know our destination – a country in which everyone can reach their full potential. But every day uncovers new territory, which makes the journey of learning exciting. Thus, cognisant of the magnitude of the task and our own limitations, we declare that we join others in lifting our hands to help bring about the next real change in South Africa.

What do you declare to do to help create the next real changes in our country?

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