The Learning Lunch podcast explores ideas, approaches and social innovations – creating opportunity for non-profit organisations’ teams to discover what others are learning and space to reflect on what these insights might mean for their own strategy and programme implementation.

Civil society is made up of thousands of different actors with varying degrees of formality. These actors play different roles in society; some look long term at broader structural issues, others are focused on short-term goals, such as ensuring access to food relief.

These organisations have different strategies for engaging with government depending on their objective. Some focus on holding government accountable and transforming the state by rattling the status quo. Others play more of a collaborative role to boost government’s capacity.

Given the composition and size of the sector, civil society can be relatively quick in responding in times of crisis with a nuanced understanding of community needs. Whereas governments are large and slow bureaucratic entities with onerous legal and administrative obligations. The ongoing challenge in the working relationship between government and civil society is that too often government prefers to treat civil society exclusively as a service provider instead of a partner for innovation.

In this podcast we explore whether there is a ‘sweet spot’ to working with government, particularly for those organisations supporting government’s capacity. Our guests, DGMT’s Senzo Hlophe and Professor Shafika Isaacs, Associate Professor of Practice at the University of Johannesburg, talk about their experiences of dealing with government during the height of COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.

Senzo Hlophe is DGMT’s former Director of Strategic Operations. Before his current role, Senzo held several positions within the DG Murray Trust, engaging with different government departments and role-players. He was also involved in the Early Childhood Development (ECD) employment stimulus programme.

Professor Shafika Isaacs is a digital learning specialist and Associate Professor of Practice at the University of Johannesburg. She has worked with the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT) – the organisation set up to strengthen partnerships between civil society and government in the basic education sector – to develop the Remote and Digital Learning Investment Portfolio.

Here are some complementary bites to make your meal even tastier

Explore our Learning Brief that explores the lessons learnt from the working relationship between government and civil society during the pandemic. This is the second Learning Brief that stems from DGMT’s contribution to the government-led South African COVID-19 Country Report. Sixteen key respondents from the food and education sectors were interviewed for this project between June and August 2021. Five high-level insights are observed from these conversations, and five recommendations are proposed.


DGMT’s CEO Dr David Harrison wrote a book during the pandemic detailing our work with our partners, including government. Learn more about the book, Harnessing the Thunder here.