Civil society is at a crossroads on a global level and no less so in South Africa. Funding is limited and highly competitive, and relations between civil society and the state are often complex and challenging. Solidarity within the civil society space is also limited, in part because of these dynamics.
At the same time, the importance of a strong, principle-led civil society (and strong CSOs) is clear. A context of spiralling corruption, state capture and a wide range of systemic (social, economic, political, cultural) ills all seem to call for the kind of innovative and human-centred responses that civil society is well-positioned to offer.
Leadership, in general and as a concept, is in crisis. Most recent news reports provide abundant evidence of this; signs of failed leadership on the global and local stage are plentiful. Within this broader context, the particular spark for LEGACY was the fact that many leaders of progressive South African CSOs – mostly formed in late-stage Apartheid or early in the democratic era – are now preparing to retire or to move out of their organisations for other reasons. This is a natural process and will create space for necessary transformation in the sector. However, it also presents a range of risks and challenges.
In small-to-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the departure of a valued leader – especially, a founder – can herald a crisis, for both leader and the organisation. It is often a difficult transition, at human and organisational levels. Poorly managed transitions have been known to kill organisations or, more often, damage them in ways that reduce their effectiveness in the short- and medium-term.
The majority of South Africans are stuck in an inequality trap with wealth concentrated in the hands of a few. Most are stuck in intergenerational loops of exclusion with few chances to escape. Breaking this cycle requires a fundamental change in life trajectories, starting in the womb.
Think of a Möbius strip – just one twist in the circle allows you to trace a completely different pattern. Instead of being stuck on the inside of a loop, you emerge on the outside. In the same way, escaping the inequality trap requires a fundamental twist to set South Africa on a new path.
Organisations are often reliant on the leader’s identity and presence. If we support organisations and their current or incoming leaders to be well-prepared to manage transitions, we can reduce the negative impact of transitioning leaders on the sustainability and effectiveness of these organisations.
The programme takes transitioning leaders through a process that helps them to prepare for transitions for the benefit of the organisation and civil society as a whole. The programme aims to grow and expand the service to more civil society organisations in the years to come.
Trying to change life trajectories is ambitious and profound. It requires us to radically influence the lives of individuals and to be part of changing the circumstances in which they live.