A platform for transformation

 

Louise Driver

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A country-specific philanthropy infrastructure organisation with a defined role to transform philanthropy in South Africa.

In a country in dire need of transformative change, the Independent Philanthropy Association South Africa (IPASA) serves as the only organisation of its kind in South Africa. Our vision is to be a key influencer and facilitator of the transformation, promotion and growth of independent philanthropy in our country. Since our establishment in 2015, we have actively fostered a diverse and inclusive community of members with unique perspectives, experiences, and ideas, recognising that this diversity is essential to achieving our mission and creating a lasting impact on society. Our members span a broad spectrum, with some established as far back as the 1930s and others having been in existence for only a few years.

Despite the perception that some may be classified as ‘old white capital’, we have a diverse mix of members that include representatives of new wealth and black empowerment. Members range from large funders to modest contributors, with some funding both within and beyond South Africa’s borders while others focus solely on local projects. We also have a blend of traditional and innovative funders, including those who push boundaries and attempt to disrupt the status quo. These apparent differences are exactly what invigorates IPASA and empower us to challenge funders to think critically about their practices and how they respond to the challenges facing philanthropy globally.

In South Africa, a country with a complex history and compounded social problems, the challenges are further exacerbated by the impacts of the pandemic and recent climate-related disasters. It is, therefore, understandable for funders to be overwhelmed by the magnitude and complexity of the issues they aim to address. Simultaneously, independent funders must navigate the tension between acknowledging past criticisms of philanthropy and striving to improve their funding practices, dealing with power relations, and equitably managing impact. As a country-focused member association in Africa, IPASA creates a unique platform for funders to share experiences and learn from one another; to curate and co-create knowledge; to network and identify collaborative partners, and periodically reflect on our actions and influence. The boundary of this space is porous, welcoming other stakeholders from the non-profit sector, government, academia and beyond to contribute their insights and perspectives to convenings. Through multiple formal and informal partnerships, IPASA also exposes its members to a wide range of roleplayers in the broader philanthropy and development sector within South Africa, Africa and globally.

As already noted, South Africa’s history is a complicated and often painful one. When IPASA discusses shifting the power between funders and implementers and the communities they serve, we also delve into the topic of trauma. We explore how trauma affects our work, and how funders can be mindful of unintended consequences of their engagement – because in our context, philanthropic power relations are intertwined with history. Additionally, we support our members in determining the most effective approach to addressing climate change within the context of South Africa where decarbonisation, though crucial, is not a straightforward solution. We need to consider the risk of massive job losses in a coal-dependent energy sector, in a country with massive unemployment and a large portion of the workforce lacking the necessary skills to immediately benefit from a carbon-free economy.

Collaboration is a key focus area for IPASA, as we strive to encourage and stimulate joint efforts among our members. Pooling resources, scaling up initiatives based on tested models, and fast-tracking innovative solutions are supported by IPASA’s collective effort. We promote cross-sectoral and multi-faceted initiatives where some social problems become solutions for others. For example, collaboration between funders, government and civil society can create wins for an under-resourced education system and for unemployed youth; and initiatives that repurpose waste materials for educational use can achieve a dual objective of responding to climate change and supporting access to quality education for all learners. We strive to influence and facilitate good practices and transformation in philanthropy, but catalysing real change can be difficult.

IPASA, as an independent organisation, cannot guarantee that funders will change their practices or funding priorities, and even when change occurs, it may happen at a slow pace. We are, however, seeing positive signs, as the feedback from IPASA’s 2022 Annual Symposium shows, where participants shared how the Symposium made them rethink their previously held positions, become aware of the need to be more courageous and to push the boundaries in their own organisation. Other comments after the Symposium included that participants have learnt to think differently about how they engage with communities and grantees. IPASA recognises that achieving its vision of transforming the philanthropy sector will require sustained effort, and ensuring the organisation’s sustainability is a crucial aspect of this endeavour. A steady increase in membership, high member retention rates and an increasing ability to attract funding for our initiatives from our own members and other philanthropic funders, as well as a progressive strengthening of key philanthropy partnerships, are significantly contributing to IPASA’s sustainability. IPASA remains committed to supporting South African philanthropy in finding real and contextually appropriate solutions to the unique challenges we face. We will continue to work towards this vision, fostering collaboration and encouraging critical reflection to bring about meaningful change in the sector.

Louise Driver is the Executive Director at Independent Philanthropy Association South Africa.


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