To BEE or not to BEE
Not everyone can say that they love what they are doing for a living. If you are indeed one of the fortunate few who can’t wait to get to the office every day, well done. You are probably living your calling. To the rest, do what you need to do and find purpose outside of your work life. Ok, attention back to me. I love what I do. Being involved within the non-profit sector for a number of years, I really got to experience a whole lot of different dimensions to doing what you love doing.
I have experienced pain, tragedy, horror and the ‘not so nice’ things of a society that lives in poverty a few times. While these negatives was part of my work life, there are also amazing stories that I can tell about people that transformed themselves, living healthy, meaningful lives in spite of all their challenges. Stories here, was the essence of understanding a day in the life of someone working at an NGO or non-profit organisation.
PEN (the NPO I’m working for), is doing amazing things. Rendering much needed services around healthcare, education, skills development, community support and outreach on many other levels. Truly I am blessed to be part of their picture. Today however, I was a bit disappointed. Disappointed in the fact that a discussion about funding came up and realised we don’t have sufficient BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) candidates to qualify for funding. Are you also asking this small yet so big question? Why?
You see, in order for a non-profit to keep supporting our vulnerable communities, we need to access funding for those services. Funding that keep learning material on the program for young toddlers in our Early Childhood Development program, bandages, medication and ARV’s to be used to keep people alive or that vehicle that we need to drive to collect donations from passionate donors.
Foreigners and refugees are a big chunk of our beneficiary base and therefore we need to look at ways to grow our funding base. This is the big catch 22 situation. Do we render services ONLY to South African (BEE) beneficiaries and tell foreigners sorry, you will not get ARV's because our funding only allows for South Africans? Or do we keep to PEN’s philosophy that identifies with the vulnerable, not the BEE vulnerable, THE VULNERABLE!
I’m pretty sure that this is not just a PEN problem, but a challenge to every NPO operating in South Africa. We simply can not stop services to people who are not South African. Why do corporate South Africa deny us funding then? Simple, they need to adhere to BEE legislation. If you aren’t BEE enough, you simply don’t make the cut. I’m not just talking here about being white (sorry, had to say this), but to foreigners who are seen as not BEE. So where do we need to start changing things then? Do we have to reach high ranking politicians to lobby for change that will benefit the NPO sector? Do we ask corporate South Africa to speak out and challenge legislation? Or do we as NPO’s simply adjust our funding strategies? The latter sounds the easiest and is probably.
The reality here is that within the South African context, refugees and foreigners need help, they need services and their numbers are growing more each day. Do we refuse the helping hand of corporate funding, yes, sometimes we have to. My voice here isn’t one that want to bash corporate social investment (CSI) funding, but rather a “hey, do you realise we need your help and there are a few ridiculous strings attached to your funding” message. The worlds of donor and receiver need to merge. We need to understand each other’s challenges and we need to raise our hands and say, “help me understand” when things doesn’t make sense.
Selective funding, will mean selective caring. Discarding unworthy beneficiaries from services is not what I signed up for, when I opted for a work life in the NPO sector. I want to tell the stories of Joe from Zimbabwe who was living on the streets, that is now a manager in a health practice, or the story of Given, a South African, that became and entrepreneur and earning a decent living, or Grace from the Democratic Republic of Congo that are rendering Early Childhood Development (ECD) education to BEE AND foreign toddlers giving them a head start in life. If you are reading this and your company offers a CSI program, please challenge the status-quo, please raise your hand and ask critical questions on selective funding that results in selective caring. In the end we are now caring and supporting potential customers and clients that will buy from your company when they are grown up, so why not help us now to change lives and transform hearts that dream of a better life. PEN will keep supporting our communities that needs help, whether they are BEE, white, Zimbabwean, Mozambican, Kenian, Rwandian and I would even go as far to say an alien from Mars! Ignite change, heal communities and nurture each individual, that’s what we believe and that’s what we are going to keep doing. - Janthinus Schrage