This opinion piece by FPA member James Taylor was published in the Cape Times on 2 September 2013
AS OUR fledgling democracy takes shape, critical decisions are being made that will define the role civil society plays in building a flourishing country The final wording of the Lotteries Amendment Bill, the subject of parliamentary public hearings this month, will reflect such choices.
In the larger tussle between the private and public sectors to influence and shape society the contribution of the "third sector" is easily overlooked and often misunderstood. Around every aspect of social and community life there are voluntary organisations of citizens coming together to pursue common needs and interests and counteract exclusion.
This voluntary association of citizens is the foundation of the third sector referred to here as civil society Civil society initiatives often start informally and over time gain momentum and formalise into local, national and even global organisations. They range from small interest groups coming together to meet a gamut of personal needs to broader shared community needs such as childcare, health issues, education, housing, and care for vulnerable groups. Civil society also pioneers new fields of thinking and activity as it has in the arts and sciences, in the liberation, human rights and environmental movements.
In order to play its role effectively in providing the dynamic wellspring of citizen engagement and agency required for a functioning democracy, civil society needs resources. In South Africa, the funding patterns have changed radically over the past ten years. The civil society sector has been hit by a triple whammy. The vast migration of international funding to countries perceived to be more in need; the global economic meltdown of 2008; and inexperienced and often self-serving local funding mechanisms in the public and private sectors, have collectively had a devastating impact.
As organisations have grappled with the stark realities of diminishing funds, three options have presented themselves. One is closure — an option that has already been inescapable for many
The other two broad options to avoid closure are either to move closer to business or to the state. Increasingly strategic choices are veering towards either becoming a delivery agent for programmes and priorities of the state — or moving into the burgeoning, exciting world variously described as social business, philanthrocapitalism or social entrepreneurship.
Some of the more formal and established civil society organisations are valuable in assisting the state to deliver to those most difficult to reach, and penetrating new markets for business. Civil society organisations are helping formal business penetrate previously inaccessible parts of society Those organisations that are repositioning themselves in relationship to those who control the resources of society are of value because they are different. They keep the societal system responsive and vital because they bring the creative energy of unmet need from the periphery of society
Those who control the resources have the power to starve this crucial, yet often challenging, creative societal impulse. The options being considered in the review of the National Lotteries Act must be measured against their impact on supporting and promoting the unique contributions that civil society organisations have to make. There is a seemingly irresistible temptation for those in power to draw all that is of value into their employ
There is a danger that the funds distributed by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund will be used to "co-ordinate" the efforts of civil society in implementing the National Development Plan.
Government departments have adequate (often underspent) budgets to subcontract willing and able civil society organisations to assist in delivering on national priorities. For civil society to deliver on its core creative societal function it needs sources of funding that understand its purpose and support its own priorities. The national lottery should be one such source. Any attempts to further centralise, control and co-ordinate the allocation of funds towards government priorities should be countered.
Taylor is a member of the Funding Practice - a group of organisations including Inyathelo: The South African Institute for Advancement, the Social Change Assistance Trust and the Community Development Resource Association that works to develop, promote and support effective funding practice within the non-profit sector