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The role of NGOs in Africa: are they a force for good?

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Non-governmental organisations have become key actors in responding to poverty and related suffering. In Africa, NGOs play a leading role in providing health care and education.

The non-profit sector continues to grow rapidly in Africa and around the world. In South Africa alone, there are more than 100,000 registered non-profit organisations and in Kenya the number of NGOs grew by over 400% between 1997 and 2006. And for most observers, they seem to be well-intentioned actors who do a lot of good on the continent.

But NGOs also have their detractors who argue that they are receiving growing amounts of donor aid, but aren’t the most suitable actors for really improving people’s lives.

The cases made against the NGO sector

Some critics also insist that the neo-liberal policies advanced by powerful international actors have limited the influence of the state and that NGOs have benefited as a result.

Neo-liberalism is an approach that favours a smaller role for the state in the economic arena. Advocates believe that the market and other non-state actors provide better services than governments.

Since the 1980s, international financial institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, have forced indebted African states to reduce public expenditure. This has encouraged the flourishing of non-state actors like NGOs.

While both local and international NGOs have benefited from this move, African states have been less able to access international aid. This undermines their sovereignty and places African people at the mercy of donors.

NGOs are also criticised for their focus on technical solutions to poverty instead of the underlying issues. So, for example, an NGO might provide water tanks for the poor without addressing the power imbalances that resulted in some having water while others don’t.

Another criticism is that NGOs are more accountable to their funders than those they serve. Because they are largely dependent on funding, their projects are crafted in line with donor preferences instead of those they supposedly represent.

A final criticism relates to the fact that NGO workers tend to be foreigners or local elites. Instead of empowering local populations to organise themselves, NGOs provide employment and a sense of purpose for elites with degrees in subjects like development studies.

Can NGOs fix Africa’s problems?

There’s much truth to these criticisms. But does this mean that NGOs have no role to play in Africa’s struggle for poverty and injustice?

A recent collection of articles titled ‘NGOs and Social Justice in South Africa and Beyond’, which I edited, brings together the voices of NGO workers, academics and social activists to consider this question.

The contributors raise a range of interesting ideas like how radical change can still be achieved. Can profound changes be made while working within existing structures and organisations?

Firoze Manji, who has published widely on the topic of social justice, defines what freedom really means. He makes a distinction between “licensed freedoms” and “emancipatory freedoms”.

Licensed freedoms are achieved “within the system”. As such they improve lives but don’t dramatically change power dynamics. An example can be drawn from the apartheid era when activists convinced the state to make some concessions for black South Africans.

In contrast, emancipatory freedoms are about bringing about a new order. An example would be when people manage to defeat an oppressive state entirely.

Manji argues that NGOs empower people to attain licensed, rather than emancipatory, freedoms.

Pushing for social change

But NGO workers might rightfully argue that it isn’t so easy to distinguish between working within the system and working against it.

When an NGO teaches people to read, for example, this new ability might empower them to challenge things they had previously accepted. Learning this new skill might enable them to act in new, more empowering ways. So the achievement of a basic skill can enable populations to achieve emancipatory freedom.

Another example is brought out by Tshepo Madlingozi who is the advocacy adviser to the Khulumani support group in South Africa.

He shows how NGOs and social movements fighting for radical change have been able to use the courts to gain small victories.

Court victories are often hollow. For example, in the Grootboom case in South Africa Irene Grootboom won a court struggle against eviction, but ended up dying homeless eight years later.

But court struggles can draw attention to the plight of ordinary people and mobilise and unify those working towards certain radical goals.
In this way the use of “the system” – in this case the courts – can help support the struggle for emancipatory freedoms.

Ashley Westaway, manager of an education NGO and a contributor to the collection, makes a case for providing basic services and technical assistance as a means to give an organisation the credibility required to advocate for more radical, structural change.

Perhaps the correct approach may be to let go of the idea that choices within the NGO sector are limited to either maintaining the status quo or pushing for a revolution.

Perhaps, as is the case with some of the most dynamic NGOs, workers need to operate in the cracks of the current system in ways that challenge injustice and open the door to new possibilities. Other actors, such as governments and social movements, have very important roles to play, but this doesn’t mean that NGOs can’t contribute to pushing for social justice in Africa.The Conversation

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NGOs - SDGs

Sahara Group Leverages Transformative Innovation For Sustainable Performance

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Sahara Group Team (Source: Sahara Group)

Sahara Group, an Energy Conglomerate has released its 2019 Sustainability Report which reflects its commitment to achieving its corporate goals and creating shared value for stakeholders through economic development, protection of the environment and building a sustainable society.

Tagged ‘Transformative Innovation’, the report highlights how Sahara continues to leverage innovation and technology in achieving its corporate goals and sustainability ambitions across its businesses in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

Director, Governance and Sustainability, Sahara Group, Pearl Uzokwe, said the Group had continued to foster partnerships and initiatives that have co-created a desirable future through innovation.

Uzokwe said: “We have aligned our business operations within our entities with the demands and expectations of our changing world – digitization – which in turn increases our competitive advantage for sustainable growth. Beyond measuring our performance in numbers and outcome, we have raised our lever of sustainability excellence by committing to more strategic partnerships and setting targets to achieve sustainable development from the micro to global scale.”

She said Sahara had aligned its operations and processes in furtherance of the urgent global transition to cleaner energy and low-carbon solutions. *Sahara entered an MoU with the United Nations Development Programme in 2019 to provide access to affordable and sustainable energy in sub-Saharan Africa. This is in line with UN Sustainable Development Goal 7. During the year, we were pivotal to the success of the United Nations Private Sector Advisory Group (PSAG) and joined hands with other stakeholders in  advancing the mission of the African Influencers for Development (AI4Dev), World Economic Forum’s Partnering Against Corruption Initiative (PACI) and other institutions in providing a better quality of life to the world.”

According to Uzokwe, Sahara launched its Green Life Initiative in 2019 in line with its commitment to fostering sustainable environments via the protection of the environment, promotion of a circular economy and recycling of waste within and outside our business. “Among other activities, we established a Recycling Exchange Hub in the Ijora Oloye community and executed upcycling vocational training for the conversion of tyres to usable products. In delivering more environmentally friendly fuels, we committed to complying with the African Refiners & Distributors Association (ARA) standards – the only pan-African organization for the African downstream oil sector – in 2019, as we expanded our investment in the supply of cleaner energy in the form of gas, particularly LPG’” she added.

Sahara is a foremost provider of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) in Africa through West Africa Gas Limited, a joint venture with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). WAGL operates two 38,000 cbm LPG vessels, MT Africa Gas and Sahara Gas that are driving LPG access, security, and stability in Africa. Both vessels have supplied approximately 500,000 MT of LPG across regional markets since their acquisition in 2017. Sahara Group’s 2019 Sustainability Report reflects our economic, social, and environmental activities from January 1 to December 31, 2019. The report is our fifth sustainability report, and our fourth report written in line with the GRI standard. The 2019 Sustainability Report has been organized and presented in accordance with the Sustainability Reporting Standards of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). The guidelines seek to achieve consistency amongst corporations reporting on their sustainability activities.

Please click here to access the sustainability report.

Sahara Group

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Philanthropy

The Mansaray Foundation Story- Saibatu Mansaray

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Saibatu Mansaray, Founder at The Mansaray Foundation (Source: The Mansaray Foundation)

In September 1997, I lost my aunt. In May 2008, I lost another aunt.

My Aunt, a proud Sierra Leone native, and mother of four, was delivering twins when she suffered a postpartum hemorrhage that not only took her life but also the life of one of her twins. This was in 1997, when my aunt and her baby were lost forever. Her five surviving beautiful children were forced to grow up without their mother. After 23 years, this loss still feels like it was only yesterday and for many more families in my home country, it very well could have been yesterday, or even today.

My family was again forced to endure the aftermath of this crisis in 2008, when a second aunt died from childbirth complications. She, too, went to deliver my beautiful cousin and succumbed to postpartum hemorrhage. Three more cousins of mine were now without their mother: left to navigate life without her loving guidance.

Sierra Leone is an amazing place with incredible people where losses like this have sadly become commonplace. My people, as foreign as it may seem to the outside world, fear childbirth.

When both of my aunts died, my uncles never remarried. They both raised my cousins without a wife, but they were never alone. Our family and the local community rallied to help. The sacrifice, resilience, and the sense of community that Sierra Leonean – and Africans as a whole – have for one another should warrant everyone’s admiration. But they need more, they need all of us to fight with them to affect change and save lives.

Ninety-four percent of maternal deaths occur in developing countries like Sierra Leone with 830 women dying every day, and an estimated 300,000 deaths annually around the world from preventable causes. My aunts were two of these women.

They are both just statistics now, but to me, their husbands, and their surviving children they are so much more. While I do not know each of these 830 women who die each day, I know they have families. They have children who love them dearly and will forever miss and long for their mothers.

The maternal deaths are staggering worldwide, but unfortunately most of Africa is far more impacted than the rest of the world.

Women in Africa have, on average, many more pregnancies than women in developed countries, and their lifetime risk of death is higher. Due to African women bearing children at an early age, their lifetime risk of maternal death is extremely high and equates to the probability that a 15 year old girl will eventually die from a maternal cause. In high income countries, this is 1 in 5,400, versus 1 in 45 in low-income countries.

Young adolescents face a higher risk of complications and death as a result of pregnancy than other women. In Sierra Leone, if we do nothing to change our unfortunate circumstances, 6% of our 15-year-old girls will die from maternal causes sometime in the future. Maternal deaths are common in rural and poorer communities and as it stands today, 1 in 75 births in Sierra Leone results in the death of a woman.

The five countries where a woman is most likely to die in a given pregnancy are Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Chad, Nigeria, and South Sudan. As a continent, countries like Egypt, Morocco, and Libya have demonstrated that we can lower the maternal death rates.
Our beloved Mother Africa is suffering most from a health crisis that is preventable and we must all band together in order to solve this rather unfortunate inordinate number of African maternal deaths.

The Mansaray Foundation begins its work in Sierra Leone, but we envision our work spreading throughout West Africa where we are among the highest maternal mortality rates worldwide. Sierra Leone has the highest maternal mortality rates in the world but the maternal deaths in Liberia, Guinea, Gambia and Nigeria are unsettling.

The main factors that prevent women from receiving or seeking care during pregnancy and childbirth are poverty, distance to facilities, lack of information, as well as inadequate and poor quality of care.

In Sierra Leone, the foundation will focus its efforts on improving access to quality care and ensuring the rural clinics are properly resourced.

We will utilize a simple, scalable and sustainable health-systemic approach to prevent maternal mortality, promote maternal health, and prolong the quality of life of rural women in Sierra Leone through multi-stakeholder partnerships that is in line with global best practices.

Our goal is to help lead Sierra Leone from the highest maternal mortality rate globally, to the lowest five in Africa.

I look forward to returning to Sierra Leone and embarking upon a journey to address and combat Sierra Leone’s maternal mortality crisis, work tirelessly on youth and women’s empowerment efforts and strongly support local innovative and development opportunities for Mother Africa.

Our efforts must begin here, by sharing the stories of those we have lost. If you have a loss to share or would like to join the #fightforourmothers, reachout on social media. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn: @TheMansarayFdn.

We call on the pioneers, the innovators, and the educators, the global health leaders, big tech, journalists and supply chain experts to join us in this fight. Mother Africa needs you, join us:

Visit us The Mansaray Foundation

Email us info@mansarayfoundation.org.

Also Read Closing The Gender Gap: An Interview with Dream Girl Global (DGG) Founder, Precious Oladokun

Author: Saibatu Mansaray is the President and Founder of The Mansaray Foundation and Host of The Saibatu Mansaray Journey podcast. Mansaray’s life and career has been dedicated to public service seeking to effect positive change in the world and making her home country and the people of Sierra Leone proud. She works now to highlight the community and speak out on the issues and challenges we in the African community face. The Mansaray Foundation initiative is the latest step in the long line of public service by Sierra Leone-native Saibatu Mansaray, a retired United States Army officer after 23-years of service and two tours of duty to Iraq.

Mansaray served as a White House Physician Assistant and Tactical Medical Officer to President Obama and Vice President Biden followed by Director of Medical Operations and Military Aide to two Vice Presidents. Upon retiring, Mansaray joined Vice President Pence’s team as his Director of Advance. Her final assignment was as a White House senior executive and Assistant Director for Public Health at the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

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NGOs - SDGs

Wildu du Plessis: Commitment to sustainability opening doors to post-pandemic capital in Africa

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Wildu du Plessis, Head of Africa, Baker McKenzie (Image source: Baker McKenzie)

The industrials, manufacturing and transport (IMT) sector is being hit hard by COVID-19 disruption, but commitment to sustainability could very well lead the sector to recovery. This is according to Baker McKenzie’s report “Sustainable Success: Exploring environmental, social and governance priorities for industrials through COVID-19 and beyond” which revealed that industrialshave taken great leaps forward in relation to environmental, social and governance matters (ESG) in the past decade.  The report outlines how CEOs in the sector have signed up to a new holistic definition of company purpose and most public companies now report on ESG goals. Access to funding is also becoming intricately linked to a commitment to ESG principles, with industrials looking at sustainability initiatives as a way to source capital for projects in Africa.

According to the report, the economic challenges and the huge changes that have turned the world upside down in 2020 cannot be ignored, but the fundamental imperative to embed and prioritise ESG remains — and is arguably more important than ever as the fragility of the world’s current systems and norms is revealed.

The report found that sustainability can be used as a lever of recovery and competitive advantage, where companies proactively consider ESG issues as part of their COVID-19 response and decision-making. Connecting sustainability and business models more closely offers industrials the opportunity to reimagine supply chains, production and revenue streams — the basis for long-term reinvention and success. As such, sustainability is set to be a powerful guiding principle of COVID-19 recovery and a source of advantage for IMT companies. In the fight for post-pandemic capital in Africa, embracing sustainability provides a valuable edge for African industrials. Funding in some areas is already contingent on meeting certain global ESG standards and other investors have followed this lead — requiring documented, planned policies and processes in relation to ESG before investing

Access to capital will be critical to corporate recovery and in ensuring that key industrial and infrastructure projects in Africa can continue. Africa’s leaders have been assessing how best to mobilise capital from local savings pools, shore up development finance from various development finance institutions like the International Finance Corporation, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank, and direct capital raised via green bonds towards qualifying projects. 

The market for green and sustainable bonds is set to expand further in the coming years and industrials in Africa are likely beneficiaries of the capital raised. The African Development Bank (AfDB) Green Bond programme, for example, facilitates the bank’s green growth policy by providing capital for eligible climate change projects. Investors are able to finance climate change initiatives via green bonds, which is then allocated to eligible projects.

Green bonds are gaining in popularity across Africa and the larger economies of sub-Saharan Africa have all embraced this.  In 2019, Kenya set up the legal framework and rules for the launch of its first green bond on the Nairobi Securities Exchange,  with the aim of raising capital for green transport, water and energy infrastructure projects in the country. The country announced in 2020 that it planned to issue its first diaspora bond for green infrastructure projects this year, so that Kenyans living abroad could be given the opportunity to participate in the country’s post pandemic recovery via investments in sustainable projects.

Nigeria was the first African country to issue a Sovereign Green Bonds in 2017 and launched its the Green Bond Market Development Programme a year later. The Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) Green Bond Market is a platform for green bonds in the country and four bonds are listed on the platform. Late last year, the NSE signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Luxembourg Stock Exchange to promote cross-listing and trading of green bonds in Nigeria and Luxembourg, with Access Bank’s Green Bond the first to be listed on both exchanges.

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In South Africa, in an effort to drive investment and make it easier to list and trade sustainability-linked instruments, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) launched a sustainability segment for green bonds in June this year. In July 2020, the African Development Bank invested ZAR 2 billion in Africa’s first Sustainable Development Goals-linked bonds (SDG bonds), which were issued by Nedbank and listed on the newly launched green bonds segment of JSE. This bond issuance is expected to create jobs, promote SMEs run by members of under-represented groups in the country, and act as a catalyst for green projects.

Post pandemic, IMT initiatives in Africa are expected to have a heightened focus on improving Africa’s capacity for green, low-carbon and sustainable development, via, for example, clean energy, community healthcare, green transport, sustainable water, wildlife protection and low-carbon development projects. Wildu du Plessis believes a commitment to ESG principles is clearly taking centre stage in the quest for post pandemic funding, with access to capital for large industrial projects now likely to contain sustainability requirements.

Article by: Wildu du Plessis, Head of Africa, Baker McKenzie

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