As the world coffers appear to gradually dry up at a time when most non-governmental organisations are donor driven, it is about time these so-called non-profit making groups embrace the concept of social enterprise to sustain their projects and build positive relations with the people and communities they have assisted for the many years they have been in existence. Otherwise, it is doom for many of them.
Sunday View by Tonderayi Matonho
The social enterprise concept integrates into programme activities an income generation and business model, creating complete transformation and sustainable processes. Today the world is going through recession, many large economies are going down, and the same is affecting civil society movements that used to depend on funds that the same countries were providing to these NGOs.
Without a shadow of doubt, with the dwindling funds and grants that were once available, many NGOs in Zimbabwe and across the world are struggling to survive. They are either shutting down their operations or moving into new fields that have nothing to do with their mission but rather are chasing the now highly elusive dollar, euro or pound.
There are many international organisations acting as donor agencies that have been practising social enterprise for many years, through the provision of social services such as water, electricity, health and sporting kits and other materials, for instance. These are leading cases and worthy to emulate. Many established Zimbabwean NGOs are aware of such international agencies and their programmes activities.
The beginning of the new Millennium in Africa witnessed the debate over the changing roles NGOs could play in employment creation, and the struggle to construct viable and sustainable projects and programmes for communities. This new urgency, coming in the wake of the massive failure of so-called “sustainable principles” by many NGOS to create maximum social, economic and perhaps political resources for most of their constituencies and the deepening crisis of underdevelopment, have increased pressure, both internal and external on civil society movements to establish business models in their operations.
More especially, the critical question has revolved around what strategies, options, ideas and forces could be harnessed to promote viable and business oriented projects within internationally and nationally recognized norms. This has also called into question the need to consider the social, financial, political and economic peculiarities of the state on how it has dealt with social ills such as corruption, graft, embezzlement, and so forth. Zimbabwean policy makers, including business leaders, have been found wanting in dealing with these critical issues.
In response to these concerns, a new consensus is emerging on the importance of civil society movements to nurture organisations and institutions and practices that are conducive to the establishment of viable social enterprises and traditions. In a country such as Zimbabwe, which is striving to “look east”, China in particular and struggling to extricate itself from the vestiges of the western donor syndrome, the challenge to civil society movements is to create an awareness amongst themselves and citizens in general. This will encourage collective participation.
In Africa, the individual and collective dividends and liberties that are enshrined in the letter and spirit of the social enterprise concept has yet to be brought out of the pages of the documents and given practical expression. Experts note that the idea of social enterprise is borrowed from the Chinese because they have done it and it has worked for them.