Capacity building in SA over 20 years

This article was first published on Sangonet on 28 July 2010.

The Community Based Development Programme (CBDP) in 2009 celebrated 20 years of existence. The organisation was launched during the latter stages of apartheid rule, and played a critical role in the transition and preparations for the changeover. A joint venture by Kagiso Trust and Wits university and the brainchild of Achmat Dangor and David Adler, the CBDP anticipated the need for high and middle level management skills to complement leadership abilities.

When the transition came, CBDP ‘graduates’ were part of the many activists who went into government. Alumni are in local, provincial and national government, and it is our belief that they are better prepared for their roles there than they otherwise would have been.  During the management training they received, emphasis was placed on planning, budgeting, and management of projects.

In the nineties, the organisation formally adopted the slogan, “Are we ready to govern?’ This slogan was taken directly from Trevor Manual (later Finance Minister Trevor Manual) who had made this the subject of his seminar series when he lectured at CBDP. Manual engaged with the students and, together with other lecturers, often challenged students to indicate how fulfilling the demands of the Freedom Charter were to be funded. In those days, it was the norm to point to a bloated ‘Defence’ budget and to argue that such monies would be redeployed to ensure housing for all and that the doors of learning and culture would be opened. The point Manual was already making then was that leadership and management (‘governing’) involved making tough choices – prioritizing even when it seemed impossible to, and getting results despite constraints. 

CPDP operated in heady times. The social movements and the trade unions were in full bloom. There was secrecy and intrigue as the ANC strengthened its interface with above-ground politics, the black consciousness movers and shakers were articulate in debates and government repression attacked freedom of speech while the third force seemed to kill at will in the dead of night. The programme had bumpy rides: hot debates in the classroom, class boycotts over security police presence near the class venue, arguments with activists who neglected their studies in favour of mobilizing work, and disputes over whether the new SA would be able to meet Freedom Charter demands if the economy did not grow rapidly. Interspersed between concrete training on “how to manage” students held fervent debates. Although most favoured socialism, students could not avoid lively debate on socialism versus capitalism versus a mixed economy. Of course, being based at a business school, it was often up to visiting lecturers from the school to defend capitalism – either as devil’s advocate or apologist – and in at least one case this led to a class walkout.

The management of CBDP needed to – and did – have a clear vision. Although part of the democratic movement and favouring redress and transformation, the Board and management agreed that proper training in effective management was of critical importance.  In this regard, learning included reference to research, models and management thinking in management practice and teaching worldwide. Management insisted on using the term managers, at a time when NGOs preferred the term co-ordinators and “management”, moreso than now, was a swear word to trade unions. Thirdly, the CBDP training team, led by David Adler and subsequent directors, rejected rhetorical responses, empty slogans, and claims which could not be substantiated. In this regard, many activists from community organisations were shocked when on their first day at class they were asked questions such as: “In what way are you community based?”, “What does ‘consulted the community’ mean?”  and “whom do you define as ‘the people’?” The anger subsided and the learning continued, and to this day, all the students have nothing but praise for the learning obtained.

CBDP itself has been affected by the societal transformation and has negotiated profound changes if its own. It has over time given up its link with Wits University. It also no longer runs the certificated management training programme; in the last ten years it has focused on community based training in a programme called Community Empowerment for Development (“CEFD”). In this training it works with representatives from organizations in specific communities, and it situates training in the context of area based participatory planning. The management training aspect is still there – perhaps at a different level – but it is strongly augmented by processes of community empowerment.

Of late CBDP has again considered the need for a management training course for managers of NGOs. It has noted the huge challenges facing non-governmental development organizations, including declining resources, relative marginalization from policy processes and the sustained effects of its loss of leadership to the democratic government since 1994. CBDP is currently exploring a new programme, a diploma-based Development Management Course. It is currently engaged in consultations with the sector and the School of Public and Development Management  at Wits University. And because many NGOs are too cash strapped to pay the real costs of such training, CBDP is also busy mobilising donor support.

CBDP has achieved much: it has trained scores of persons in management skills, many of them from disadvantaged backgrounds, it has successfully completed numerous community empowerment processes and each year its work results in the launch of livelihood projects in communities in different parts of the country.

CBDP is a proud partner of civil society, and 20 years on, remains fundamentally committed to the strengthening of the sector. Although government and the private sector have central roles, the non-profit sector remains a critical resource and vital base of capacity in a society where distribution and delivery has fallen behind, and where the private sector has so far not contributed nearly enough to broad based social inclusion. (by F.Meintjies – A former executive director and board member of CBDP)  

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