A member of JAG, Erena Slabbert of the SOS Project, asked the following question concerning another JAG member, Mpendulo Savings.
Can you please explain why this Mpendulo savings group want donations. There are a few groups in Jbay working very hard to help the sick and destitute in the township, our group (SOS project) as well as the others are absolutely dependent on donations from the community. My group works only among the sick and infirm who we help with food parcels when there is NO INCOME – so this means they cannot help themselves, they are mostly too sick to anyway.Jill Thompson, director of Mpendulo Savings, provided the following reply.
Recently, a member of JAG Google groups asked why Mpendulo Savings was asking for donations when there were other organizations completely dependent on private donations that are working very hard in the township community with people who have no income and/or are too sick to work or care for themselves.
Before I answer the question directly, I want to provide a little background on who we are and the role our organization plays amongst economically vulnerable populations. The goal of Mpendulo Savings’ as a non-profit, tax exempt, community based Trust, is to build the economic resilience of vulnerable households. We do this by mobilizing community members in the townships to self-select members who will form a savings group. We provide training for the groups and monitor them each time they meet. For this we employ four training officers who come from township areas. We do not give any money to the groups, nor do we take money from them, other than a token fee to cover part of the cost of the group savings kit. After a year, each group is expected to operate independently. So far we have 20 groups doing just that.
Our member profile is as follows:
- 80% are women,
- the majority are between 25 and 40 years old; but more than 25% are over 50 years old and 10% are between 15 and 25 years old
- nearly 60% receive a government social grant
- 44% care for children who are not their biological offspring, the majority are grandchildren
- 30% operate some type of micro-business; usually from their home
- 42% depend on casual or part time employment
- More than half our members are women heads of households
This profile is by no means THE most vulnerable in the community. They are poor, but stable. This does not mean, however, that they are out of danger. Some are teetering on the edge of stability and others are one paycheck away from having to rely on charity from their family, neighbors or an organization providing food parcels. If the organizations providing this service feel they are working hard now….. imagine how it would be if these vulnerable households had no safety net. This is a very real concern because of the silent economic crisis brought about by the impact of HIV/AIDS. And this brings me to the role our organization plays and why we do what we do.
HIV/AIDS is a moving target. A household may have been stable at the onset of an HIV/AIDS related (usually health) crisis; however, when a household’s safety net is depleted, it can slide into destitution. Most likely, a person has experienced several health crises already before getting to the place where s/he has no resources of her/his own now and must rely on charity. Mpendulo Savings works to prevent the slide to destitution and to help people bounce back once they get through an economic shock so they can be self reliant.
If there are not efforts to slow down or halt such a downward slide to economic devastation, or to help people bounce back from crises, two consequences can result:
1) the volume of households that become very vulnerable to the point of destitution will overwhelm the capacity of anyone to respond and
2) there will be fewer households economically strong enough to form part of a community safety net. Therefore, preventing the erosion of economic resources by assisting households to strengthen them before crises have an impact is as important as responding to situations that need rescuing.
As for why we ask for donations; there are a few reasons;
1) a sound strategy for any non-profit is to have a variety of income streams because it is risky to “have all your eggs in one basket”. Donations are one part of our strategy;
2) private donations usually come without the same type of strings attached to government or more formal donor funding, so we can be flexible in responding to the capacity building needs of our savings groups, and
3) we feel it is important that the more affluent community of JBay are afforded the opportunity to contribute to the betterment of the poorer community from different angles; and to discover that— although there are many in desperate straits who cannot help themselves—there are just as many others, while still poor, are able and more than willing to help themselves.
I don’t feel that soliciting donations needs to be a ‘zero sum game’ where in order for one organization to gain it means another one has to lose. Rather, I see that people who give to non-profits and causes are motivated by different passions. One person may be passionately committed to donating towards the delivery of food parcels to the sick and infirm and be totally disinterested in what Mpendulo Savings does. Someone else may be passionate about stopping the Thuyspoint nuclear station and give their all to that, but they wouldn’t be interested in food parcels or Mpendulo. Someone else again may feel that developing vulnerable households’ capacity to manage their savings, start a micro business and get out of debt to loan sharks is the answer and will donate to Mpendulo Savings and not be interested in food parcels or the nuclear station, others are motivated by the plight of neglected animals…and so on.
To wrap this up, I feel that the solutions to poverty must come from a patchwork of approaches. No one organization can possibly do it all…and that includes government. It takes all of us joining hands to make it happen. Let us thank God there are organizations like SOS, Victory Outreach and other church organizations, in addition to Social Development, to step in when a household hits rock bottom. But let us also thank God that there are organizations like Mpendulo Savings that don’t wait for a disaster to happen before taking action.