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02 Jun

A Tale of Two Foundations

Added by : Roger Matlock

What follows is very personal because I am currently going through a major déjà vu experience. This is the second time in my life when I’ve been in the unfortunate position of having to accept that a highly successful non-profit foundation run by me will be closing its doors for reasons which have nothing to do with its proven effectiveness.

The recent announcement by General Motors that its South African operations will close completely at the end of 2017, unfortunately, means the end of the GM South Africa Foundation too. This is because GM has been its sole funder since GMSAF opened its doors for business way back in February 1995, at the time of the coming into power of the country’s post-apartheid government.

Before I joined the GMSAF (then the Delta Foundation) back then in 1995, I was the general manager of the Eastern Cape office of the Urban Foundation. The UF was a national business funded agency established after the 1976 uprising which used developmental arguments rather than politics to push for the abolition of apartheid. The main reason behind the UF’s closure was because the private sector felt that a single streamlined entity was required to continue and build on the work of the Urban Foundation and the Consultative Business Movement, both of which were funded by business. This new agency became the National Business Initiative.

The closure of the ECUF at the end of 1994 was a major blow for the E Cape, particularly as the ECUF’s strong alliance with the United Democratic Front meant that it had a unique mandate to run a wide range of development projects in the townships. Here are overviews of two of the larger scale projects:

So, the closure of the UF was a bitter disappointment to me and, despite the subsequent achievements of the NBI, definitely a great loss to South Africa. I am obviously also disappointed by the pending closure of the GMSAF, which will also be a great loss to the country. There is, however, a strong possibility that the successful and multi-award winning work of the GMSAF in housing and education will be able to continue.

As far as housing is concerned, the GMSAF’s founding deed of trust prohibits the physical construction of houses. The GMSAF has therefore restricted its activities in housing to undertaking the full spectrum of research and development needed to frame new effective housing projects. Once a project is at the physical implementation stage, it is handed over to The Home Market, an independent non-profit housing development agency which was established by the GMSAF.

THM has commenced negotiations to secure alternative sources of funding for project framing in order to ensure that THM will be able to continue after the closure of the GMSAF. Negotiations are also underway between THM and the GMSAF for the transfer of the intellectual capital for the various housing models and model components.

Some years ago, a number of agencies approached the GMSAF to offer funding for education project replication, in other words, to expand the implementation of its portfolio of projects. The GMSAF decided to keep externally funded replication separate from GM funded pilot project management. Two independent non-profit education management companies were established for replication purposes, namely Siyawela: Ready to Succeed (to project manage all externally funded education replication projects which are open to the general public) and Siyabona Training (to manage any externally funded education replication projects where the beneficiary group is restricted).

Both NPC’s have shown their ability over the years to deliver ‘GMSAF quality’ projects at a substantial scale and in the process have moved a long way in developing their own identities. Following the announcement of GM’s closure, they have commenced actions to ensure that, by the start of 2018, they are fully operational, widely accepted as freestanding project management agencies and having post-2017 contractual commissions. Negotiations are also underway for the transfer of the intellectual capital for all the education models and model components from the GMSAF.

It is therefore hoped that unlike the absence of cutting edge community developmental projects which followed the closure of the UF, the closure of GM will see the continuation and expansion of GMSAF’s project implementation legacy through the three NPC’s.

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