Inclusive, Enabling Communities

Inclusive, Enabling Communities
Learning Brief

Network Action Group (NAG)

Addressing systemic blockages in order to unlock the full potential of community based organisations in UGU District – Learnings from the Network Action Group’s Future Leaders Programme 2012-2013

Category: Inclusive, Enabling Communities | Strengthen management and leadership in CBO/NGO sector | 11 March, 2015 - 18:37



The Network Action Group (NAG) is a network of 250 Community Based Organisations (CBOs) in UGU District. NAG believes that CBOs are central to development in poor communities because they operate on the micro social level, which enables them to identify and engage with local concerns. CBOs have capacities that larger, provincial or national based organisations lack such as local understanding, language specificity, programme flexibility and adaptability (Yachkaschi, 2008). However CBOs rarely reach their full potential of contributing to meaningful community development because they are often faced with organizational challenges or external obstacles that hinder or incapacitate their operations.

NAG and its member CBOs conducted a research initiative to seek out ways to help CBOs improve their community impact. Herein lay NAG and its member CBO’s research task:

  1. To identify the main challenges and blockages to CBO’s development and work in UGU District
  2. To find ways to address these issues.

Our 32 NAG “future Leaders,” placed in CBOs in 2013 assisted with this research endeavour. They carried out approximately 100 organisational assessments of the capacity of CBOs that enabled NAG to facilitate suitable support interventions. They also provided the NAG team with the evidence and information about systemic blockages and challenges facing 140 member CBOs. This enabled NAG to design relevant programmes and strategies and advocacy campaigns to address these issues.

Systemic Blockages for CBOs in UGU District

The organisational assessments revealed that systemic blockages for CBOs in UGU District occur at three organizational levels. First, CBOs face weaknesses that hinder their development and goal attainment. These are problems that occur at the mesa organisational level.

Second, NAG found that CBOs in UGU District are incapacitated by lack of knowledge and misuse of power by local stakeholders, as well as by dysfunctional government registration systems. These are exo level problems.

Finally, the research uncovered macro level challenges regarding the lack of implementation of national frameworks and policies.


Under-capacitated leadership

NAG member organisations are driven and run by volunteers who are often older retirees (‘gogos’) that lack good education and sufficient managerial capacity or skill. Amongst 34 managers – from 10 organisations – the average age was 51 years and they had only completed Grade 8, on average. CBOs need a strong administration to grow, develop, and attract funding and support. Aged managers with limited literacy skills and capacity cannot help a CBO achieve its goals. As one possible solution, CBOs can employ educated youth or youth volunteers from their communities to provide much needed skills and executive support. Many young matriculants and even FET graduates are sitting at home unemployed, not able to meaningfully contribute to their communities. Helping these youngsters find gainful employment or volunteer opportunities will serve their needs as well as the needs of the CBO.

Limited leadership capacity to run programmes and projects

Very few of the sampled CBOs have the leadership and executive capacity to run more complex programmes (such as promoting comprehensive development and psycho-social wellbeing among school children). The NAG organisational assessments show that a significant amount of the work of CBOs is carried out by staff with a low skill level and that the programmes are underperforming and not meeting their targets.

Poor organisational governance and transparency

Fulfilling leadership posts in rural CBOs, and compiling a capable CBO leadership committee/board is often a difficult issue. In some communities where there is a lot of poverty and low skill level it is hard to find people who are willing to be voluntary board members. Individuals in such communities may struggle with the literacy skills needed, or with the financial and time requirements needed to act as a CBO leader. Many such tasks involve an element of literacy and the use of personal resources that some people don’t have, for example: having to sign documents, make phone calls at own expense, attend regular meetings, and travel to DSD offices without getting any remuneration.

Sometimes a CBO committee exists only on paper or in principle. In practice the committee leaders do not meet regularly enough to operationalize any executive decisions. The committee therefore fails to make decisions or to move the organisation forward.

In addition, many CBOs struggle with issues of transparency regarding funding for projects and staff. This lack of transparency leads to tension between paid employees and volunteers.  


Delays in NPO registration

Many CBOs spend years waiting to be registered as NPOs, even after having applied through local service offices. Our research found that 21% of the CBOs were not officially registered NPOs. The reason is that applications often get lost between the local, provincial and national head offices. The Department of Social Development (DSD) refuses to acknowledge this problem, and hence to fix it. They offer little or no feedback to CBOs on the status of their application and as such many organisations simply resend their application in time and time again (as much as 5 times over 7 years). This wastes unnecessary time and is entirely inefficient. Without NPO status, CBOs cannot apply for any funding from government.

Under-performing local government officials

Furthermore, our research reports from the Future Leaders, and discussions with local DSD officials, reveal that almost 50% of crèches are not registered with the DSD. The DSD statistics for Gamalakhe Service office in our area only recognise and fund crèches for 9 ECD sites but our Future Leaders identified 57 ECD sites in the same area of operation. When a crèche is not recognized it is not monitored or funded, raising concerns about standards related to childcare and protection within the ECD centres.


Discrepancies, corruption, and lack of transparency in DSD funding for CBOs

Worryingly, our research finds that Department of Social Development officials are exploiting their relationships with CBOs, especially those organization running programmes for Orphan and Vulnerable Children and households.

Funding patterns from DSD show concerning trends regarding these organisations. For example:

  • DSD funds don’t always go directly into the CBO bank accounts; instead they are paid to CBO staff members.
  • There is potential professional conflict of interest as DSD officials sit on CBO Leadership Boards and receive income from both sources.
  • Without consultation, many CBO volunteers working on projects related to orphan care have been recruited and repositioned as government Community Care Workers.
  • Multiple OVC organisations in our district have not been funded by DSD despite being compliant with all funding requirements, which contravenes the Children’s Act of 2008. 71% of the CBOs we studied lacked a DSD subsidy.
  • There is a chronic lack of communication regarding funding status, when subsidies may be available, and how to access them. This inhibits the long term planning capacity in a CBO (Giese, 2013).


Addressing systemic blockages for CBOs in UGU District

The systemic blockages facing CBOs make it necessary for NAG to work at various levels of society.

MESO LEVEL – We address areas where CBOs lack capacity by:

  1. developing young leaders within CBOs
  2. facilitating interventions in CBOs using future leaders
  3. lobbying for funding that address lack of resources and skills.

EXO LEVEL – We address lack of knowledge and misuse of power among local stakeholders by:

  1. sharing information from the NAG CBO database
  2. ensuring that local service offices attend NAGs CBO meetings and
  3. raising cases of mismanagement with relevant stakeholders on behalf of CBOs.

MACRO LEVEL – We address lack of implementation of national frameworks/policies by:

  1. sharing NAG data highlighting systemic blockages,
  2. campaigning for the need to train local service offices and
  3. facilitating an advocacy campaign together with CBOs in UGU District.

In addition to NAG’s on-going work we also plan to mobilise the 250 CBOs in the network to strategically advocate for improvements in DSDs supervision of OVC organisations.


This learning brief showcases some of the systemic challenges facing 140 CBOs in the UGU district that prevent them from making meaningful, sustainable impacts on the community. The information enabled NAG to design relevant strategies and advocacy campaigns to address these issues at the mesa, exo and macro social organization levels.




Doug Reeler (2008) Sovereign Local Organisations and Social Movements – holding rightful power, CDRA, Cape Town

Sonja Giese (2013) Ilifa Labantwana Research Report on the status of ECD services in UGU District.

Schirin Yashkaschi (2010) Lessons from Below: Capacity Development and Communities in Capacity Development in Practice. Fowler et al (eds)

Network Action Group

Office 26c  Portston Centre 44 Aiken Street Port Shepstone KwaZulu-Natal South Africa


In Short

This learning brief showcases the systemic challenges facing 140 Community Based Organisations that prevent them from achieving their development goals. Read about how NAG used this information to design relevant strategies and advocacy campaigns to address these issues at the mesa, exo and macro levels.

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