This monthly feature is my response to the President’s invitation: “Thuma Mina – Send Me”. It is a toolkit of ideas to help the public respond to that call.
We have a dear friend and colleague by the name of Cindy McNally. Cindy lives in Durban. She is a wife, a busy mom to two little girls and a Chartered Accountant. She loves South Africa, social media and wine – not necessarily in that order.
Two years ago, Cindy decided to marry her passion for these three things with her desire to make a difference. One night whilst drinking a glass of wine and playing around on social media, she began to do some research. Were there groups on social media that connected the tens-of-thousands of NGO’s in our country, enabling them to collaborate? She discovered to her amazement that there wasn’t; that NGO’s in our country are largely very lonely, lone rangers.
SA NPO Network
So, without further ado, she started a Facebook group calledSA NPO Networkand quickly NGO’s all over the country began to connect. She moderated these discussions in her spare time, whilst having a glass of wine.
In two years – with no funding or PR or office –SA NPO Networkhas over 3000 followers. The group swops ideas, contacts, donations and products. It puts NGO’s in contact with donors and vice versa. Just recently a company in Johannesburg wishing to donate hundreds of boxes of ready meals was connected with a creche in rural Kwa-Zulu Natal via the group. A thousand catheters found needy patients, an unused jungle gym in Cape Town is now being played on by some very happy under privileged children – all viaSA NPO Network.Thuma Mina – Send Me: A Toolkit. Cindy McNally is a living example of this. Her secret? She is doing something that is in her “sweet spot”, because it involves stuff she already does and loves.
What do you love?It may be as simple as walking so you can greet people as you pass them by thereby creating bridges and connections across age, race and gender. You may love sport…you may love cooking. What can you do with these talents to lend a hand? That is the heartbeat of this call; no grand gestures necessary. Just us using what we have. This is your toolkit!
Thuma Mina Workshops
We will be running a series of workshops to help people get clarity on what they can do. For more information email@example.com. In the meantime take a look at SA NPO Network on Facebook.
I must admit to being a bit of Mandela Day Grinch. I know this admission is akin to treason in our country and the fact that it is being made by a passionate advocate of citizen participation makes it even worse. Not only that but I also run an NGO that would benefit greatly from people giving 67 minutes of their time in service on 18 July. So, why the negativity?
The idea of Mandela Day is extremely profound indeed; a nation of people stopping to serve those less fortunate than themselves for 67 minutes each year is a legacy that few in history other than Mandela could have left. However, in practice it is difficult for Mandela Day to live up to the extraordinary vision that it holds. To remind you, this vision is essentially two-fold; firstly, 67 minutes multiplied by hundreds of thousands of people adds up to a vast number of charitable hours. This can make a big difference in our country.
Secondly, by stopping to serve for 67 minutes, the hope is that our eyes will be opened to the vast array of needs around us; a sense of our common humanity will be activated and we will go on to serve throughout the course of the rest of the year and into the future. So, the actual 67 minutes on the day should be more of a catalyst than an end in itself. It should be a start-line for a shared reality characterised by purpose and service. We need to work hard to ensure that these noble aims are maintained and upheld because all too often, Mandela Day becomes an exercise in ticking boxes or a free pass out of the office. So often we have hosted groups of people at our homes for orphaned and abandoned babies in Durban only to find that their motivation for being there is not quite what Mandela Day is all about. This renders their service ineffectual and sometimes even counter-productive. If it is only to claim the value of your donation against your tax or to get a selfie to show the world how caring you are – both fine as a by-product of your service but not as an end in itself – then Mandela day can be more trouble than it is worth for NGO’s who are having to continue to do their work around people who are not actually there to help.
The other issue with Mandela Day is fairly and squarely the responsibility of those of us who run NGO’s. We need to be very well organised to get the best out of those who are serious about making a difference on the day. We need to give people clear choices of what they can do. We should correspond with participants before time, make sure we know what they are skilled in or passionate about and identify specific needs for them to work on within our organisation. We should be well prepared for their arrival in terms of having the necessary materials or tools for them to do their work. Their time must be honoured and well utilised; structured so that they are not sitting around doing nothing or involved in meaningless tasks. We must ensure that those 67 minutes are fulfilling and productive for people, otherwise why would they serve in our organisation – or any other organisation – again? If people are donating goods as well as their time, we must ensure that there is no duplication. There is nothing worse than someone arriving at your NGO with a donation of a brand-new fridge that you asked for only to bump into another person also bringing a fridge. Mandela Day is an opportunity for NGO’s to raise the profile of what we do; present a professional image to our supporters and play a role in creating sustainable giving and service.
It must be said that many NGO’s do Mandela Day extremely well. The Domino Foundation is one of them. For our part, we have put together a website called www.my67.org.za. Here we have categories that will appeal to just about everyone: care, collect, cook, craft, or contribute. Spend your 67 minutes caring for a baby; cook baby food for 67 minutes (either at home or on-site), do 67 minutes of DIY at our Hammarsdale Child Care Centre; use your crafting skills to help create a wall mural; collect second hand adult and baby clothes or toys. There is something for everyone, teams and individuals alike.
My hope is that this year – in the midst of such grotesque violations of the spirit and legacy of Mandela – we can restore the true meaning of Mandela Day and make a real difference in people’s lives.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.
His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens and Emmanuel Josias Sithole.