On World NGO Day, 27 February, we recognise and reflect on the unsung heroes in our communities. Thousands of passionate people working tirelessly to make a difference through their organisations. At Valcare we call them the #RealHeroes – people like Songelwa, Cathy, Xoliswa and Mark all supporting different causes by selflessly sacrificing to serve others.

They are called #RealHeroes, because the NGO space in South Africa is not for the faint-hearted. Not only is it extremely hard work with less compensation than in the corporate world (or often no-pay for volunteers), but you are also confronted with dire, difficult and heart-breaking situations, day after day.

It takes a special type of person to wake up each morning and continuously feel motivated to keep caring and helping others and the world around them despite feeling emotionally drained themselves. Quite honestly, many people would just give up.

But let’s ask the hard questions. What is the real value of NGOs? And are they all making an actual impact?

In South Africa, there are more than 100 000 registered NGOs. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to do an audit of all of them and say with confidence that each one is making a definite sustainable difference in their area of work.

NGOs play an extremely vital role in our society. In many communities they are the only form of social support available. Admittedly some organisations are not as efficient as we would like and are ill equipped or poorly resourced to deal with the myriad of tasks and challenges that confront them on a daily basis. That is why it is critical to combine good-hearts with good-minds in order to be formidable (to paraphrase the late President Nelson Mandela’s famous quote). Organisations must be upskilled, trained and supported to operate effectively and professionally – as any other corporate business would do. Organisations must have effective and transparent monitoring and evaluation processes in place to measure impact, improve their operations and to be held accountable for the funding they receive.

Valcare’s main mission is to manage social investments and we need to ensure that funds are spent wisely, effectively and efficiently. To ensure this we fulfil a role of capacity building of our 200 nonprofit member organisations. We focus on legislature and best practice topics such as good governance, financial accuracy and integrity, policies and procedures, monitoring and evaluation and strategic planning while also focusing on softer but no less important issues such as stress management, conflict resolution and creative problem solving.

In addition we encourage our members to share their expertise and resources within the network. I have been so incredibly encouraged to see the fruit of collaborations and partnerships. The Drakenstein Child Protection Programme is just one such example. Together we are better and together we are stronger. The new buzz words and trends within the NGO sectors are “collaborative efforts”, and we are privileged to be part of this process.

On World NGO day, I would like to encourage and invite more collaboration and more involvement in our communities to create real impact – Impact that outlast us and leaves a sustained community that cultivates positive relationships and healthy growth.

Ivan Swartz
CEO of Valcare