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Representatives from the Coady, GRCF, and Comart discuss ABCD

Representatives from the Coady and GRCF discuss ABCD.

With last week’s conference in Pretoria now behind us, the GRCF is happy to report that the event was a very successful one with a lot of useful information exchanged and engaging dialogue stimulated.  It was great to see representatives from varying backgrounds — inlucding the non-profit, government and private sectors — interacting with the aim of real constructive cross-sector solutions to poverty in South Africa.  We wish to thank UNISA for hosting this event, co-hosted by the Coady Institute and GRCF.  Below is a summary of the conference from the UNISA website.

Geography – the human element

Can rural communities in South Africa better themselves without large sums of money? The answer is “yes” and the Mathopestat community in the North West province is proof thereof.

Using the theme “Back to the ABCDs: creating an enabling environment for sustainable socioeconomic development at grassroots level through community driven initiatives” as a basis, the story of Mathopestat was shared this week at a symposium held by the Department of Geography in the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (CAES).

ABCD is an Asset Based Community Driven (ABCD) approach to development. It espouses the belief that communities

Melanie Nicolau of UNISA chairs the ABCD session.

can take the lead in identifying their own problems and the solutions to those same problems. ABCD is community based development, based on the principle that each community already has a tremendous number of assets and, if properly accessed and channelled, will ensure success in sustainable development.

The Mathopestat community has been selected as the pilot project of the ABCD approach in South Africa. While Unisa began their involvement with the project in February this year, the project was initiated in October 2009 by the Greater Rustenburg Community Foundation (GRCF), a pioneering grassroots grant maker in South Africa which has supported the activities of community based organisations across Rustenburg. Unisa’s Department of Geography joined forces with the GRCF as part of their community engagement initiative.

Mathopestat community members at the conference.

The ABCD approach was introduced to the GRCF after the Chairman of its Board, Sebastian Mathews, attended a workshop at the Coady International Institute at the St Xavier University in Canada. The Coady Institute is one of the world research leaders in community driven development, conducting action research pilots across the world and two large-scale pilots in Africa, specifically Ethiopia and Kenya.

Intrigued by the possibility of using this approach in Rustenburg, the GRCF knew that ABCD would be a natural fit and therefore adapted the approach for the North West context to change the way of thinking so that communities can begin intentionally looking at their assets first. In six months, as a result of ABCD, the Mathopestat community has realised the many assets and potential they have to better themselves.

In her opening address, Dr Maggi Linington, Executive Dean of the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, said the theme of the symposium was close to Unisa and the college, as it coincided with the university’s vision to be the African university in the service of humanity. She said Unisa chose not to be a university that was viewed as an ivory tower, but rather one that was relevant and responded to the needs of society. She also indicated that environmental sciences were very important in ensuring sustainability in communities and the environment itself.

Chair of the Geography Department, Melanie Nicolau, said it was an honour for Unisa’s Geography Department to

Candles are lit for women living with HIV/Aids.

partner with the Coady Institute and the GRCF to work with the Mathopestat community. She said the symposium marked the launch of a very exciting community engagement project for the Department of Geography, and they hoped the project would grow in strength and ensure that their work as academics in the discipline of Geography is relevant to the communities they live in.

The symposium comprised four sessions. Session one introduced the fundamentals of ABCD. Gord Cunningham and Dr Alison Mathie from the Coady Institute – who have been instrumental in developing the Institute’s ABCD area – illustrated how conventional approaches to community development have inadvertently undermined people’s capacity to take action. The session then centred on the premise of focusing on assets and helping people to recognise the skills, strengths and resources they could use to take action and transform the way in which they interact with others. There were also examples of cases from the around the world, as well as Kenya and Ethiopia, where citizen-led or community driven developments have had a significant impact. Cunningham also commended Unisa on the wonderful work they have done in collaboration with the GRCF.

There is not a dry eye in the house as Sanah finishes her moving story.

Session two focused on building community capital. It was argued that aid is dead and that it has made the poor poorer and growth slower. However, aid remains a centrepiece of today’s development policies and one of the “biggest ideas of our time”. Although aid might be dead, it is only as dead as the community spirit and capital where it is dumped. Building community capital from the inside out sets the stage for effective aid to come alive. The session was concluded with an HIV/Aids candle lighting ceremony honouring those who, despite their disease, remain active drivers in the development of their communities’ assets. Some of the speakers in this session included Christine Delport, COO of GRCF; Sana Nhlapo a Mathopestat community member; and David Martin, a board member of the COMART Foundation in Canada.

Session three discussed strategic corporate social investment and the business case for real community development initiatives. Session four centred on micro franchising and examined how it can enhance the fight against poverty.

Mathews thanked Unisa and stressed how wonderful Unisa staff are. He said it was amazing to see academics work hand-in-hand with the community and gave the example of Melanie Nicolau working in the gardens in Mathopestat. “This is truly a proudly South African institution. The technical and intellectual capacity of the Department of Geography has been very impressive, but more so than that what has really struck us it how forward thinking and visionary they are as a Department.” He also said as a result of the partnership, there would be higher quality action research to inform policy makers and practitioners about what actually works, for the betterment of South Africans.

Unisa 2010

Download a copy of the opening address by Dr. MJ Linington: Opening address – ABCD Symposium


GRCF goes to the Mining Indaba in Cape Town.

Two weeks ago the GRCF had our annual strategy retreat at Hartebeespoort Dam.  Over two days of meetings and workshops the entire staff came away with a clearer sense of purpose and renewed excitement for the year ahead.  We are expanding and developing our ABCD programs and hope to engage the local community on a much w

ider level.  We expect that soon everyone in Rustenburg will know exactly what we are doing and will want to be a part of the real change the GRCF is aiming to achieve in the Bojanala region.

As part of our efforts to get the big mining houses in the area involved in our high impact development strategies, a GRCF representative also attended last week’s Mining Indaba in Cape Town.  It would seem that the mining community is starting to realize the need for real, strategic CSI (Corporate Social Investment/Responsibility) initiatives and opportunities for partnerships are starting to materialize.

One of the panel session at the Indaba.

We know that those mines and other corporations that choose to partner with the GRCF will experience a very clear benefit to their own operations as well as have the chance to make a real positive impact on the communities in which they operate.

In March, the GRCF will also be a part of a conference hosted by UNISA on ABCD (Asset-Based Community Driven) programs, which will bring in experts from diverse fields and backgrounds from all over the world to discuss this exciting paradigm.  Watch this space for more information on dates and program details.  Indeed, the year ahead is shaping up to be an exciting one, and we hope it will be the tipping point that pushes the Bojanala region into the spotlight as a beacon of community driven change.