Exploring the impact of donor policies, processes and management systems on the work of civil society organisations : the case of United States Agency for International Development South Africa (USAID SA), Nelson Mandela Children's Fund (NMCF) and Sibambene Partnership.
The relationship between civil society organisations and donors in South Africa is dynamic, and takes different forms over time. This is attributed to a number of factors, including political landscape, domestic government policies and donor policies. These factors then affect the manner in which donors relate to civil society organisations and disburse development project funds. Prior to 1994 civil society organisations enjoyed abundant financial support from foreign donors, mainly due to the illegitimacy of the apartheid government policies and humanitarian crisis. This situation changed after the election of democratic government in 1994, as most of the donor funds were channelled through the government to support its policies and programmes, and partly because of bilateral agreements with some of the developed countries across the world. In this study the impact of donor policies, processes, and management systems on the work of civil society organisations was explored, using the United Sates Agency for International Development (USAID) South Africa, Nelson Mandela Children's Fund (NMCF) and Sibambisene partnership. Themes explored included policies, processes, management systems and tools, partnership and power relations. The research methodology used included semi-structured interviews, documentary analysis, emailed questionnaires and telephone discussions. Theories on power, policy management frameworks, and partnership were reviewed, drawing on, for example, the views from the views of Lukes (1974), Parsons (1995), Brinkerhof & Cosby (2002), Howell & Pearce (2002) and Nchabeng (2001). The results of the study highlighted a number of issues. Firstly that there is unequal power within the partnership relationship and donor agencies, and this is mainly caused by the fact that donors control policies, management processes and systems, as well as the disbursement of project funds. Secondly, civil society organisations, particularly NGOs, are dependant on their donors, and as a result prioritise their programmes at the expense of communities they serve. Thirdly, both parties value and icontribute complementary services towards the achievement of partnership goals. The study also revealed that donors embrace principles of equal partnership, participation, flexibility and mutuality; but in practice this was found to be wanting. Thus donors are challenged to practice these principles, and NGOs to seek other strategies that would ensure their independence.