Stories from PSJP: Multi Agency Grants Initiative (MAGI)

Multi Agency Grants Initiative (MAGI) in South Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa
Written by Andrew Milner

Zaide Harneker is a programme manager at MAGI. She recalls her first meeting with one of MAGI’s grantees, the Lethabong Legal Advice Centre in South Africa’s North West Province. Their office was a tiny two-roomed house with an outside toilet. She, the programme director and the paralegal, the two people who ran the organization, and the young book-keeper sat in one cramped room. The other room was full of coffins. As the meeting went on, she became increasingly uneasy in the presence of these grim receptacles. Finally, she couldn’t help but ask: why are there coffins in this house? ‘We sell them,’ replied the director, John Moerane. He explained that he and his daughter were in business selling coffins. He used his share of the proceeds to raise money for the advice centre and to pay rent.

Lethabong Legal Advice Centre works by making people aware of their rights. Initially, it worked with people from the local community, helping them open up cases related to gender-based violence, referring them to organizations who could either advise them or act directly on their behalf, organizations like the Community Law Clinic for example. Since the beginning of MAGI’s support, its range has extended beyond Lethabong into the surrounding communities. Now, it goes into a community and sets up workshops. It will get someone from the Department of Social Development to talk about what grants are available to poor communities, how to fill in the forms to access them (if applicants can’t write, they help fill in the form). They talk about domestic violence and people’s rights to safety and security and what to do if they are abused. If victims are afraid to go to the police to report the abuse, they accompany them and open up a case against the person. They also work very closely with the local police and run workshops for them on domestic violence so that they know how to treat victims.

Nominally, its thrust is gender-based violence, but that’s only part of the story. The first impression Zaide Harneker got of Lethabong is the same first impression she gets from all over South Africa – ‘rural communities and farming communities are poor. There’s nothing there.’ On her first visit to Lethabong, she noted a very, very poor area – a lot of the young people were sitting around or loitering. There were no parks as in most black communities because, in the apartheid era, black communities were not provided with community recreation facilities. It was a very, very dry area with no access to food. People travelled 60 kilometres by taxi to buy basic foodstuffs. The main employment, such as it is, is mining. Unemployment runs at 70 per cent. There are low levels of literacy, and high levels of HIV infection and substance abuse in schools and in the community, and high dependency on welfare benefits.

Under these circumstances, the Legal Advice Centre is much more than its name suggests. It is effectively the only community resource in a place which badly needs resources.

Ear-to-the-ground grantmaking
Before we look at how MAGI works with Lethabong Legal Advice Centre, we need to retrace our steps a little and look at the origins of MAGI itself. MAGI was set up in 2006, principally under the auspices of Atlantic Philanthropies and Humanist Institute for Co-operation with Developing Countries (HIVOS), as a funding collaborative to support community-based organizations in South Africa working broadly in the area of human rights. The principal funders were and still are HIVOS, Atlantic Philanthropies and the Ford Foundation. Other funders have come and gone – as Zaide Harneker puts it, MAGI is like a bus. Passengers get on and off but the main drivers of the bus are those three. The organization is managed by HIVOS’ South African office, but the contributing funders are very active in the Allocations Committee which determines how the money is allocated on the basis of MAGI staff recommendations.

It works in four ways: by giving grants to support the CBO sector, building the capacity of those organizations, helping them leverage resources, and finally, helping devise a monitoring mechanism for the organization. It has eight programme areas: HIV/AIDS; sustainable economic development; gender-based violence; culture and recreation; refugee rights; farm workers and rural livelihoods; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights; and health and sexual and reproductive rights.

Behind these labels, Zaide Harneker explains the nuts and bolts of its work. To find grantees, MAGI publishes a call for proposals on its website, Invitations to apply for funding are also sent to CBOs with which established NGOs work within the MAGI thematic and geographic area. Each member of the programme team makes a site visit to the shortlisted organizations. This verifies both the organization’s basic competence and that it is actually serving the needs of the community in the ways it claims. Also, because, again, South Africa is predominantly an oral culture, these meetings give a clearer picture of the organization than a grant application form can.

This is very much ear-to-the-ground grantmaking. When Zaide makes a field visit, she says, ‘I take my hat off as a donor and say “I’m not going to put my hand into the left pocket that takes out the money, I’m taking out my right hand that’s reaching out in solidarity with you…let’s talk.” I tell my story about MAGI and then I sit back and they tell their story as an organization.’ But the elements of the story can be observed even before this interaction begins. ‘At least 10 kilometres before I come into a community, I switch the radio off and observe. Are there children on the road walking to school? How many taxis are there on the road? Are there buses on the road? How many ambulances are there? In the town itself, how many bus stops are there? How many schools? I go to the clinic – how many people are there? Ask questions – is there a doctor here? Are there any ambulances? Look at people’s homes, look in the gardens – is there water here for people to plant and grow crops? By the time you meet the staff of the organisation, you know half of the story already.’

In terms of capacity development, Lethabong again provides a good illustration of how MAGI works. The Advice Centre has taken part in a programme planning workshop, a reporting workshop and in sessions on how to become a learning organization, all organized by MAGI. As Zaide Harneker points out, capacity development often starts with the first meeting. MAGI also identifies which NGOs in a community can provide support for a CBO. It will also conduct needs assessments among its CBO partners and where there is some consonance of need, it will organize workshops on that theme that those CBOs can attend. It invariably uses local trainers in local venues, both for economy’s sake and so that the CBOs can use those same trainers as a sounding board later. Where necessary, it will arrange capacity development on an individual basis, but will look to make economies where it can.

It encourages grantees to report every six months. It tends to make yearly grants and, at the end of 12 months, the field officer will visit the grantee to assess that they have done what they set out to do or to help them think through areas where they haven’t been able to do so. On the basis of this, the field officers will recommend a further grant, pressing to increase the basic amount where appropriate. In this way, CBO partners are encouraged to become learning organizations through monitoring and recording their own performance.

MAGI’s involvement
MAGI’s involvement with the Lethabong Legal Advice Centre illustrates many aspects of this method of work. MAGI made its first grant to the Advice Centre in 2009. Why? Quite simply, as Zaide Harneker says: ‘There were no other organizations addressing any needs within that community at all. There’s no way you can’t support an organization like that.’

Initially, the organization comprised two people, both of them working as volunteers, the director and a paralegal. They gave advice and opened files on the cases the people who came to see them put before them, referring them to other organizations as appropriate, either for legal advice or action or for counselling. In turn, they got advice from a Johannesburg-based NGO which kept the director informed of developments about gender violence, which better equipped him to do his job.

MAGI was the first organization to give them a grant. This has effectively put them on a firm footing for the first time. They have bigger premises, with a waiting room, they have taken on another staff member. As we’ve seen, they have expanded their operation into 45 surrounding communities and on to farms to inform farmworkers about their rights and to mobilize service-providers for them. These communities refer cases of abuse to the Lethabong Centre. The Centre’s caseload is 50 people per month, with 22 files opened per month. The number of cases opened at the South African Police Services has increased to 15 per month as a result of Lethabong’s awareness-raising work. Annually, Lethabong serves 45,000 people in the communities and surrounding farms in which it works.

More than this, MAGI’s support has enabled them to get a grant from the Law Clinic. MAGI’s grant was an indication that the organization had basic systems in place. It was in effect, a platform for trust. The three workers now have at least what Zaide Harneker describes as a stipend, even though it is not a living wage.

Case study compiled for Cairo Meeting of the Social Justice Funders Group, 2009 by Max Niedzwiecki
Conversation with Zaide Harneker of MAGI, 23 August 2012