Community-based organisations (CBOs) often struggle to organise and make their presence felt. This limits the ability of civil society to influence government and empower the communities they serve. Without a strong civil society, the necessary balance to government is not present and democracy is weakened. To address this, Community Connections initiated our Advocacy Programme to create a platform for dialogue between community stakeholders (CBOs, community workers, government, funders, NGOs, etc.), which enables CBOs and community workers to voice their concerns, as well as those of the community, and to develop constructive collaboration with local, provincial, and national governments.
In 2006, Community Connections initiated a campaign to create a platform for advocacy for CBOs and community workers. This campaign is called the Masikhulisane campaign. The objectives of the Masikhulisane campaign are to create a stronger and more sustainable CBO sector through dialogue, networking and partnership-building between CBOs and relevant role-players in the sector (government agencies, political representatives, funders, NGOs, etc.).
Masikhulisane is designed to foster and develop the ability of CBOs to influence governmental policies and practices that impact disadvantaged citizens, to create a more empowering and favourable environment for CBOs and community workers to provide their services, and to promote active and meaningful community participation on issues of local governance and development processes. Hence the campaign is working towards becoming an independent campaign, led by CBOs. Community Connections has been the initiator and facilitator of this campaign, however for CBOs to lead their own development it is crucial that CBOs take ownership of this campaign. This handover is planned for 2012.
The campaign was designed to develop in stages.
2006 We organised a conference with donor agencies and CBOs for the purpose of addressing one of the main challenges facing CBOs and community workers: access to funding. One of the outcomes achieved from this conference was the establishment of the Multi-agency Grant Initiative (MAGI), which provides grants specifically for CBOs.
2007 We organised a three-day residential workshop that explored what government and civil society need to understand about one another as well as examined the need to shift the current government/civil society paradigm. While CBOs voiced their concerns and government listened, there was limited response by government in terms of action. We suspect this is mainly because the purpose of the dialogue was not clear in terms of the expectations.
2008 We organised a conference that brought NGOs and CBOs together. Its purpose was to have NGOs recognise the work of CBOs, to strengthen the relationship between the sectors, and to promote collaboration between them.
2009 This year, Community Connections reflected on the learnings from the first three years of the Masikhulisane campaign. We firmly believe in the potential of the campaign to strengthen the voice, collaboration, and commitment of CBOs and community workers. As such, the organisation decided to fully commit itself to the development of the project. In May, we hired a full-time Advocacy Programme Practitioner and developed a strategy going forward.
2010 This year focused on consolidating and strengthening the campaign as to prepare the campaign to be handed over to its membership of CBOs. The membership base has been broadened and a new core executive team has been elected with 3 dedicated community workers. This team is the driving force of the campaign and is supported by Community Connections. Furthermore the members and executive team decided that the campaign will be more relevant for CBOs if it accommodates a sector focused approach. This will foster collaboration and networking within the sub-sectors and a stronger united stance on issues facing them.
2011 The main focus for 2011 will be to prepare the campaign to be independent of Community Connections. This means that different workshops will be held to strengthen the capacity of the campaign's members to lobby and advocate. In addition issue specific workshops will be held.
Furthermore the learnings of Masikhulisane will be consolidated in a publication and shared with the sector.
2012 A summit will be held in 2012 to accompany the handover of the campaign to its members.