Written by Mission Talent Team

Leadership Transitions #9: Masego Madzwamuse

In October 2018, Mission Talent placed Masego Madzwamuse as the CEO for The Southern Africa Trust. Previously, she was the Team Leader for the Economic and Social Justice Cluster at the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA).

In this interview, she talks about how she has built up the resources of The Trust so it can tackle a long term agenda; and connects the dots between poverty, conservation, climate, and trade in Southern Africa.   

You have been the CEO at The Southern Africa Trust for almost a year. What have been the highlights for you thus far?
I joined The Trust at a time of multiple transitions, so there are a few highlights I’d like to share. First, I realised that there’s a lot of partners who are committed to supporting an African-based and -led, grant-making organisation that play this critical role in policy advocacy. When I joined, like most non-profit organisations the Trust was faced with a challenge of sustainability driven by the changes in the funding landscape. Most of the funding agreements were coming to an end, but since then a number of donors have come on board to give us both operational support and programme support. The Ford Foundation has given us flexible funding to support our institutional capacity work and also have rallied behind our business and sustainability plan- a cutting edge space in our efforts for diversifying our funding base. One of the other partners who stepped up to our request for further support is the Mott Foundation which came on board with a three-year programme to support us in building a body of work around community philanthropy — making it possible for the Trust to continue with our grantmaking mandate. GIZ also came through with a three-year programme that is committed to keeping the voice of civil society within the regional integration agenda. The Open Society Foundation also stepped in to give us support for programmatic funding, having confidence from the relationship that I’ve had with them in the past, but also their own understanding of the role that The Trust plays in the region. Collectively, the funding that has come through has stabilised the funding base of the Trust for another two years, while we work on putting together a long-term sustainability plan. 

The other thing that I’m quite excited about is that we have appointed a new board chair — Stigmata Tenga, the Executive Director of the African Philanthropy Network. When you have women in leadership, it brings an opportunity to craft an organisation that is committed to women’s empowerment within the SADC region, but also an organisation that is led through emotional intelligence, compassion and a focus on staff wellbeing as core to the institutional culture.

The third highlight is, that since 2016, the board and the management of The Trust have been discussing the establishment of an income generating arm of The Trust that would mobilise resources and develop partnerships with mission driven private sector and provide fee-for-services to governments, donors, and the development sector in general. Three works ago, the board fully endorsed the establishment of this new social enterprise, so we will be recruiting a business plan expert who is going to be driving that sustainability arm of the organisation. This is certainly a space to watch as we develop new partnerships and learn from the corporate and social impact investment field and a number of non-profit organisations looking into innovative sources of funding. The investment arm is critical for the Trust to continue with our grantmaking mandate and mission.

The Southern Africa Trust works to increase the voices of civil society and policymaking in Southern Africa to eradicate poverty. What are you focusing on currently and what issues do you see as most urgent in the region?
Our emphasis on amplifying the voices of poor people is to acknowledge and build on the social agency that those who are affected by poverty themselves have. We have continued to be committed to building the social movements that galvanise the political voice of the poor and organise them to be more influential as a collective. We’ve remained dedicated to providing direct support and platforms to the social movements and organisations that represent those groups, so we continue to work with the Southern African People’s Solidarity Network.  We’re continuing to support the small-scale farmers through the Regional Farmers Association groups, and also putting emphasis in developing a programme and consolidating our work around women’s empowerment in support of the Rural Women’s Assembly. We also are continuing to work with the informal traders’ groupings through the Southern Africa Cross Border Traders Association. It’s quite critical that we continue to support these formations and seek out emerging movements, particularly as our governments are pushing big agendas around the continental free trade agreement and the SADC Industrialisation Plan. Trade is coming back into the African policy space as an important issue for unlocking economic development. We are emphasising the need for the continental trade agreement to be people-driven and responsive to the needs of people on the ground. I’m quite excited about that. 

I think that work on community philanthropy is really important because it goes beyond unlocking funding for civil society to actually strengthen the voice and space for democratising development at the local level where policy implementation is taking place. In line with building proactive constituencies of the poor to effectively demand accountability we are reaching out to organisations that work in the humanitarian, development, and the environmental space pushing for intersectionality. For instance, next month, we’re going to be convening in Zimbabwe with Amnesty InternationalOxfamActionAid, and the SADC Council of NGOs to draw lessons from the impact and the preparedness around which governments and civil society responded to the emergency that was presented by Cyclone Idai. In that space, what we are trying to do is to surface the issues from a community perspective and amplify them, so we’re going to be flipping the script and through a three-day process where we’re purely listening to the conversation driven by the communities; their experiences, needs, aspirations, and what they would like to see being done differently. This forms part of a broader conversation on how you build community resilience to climate change at a local level. It is a timely dialogue in this era of climate urgency, natural hazards will continue to occur as a result of climate change, however they do not need to be disasters if proper systems are developed on the ground and communities are equipped with the right knowledge and support. 

The Southern Africa Trust’s mission is to strengthen the voices of poor people in policy processes, which is a unique mandate. How has The Trust helped poor people influence policy?
One of the examples is our work with cross border traders from Malawi where we negotiate between the customs authorities in Malawi and South Africa to ease customs procedures and reduce transaction costs for informal traders. While SADC has a free trade agreement in place, the agreement largely focuses on making it easier for business in the formal sector, The Trust has worked on some of the challenges that informal traders are facing. The ease of movement across borders is high on the agenda especially at borders where there are high-pressure points, like between Mozambique and South Africa, and South Africa and Zimbabwe. While the progress is happening at a bilateral level, we are hoping to upscale regional policy advocacy on movement of people at the SADC level. The recent signing of the continental free trade agreement offers an opportune moment to reignite the cross border traders movements. 

Another practical example has to do with the reparation of social security benefits for ex-mine workers migrant workers. For a while, people who had worked in the South African mines were not able to access their benefits upon their return to home countries. Through funding from DFID, we’ve been working with the Department of Trade and Industry and the South African Miners Association and Health Focus  to trace the beneficiaries and to begin the repatriation process. At a regional level, this work has opened up a conversation on regional social protection policy that is sensitive to labour migration patterns in the region. Relatedly, we have been working with FinMark Trust on opening up financial corridors for informal traders. There has been work between Lesotho and South Africa where migrant workers are able to remit some of their income back home through retail networks. For example, Shoprite has a money transfer programme that allows workers to remit their funds back to their home countries with very minimal transaction costs. This tags into a bigger agenda of financial inclusion for poor people. 

You have a background in environmental science, and previously had a long career with the IUCN. Are environmental issues part of your work today?
Absolutely — the reason being that biodiversity, environment and natural resources are the GDP of the poor. If you think about it, for a lot of the agricultural communities, being dependent on rain-fed agriculture means that healthy ecosystems are important for supporting their livelihoods. The environment also plays a big developmental role within the Southern African in terms of wildlife and tourism — a number of countries highlight this sector as important for economic diversification. It is difficult for me to think about a poverty reduction and development agenda that is oblivious to environmental sustainability.  

Climate change presents a major threat in terms of eroding the developmental gains that we have had in the region, and poor people are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. If our issue is really around amplifying the voice of poor people and reducing poverty and inequality, we can’t ignore the space of climate policy. We have to be involved in making sure that climate change is responsive to those who are most affected. 

From a policy advocacy point of view, we are looking at ways in which The trust can contribute to that discourse. There is a lot of work to be done in terms of building internal capacities, of understanding the links between climate change, social policy and development.  A few partners have come on board to work closely with us, including UNEP, Resource Africa, Namibia Association of CBNRM Organisations (NACSO)Resilient Waters and a number of environmental organisations that have experience working in the space of community-based natural resource management. We are working together to amplify the voices of communities who are stewards of wildlife resources and highlighting the importance of increasing benefits and their roles and responsibilities within the management of the natural resources. This is very much part of the Trusts’ agenda to mobilise movements for accountability and strengthen the voice of the poor in public policy processes. While our partners bring sector specific expertise the Trust brings social and political advocacy networks.

There has been a lot of excitement over the growing movement for African philanthropy in recent years. How would you describe the state of African philanthropy and what trends do you see that are promising? 
The growing collaboration between African philanthropists and development practitioners is encouraging because I think there is an opportunity for us to work towards a collective vision, drawing on the comparative advantages that the different actors bring. What I find really encouraging as well is that unlocking the resources within the continent and channelling them towards our own development priorities means that Africa is positioning itself to be in charge of shaping the narrative and taking charge of the direction that development is taking in the continent. 

The other trend that I find quite encouraging has been in the work on community philanthropy. We have been looking into tapping into existing cultural practices of giving, but having conversations about how we organise and consolidate these practices and work with communities to identify collective programmes that they can contribute towards. These conversations unlock a strategic relationship between communities’ needs on the ground and the corporate social responsibility of the private sector. The strategic partnerships that are developing between NGOs and the private sector is an important space to keep looking into. 

As a leader, it is always important to reflect on your skillset. What skills do you find that you specifically bring to the role that has made you successful?
I have really found my background as a development policy analyst, a conservation and environment practitioner, and my work in the human rights space useful in terms of thinking holistically about the work that we do. My background also has been beneficial in thinking through the kinds of partnerships that we need to have in place so that we can take the mandate of The Trust a step further — the networking capacity across the sectoral divide has been quite useful. Having come from a grant-making organisation with a fundraising background has been useful in enabling The Trust to think differently about the business and development and the sustainability direction that we are taking. The networks that I have and the experience I have engaging with the private sector, philanthropy and also the traditional donor landscape space, has been quite useful. 

My creativity and flexibility have helped me to balance the multiple transitions that are needed within the organisation, while at the same time not losing sight of the importance of creating a positive environment within the team so that people keep inspired to do the very difficult work we have to push ahead. 

As you look forward to the years ahead at The Southern African Trust, what are you excited about achieving?
I am excited about building financial sustainability of the organisation, which would make it possible for The Trust to continue being mission-driven and have the capacity to provide the support that is needed in the civil society space and to build the movements. I think that we do need a vibrant civil society in the region in order to hold our governments accountable for the delivery of development, and we need the strong voices of civil society to reduce poverty. As long as institutions like ourselves are caught up in short-term funding cycles, it makes it difficult to keep pushing for the long-term agenda, so I am looking forward to us having adequate resources in the next three years so that we can put our efforts on the work that is needed on the ground.