The vision of the founders of The Mvula Trust, when establishing the organisation in 1993, was to create a flexible, innovative and effective vehicle for supporting and complementing the work of the new democratic government in South Africa. The first minister of Water Affairs in the new government concurred with this vision, and gave it his formal support by signing the first collaboration agreement with The Mvula Trust in 1995. Some of the most important elements of the contribution that The Mvula Trust has made to the development sector:
Implementing and Learning Organisation
The Mvula Trust’s main strength lies in the skills and experience it has developed as both an implementing and learning organisation. Through the water and sanitation projects it has facilitated, over 600,000 households have benefited from improved services. The Mvula Trust has also completed over 60 policy studies and pilot projects which have covered school sanitation, participatory facilitation techniques, solar powered pumping, child-to-child health education, rain water harvesting, and municipal-community partnerships.
The Mvula Trust as a Promoter of Best Practice
The Mvula Trust’s advocacy work is an essential complement to its learning agenda. The Trust’s main advocacy challenge is to bring to rural development work in South Africa an understanding of the need to take different approaches to rural and urban development, in terms of the role which communities should play in the delivery and management of their services. National government policy promotes the idea of government working in partnership with civil society. Promoting good practice in South Africa therefore also involves promoting this policy at local level, and promoting in particular practical and proven ways of putting this policy into effect.
Promoting the Role of Civil Society
South Africa has a rich history of civil society involvement in community development and activism. The new government’s approach to governance and democracy encourages the continuation of this tradition. Many NGOs and other civil society organisations have not survived the often turbulent transition of the ’90s, but those which have, have an important role to play as the country seeks to redress the inequalities of the past. Only in partnership with organised civil society can government build the kind of prosperous and caring society which it intends to build. The Mvula Trust has gained considerable experience, both in partnership with government, as well as in promoting and facilitating partnerships between community based organisations and government, business and NGOs. The Mvula Trust is thus well placed to assist local government to structure appropriate partnership arrangements with the private sector, which also involve organised civil society to ensure cost effectiveness and sustainability.
Balancing NGO Ethos with Business Principles
Over the years The Mvula Trust has changed from a fairly typical NGO, whose operating costs were funded from a core fund, to an organisation run along much the same lines as a commercial project management and consulting firm. All work done is based on contracts, and operating costs are covered by administration and professional fees charged.
Whilst this emphasis on professionalism has led to a necessary culture shift in the organisation, The Mvula Trust has strenuously defended its character as a non-profit, mission driven organisation.
Providing sustainable services
Although The Mvula Trust is a relatively minor player in the sector, in terms of the funds it has disbursed, and the number of people who have benefited directly from the projects it has facilitated, as described earlier, the contribution it has made is by no means insignificant. This implementation capacity is thus an important resource for the sector. In terms of cost effectiveness The Mvula Trust’s emphasis on community management and innovative design results in schemes which are significantly less expensive, on a cost per capita basis, than comparable ones implemented in accordance with the traditional, contractor-based approach. The developmental spin-offs of the community management approach are also an important, although unquantifiable asset to both the communities concerned, as well as to local government. Many communities, empowered through the management of an Mvula Trust-supported project, have gone on to undertake other development projects. This kind of social capital which is developed is necessary for government to achieve success, not only in providing services, but in promoting a strong and vibrant civil society.