Profiles in leadership
CEO of the National Development Agency, Thamo Mzobe, is passionate about fighting poverty
As South African communities battle against the burden of poverty, the National Development Agency (NDA) has stepped into their corner, ready to offer support, skills and funding where it is needed. With the country marking Social Development Month in October, PSM spoke to Thamo Mzobe, CEO of the NDA, to find out more about how the agency is making a difference in the lives of South Africans.
The NDA is an agency that falls under the Department of Social Development. It is tasked with the responsibility of contributing towards the eradication of poverty and its causes in South Africa.
It grants funds to civil society organisations for the purpose of implementing development projects of poor communities and strengthening the institutional capacity of other civil society organisations that provide services to poor communities, among others.
According to Mzobe, the organisation's role is that of providing a conduit for grants, keeping a database for civil society, strengthening capacity-building for civil society, and ensuring there is partnership and stakeholder engagement for resource mobilisation.
Mzobe and her team are working on a robust plan that calls on all government departments to work together with the NDA on programmes that are meant to better the lives of South Africans and eradicate poverty.
Radical economic transformation
When President Jacob Zuma spoke about radical economic transformation during his State of the Nation Address, the NDA saw an opportunity for small, micro and medium-sized enterprises (SMMEs) to play a part in the economy.
For Mzobe, the President's speech inspired her to embrace this as a challenge for the NDA to take on.
She realised that the NDA could put the President's words into action by assisting SMMEs and cooperatives.
Apart from supporting non-profit organisations, the NDA also awards grants to cooperatives to contribute towards alleviating and eradicating poverty in their communities.
Mzobe adds that working closely with the Department of Social Development she was able to facilitate radical economic empowerment by ensuring that cooperatives manufacture school uniforms that the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) distributes.
“In 2015 we identified about 1 007 cooperatives. We profiled them in terms of their governance, capacity and interest. We wanted to establish a market which is controlled by Social Development, through Sassa, for school uniforms.
“Out of this figure over 800 cooperatives were able to supply schools with uniforms which were assured by South African Bureau of Standards.This means that the Department of Social Development spent over R100 million, which was paid to small businesses for supplying uniforms,” Mzobe explains.
The value has since accumulated. In 2017, over
R206 million of the Social Development budget has benefited about 1 800 cooperatives involved in producing school uniforms, and food production.
One full school uniform comprises 18 items, which cost about R2 000 per child, with some cooperatives even manufacturing shoes.
Mzobe says cooperatives are very close to her heart because some of those that the NDA has assisted are now mini factories.
“My favourite part of the cooperative is their ability to strike business deals with schools in their areas.They no longer wait for orders from Sassa.
“When it comes to entrepreneurship, we as a country have a lot of potential.We support cooperatives so it's not only one person who benefits … there are direct and indirect beneficiations for the community.”
The NDA provides an enabling environment for cooperatives to do business.
“This means if people come together and request assistance to start a sewing company we buy them the machines and then provide them with a market to sell their products to. We unlock potential in cooperatives.”
In the past financial year, the NDA assisted about 70 cooperatives in this way.
ECD centres a pillar for education
Another critical element of the NDA's work is Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres, which are pillars of education and important in unlocking a child's potential.
“Understanding the investment in a child and unlocking the potential at a very early stage is very important.”
Mzobe says the NDA looks at ECD centres
holistically in terms of a child's mental and physical development. “This is an asset and if well nurtured at an early stage will yield great potential for our country,” she says.
Mzobe adds that during the first 1 000 days of a child's life their minds can quickly absorb important information.
Getting access to quality education at this stage is essential. ECD programmes also advocate that children who are exposed to the programmes must have access to quality food and to an environment that allows the growth of potential.
Mzobe says that if South Africa gets the ECD programme right, the country will not experience entrepreneurial challenges nor struggle to produce scientists because the child's potential and resilience is built at this level.
She adds that for children to flourish academically, nutrition and a balanced diet are also important.
One ECD centre, one food garden
The NDA promotes the concept of “One ECD centre, one food garden”.
Food gardens make it possible to provide fresh vegetables to ECD facilities, home-based centres, rural communities and school feeding schemes.
The NDA also provides skills development and training related to the benefits of good nutrition.
ECD centres have been recognised as one of the most powerful tools in breaking the cycle of poverty in South Africa.
Lack of opportunities and interventions, or poor-quality interventions during early childhood, can significantly disadvantage young children and diminish their potential for success.
The NDA focuses mostly on ECD centres situated in rural areas, informal settlements and farm areas, where the levels of poverty are very high and parents have no means or access to structured ECDbased programmes.
Mzobe adds that her organisation focuses on building on the management of an ECD centre, particularly in the areas of governance, financial management, fundraising, human resource management, report-writing and how to register with the provincial departments of Social Development.
“This assists centres to comply with the norms and standards of the Department of Social Development.”
Upgrading the infrastructure of ECD centres is also an important element in ensuring infrastructural norms and standards, which creates an environment that is conducive to learning and safe.
Training of ECD staff
Mzobe says that ECD principals, supervisors, practitioners, cooks and governing body members are appropriately trained and skilled to benefit the centres' programmes for young children.
She adds that ECD educators are also guided by a curriculum with teaching standards that must be attained.
“Their curriculum covers most of Grade R ... ECD centres are a public good and every child needs to have equitable access to ECD. It's supposed to be a standard practice across the board,” says Mzobe.
Be the change you want to see
October is Social Development Month but Mzobe believes: “We should live Social Development Month every day because this is enshrined in our National Development Plan (NDP). When the NDP says active citizenry it's clearly indicating the importance of helping each other and starting something because it's good for a fellow South African.
“Let's be aware of the resources that we have in our country. Let's use them to care, support and nurture each other”, she adds.
Touching the lives of South Africans
Mzobe says she is proud of the work she does because her organisation is touching people's lives and changing them for the better.
She says she loves her job since it keeps her grounded and in touch with ordinary citizens of South Africa.
Moving forward, Mzobe's vision for the NDA includes a South Africa that has one community practitioner from the NDA in every ward.
“This should be a person who will be dedicated to community development with eradicating poverty and fighting hunger at the top of their list,” she says.
Thamo Mzobe, CEO of the NDA.