Profiles in leadership
Chief Executive Officer of the National Development Agency, Thamo Mzobe, is all about active leadership
For South Africa to become a society free from poverty, government and civil society organisations need to come together.
The National Development Agency (NDA) is tasked with contributing towards the eradication of poverty and its causes in South Africa, by strengthening the capacity of civil society organisations to effectively and efficiently provide services to the poor communities that they serve. It is an agency of government under the national Department of Social Development.
Its mission is to facilitate sustainable development by strengthening civil society organisations involved in poverty eradication through enhanced grant-funding and research.
As the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the NDA,Thamo Mzobe's job is to translate strategies of government into a tangible service to deserving beneficiaries.
She joined the NDA in 2012 as a Provincial Manager in KwaZuluNatal and was promoted to facilitate stakeholder relations as a senior manager in 2013. Hard work saw her progressing up the ranks and she was appointed as CEO in 2016.
“I don't take being a CEO as a status but as a responsibility. As a servant leader, I am always looking for ways to make people's lives easier,” she said.
“My role is to make sure that I unpack the vision of government into changing lives of the people through strategies. It is my role to ensure that the NDA is doing justice to the community,” she added.
Mzobe's personal goal is to ensure that the bureaucratic practices that exist in government do not become a barrier or frustration to communities wanting to access services.
She spoke to PSM about the role that the NDA plays in eradicating poverty and facilitating sustainable development.
“Our main role is to mobilise grants to support civil society organisations that have poverty eradication programmes. We receive about R200 million annually from parliament to do our work, including administration. That is not a lot of money, but we have been able to make strides with it,” she said.
The agency recognises that civil society organisations are development actors that contribute to economic, social and demo-
cratic development to achieve the shared goals of eradicating poverty and improving the lives of beneficiary communities.
The NDA serves as a catalyst to harness the efforts of civil society organisations. Mzobe said this year alone the agency has approved funding for more than 200 civil society organisations across the country.
Grant funding is provided to civil society organisations that contribute to the improvement of the quality of life in communities through programmes or projects that assist the poor.
Mzobe said there is no limit to how much the NDA can fund one organisation, but there is a process to be followed in terms of approving applications and assessing the needs of each organisation.
Financial and non-financial resources are identified and mobilised to support non-profit organisations (NPOs) and civil society organisations.
She said if the NDA is unable to fund a deserving organisation in a particular year, that organisation is prioritised for the next financial year.
She explained that the agency also plays a role in linking organisations to other government departments and private institutions, as well as local and international donors for additional support
Among other services, the agency provides the following: • Funding needs assessment for civil society organisations. • Funding proposal writing, handling face-to-face meetings. • Communicating key messages to potential funders.
• Granting funding to civil society organisations for development programmes and projects operating in poor communities.
The agency was established in 1998 and is tasked by Parliament with conducting research that will inform government's povertyfighting programmes that aim to mobilise civil society and facilitate capacity building.
“We have to make sure that civil society organisations do not fall apart,” she said.
In terms of capacity building, the NDA has a programme that is designed to ensure that civil society organisations have the institutional capacity needed to undertake the work that they are supposed to be doing.
The programme strengthens the institutional and technical capacity of organisations to enable them to deliver sustainable and quality services when carrying out development programmes and projects in poor communities.
Since 2013, the NDA has trained over 5 000 civil society organisations to enable them to implement community-development programmes successfully, comply with NPO legislation and account for funds that they receive from donors.
To ensure that its capacity-building interventions are sustainable, the NDA uses a three-step approach involving training, mentorship and incubation.
In terms of training, the NDA provides accredited and nonaccredited training modules in the following:
• Basic bookkeeping and financial management.
• Conflict management.
• Project management.
• Governance resource mobilisation.
• Registration compliance.
• Community development practice.
• Networking and external relations.
Previously, the NDA was based only in provincial offices but now its services have become more accessible, thanks to the establishment of 52 district offices.
“The expansion to more districts provided an opportunity for the NDA to strengthen relations with local municipalities,” Mzobe said.
She added that the proximity to the district municipalities will enable the NDA to gain better knowledge of the challenges faced by communities and will allow the agency to respond accordingly.
Early childhood development
The NDA also works in support of the Department of Social Development's early childhood services, by focusing on early childhood development (ECD) programmes that are not registered, those that are conditionally registered and those that are geographically far beyond reach.
These are programmes 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 ECD-based programmes.
Mzobe said through studies conducted by the NDA, the agency realised the importance of investing in the first 1 000 days of a child, and that women play a significant role in the fight against poverty because they take care of children and lead families.
“We had to make sure that we support women to become the centre of development, because they are participating in the ECD sector, small-scale farming and small businesses. We realised that if we invest in ECDs, we will be creating jobs for practitioners and the local women who work in the food gardens that supply fresh produce to the ECDs,” she said.
However, Mzobe said the NDA's impact over the years is quite minimal and the focus is now on ensuring that it becomes more effective.
CEO of the National Development Agency, Thamo Mzobe.