Celebrating 11 years: The James 1:27 Trust

Very few innovations and dreams make it beyond the imaginary stage. While just a few actually get born, even fewer deliver on their “mandate” or “vision”. Eleven years after its launch on 11 October 2004, the Trust while still carrying its dream is now also firmly rooted in reality with evidence to show that we are making an impact.  As with all social enterprises, there is however both encouraging and discouraging news. What we now know is that our model of family-based care within an Asset Based Community Development context works. We also know that holistic care is necessary if one wants to move children and families from emergency relief to rehabilitation, development, autonomy, and ultimately to reciprocity. We’ve learning that care needs are better managed within an efficient and integrated care management system that also controls budgets and sponsor relations. 

We can also see that a social movement is needed. We have to dramatically scale the number of people investing in social problems in society to match the scale of the problem.  The present student protests show that South Africa is ripe for its own type of Arab Spring. Furthermore, like Brazil, South Africa is at risk of a credit rating downgrade to junk status. If this should happen, such a downgrade will make our debt repayment costs more expensive, seriously harming our economy. The impact of which is to fuel an already deep rooted political and social dissatisfaction among our citizens in general and our youth in particular. The question is, what can we do? Do we just feed the nightmare by being passive and complain or do we take decisive action and invest in the “dream” of a new kind of society?

At the James 1:27 Trust, we believe that the ground is now ready for social innovation. It is perhaps a false narrative that in the long term, South Africa as a nation, is in decline. We have a purpose and a future, not for evil but for good. So what is this plan? We believe that the gap between resourced and poor is not just a measure of inequality: but is the very space for an emerging social market. It is the space where capital is transferred. Capital that is social, human and financial. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) bring to this e-commerce market a unique value offering, where their service offering can be packaged, monetized and commercialized. The main seller of the service being the community located social entrepreneur who takes care of the vulnerable and responds to the social problems in the community. The buyer of the service is a social investor, an ordinary tax payer, who recognizes that by giving a part of his tax directly to the delivery agents of welfare services he is able to better mitigate the social risk faced nationally. Social risk that is political and economic. This monthly subscription becomes a form of annuity buying a kind of social insurance. So in addition to budgeting for life, short term, care and health insurance, the consumer will also sign up for social insurance in the form of a subscription to sponsored private welfare services for a selected beneficiary or cause. In this “market” space, NGOs compete making for more effective and efficient “customer/beneficiary” focused care! As this kind of “social financial services market” expands it becomes the stimulus for economic growth.  Importantly the stimulus is funded through private as opposed to government funding.  This is good news given that our problem, globally, is unsustainable government debt!. Expectations on stimulating economic development through increased government expenditure without increased revenue through the tax base, is therefore just unrealistic.  

What we don’t know is what impact this kind of private, citizen based, economic stimulus could have on job creation and through growing the care industry service, on poverty. It may well be more significant that we imagine. The social market also lends itself to expanding concepts such as franchising and loyalty systems. The franchising models scales what is already working and through a quality service focus supports customer centric standards. The loyalty system just address the cost to the consumer after tax benefits are taken into account.  

What we are therefore seeing is the creation of new Social Enterprises that function off professional business principles within market fundamentals and at the same time serving the common good. Managing this value chain is the Trust’s “care management platform”. The Trust is the first NGO in Africa to run SAP Business One and is also probably the first globally to use PTC Windchill, a life cycle management solution. The Trust, located at the Innovation Hub in Pretoria, seems well placed as a social enterprise to serve our many care-based partners and orphan and vulnerable children and youth.

So after eleven years, there is good news. We now have a more defined social and business innovation model. But what is the bad news? Our communities are more broken than we could ever have thought possible. In some areas the children that we work with, up to a 70%, present with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In addition, behaviour change models are struggling to cope with teenage pregnancy. The power disequilibrium between older men and young girls make for a distressing fact that nearly two thousand young girls are infected with HIV weekly. Half of our homes have absent fathers.  Added to which are issues affecting the pace of transformation, ineffective delivery of basic services, unemployment, corruption, Xenophobia, violence against women and children, access to drugs and risks of human trafficking.

So is there hope? We believe that there is hope indeed. The game changer being leadership. While waiting for our political leaders to calibrate their spiritual compasses, business leaders also have an opportunity to respond.  The main focus being to mobilise the social capital (employees and customers) within their organisations. In so doing these social consumers (investors) buy social justice via access to a social market. In closing the gap, they address poverty and unemployment at systemic level. This, we believe, is the genesis of a positive social movement. One seed, becoming one tree, becoming a forest. Leaves bringing healing to the nation.  We don’t have to have a violent revolution fuelled by a fascist ideology to change.

So why don’t you start becoming an agent for change and as my one friend says, as “leaders are peddlers of hope”, why don’t you just do what you can! It may be easier than you think.

Celebrating 11 years: The James 1:27 Trust

Protest Against Corruption

Painting of Jesus by Tomek Morawski

Painting by Thomas Morawski

There is something deeply satisfying in walking in solidarity with thousands of others for a principle that one deeply believes in.  The marches in Cape Town, Pretoria and Durban on Wednesday 30 September against corruption were aimed not only against government but also business and all other forms of corruption.  The slogan of ethics, values and clean living resonated among many. One man told me “I am marching against corruption in the knowledge that I personally need tighter discipline and ethics”. The Pretoria march from Burgers Park Hotel to the Union Buildings flowed like a river with more than 7500 people enjoying the diversity and expression of solidarity.  Banners as diverse as from those with political slogans to Lawyers for Human Rights  Against Corruption, Poor Against Corruption, Atheists Against Corruption to Churches United Against Corruption made for a united message that SA is mobilising.  One particularly striking  poster was a picture of the Union Buildings with a “for sale” and then “sold” sticker on it.  As the day passed, I started pondering the significance of what had transpired, and thought of Christ walking the streets of Jerusalem 2000 years ago.  There were similar sounds, revolutionaries baying for the overthrow of the Roman occupiers to the indifferent response of the compromised elite.  Herod and his ilk had sold their souls for power, privilege and wealth. Jesus, cognizant of both, kept His gaze upon the Kingdom and its objectives. He was bringing the Gospel as planned before time with the Good News that the Kingdom of Heaven was near: the Kingdom being about righteousness, justice, shalom and joy. Threatened by this, the status quo, both revolutionaries and the compromised elite, played their roles and participated in His crucifixion. “Give us Barabbas” they shouted!  South African Christians need to know that while we walk in solidarity within a defined Kingdom space and as we march against corruption in the streets, because we have to,  we march however, in the knowledge that we follow a Kingdom agenda.  Our position and space is only really safe when we are persecuted by both the revolutionaries and the compromised elite.  To be their friends tells us that we are ourselves in great danger!

Protest Against Corruption