We are introduced to the SIVIO Institute , a civil society organization on mission to promote a citizen focused democracy by catalysing citizens’ agency to enhance government performance, and nurture the mobilization of community assets in Zimbabwe, by Eddah Jowah, the Coordinator – Centre for Philanthropy. She presents an in-depth look at how civil society can promote citizen participation and policy advocacy, and the role they play in managing governance structures.
How was the SIVIO Institute established, and what are its core focus areas?
SI: The SIVIO Institute (SI) was established in 2018 and our work entails multi-disciplinary cutting-edge policy research, nurturing citizens’ agency to be part of the change that they want to see, and working with communities to mobilize their resources through community-based forms of philanthropy to resolve some of the immediate problems they face.
Our country program in Zimbabwe focuses on enhancing local giving, resolving policy-based constraints to development and supporting the growth of entrepreneurship with a social purpose. We launched our #OpenBudgetZim tool in 2018 to augment policy tracking by showing how the government allocates resources to meet the country’s competing needs.
SI is focused on providing support to build up the capacity of non-state actors on policy analysis and advocacy through our Policy Analysis and Advocacy School. Our work is also focused on the area of philanthropy with a particular focus on community philanthropy as well as social entrepreneurship – platforms for broadening the participation of citizens within political and economic spaces allowing for a more inclusive society. Given the continued socio-economic crisis in Zimbabwe, declining external aid, and developmental support, the work we do in these two areas are solutions to address the problems of dependence on external resources and increasing levels of unemployment, and limited participation by citizens in the economy.
As a research and policy advocacy institute, what gaps in philanthropy is SIVIO Institute filling?
SI: Zimbabwean/African Philanthropy is not a new phenomenon. Giving and community solidarity and support have always been a cornerstone of society, however, this kind of solidarity has for long been undervalued and not adequately captured or documented.
There has been a lot of focus on the giving done by High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs) like Aliko Dangote; Strive Masiyiwa and Patrice Motsepe just to name a few. Given that this form of giving is one individual/family giving to many and often involving significant financial resources, it has made it easier to track and document. However, the giving by ordinary individuals is often ignored because of the lack of a clear tracking methodology, and because it is often small amounts/resources being mobilized by many people to create something impactful.
We are focused on developing strategies to track, recognize and grow these, and other forms of giving such as the combined giving by the growing middle class (on the continent and in the Diaspora) to common causes and community giving/philanthropy (or peer-to-peer giving). We also seek to expand the concept of philanthropy beyond just monetary forms and in this way broaden the base of who can give and how they can give through drawing upon the Assets Based Community Development approach based on the principles that:
- Everyone has gifts.
- Everyone has something that they can contribute.
- Everyone cares about something and that passion is a motivation for them to act.
Our second area of focus when it comes to philanthropy in Zimbabwe and across Africa is the lack of a policy framework/environment that supports the sector. Outside of South Africa, the philanthropy value chain across the continent is very weak or non-existent. If all forms of philanthropy are to thrive there is a need for an enabling environment made up of laws and policies that encourage the ease of giving, a tax regime that creates incentives for giving; a network of collaborating organizations that help to grow the field and above all prosperity which grows the middle class and creates surpluses for giving.
How do the programs/centres you provide support & create opportunities for local civil society?
SI: Our work is organized across three centres, all of which are linked towards the development of an inclusive society and citizen participation. Across each of the centres the following tools are used; Research and Publications, Training/Capacity Building, Dialogues/Convenings, Integrated Technology Platforms (ITPs), and Networking. These initiatives are focused on enhancing the capacity of civil society, with our research work and ITPs seeking to provide resources and materials that civil society can use for analysis and advocacy, ensuring that it is evidence-based. Since inception we have carried out research on high-networth giving across Africa, the evolution and growth of community philanthropy in Zimbabwe , a critique of mainstream development practices, and various other reports focusing on the subjects of philanthropy, public policy, and entrepreneurship.
We use these tools as an avenue for citizens’ voices to be heard – in particular our Citizens’ Perceptions and Expectations Reports, while our Local Government in Zimbabwe Tracker uses data collected directly from residents across the four major cities in Zimbabwe. We use our technology-based interventions to track policy implementation, improve philanthropy focused organizations, and strengthen entrepreneurship-focused practices Our long-term goal is to create a comprehensive, easy to access and use repository of resources and information to support the work of civil society and other stakeholders including the government to improve the quality of policies/strategies to address public problems.
We host various dialogues and convenings with the aim of providing a space for constructive dialogue between state and non-state actors around key policy problems and possible solutions. Through our training initiatives, we aim to grow the field of practice around policy, entrepreneurship, and philanthropy.We have designed short and intensive training initiatives within each center, and provide opportunities for anyone interested in these areas opportunities to build up their skill level and knowledge base.
How can capacity building and collaboration help indigenous nonprofits drive sustainable impact?
SI: Maintaining capacity building and collaboration is especially important due to increasing uncertainties brought by the spread of COVID-19, including dwindling funding opportunities and technology-related disruptions. We have focused on enhancing and leveraging technology in order to sustain our operations with limited disruptions.
We were able to move all our training courses for 2020 to online platforms, allowing us to reach a wider audience and also reducing the costs of our training programs. Dialogues and engagements with various civil society actors were maintained through the use of platforms such as ZOOM and Microsoft Teams, and for research & online data collection, tools such as Survey Monkey and KoboCollect reduced the huge overhead and time costs. Throughout 2019 and 2020 SIVIO Institute has been a conduit to support the establishment of a loose Think-Tanks in Zimbabwe as well as a platform dedicated to creating conversations on the role of Think-Tanks across Africa (with an initial focus on Zimbabwe).
A strong citizen voice is only possible through collaboration and networking within civil society to create the spaces required for increased and improved citizen engagement and the proffering of policy options/alternatives for governments to consider.