The next twenty years - Sangonet makes its forecasts

The past few weeks have seen the emerging market community celebrate Sangonet’s twentieth anniversary, with Sangonet itself releasing its own special publication: “The Sangonet Story, 1987-2007 - twenty years of linking civil society through ICTs” which was launched at the annual Sangonet ICTs for civil society conference.

The organisation’s Executive Director, David Barnard, takes up the story...

As we celebrate our first twenty years, it is also important to reflect on the challenges and opportunities that will face Sangonet in years to come.In the past few years we have made various strategic changes to Sangonet’s operational focus and organisational structure.

A number of Sangonet’s historical range of Information Communication Technology (ICT) products and services were phased out, delivery strategies changed and new initiatives conceptualised and implemented.

These changes were informed by developments within civil society, in the funding and ICT environments in which Sangonet operates, as well as the ongoing assessment of the relevance of our ICT interventions in response to the challenge of strengthening the capacity of NGOs in finding long-term and sustainable solutions to Southern Africa’s development problems.

With approximately 100,000 non-profit organisations operating in South Africa, only a small percentage of these organisations are equipped with the necessary ICT capacity and expertise required in support of their development work. As a result, the potential impact of ICTs on the work of this sector continues to be limited.

Potential of the Internet

Capitalising on the potential of the Internet, both at the individual and broader NGO community level, is an ongoing challenge that Sangonet has set for itself in an effort to bring South African NGOs into the online environment. Moreover, given the global reach of the Internet, local NGOs should be active participants in global discussions and debates and - more importantly - influencing the global development agenda. Indeed, the Internet heralds a strategic opportunity for the future of NGOs as it provides an efficient way to channel information about their activities and engage with constituencies, including donors, government, the private sector, general public and community partners.

This situation defines the raison d’étre for the role and contribution of an organisation such as Sangonet in support of the NGO sector in South Africa. As such, Sangonet’s future activities will be geared towards optimising its activities and resources, and increasing its impact on the ICT uptake in the South African, and broader Southern African NGO sector.

A range of affordable and relevant ICT solutions

Building on Sangonet’s historical expertise and strengths, the emphasis will be on brokering a wide range of affordable and relevant ICT solutions for the NGO sector in conjunction with private sector ICT service providers through Sangotech; expanding and integrating our range of civil society and development information products and services through the Sangonet NGO Portal and Prodder Directory; deepening our knowledge of ICT trends and changes in the NGO sector through the annual “State of ICTs in the South African NGO Sector” research project; and intensifying our ICT advocacy and stakeholder engagement activities and leadership role on ICT issues in the NGO sector through the annual Sangonet “ICTs for Civil Society” Conference and ongoing Thetha ICT Discussion Fora.

Key operational strategies to be implemented and pursued in support of these objectives include a streamlined organisational structure, introduction of much needed skills and capacity where required, strategic alignment and integration of activities across programmes and projects, and much closer cooperation and interaction with a range of NGO, government and private sector stakeholders.

A Southern African focus

Increasingly, most of Sangonet’s activities will be expanded to include a Southern African focus. Many of the ICT and sustainability issues facing South African NGOs correlate with the challenges and opportunities facing similar organisations in neighbouring countries. This situation presents Sangonet with interesting opportunities to leverage its expertise in cooperation with other regional NGOs with a similar interest and mandate.

Southern Africa is still confronted with many challenges associated with the “digital divide”. This situation impacts on the development of the region and its competitiveness in the global business environment. The cost of telecommunications and the lack of political will in many countries to introduce changes in the ICT environment continue to be major obstacles to creating an “information society” in the region that will benefit all its inhabitants.

As an ICT organisation, Sangonet’s work will always be geared towards either maximising prevailing ICT opportunities and/or to support and initiate efforts aimed at introducing changes in the ICT environment that could advance the work of NGOs and the regional development agenda.

Ultimately, Sangonet is at a very important juncture in its history and evolution. The first twenty years have come and gone. Many challenges remain in building the organisation, scaling up and expanding its core ICT activities, and doing justice to its mission and vision.

Sangonet’s response in this regard over the next few years will ultimately ensure its continued relevance and long-term sustainability.

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