How Alchemy defined its role as a development facilitator for 5,2 million people and the opportunities this offers for co-ordination, catalytic- and co-funding of initiatives
- Most social projects can be framed to have positive short-term outcomes at an individual level, but are unlikely to compound into sustained transformative change.
- A highly capable strategy for transformative change cannot be limited to the common project-orientated approach used by most funders of community development.
- Cherry-picking problems or trimming problems down to fit a budget or specific interest are not constructive approaches to creating a sustained social impact.
- A strategy that focuses on winning at transformative change is possible if applying practices proven to facilitate change within difficult-to-solve problems.
- By working with Alchemy other co-resourcing partners can tap into its strategy and structures to boost the potential of their social investments, particularly in rural and difficult-to-access communities.
DEVELOPING A CAPABLE STRATEGY
Alchemy was born from the extraordinary vision to realise ‘sustainable and thriving mining communities, through and beyond mining’ together with approximately 5,2 million community members– a vision that reached well beyond the legislative norm to ensure that fundamental change for the communities involved could be achieved both now and in the future.
At the start, in realising this vision, the Alchemy Community Development Trusts (CDTs) and Non-Profit Company (NPC) focused on developing and strengthening many of the governance and administrative functions needed for a registered Public Benefit Organisation. Early work focused on engaging with communities to identify specific needs and managing implementing partners. This led to a raft of projects being supported to cover a variety of needs. While some of these projects had mixed outcomes, in general, most had positive short-term outcomes.
As the CDTs and NPC came to their tenth year of work, the focus inevitably shifted from establishing their respective organisations to reflecting on the gains made and looking at strengthening their operating models. In 2018, Lefa La Rona as part of its support role suggested a global benchmarking exercise leading to the use of the Social Return on Investment Methodology (SROI) both as a planning and outcome assessment tool. From this work, it was learnt that to achieve better social returns the CDTs and NPC needed a more robust impact-orientated strategy to inform their planning. A follow-up initiative in 2020 set out to refine the elements of such a strategy so it could be applied to the CDTs and NPC’s operating model.
Alchemy called its new strategy Impact by Design. Briefly, the strategy is based on a configuration of global practices linked to Systems and Design Thinking paired with an organising framework based on a Life Course Approach.
Given that the CDTs and NPC’s founding documents require them to conduct a meaningful situational analysis to guide their Boards and inform their management processes, it was felt that this document should be the interface between the new capable strategy and operations. The resulting community knowledge product, the Interactive Community Profiles (ICPs), provided a deeper situational awareness of the actions needed to create a more sustained local impact in a specific community as well as considering the means to progressively realise the necessary community-wide change. The ICPs gave the CDTs and NPC the capacity to strengthen their planning process and help establish the role of Alchemy in investing and collaborating with others to facilitate more transformative development.
When sharing its new strategy and IPCs with the UNDP South Africa and CSIR, seasoned project leads called Alchemy’s initiative world-leading and an exemplar of actionable planning for meaningful change.
It was clear that Alchemy had developed a highly capable strategy that reflected the most effective practices to engage in transformative change. Having establish a deeper foundation to execute Alchemy’s mandate, it could now start evolving its operating model to shift focus from pure grants management to being active in facilitating transformative development.
ALCHEMY’S PLAYING FIELD
When the CDTs and NPC started, they followed the common approach to community development in South Africa and across the African continent, which is to identify community needs using a participatory method– typically through self-reporting by local representatives, asking for proposals to fund, assessing their ability to support a proposal, and managing the grants made. They were essentially participating in the same game limiting approach as other good-cause-focused funders.
The process started in 2018 quickly highlighted the challenges with a project-based operating model. In a nutshell, evidence collected in the process pointed to the fact that a project-based model was strategically insufficiently coherent to deliver sustainable transformative change. Put another way, the evidence showed that while individual projects may be doing good at a point in time, they collectively would not result in the desired change as envisioned in Alchemy’s shared vision. Part of the problem related to the accelerated drop-off effect seen in most projects once funding was ended. Combined, the lack of strategic coherence in terms of attaining sustained change together with the speed at which the short-term value created erodes without further funding, meant that the capacity created would often not accrue nor compound into meaningful longer-term transformative change. This concern becomes even greater if framed at a community level.
Alchemy had a choice either to continuously improve its existing project-based operating model or evolve to a more effective strategy. This choice was not as cut and dry as it may appear keeping in mind that the CDTs and NPC alone did not have the resources, capacity, or capability to lessen the impact of large-scale systemic problems associated with the 5,2 million people within their ambit. It seemed like the CDTs and NPC had little choice but to limit their scope to funding projects.
As part of its support role in Alchemy, Lefa La Rona sought to find a way to make it possible to take on a more effective transformative role. The answer that emerged was that the CDTs and NPC needed to adopt a mindset more akin to that of a collaborative development facilitator as opposed to being only a grant manager.
To make this shift would imply a strategy that could leverage deeper insights into what needs to change combined with how to change it locally. Armed with these insights the CDTs and NPC can more easily take up the role of a development facilitator– a role which includes being a long-term partner and helping others access rural communities as well as participate in co-resourcing initiatives as part of a coherent strategy.
This strategy allowed Alchemy to evolve beyond the necessities of establishing the CDTs and NPC. Now Alchemy could take up its intended role and start playing on the field laid out for it by its Founder, Anglo American Platinum. In the South African development landscape, this is a rather unique playing field, which as discussed, requires an equally distinctive strategy.
ALCHEMY’S STRATEGY FOR DOING BETTER
Alchemy’s theory on being a transformative change partner emphasises understanding how to change the experience of those directly affected and in turn increase a community’s capacity to benefit across their whole lifespan. This understanding directs Alchemy to work on problems more systemically while still focusing on people-centred outcomes. When optimised, this will in due course improve both an individual and community’s ability to freely direct their lives.
Practically this calls for applying a Life Course Approach as an organising framework for our knowledge around specific concerns within a community. To round off our understanding of what needs to be done to reduce the impact of these concerns and how this can be achieved in a specific community, we draw on Human Centred Design and Interactive Systems Planning. The outcome of this process is the Interactive Community Profile, which allows the CDTs and NPC to act as well-informed and structured development facilitators who through catalytic and co-resourcing can support transformative change.
WHY THIS STRATEGY WORKS
By applying a Life Course Approach, Alchemy has a better overall picture of a community as we organise both the horizontal span of a community’s life course as well as the vertical elements that act as protective and risk factors. These factors contribute to creating an overall positive life-course trajectory, which is understood to be transformative.
This life course picture also helps create a better systemic understanding of the community as it makes the underlying interactions between local elements more transparent. This avoids fragmenting the social system into islands of concern as often seen in other “integrated” community profiles.
At this stage, Alchemy roughly knows what transformative change should look like in a specific community. The next step follows an interactive design process with those directly affected to describe both the means as well as the resources needed to enable the means.
Contrary to the common approach of cutting a problem down to fit limited individual resources, the means process asks the question, what can be done right now to create the future we want? This implies that in the short term there are actions that can be taken to progressively build to a larger and more complex intervention. If the means is to be truly transformative, the resulting gap should be significant, requiring an act of discontinuous improvement, which in turn drives more creative and innovative thinking.
With a clearer understanding of the means, resources can be sequenced to keep narrowing the gap between what is and what ought to be. Initially, the focus would be to mobilise existing resources to start narrowing the gap as soon as possible– creating meaningful progress– followed by new resources which may still need to be sourced.
Collectively the means and resource plans allow for the use of a ‘Small Wins’ strategy which offers several benefits in engaging with difficult-to-solve problems. Briefly, these include choosing an actionable initial intervention that creates meaningful progress and helps build trust amongst other stakeholders.
HOW OTHERS CAN BENEFIT
Alchemy’s ambit covers 5,2 million people living in the Northwest, Limpopo and Eastern Cape Provinces in South Africa, Lesotho and Mozambique. In some cases, the CDTs and NPC ambits may overlap with other funders’ and development partners’ areas of interest allowing for collaboration around specific initiatives. Others may have an interest in working with rural communities but face several barriers to effectively engage with these communities or show impact with smaller interventions.
As such, through its world-leading strategy and evolving operating model, Alchemy’s CDTs and NPC offer co-resourcing partners the opportunity to extend their reach as well as strengthen the sustainability and impact of their social investments.