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Philanthropy and #ImStaying

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Shelagh Gastrow provides advisory services to the philanthropy sector, higher education advancement and non-profit sustainability. She works with individuals and families on how to integrate their wealth and their values into meaningful and effective philanthropy. From 2002-2015 she was founder and executive director of Inyathelo and focused her efforts on strengthening civil society and universities through programmes to develop their financial sustainability whilst promoting philanthropy in SA. Her work has gained public recognition locally and internationally.

#ImStaying has given so many people hope and has changed so many people’s behaviour that even now, its job is done. Philanthropy, charity or something else — we are yet to see how this movement, in its infancy, proceeds.

Besides having a degree, diploma and some certificates, I’ve been unemployed for the past 3 years. I’m able to make ends meet, Thank you God, yesterday I was driving on our local main road. There I saw a lady selling mealies. She told me her boss pays her R60 a day!!!! The sun was blazing hot she sat there patiently waiting for customers. She seemed very humble and respectful. By the way mealies are on season but this lady was selling 3 for R25. I made a purchase and quickly strut towards my vehicle and started it, but then the thought struck me ‘I’m the member of #imstaying I need to give something!!! I rummaged through my bag and found R50 and gave the lady!! It felt GOOD, thanks God I could give!!! That’s why #imstaying.”

This post is one of more than a million that have appeared on the #ImStaying Facebook page. Monitoring the site, the numbers of members appears to be increasing at the rate of about 3,000 a day. I am writing this as the page approaches one million members which it will, no doubt, do before the end of 2019. This has become a social movement, perhaps unintentionally, but clearly people have responded to a vacuum that exists in South Africa — a space for good news, inspiration, inclusivity and expressions of caring, rather than the divisive rhetoric we see in the general political discourse.

Recently I attended Marc Lottering’s Aunty Merle — It’s A Girl! at The Baxter Theatre Centre in Cape Town. One scene reflected on social cohesion in South Africa and citizens’ responses to Miss Universe, Zozibini Tunzi; the Springbok World Cup win and the #ImStaying movement. The unexpected cheering from the large audience around #ImStaying indicated that this movement has no doubt gained traction.

One thing that has struck me is the level of charitable giving that has taken place through the site and is exemplified by the post above. The recent challenge to tip restaurant waiters by doubling the cost of the meal has taken hold and the site has images of restaurant bills reflecting these tips. The posts are not only from people who have done the tipping with the message #ImStaying on the bill, but also posts from waiters and restaurant owners to show how many have come through.

Other examples of tipping include Uber drivers, petrol attendants and cashiers. People have paid for other people’s groceries, assisted with the cost of fuel and myriad other opportunities to share their own resources. There is no doubt that this level of goodwill existed already in South Africa, but there is now an awareness, through the members of this site, that South Africans need to treat each other in a different way, see others through different eyes and move away from the anger and frustration that has been the norm for a few years.

It would need a massive research project to quantify the level of charity that has emerged out of #ImStaying, but the value of giving could have exceeded R10-million over the past three months if we extrapolate one million members x R10 each. This does not include the giving “in kind” such as gift parcels, sharing of food and provision of clothes, let alone the voluntary time people are giving to one another.

Charity has largely been defined as giving to alleviate immediate needs rather than to create any form of systemic change and there is always the critique that there are unfortunate power relations between the giver (who has wealth) and the recipient (who hasn’t). However, there is something else going on here — the charitable impulse enhanced by #ImStaying is creating systemic change among South Africans from all communities.

It has fundamentally changed the way people see one another and changed their views from negativity, cynicism and anxiety to unity and hope. It has revealed a side to our society that nobody has noticed and, through this, has built massive levels of social cohesion from the bottom up. No leader is telling people how to behave (especially when many leaders don’t behave that way themselves). Our leaders tell us to “spare a thought” for the poor, but the members of #ImStaying passed the “thought” phase a long time ago, are acting and doing something tangible, no matter how modest.

This systemic shift is something many non-profit organisations and government campaigns dream of. For example, millions of rands have been pumped into the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children campaign which is a flagship government project and a United Nations campaign. While creating awareness through saturation in all media and participation by civil society organisations and the trade unions, it does not seem to have impacted on actual behavioural change as violence against women and children in South Africa continues at a horrendous pace.

Philanthropy is defined as an intentional and strategic approach to private social investment and increasingly donors expect their grantees to also take a strategic approach, providing theories of change documents, monitoring and evaluation exercises and clear measurable indications of the outcomes and impact that the funds are making. Ironically, #ImStaying started organically and citizens have taken their own responsibility and made their own choices, rather than feeding into an organisational framework driven from above.

Has #ImStaying become a philanthropic tool within a completely different paradigm? This developing paradigm shows the power of social media, yet there are many other sites that have similar objectives that have not been successful. Somehow this site has attracted South Africans from across the spectrum to participate because there is such a huge need for good news, for connection, for caring and for love. In essence, according to the #ImStaying organisation, it has become a “collective civil movement”.

For those sad sceptics who see this as a bunch of white people showing off what good deeds they do, or for those who over-intellectualise this response, or for those in political parties who think they have all the divisive answers for South Africa, get off your high horses and go into #ImStaying and see what ordinary South Africans are thinking and doing, even if it scares you as it doesn’t fit your hypothesis. Go beyond the paternalistic “sparing a thought”.

And where is it going? This might be a flash in the pan and, as the movement is now registered as a non-profit company, it may morph into something else as the distribution of money can create dissent. Yet, #ImStaying has given so many people hope and has changed so many people’s behaviour that even now, its job is done. Philanthropy, charity or something else — we are yet to see how this movement, in its infancy, proceeds. DM

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