HEART DRIVEN AFRICAN PHILANTHROPY – APN ROUND TABLE CONVERSATION WITH MR SURAJ RAY THE CHAIRMAN OF MACOSS
Can you please tell us a bit about yourself and your organisation?
MACOSS is the national platform for NGO’s in Mauritius. It was established and enacted by an Act of Parliament since 1970. MACOSS have more than 100 NGO’s as members. All these NGOs are legally registered organizations working in different fields of specialization and implementing different sets of activities.
I serve as the voluntary chairperson for MACOSS. This position is nominated by the members. Therefore, my duty is purely philanthropic. I give and offer my service to the organization with a voluntarily. As MACOSS, we have an established permanent secretariat of paid staff members. We have a clear governance structure at MACOSS with a Board of Directors. As an established institution we have put in place a strategy of worthy consideration in order for us to ensure that we achieve our desired vision and objectives. As an organization our prominent objectives are advocacy or rather policy influencing, networking, and empowering our NGO members. These are some of our fundamental objectives. We are a representative body as MACOSS; therefore, we collect the views of the civil society and then we submit these views to the government and various partners in order for us to ensure that we are meeting the needs of NGOs.
How would you describe the philanthropy field in Mauritius, and what are the main trends and challenges?
In Mauritius we have different parameters that affect the manner in which we approach the idea of philanthropy. But regardless which angle we may look at it, everything goes to help the vulnerable and local people. It is imperative to note that many NGOs operate on a voluntary basis, they commit themselves to give a part of who they are to the general good of the community, and ensure that they do not only focus on allocating financial resources but on a voluntary basis commit their time, skills and intelligence to the greater good of Mauritius. Philanthropy in Mauritius still means voluntary work, and to this aspect we have to ensure that we work with the Government, academic institutions and private sector that have a common interest to serve. The fundamental focus of philanthropy in Mauritius is to share what we have so as to meet sustainable development goals.
What are you doing as an institution in promoting African philanthropy (individual and or community philanthropy)?
In 2019, we had a cyclone in our region. So much damage was caused, and upon this unexpected disaster we had to call for solidarity to provide in-kind support. We implemented a solidarity fund, through the donation of supplies, and see how best we could support all affected communities. We ensured that all the families that were affected received food packs and various supplies that can help them cope with the impact of the cyclone. From this point, we are able to see how as a community of philanthropists we coordinated each other to achieve a desired objective. On the other hand, during the impact of COVID-19 pandemic, we have implemented projects through tapping into the potential of NGOs, and implement programs that helped to empower the vulnerable people in our nation, and around the region.
How can philanthropy encourage innovation and community-led development? You can give an example of National Cooperate Social Responsibility Commission.
It is important to note that for us to reach to a point where Social Corporate Responsibility (CSR) is being utilized with utmost adoration. It did not just get to this point, that was a result of consistent advocacy and policy influencing that we were able to achieve a structure through which SCR could be implemented effectively. Through the effective implementation of the CSR legislation, we have been able to create an environment that is favorable for innovation and community led development. As MACOSS, we are ensuring that we support NGOs and community led ideas access funding through the established State Agency to handle the CSR programs. We build their capacity and motivate input by ensuring that we work progressively in helping the NGOs to access funding necessary for actualizing their projects. It is a good thing that we have a CSR Committee, but we cannot run away from the fact that the financing space has seriously shrunk. So yes, the CSR legislation implemented by the State is very progressive, but we need to intensify accountability.
Do you believe that philanthropy support organisations such as APN can improve and expand the available data on philanthropy?
In Mauritius we have a singular source through which we generate data, the Government department in charge of statistics, National Statistics Department. However, the data provided is not adequate to support NGOs manage programs they seek to support, empower and help vulnerable people. The Government implements the Social Register which indicates the number of people living below the poverty line and so on and so forth, but in Mauritius the challenge is that research is not fundamentally well financed. For instance, when we had the Voluntary National Review for the SDGs, the government did not have figures of how much work had been done at the grassroots level. It is imperative to state that when it comes to generating data, there is need for us to invest heavily in research and not just about promoting the sake of having data. Africa Philanthropy Network (APN) should advocate for more funds to be allocated towards research, because if research is not well funded. We cannot commit ourselves to doing work that is really impacting on the ground and achieving its desired results. The Government should work closely with NGOs when it comes to generating sufficient data paramount for national development. The question of data is very important and we need to build solidarity on this, it cannot only rest in the hands of the government, as the civil society space we need to see how best we can play our part in achieving this desired objective.
How is being a member of APN strategic for MACCOS’s or work being done in Mauritius and the continent?
At first when I came to MACOSS I did not know about Africa Philanthropy Network (APN), but when I took the time to visit the APN website and understood what it stood for, I realized the importance of being a member of this relevant network. In all honesty, at first I had some difficulties understanding how being a member of APN would be strategic to the work we are doing as MACOSS. From our end as MACOSS, we desire support from APN in the context of advocacy and networking because you understand the context of African philanthropy better with a continental perspective. We believe being a member of APN is quite strategic because it helps us advance our mission and our work and ensures that we meet the vulnerable at their point of need.
Is Africa’s philanthropic sector changing and evolving on the continent? If yes, how?
I believe we need more collaboration and more solidarity if we have to see the evolution of philanthropy that is more coordinated and inclusive. The model of African Philanthropy has to be reviewed, and in order to do this there is need to support philanthropic driven organizations such as APN have access to more funding that can support with research and ensure that we build their institutional capacity. There is a lot of work to be done in this regard, but it needs more consolidated efforts.
As a way of closing, what would be your message to the rest of the Philanthropic community on the continent?
We should never forget that people that do philanthropy, do that with their hearts. They are passionate about giving and they give to see a change and not merely because they want to be noticed. So there is a need for us to ensure that we understand philanthropy from that important context. I would love to thank every individuals and organizations that are giving their resources to the greater good of our community. Lastly, let us not forget that we do not need legislation to ensure that we share or give, let us support our people that are in desperate need without being forced to do so.