The 58-year-old non-governmental organisation, Matie Community Service (better known as MGD – Matie Gemeenskapsdiens, in Afrikaans), is wrapping up a number of focus group engagements with various stakeholders in the lead-up to its intended incorporation into Stellenbosch University (SU) at its Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Thursday, 20 October.
Stakeholders will be asked to vote in favour of a proposal for the NGO to be integrated into SU's Division for Social Impact (DSI) at the AGM. Once this happens, MGD will be dissolved as an NGO.
Over the last few weeks, Ms Renee Hector-Kannemeyer, Head of the NGO and Deputy Director of the DSI, and Ms Michelle Pietersen, Senior Programme Manager at MGD, met with student leaders and community partners to inform them of how such a move will impact on their current relationship and engagement with the work of MGD. Discussions were held with student leaders from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences based at SU's Tygerberg campus; with community partners such as e'Bosch Heritage Project, SCAN and the Co-Management Forum representatives; leadership from the Social Work Department, including students, who do their practical training with MGD and partner NGOs as part of their course requirements; student leadership within residences and private student organisations (PSOs); and student social impact faculty and society committees.
The AGM vote is the culmination of a two-year long process that kicked off on 23 June 2020, when Mr Rudy Oosterwyk was appointed to work with MGD to investigate the NPO's strategic position and sustainability, by facilitating a stakeholder discussion. In brief, his findings – which were compiled in a Management Advisory Letter – indicated that responses to a “preparatory questionnaire", that had been presented at the joint stakeholder forum overseen by him, had “asserted that MGD's ongoing role is squarely attached to the work of SU".
In July 2021 Dr Jerome Slamat, former Executive Manager in the Rector's Office at SU, was contracted to facilitate the integration of MGD into DSI. At the time, DSI was undergoing a self-evaluation process and was drafting a new Social Impact Strategic Plan.
These exercises revealed that SU would have to undertake its “reimagining of Social Impact" at the same time as it was working on the integration of MGD into a reimagined strategy and structure". This was followed by various workshops with stakeholders.
“MGD's historical vision is to expand the university's footprint in surrounding communities through student volunteerism. This work remains a critical element of Stellenbosch University's institutional plan through its Social Impact Strategy. MGD staff have fulfilled this mandate for almost six decades. The university relies on MGD to ensure the implementation of this programme and to provide support to academic departments involved directly in community engagement. MGD also assists students to develop appropriate and targeted responses based on the needs of the community," explains Hector-Kannemeyer. The Social Work department, in particular, has drawn on the work of MGD in this way.
“The integration model provides an opportunity for the reallocation of funds to achieve the aims set out in the university's Social Impact Strategy. Engaged Citizenship will become one of the central foci of the Reimagined DSI, which will ensure the sustainability of the work currently managed by MGD.
Prof Nico Koopman, SU Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Social Impact, Transformation and Personnel has lauded the move, citing the extensive review and stakeholder participatory process which has culminated in the decision to integrate MGD with the DSI.
Explaining the reasoning for the proposal, Koopman says: “I was in matric in 1978 in Kimberley, when I first heard about MGD, so it's a cherished entity."
MGD has been a crucial vehicle through which the university could grow towards a social impact approach, because it has been embedded in the work that the NGO does, “especially in their focus on formalised student volunteerism".
“The university's social responsibility has gone through different phases. There was a time years ago when it was simply called Community Service, then later it became Community Action, and when I started seven years ago, we renamed it Social Impact. The idea was that, with the word 'social', we were referring to all domains of society – from our local community to our continental, global, and even cosmic responsibility as a university.
“And then we used the word 'impact' to say we want to make a transformative impact on society, and society will also make a transformative impact on us. The role of the DSI is really to advance the social impact mandate of the entire university. In other words, the division alone cannot effect the impact, but must advance, facilitate or enhance, advise, inspire and guide the social impact work of all SU environments. Together with DSI, MGD is a crucial entity to this function."
According to Koopman, SU's social impact is underpinned by a philosophy of engaged and responsible citizenship.
"After MGD is integrated into DSI, it will continue to do the same work, only now as part of the social impact work of the university."
Hector-Kannemeyer explains that the facilitated stakeholder engagement sessions preceding the focus groups revealed that the retention of an independent NGO creates operational ambiguity, and the potential to misalign the programmatic work of MGD in relation to the institutional plan of the university".
“There is therefore no strategic value or operational rationale in retaining an NGO that essentially does the work of the university as articulated in the strategic plan of the university and outlined in the MGD constitution."
For Koopman, the proposed integration is an exciting development and shows that there has been growth over the last five decades. He believes that the decades-old relationships with stakeholders will be strengthened by the move.
“Stakeholders will now be a part of the broader DSI and its partnerships; which is a crucial part of our work. So, when MGD is integrated into the DSI, the partnerships we cherish, must be strengthened."
Prof Ronelle Carolissen, Chairperson of the MGD Governing Body, says that the Board fully supports the integration.
“The university cannot exist as an island in the community – especially a community where there are so many psycho-social challenges and opportunities for people to benefit from education, the core business of the university.
“It makes sense that the university expands beyond its boundaries into the communities, as it is an important part of the social impact strategy. One of the reasons for the integration is to streamline funding in terms of the services that are being rendered, that benefit both the students and the surrounding communities."
Carolissen says that the MGD Board has been involved in the process from the start.
“The key role players have been DSI, MGD and the Board. A series of conversations with multiple stakeholders is underway – not to approve the integration, but rather to discuss the reasons for the integration and how MGD will transition into DSI.
It is this intensive consultative process, adds Koopman, that leaves him confident that various inputs have been considered.
“Various role players have been involved in this process and it was not a sudden decision. There has been wide consultation internally, and with external role players. I'm satisfied that the process went along in a varied, inclusive, consultative, and responsible way."
Over the years, Koopman's interactions with MGD have exposed him to various students who work as volunteers or who do practical work in communities.
“When you can see the impact of the students on those communities, and the lessons the students have learnt from the communities – that's reciprocal learning."
These relationships, says Koopman, will be strengthened by the integration. “We must commit to strengthening it, because it's a crucial part of the learning and teaching work of SU, as one of our graduate attributes is Engaged Citizenship. This programme helps SU students to acquire that specific attribute, and we cherish it and our community's help to nurture that attribute."
Dr Leslie van Rooi, Director of Social Impact, says that SU is “privileged to be a part of the knowledge infrastructure of the greater Stellenbosch".
“The integration of MGD within the DSI structure of SU will enable us to continue building on the historic work of MGD. Even more so, with this renewal of the Division for Social Impact, we will have the opportunity to directly invest significantly more in the possibilities that exist within greater Stellenbosch," he says.
“The potential for reciprocal learning and knowledge sharing within the various stakeholder communities, locally and nationally, is set to thrive within the integrated structure. DSI is ready to refresh itself also through the integration of MGD into its structures. This will bring new energy and possibilities not only to the mentioned office, but indeed also to our university as a whole. As such, we look forward to the AGM and the support of our stakeholders."