Government - NGO Partnerships for Social Service Delivery

André Kalis
National Director
South African National Council for Child and Family Welfare


I do not think that the need for partnership between a state and civil society organisations for effective and efficient service delivery requires much debate. Service delivery, we know, in a fragmented, un-coordinated fashion where various role players go about in the delivery of services in a unilateral manner without them being part of a comprehensive, coherent strategy, would have great difficulty in meaningfully respond to needs. We also know that unless there is mutual respect for each others roles and Government and the NGO community are well informed of each others roles and there is negotiated agreement on how the respective parties are going to pursue a shared vision and common goals, the social services arena can be a chaotic one. I am of the opinion that one of the obstacles to social development and poverty eradication in the developing world relates to fragmented, scattered, hit-and-run efforts in responding to social needs and that resources are not mustered and harnessed towards integrated and holistic programmes. Partnership arrangements, especially between government and the social services and development NGO community would go a long way in the development of joint policies and inter-related, comprehensive service programmes.

A Case for Social Services NGO's

It is widely acknowledged that the state alone cannot achieve its goals in addressing social needs and that organs of civil society in a democratic dispensation, firmly rooted in society and with popular participation and voluntary support, are essential for a caring, responsive and effective service delivery network. The degree to which there is a presence and activity of a voluntary welfare initiative and wider NGO life is said to be an indicator of the level of a country's democracy. The flexibility, responsiveness and innovation of the private sector is readily acknowledged and where NGO programmes are supported by Government funding, NGO's contribute extra time, resources and ongoing commitment. Considerable funds are also leveraged from the public, the corporate sector and other donors. The Government that fails to recognise and formally acknowledge the invaluable role the NGO community plays in social development, is indeed a foolish one. This recognition and formal acknowledgement needs to be settled with a partnership agreement.

What is a Partnership Arrangement About?

A formal partnership arrangement acknowledges and cements the distinct but complimentary and supplementary roles of state and the NGO community into a synergistic strategy to achieve a shared vision and common goal.

It is acknowledged that partnerships are fluid and flexible and that they evolve. The nature of the partnership would also vary significantly according to the unique characteristics, such as structure, culture and objectives of a particular NGO or consortium of NGO's. Nevertheless, a policy framework within which partnerships are enabled to develop and grow, would form the basic instrument for the Government and NGO's to, in a coordinated fashion, live out their shared vision and attain their distinct, but mutually complimentary and supplementary roles. Examples of such policy documents to govern the development of a relationship between a government and civil society are widespread in the developed world. It is ironic that in the developing world where there is a much more urgent need for the strengthening of capacity through joining hands, such formal partnership arrangements are few and far between.

Conceptualising Government-NGO Partnerships

Government-NGO partnership can be described as a relationship rooted in the acceptance of both parties of their shared vision and responsibility for the delivery of social services within policy and legislative frameworks governing a country's response to its social needs and problems.
It is an acknowledgement, acceptance and respect by each party of the other's distinct, but mutually complementary and interdependent roles for the attainment of shared goals.

Partnership embodies the notion of acceptance by both parties that their respective roles are of equal importance in the pursuit of their shared vision and goals, specifically as they relate to social justice and equality.

Partnership demands both close co-operation between the parties and the co-ordination of roles and functions throughout the entire process of policy development to service delivery.
A partnership accepts that there is strength in unity and that the total is greater than the sum of the individual parts.

Partnership allows for such levels of consultation and negotiations that would result in the filling of the investment gap in social service provision, i.e. ensuring services are provided in areas not covered or sufficiently covered and ensuring the relevance and appropriateness of services.

Accountability between the parties is reciprocal with the parties carrying equal status.
The interdependent and interactive nature of the partnership as a working relationship requires openness, transparency and accessibility between the partners.

A partnership policy, agreement or compact should include the philosophy and principles that underpin the partnership, shared values and goals, roles and responsibilities and commitments to action. These commitments are to, in the words of the Northern Ireland Compact, "…support and lend substance to the values and principles…"

Partnership for Capacity Building

In referring to capacity, I think it is important to note at this point that a partnership also implies an inter-relatedness and inter-dependence between the respective parties. A policy acknowledges this inter-relatedness and inter-dependence. It provides for communication structures and processes where values, knowledge and skills are shared, where needs, frustrations and aspirations are communicated and responded to. Mutual influencing takes place in a partnership arrangement and it provides the platform for training and development and as such contributes to the building of capacity. The Northern Ireland Compact acknowledges "…that the provision of funding and other forms of support by Government is an important means of strengthening the capacity of the voluntary and community sector and enabling it to contribute effectively to the attainment of Government objectives."

Considering the value of vibrant civil society organisations for the welfare of a nation, Governments have the responsibility to promote the NGO community and strengthen its capacity, thereby contributing to enable social service NGO's to function and deliver optimally. This responsibility of Government and opportunity for NGO's would be greatly enhanced within the context of a partnership policy framework within which roles and responsibilities are negotiated and clarified. In South Africa , and in many other parts of the developing and even the developed world, a dwindling of the social services NGO community is very evident. This is due mainly to declining Government financial support, which in turn seems to be rooted in macro-economic policies, dictated by global economic forces. And global economic forces do not take kindly to Governments' social spending. The irony in South Africa is that the deterioration in capacity of NGO's impacts directly on the Government's ability to achieve its development, social justice and equality goals, since these are exactly the aspirations of many of the NGO's which are being crippled by lack of Government support.

The ability of the NGO community with its readily accepted anchors in and direct participation and support by civil society to guide and strengthen the capacity of Government organs should not be underestimated. It advises Government on issues of concern and advocates and campaigns for change as a response to need. It can guide and significantly contribute to legislative and policy making processes. A partnership implies that NGO's are draw in by Government, in a structured way, to contribute to the legislative and policy-making processes. It accepts that the NGO community with its constituent base and unique character of representation can legitimately guide Government policies and practices.

Roles in a Partnership


  • The State has a governing responsibility to ensure that there is the required delivery of services within legislative and policy frameworks.

  • The State therefore accepts primary responsibility for the development of policies and legislation to facilitate and direct the design and implementation of service programmes.

  • In acknowledging the central role of the voluntary welfare sector in the implementation of services, rooted in policies and legislation, the development of policies and legislation is a joint process between the parties with the State driving, facilitating and co-ordinating the process. Since policies directly impact on the NGO sector and the consumers of their services the State acknowledges the NGO sector as stakeholder with equity in policy and legislative processes. Against this background it is the role of the State to ensure and provide for the necessary mechanisms and structures for communication and consultation. Consultative processes start right at the onset and initiation of deliberations for the development of policies, legislation and implementation strategies. The State accepts responsibility for engaging with the voluntary or NGO sector from this fundamental initial stage.

  • In acknowledging its primary responsibility for the welfare of its citizens, it accepts the responsibility for creating and maintaining an enabling environment for the delivery of such services.

  • Fundamental to the notion of an enabling environment for the delivery of services is the State's responsibility to adequately fund the instruments (organisations) rendering the services.

  • By virtue of its governing responsibility and its funding the State accepts the role of approving, monitoring, and evaluating the State funded service programmes of welfare organisations.

  • It accepts the responsibility to be reciprocally accountable to the welfare sector for its policies and practices.

  • It engages the voluntary sector in the planning of its own service programmes and on the co-ordination of services between the department and welfare organisations.

  • Government is to ensure its accessibility to the voluntary welfare sector. This includes accessibility to information and other resources of the Department.

  • Communication mechanisms are to provide for timeous and comprehensive information dissemination between the parties.

The NGO Sector

  • It is the role of NGO's to deliver services efficiently and effectively within the framework of Government policies, and strategies consulted and negotiated between NGO's and Government

  • Work in partnership with Government to achieve common aims and objectives

  • It is accountable to Government for its policies and service programmes.

  • It is open, transparent and accountable to the public

  • As an instrument of civil society the NGO sector accepts the role of watchdog over the policies and practices of Government in the interest of the consumers, its services and the wider public. In this role it will target Government in its advocacy, lobbying and negotiating functions when required.

  • It has the role to ensure the co-ordination of its own services and to engage Government in discussions on the co-ordination of services between the Government and NGO's.

  • The NGO sector, through representative structures will be accessible to the Government for purposes of joint planning, information sharing and decision making.

  • It is imperative that the respective roles and responsibilities of Government and the NGO sector are negotiated, clarified and understood by all. This is based on a shared vision and common goal, the competencies and mandates of the partners.

Closing Remarks

In closing I quote from the 1998 Wilson House Conference Report : "Close links between citizens and the institutions of representative democracy were seen as crucial to national success in the next millennium. As the future brings with it greater engagement of citizens in the design of public policy and as citizens demand more responsive institutions, the basic institutions of representative democracy will come under increasing pressure for reform."