In late 2000, Ireland issued a White Paper on Supporting Voluntary Activity that provides formal recognition of the voluntary and community sector in contributing to the creation of a vibrant civil society and participatory democracy.14 It also improves government practices by committing to stable funding regimes, creating units in relevant departments to support the relationship with the sector, allocating financial resources to support national networks of voluntary organizations, and supporting local fora for ongoing discussions with the sector. Although it makes many of the same commitments that a Canadian accord might, the two big differences are that the White paper is associated with a single line department, and therefore is seen to have less legitimacy or application across the sector, and its status as a framework document is regarded with some skepticism by the sector because voluntary organizations were not equal partners in creating it.
The South African experience has been extraordinary in many respects, not the least of which is a transformation from a government hostile to nonprofit organizations to a democratically elected governments that has roots in the sector.15 In the mid-1990s, provincial coalitions of voluntary organizations formed a national body, the South African NGO Coalition (SANGOCO), which was designed to play a role in the development of a new social framework that a democratically elected government was expected to create. At the time, the Development Resources Centre (a organization responsible for much of the research on fundraising and philanthropy in the sector) was making a strong argument for the involvement of civil society in the development of public policy. Rather than seek an overarching accord, these organizations pushed for and succeeded in getting new targetted legislation to govern almost all the issues identified by Canada's Voluntary Sector Initiative. The process of initiating change in South Africa has been driven by the sector, a process in which the voluntary sector at first acted on its own to a much greater degree even than in England. Its strategy was first to mobilize the sector to agree on the policy changes required, to organize themselves to voice these demands and (only) then to lobby governments to implement them. In retrospect, this strategy is seen as shortsighted by the sector. A more effective means, the DRC now believes, would have been to get some commitment from government and then sell the framework to the sector.16 Although a constructive relationship with government did eventually result, it occurred largely as a result of government approaching the sector indicating their willingness to be full partners in creating an enabling environment.
It is noteworthy that government officials at high levels in the Department of Welfare, were already making clear that government was seeking a new relationship with voluntary organizations, and proposed a way of operating for discussion by the DRC and SANGOCO. These discussions also ended up being subsumed into the development of the Non Profit Organisations Act. This Act governs regulation, definition, application and sanctions with regard to voluntary organizations. SANGOCO also played an important role in the creation of a National Development Agency, with a Cabinet-approved Board of Directors, and a budget funded by the South Africa government and the European Union. This budget will be allocated to South African NGOs, providing them with a more stable, institutionalized funding source.
15. Information on South Africa's initiatives are drawn from the website of SANGOCO, located at http://www.sangoco.org.za/about.html.
16. "Government - NGO partnerships: Some Emerging Lessons & Insights", unpublished paper by the Development Resources Centre for South Africa, September 1999.