Co-creating a GL fit for purpose in the march to 2030

Co-creating a GL fit for purpose in the march to 2030

Date: November 12, 2023
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The Gender Links (GL) Association, Board and Management met in Johannesburg from 4-5 November 2023 to revisit our purpose and ways of working in the countdown to 2030, the target for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).

Our meeting took place against the backdrop of shrinking regional funding, and the closure of four country offices in early 2023, leading to personal hardships for long -serving staff and associates.  GL thanked all those who have continued to champion our shared vision despite these uncertainties.

On a positive note, GL’s Zimbabwe and Mauritius offices are now self-sustaining. GL’s Botswana and Lesotho offices show promise of revival. GL’s service units, including Grant Making, Advisory Services, and the GL Cottages and Conferencing have demonstrated growth and resilience.

A Partner Consultation on Organisational Design and Sustainability, with panellists from three regional and three international organisations, preceded the joint GL meeting.  GL extends special thanks to Fadzai Traquino (Women and Law in Southern Africa – WLSA); Luckson Chipare (Media Institute of Southern Africa – MISA); Lynette Mudekunye (REPSSI), Edwin Huizing (Irene M. Stahler Foundation – IMS), Liz.Tremlett (Amplify Change) and David Archer (Action Aid) for their invaluable insights.

Lessons shared by International NGOs included the importance of shifting power; not being overly concerned with northern norms and models; drawing on our wealth of networking experience; succession planning and involving a new generation of young leaders who have different ways of working;  keeping it simple; not allowing the past to compromise the future.

From our regional partners we learned of the dangers of regional hubs collapsing altogether; premature exiting of founders without the vision being passed on; membership structures that can become unwieldy; the importance of local grounding; and the dangers of fiscal impropriety. Speakers underscored the long time it takes to build; the short time it takes to destroy; and the even longer time to rebuild especially where reputation is affected.  Regional partners emphasised the advantages of working regionally in Southern Africa in social justice advocacy, without necessarily having offices in every country.

The joint GL meeting received a report by Association Member Thoko Mpumlwana on the exit interview conducted by the Association with the former GL Chair Kubeshni Govender. GL thanked Govender for her critical reflections on organisational design, governance, work place environment, staff development and well-being, all of which were taken into account in our deliberations. GL welcomed Emily Brown as Chair, and thanked her for the unity of purpose that led to a substantive meeting and outcomes.

GL reaffirmed its commitment to several foundational principles: transparency; open and honest communication; partnerships; collaboration; decentralisation; ownership; agency; trust; synergies; networking; mentorship, continuous learning, peer linking and sharing.  Our meeting covered five areas, on which the Board passed key resolutions. These are:

  1. Vision, mission and strategy: GL reaffirmed its vision of a region in which women and girls in all their diversity attain equality in accordance with regional and global instruments that we have campaigned for. We recognised, however, that our programmes have become fragmented; that we need to build synergies from local to national to regional and global level by piecing together the funding we have through a more networked structure internally. GL agreed on a paradigm shift from a “bird with two wings” to a tree with many branches.

    GL recognised that modes of delivery are changing. GL no longer delivers all its work directly. Increasingly the work is delivered through grantee partners, with GL playing a supportive role. Through its advisory services, GL’s work increasingly responds to needs identified by partners rather than by GL. These are all positive signs of greater ownership, shifting of the power, and new possibilities for movement building.

  2. People power: GL engaged with the report by HR facilitator Vivien Bakainaga on GL staff and well-being. The report shows that GL has 48 staff and associates across Southern Africa who have, on average, served the organisation for nearly eight years each. GL took to heart the recommendation that the relative autonomy and agency demonstrated by country offices be replicated at unit and personal level in all GL clusters.

    The Board welcomed the appointment of Bakainaga as GL People Lead with responsibility for change management over the next two years. The Board tasked GL Special Advisor Colleen Lowe Morna with co-ordinating a succession and mentorship plan in all clusters within the newly created GL Leadership and Opportunities Team as she plans for her retirement in 2025. This plan will be presented to the Board at its next meeting in July 2024.

    In light of security risks at the two properties that currently constitute the GL head office, the Board authorised the sale of these properties and purchase of a new property adjacent the GL Cottages, upon the conducting of the necessary due diligence.

  3. Organisational design: The Board resolved to take a measured but deliberate approach to registering local offices in Zimbabwe, Mauritius and Botswana, and to updating GL’s Memorandum of Incorporation (MOI) in Lesotho (already registered locally). This will happen over the coming year.

    GL will seek external support in drawing up terms of engagement to ensure that country offices uphold GL’s ethical, financial and operational standards. This work will be supported by the Regional Hub in Johannesburg, headed by General Manager Debrah Mukuku. The Board resolved not to pursue the registration of a board in France at this time.

  4. Governance: GL adopted and will lodge an updated MOI that clarifies its two tier structure, the Association (retiring Board Members, founders and new members by application) and the Board, which is appointed by the Association. The Association shall henceforth be chaired by rotation. The MOI will be accompanied by a Board Charter that includes a Code of Conduct and guidelines on Conflict of Interest.

    The Board thanked Céline Marie Yolande (Madagascar); Marie Annick Savripene (Mauritius) and Chigedze Chinyepi (Botswana) who indicated that they will not be renewing their terms when these lapse at the end of 2023. These Board Members will be welcomed into the Association, should they so wish. GL will put out a call for new Board Members in Zimbabwe, Mauritius, Botswana and Lesotho, with due regard for the mix of skills necessary for strong governance in these countries. The Chairs of these Boards will sit on the regional Board, which will have cross over membership with the country Boards to ensure synergy. GL will conduct an induction of all new Board Members ahead of the next Board meeting in July, to ensure a common vision and unity of purpose. GL welcomed UK Board Member Sarah Mistry as Deputy Chair, and thanked her for the role she has played in promoting the work of the organisation internationally.

  5. Finance: The Board thanked the General Manager; Special Advisor and finance team for the tremendous efforts to maintain GL’s good financial health and compliance; as well to ensure that GL’s investment funds are not drawn on unnecessarily. The Board resolved to add a third independent member to the audit committee, and to appoint Mathabiso Chamane as Chair of the Audit Committee in the next financial year commencing April 2024 with a handover period to August 2024 when Adrian Dowie retires. The Board thanked Dowie for his service to GL over the last nine years.

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