Kalishna Singh, a development economist, heads up KD Strategies, the culmination of a two-decade career in social impact and economic development strategies.
From the late 1990s, the government initiated academic research on economic transitionary policies and Kalishna became involved. Government needed to investigate foreign direct investments and to open up South African markets. Economic researchers had to find ways to do this, ensuring that the poor did not become ‘collateral damage’.
Corporates have their own CSI-vision of what is good and necessary for a community. Kalishna explains: ‘Our strength lies in designing the strategy and engaging stakeholders. Once we identify strengths and assets in a community we pull in collaborators, specialists. We oversee implementation, track and monitor progress.’ Their approach is built on asset-based community development and unlocking human potential; rather than on needs. Community members must realise they have agency to direct their own lives to catalyse the sustainability of projects.
Communities are often shadowed by generational trauma caused by poverty – people must be shown what opportunity looks like. Motivation is sparked by small, subtle interventions – agency– to create change. Catalysing a few individuals can get a whole community moving.
KD Strategies became involved in a community project in a small informal settlement near Coronationville, Johannesburg. Some youngsters ran soccer-skill workshops for other young kids. Some men cleaned and unblocked neglected toilets. A micro-business developed – R2 to use a safe, clean toilet … with toilet paper!
‘The community asked for creative activities for youngsters (7–12). Local artists ran art workshops.’ Putting their names on something gives them the sense that they can create something of value. They feel seen. For Kalishna it is about motivation and positive impact: ‘You have this beautiful thing that you created. I see your name on it, and I know who you are.’