When we think about organisations that are involved in development, the Tshwane University of Technology may not spring to mind. Yet the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) is one of the largest universities of technology in Africa and offers a wide range of courses focused on cutting-edge technology that responds to job-market demand.
One of the key elements of learning is the practical nature of training at the university.
Samson is the senior development officer within the Advancement and Partnerships Office at the University. The Office works across all the seven faculties of the University to mobilise funding support and support the implementation of development projects. One of Nkosi’s responsibilities at the University is to manage a portfolio of projects that the university undertakes in helping communities in Tshwane and further afield in variety of ways.
‘We help project managers to secure funding and implement funded projects so that the deliverables and reporting requirements specific to each project are met.
TUT focuses specifically on projects that will make a positive difference in communities and create job opportunities in a variety of ways such as entrepreneurial support, small-scale farming, education, primary healthcare and environmental education. This means that almost any project could be chosen for implementation so long as it is geared towards the most urgent needs of local communities.
Community engagement programmes at the University ranges from agriculture, entrepreneurship, support for the disabled and life skills programmes. These projects draw from the expertise of the various university departments, such as business management, IT and marketing, to ensure these new businesses can make a real impact on job creation and contribute to strengthening the South African economy.
One of the projects at the University is the Ndumo Community Project. It is based in Kwazulu-Natal, it is an environmental conservation project and has successfully supported the surrounding communities for over 20 years. The activities of the Ndumo Community Project are deployed through an environmental centre where activities to educates local people on animal and plant conservation, the effect of pollution and the importance of biodiversity are used. It also gives visitors a hands-on experience of the important role they can play in conservation.
Of greatest importance, according to Samson, is the establishment of effective, partnerships that involve private enterprises, local government, the various university departments, and the communities the projects are aimed at. These relationships which use the extensive expertise of each donor are vital for the successful outcomes of their development aims. Significantly, the projects that are identified for implementation involve the communities from the design stage which is essential for community ownership and sustainability.
‘The heart of sustainability of development efforts in local communities is community buy-in. When communities feel that a project is theirs, it makes a significant contribution to its success.’
Closely aligned to the importance of community buy-in is monitoring and evaluation (M&E), which Samson believes should consciously and proactively include the targeted communities. He believes that M&E should not be imposed on communities – ‘communities should be able to say what is and isn’t working so that resources are not wasted’.
This is one of the challenges that Samson is taking on and he is exploring new ways of giving communities a voice. ‘Many communities lack the expertise in M&E, so we need to find creative ways of obtaining feedback from them. We need to ask what should change or be adjusted. ’To do so, Samson believes we should tap into communication, such as storytelling. This innovative approach could ensure that communities can monitor and evaluate their own projects.
Not easy with the current pandemic, with social distancing making in-person communication very difficult. Challenges that Samson will resolve because of his steadfast commitment to making a difference where it counts.