New $25 million fund for South African civil society groups working to advance constitutionalism

Today the Open Society Foundations, Ford Foundation, and Atlantic Philanthropies announced the launch of a joint fund to support local organizations promoting and advancing constitutionalism in South Africa, to mark the first 20 years of South African democracy.

The three contributing foundations—each of which has decades of experience working in South Africa, and which ordinarily support civil society organizations, the local philanthropic community, and also government—will provide a collective $25 million to South African organizations whose purpose is to advance a democratic and open society.

Twenty years after the adoption of the South African Constitution, described as the world’s most progressive, South Africa still has many challenges. Delivering on the civil, political, and socioeconomic aspirations embedded in that constitution requires a society that is transparent, open, and nondiscriminatory and operates according to the highest standards of constitutional accountability.

Responding to these challenges, and recognizing the significant innovative and leadership role that South African civil society organizations play in both articulating these challenges and providing appropriate responses rooted in the rule of law, the three foundations will in implementing the fund rely extensively on an independent local Selection Panel, chaired by former Constitutional Court justice Yvonne Mokgoro, to advise the foundations on allocating resources from the fund to South African organizations that meet the criteria of the fund.

Commenting on the launch of the joint fund, Justice Mokgoro said, “The establishment of this fund, which will support a vibrant civil society working to protect and advance our Constitution, is important to every person living in South Africa. Our Constitution sits at the very heart of our democracy, setting out the values and principles which we have chosen as a country to live by. We also know that South Africa’s long-term stability and the progressive realization of those rights and values depends on the maintenance and promotion of the rule of law and key constitutional institutions. The next decade is likely to prove pivotal in the context of our evolving political democratic landscape and thus the fund has the potential to play an important role in responding to our needs.”

The Selection Panel members also include Aubrey Matshiqi, senior political associate at the Centre for Policy Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand School of Business, and Yasmin Sooka, executive director for the Foundation for Human Rights and a former commissioner at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Chris Stone, president of the Open Society Foundations, said, “An active, representative civil society is crucial for advancing democracy, human rights, and social justice in South Africa. On the 20th year of our philanthropic presence in South Africa, we are very excited to be part of the development and implementation of this much-needed fund. It will help address the need for sustainable financial support, as well as assist with building a second and transformed layer of leadership in South Africa’s legal and other organizations that reflect the society that they serve. Ultimately, at issue here is strengthening the sector’s longer-term sustainability and success.”

Christopher G. Oechsli, president and CEO of Atlantic Philanthropies, echoed this sentiment. He said, “Through our work, over the last twenty years in South Africa, we have seen the value of civil society in advancing and upholding rights and justice. We are proud to be helping to fulfill the promise of a Constitution that is a model for other democratic societies worldwide, and that reflects the aspirations of all South Africans.”

Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, said, “For sixty years, the Ford Foundation has supported civil society organizations in South Africa in their quest to make the promise of democracy a reality. Twenty years into democracy, the country faces new opportunities and also fresh challenges. Through this fund, we are proud to renew our long-term commitment to the continuing struggle for fairness and equality in South Africa. This fund is anchored in the belief that the people of South Africa can advance their own aspirations for equality and justice and deliver a society premised on their country’s progressive and profoundly humane Constitution.”

Walker and Stone both noted that the Ford Foundation and OSF contributions to the fund were in addition to their ongoing grant making from their South African offices.

How the fund will work

Beneficiary organizations will be selected based on their ability to significantly advance constitutionalism. The fund will provide support over three to four funding cycles within a period of 10 years.

In each funding cycle, the Selection Panel will identify beneficiaries and forward its choices to the donors for final ratification.

Factors that will be considered for eligibility will include

  • Prospects for advancing constitutionalism and the durability of any advances made
  • Strong leadership and a commitment and plan, to specifically address racial and gender transformation at a senior managerial and leadership level
  • Innovative ideas for advancing constitutionalism beyond conventional strategies and tactics
  • The ability to partner and collaborate with other civil society organizations and social movements that work to advance constitutionalism
  • Effective and transparent financial management
  • Independent governance and oversight structures
  • Effective evaluation mechanisms
  • The ability to use the fund’s support to enhance organizational capacity and/or address long-term sustainability
Media Contacts

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Joshua Cinelli
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The Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization. For more than 80 years it has worked with courageous people on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. With headquarters in New York, the foundation has offices in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.