Forming Partnerships: Insights from Southern Africa
Volume 1 Number 25 - December 2002
Pat Irwin and Heila Lotz-Sisitka
This article explores a range of partnerships influencing the work of environmental education practitioners in the southern African region. The Environmental Education Unit at Rhodes University, South Africa and the partnerships it has engaged with over a 12-year period is presented as a case study. Different kinds of partnerships are also examined, for example with government, NGO's, international organizations, institutions, local communities, and funding organizations.
One of the major challenges facing the world community, as it seeks to replace unsustainable development patterns with environmentally sound and sustainable development, is the need to activate a sense of common purpose on behalf of all sectors of society (Agenda 21, Chapter 27:197)
An Overview of Partnerships at Rhodes University
Partnerships have been central to the success of the Rhodes University Environmental Education Unit’s work over the past twelve years. They have also presented us with numerous, often complex, challenges. In reviewing these partnerships for the purposes of opening the conversation, we have identified two macro issues that have shaped almost all of our partnership relationships.
We examine these two issues in the context of cases which exemplify the range of partner relationships in the RUEEU.
Partnerships with Corporates
Environmental education at Rhodes University has been involved in partnerships with corporates since the establishment of the Murray & Roberts Chair of Environmental Education in 1990. While initially the partnership was founded (through the good offices of WWF-SA, an NGO) on a funder-recipient basis with assurances of quality delivery and accountability; from the start of its operation it began to take on a different shape. This involved the establishment of a steering committee, which included the funder and prominent members of the local community, in which the general direction of the Chair’s work was negotiated. This process has ensured continued corporate involvement and financial commitment, linked to the recognition of delivery of quality outputs. Over time, and as the Chair became integrated into the Unit, the mutually beneficial nature of this partnership has become more prominent, particularly since the corporate organizations have started to consider issues of sustainable development as part of their core business.
Partnerships with Government
Since 1994 the RUEEU has been heavily involved in a variety of partnerships with government departments at both national and provincial level. Prior to 1994, partnerships with government were mixed and difficult to maintain due to the dominant ideological ethos of the time. While our partnerships with government have expanded over the past eight years, and new avenues for environmental education work have opened up as a result, this work has not been easy. The complex challenges of policy development, capacity building throughout the system and the immense challenges of re-orienting society at all levels have provided many intellectual and research challenges to the work of the RUEEU (Lotz-Sisitka, 2002).
Partnerships with Parastatals
In contrast to partnerships with government, we have found partnerships with parastatals to be more accessible and more professionally engaging. We, for example, recently formed a partnership with the South African National Parks to engage in a professional development and research programme jointly with them, for the benefit of their staff. This programme has led to tangible outputs, with many members of staff developing materials, programmes and policy plans to support environmental learning in the South African National Parks. Of benefit to the RUEEU has been the deepening of the research terrain on Environmental Interpretation and Education, and a clearer perspective on the relationship between professional development and institutional development. At a management level, we were able to co-manage this programme through a steering committee, and research results have been fed directly into the organization for consideration in relation to their policy and strategy development.
Partnerships with NGOs
As with parastatals, the RUEEU has found that partnerships with non-governmental organizations are more firmly located in the arena of professional exchange. While NGOs have fewer problems with bureaucratic requirements, they often experience problems with financial stability and staffing as well as competition with each other for both. In the post-apartheid era, NGO groups in South Africa have experienced many such problems as a result of the channelling of funding and human capacity into government bodies. NGOs sometimes have environmental agendas that are not compatible with each other or with those of the RUEEU.
Partnerships with International Donor Agencies
Since 1994 there has been an influx of international development aid to support development and transformation in southern Africa. This has led to numerous donor funded environmental education projects and programmes. This trend has brought new challenges to partnership orientations, notably issues associated with the power dynamics inherent in donor-recipient relationships, where the donor is often most powerful and is able to set the agenda for change. These agendas are often encapsulated in the form of logical framework plans, which are then more or less imposed in development situations. Such planning frameworks do not lend themselves to participatory evaluation or change in the life of projects. A further challenge has been the changing nature of the political economies in environmental education work. Large scale donor funded projects can change local political economies, and often create false economies that are difficult to sustain after the project has ended. These partnerships are often ambivalent, as they bring these, and other challenges, as well as the benefits of international interaction and additional sources of funding.
Partnerships with our Local Community
An important dimension of environmental education practice, is practicing in one’s own back yard such as with schools, municipalities or community organisations. Working within the context of one’s local community, provides the opportunity for grounding and interaction with real life challenges. Theories are put to the test, research results may be applied in local contexts, and a sense of community is enhanced. While it is important to interact within local contexts, tangible evidence of results is often slow to emerge, as one interacts with the multi-faceted nature of local community life, politics and bureaucracy, as well as the varying enthusiasm of individuals.
In this respect, our direct experience is largely limited to Rhodes University, although we inevitably share perspectives with colleagues in other institutions. Partnerships are as varied as the institutions themselves, but a number of common factors seem to determine practice and outcome. The most important of these are scale (size of the institution), the openness of governance and management frameworks within the institution, and in somewhat more general terms, what is called institutional culture. Perceptions of mutual benefit also appear to play a key role in the sustainability of intra-institutional partnerships.
Critical Intellectual Partnerships
Although of a less concrete nature than the other partnerships listed, this type of partnership is arguably the most important in an educational context. In the RUEEU it is certainly the heart of the programme, not only in its own right as intellectual stimulation, but in its pervading influence nationally, regionally and even internationally. The Unit views intellectual relationships in terms of sharing and exchange of ideas, mutual critiquing of work, as well as joint research projects, as integral to all partnerships. This need is seen to be necessary not only at an individual level, but within partnerships such as AusLinks and some of the conservation agencies in South Africa.
As tentative conclusions we might observe that, following twelve years of interaction within such diverse partnerships as we have described, we are able to look back and identify some of the key themes which reflect the lessons we have learned.
Department of Education (DoE), 2002, Revised National Curriculum Statement, Grades R – 9 (Schools), DoE, Pretoria.
Cet article étudie un certain nombre de partenariats qui ont des répercussions sur le travail des praticiens de l’éducation à l’environnement dans la région du sud de l’Afrique. L’Unité d’Education à l’Environnement de l’Université de Rhodes en Afrique du Sud et les partenariats qu’elle a engagés depuis plus de 12 ans sont présentés comme étude de cas. Différentes catégories de partenariats sont aussi décrites, par exemple avec le gouvernement, les ONG, les organisations internationales, les institutions, les communautés locales et des organismes financeurs.
A travers une analyse critique des interactions de l’Unité avec ces différents types de partenariats, nous mettons en lumière les défis, les bénéfices et les leçons que l’on peut en retirer, en particulier le bénéfice d’un partenariat fort, intellectuel et conceptuel, pour la constitution d’une communauté d’éducateurs professionnels. Des éléments tels que la nécessité d ‘entretenir l’innovation et la créativité, les échanges directs dans des expériences de la vie réelle, et l’observation des relations entre théorie et pratique sont exposés. Nous abordons aussi les façons dont les partenariats influencent la politique économique en matière de pratique et de projets et nous explorons comment les environnements idéologiques peuvent à leur tour les façonner.
Nous explorons la façon dont une charpente de partenariats à bénéfices réciproques peut être variée et nous illustrons cela par quelques cas. Les partenariats peuvent être des processus ambivalents, avec des relations de pouvoir en jeu. En exposant cette analyse, nous espérons inciter les éducateurs de jardins botaniques à réfléchir au genre de partenariats dans lesquels ils sont engagés, et à quelques-uns uns des facteurs qui forment et influencent leur nature et leurs résultats.
Este artículo explora una gama de asociaciones que influyen en el trabajo de educadores medio ambientales en el sur de África. Se presenta como estudio a la Unidad de Educación Medio Ambiental de la Universidad de Rhodes, Sudáfrica, y los a socios con quienes han trabajado. Se examinan también diferentes tipos de asociaciones, por ejemplo con entidades gubernamentales, ONGs, organizaciones internacionales, instituciones, comunidades locales, y organizaciones proveedoras de fondos.
A través de un análisis crítico de las interacciones de la Unidad dentro de los diferentes tipos de asociaciones, destacamos los retos, los beneficios, y las lecciones aprendidas, en particular los beneficios de las asociaciones fuertes conceptuales e intelectuales en la construcción de una comunidad profesional de educadores. Se debaten factores tales como la necesidad de nutrir la innovación y la creatividad, las interacciones básicas de las experiencias en la vida real, y la consideración de la relación entre las propuestas y la práctica. También ilustramos las maneras en las que las asociaciones pueden influir en la economía política entre práctica y proyecto, y exploramos como el ambiente ideológico puede moldarlas.
Exploramos como un marco de asociaciones mutuamente beneficiosas puede variar y demostramos que en algunos casos las asociaciones pueden ser procesos ambivalentes, en las que impactan diversos parentescos. En presentar este análisis, desafiamos a los educadores de los jardines botánicos, a que reflejen sobre los tipos de asociaciones en los que toman parte, y sobre algunos de los factores que forman y influyen su naturaleza y sus resultados.
About the Authors
Pat Irwin and Heila Lotz-Sisitka, Rhodes University Environmental Education Unit, Rhodes University, PO Box 94, Grahamstown, South Africa, 6140. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org