There is hope that a new professional NGO qualification will give community workers the skill set to make an impact on social problems at local level.
"Solving social issues is often complex and multi-layered. By doing post matric training in community development, such community leaders can begin to engage with social problems at a deeper level, but without compromising the validity of their lived experience and the deep knowledge and experience they have as people living in communities," Joan Daries, programme manager at Community Chest, told News24 about the new qualification.
The higher certificate in community development is not simply a synonym for a service diploma - it's intended to specifically address the needs of vulnerable groups.
"Community development builds healthy, functioning communities through social change that is driven by communities themselves. It is comprehensive, multi-sectoral, and multi-disciplinary. It draws from disciplines such as economics, sociology, agriculture and community psychology," said Daries.
"Community members trained in this way are able to lead sustainable solutions to community challenges through a broad range of strategies and tactics to achieve the common good."
The programme is run in partnership with the Cornerstone Institute and is registered with the Department of Higher Education and Training.
While it will be offered at South African universities, funding will come from Community Chest with the support of the National Lotteries Commission.
Course participants will complete the qualification over two years, part-time, and Community Chest has provided scholarships of R32 000 each for an initial group of 30 students.
"This is a most welcome development for the NGO sector as it gives community leaders the opportunity to combine their practice and experiential learning with the rigour of academic discipline. This is important for the growth of a civil society sector that is able to participate fully in development and governance processes insisting on integrity and accountability all round," said Daries.
Countries such as Canada, Australia and the UK have implemented similar programmes and Daries expressed the hope that it would change the NGO sector.
"My vision for the future is that 10 years from now, community work will be a recognised educational profession, where people are compensated properly in terms of the time and the effort and the energy they spend in the field, with proper policies in place to formalise this sector."
The first intake of students were introduced to the public this week, at an event hosted by Community Chest. Pictured with them is Community Chest CEO Lorenzo Davids (back row on the left in black jacket) and Cornerstone Institute CEO Noel Daniels (middle, black jacket). Pictures by Donovan McLaughlin.