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Interview with Gill Bates, CEO of Charities Aid Foundation Southern Africa

23 August 2017


Gill Bates CEO CAF SAfrica 4With vast and varied experience in the corporate social investment (CSI) space, from both an NPO and business perspective, Gill Bates was appointed CEO of Charities Aid Foundation Southern Africa (CAFSA) in January 2017. In a one-on-one interview, Gill tells us more.

Could you tell us about your career path leading up to your current position as CEO of CAFSA?

I’ve been in the CSI space for over 20 years. I’ve assisted with running trusts and foundations of entities that are listed on the stock exchange, primarily in the financial services sector; I’ve been with the Nedbank Foundation, and I’ve also run FirstRand Foundation, FNB Fund, Wesbank Fund, RMB Fund and the Momentum Fund. Prior to that, I was in clinical social work practice. Having been exposed to both worlds – the nonprofit sector and the corporate world – it was a natural progression for me to join CAFSA. It is an enormous privilege for me to have been appointed as CEO of CAFSA. 

How does it feel to be at the helm of CAFSA?

Becoming CEO of CAFSA has been a very exciting, and humbling, move for me. CAFSA is an established brand, it has been operating in the country for over 17 years, and its primary role is to facilitate the flow of funding from the philanthropic and corporate worlds to the non-profit world and civil society. For me, it feels like professionally, I’ve come home. I am looking forward to contributing my non-profit and corporate experience, to grow CAFSA as an organisation and brand. 

CAFSA is part of a global alliance, what are some of the benefits of this?

One of the most wonderful, and beneficial, things about being part of a global alliance is the access to international best practice case studies, strategies and policies. We have experts around the world that we can draw from, and it’s a great offering for our corporate clients who want to look at case studies and research in different countries. Our principals are in the United Kingdom – CAF UK – and we also have Charities Aid Foundations in America, Canada, India, Russia and Brazil. It’s a very strong, and dynamic, global network, and we collaborate and work closely together. 

What are some of your goals for CAFSA in the near future? 

CAFSA remains focused on its core operating values and principles. Our mission is to support civil society, to be a strong voice of civil society, and to ensure a strong and vibrant civil society exists. However, we realise that we operate in an overtraded and competitive space. As such, while we will be sticking to our core principles, we are also going to be developing a new business model, where we move towards also being a social enterprise. It’s a strategic decision, taken by our board, who are very excited about some of the new future opportunities in the social enterprise and enterprise development arena. We will also be moving into the BBBEE space, assisting our clients to leverage, and maximise, the opportunities in this landscape. 

What are some of CAFSA’s core services and offerings?

Essentially, we facilitate the flow of funding from corporations and donors to civil society beneficiaries. We are an intermediary; we’re the bridge between the non-profit and the corporate and philanthropic world. 

One of our core offerings is NPO validation. We typically get requests from both international and local corporates, who let us know that they would like their funding to go to a particular organisation. CAFSA will make sure that the organisation is registered with the necessary regulatory authorities, that all the financials are in place, that it’s audited (amongst other criteria checks) and then we can assist with facilitating the flow of funds to that particular organisation. Simultaneously, we provide comfort to donor entities with regards to governance and compliance matters.

From a non-profit’s perspective, we assist NPOs that may be struggling with their governance, and getting necessary documents in place in order to receive funding. We provide support to these organisations to assist them with legalities and compliance, so that they meet the necessary requirements from donor entities.

We also run employee volunteer programmes and payroll giving programmes for corporates. Payroll giving, also known as give-as-you-earn, is a system that assists employees to donate a percentage of their salary to a non-profit organisation of their choice each month.

What key challenges are facing charitable organisations in South Africa at the moment? 

Given the very tough economic environment that we operate in, we’ve been seeing a lot of donor fatigue in the country, including South African corporations. The CSI budgets are driven by a company’s profitability and when that is down, it affects budgets and there is a ripple effect, which is in turn very challenging for charities and NPOs. Sustainability is the watchword of the moment, and fundamentally, charities and NPOs are having to shift the way that they operate to ensure that they remain sustainable and relevant.

Why do you think CSI needs to be an important part of any corporation’s agenda? 

We live in a very interconnected society and the concept of shared value is one that you’ll hear a lot of. The principle around this is that no entity can thrive sustainably where there are ailing communities around them. In essence, both the corporate world and the communities around them need each other. A shared value approach reconnects company success with social progress. It is generating economic value in a way that also produces value for society by addressing its challenges. There is a new surge of energy in South Africa within the CSI space, and beyond, which is very exciting to see; there is a focus on how we can not only coexist, but help each other to thrive. Shared value is at the heart of what CAFSA is, and is something that we support wholeheartedly.