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Case Study of a sustainable NGO

Van Wyk, René
Dept. Industrial Psychology and People Management, University of Johannesburg, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
René van Wyk, University of Johannesburg, PO Box 524, Auckland Park, Gauteng, South Africa, 2006 +27115594983, +832578857


There is an urgent need for scarce skills development in South Africa, especially artisan training. The development in training of scarce skills could also address the high unemployment situation in South Africa. Due to the lack of training of scarce skills, many Non-Government and Non-Profit Organizations (NGO and NPO) take on this role. The dilemma is that many of these NGOs/NPOs are not sustainable. Vukani Ubuntu is an example of an NGO that has been sustainable since 1999, a period of 16 years. This case study is an investigation into the operational orientation of Vukani Ubuntu in its artisan scarce skills training.


NPO’s involvement in civil activities often foster development, contributing to economic development and cultural conservation [2]. NPOs have become an essential in development and nurturing of critical services often overseen or neglected by government [10]. Sustainability of NPOs is a huge dilemma as many international donors have stopped their involvement in South Africa [8]. Rivalry for the donations is increasing in a competitive market [10]. Philanthropists argue that South Africa is a country with a middle income and should become self-sustainable. A further frustration in the decrease of government funding, is the lack of insight that NPOs provide needs of basic social services that are not met by government [1]. Many NPOs have not survived the national and international reduction of funds in South Africa. Currently the sustainability of NPOs are seen in three categories, (1) those that were not sustainable due to lack of funds; (2) those who battle to remain sustainable; and (3) a minority who have taken preventative action to remain sustainable [8].

This financial dilemma has put pressure on NPOs to urgently reposition in terms of self-sustainability [9] and increased profitability [1]. The demand is that NPOs take ownership, search for new funding streams and at the same time show accountability and operate with transparency. Li and Guo [4] suggest that three main bodies play a role in capacity development of NPOs, namely government, education and support from existing NPOs. Capacity building of NPOs take place in the four developing stages: (1) identifying need area; (2) localization by providing training to NPOs in financial practice and regulation; (3) standardization – the governance and management of an orderly process; and (4) diversification of growth and development [4].

A further addition to the social dilemma of low sustainability of NGOs and NPOs is the high unemployment rate in South Africa, regarded as one of the highest in the world [6]. It is estimated that one in four individuals who actively search for work are unemployed. During the past 19 years, South Africa’s unemployment rate has increased by 60% [12].

Organizations that support educational development fulfil needs of individuals who face the risk being excluded from employment prospects due to lack of previous training opportunities [3]. By providing educational development individuals are socially developed, supported emotionally, advancing cultural coexistence of people with a variety of skills [3]. In the light of the high unemployment rate, it is alarming that some scarce skill trades are imported in South Africa [11]. These trade skills are in high demand and in some cases the most difficult positions to fill in companies [5]. Large firms such as Grinaker-LTA and Sasol import welders from Malaysia, Ireland, India and Thailand to perform construction and maintenance work. Currently South Africa needs training for 5 000 draughtsmen annually, however the country produces training for only 1 000 individuals. The number of artisans trained annually is only 5 600, while the target is to train 50 000 [7]. The shortage in scarce skills is generally seen as a key factor in restoring South Africa’s economic growth [5]. Minister Blade Nzimande has emphasized the need for training artisans by declaring 2013 as the “Year of the Artisan” [7].

The current problem in South Africa is thus three-fold: (1) sustainability of NGOs/NPOs; (2) low capacity training of scarce skills, especially artisan training; and (3) the high unemployment rate.

Objective. To determine the factors that lead to the success of Vukani Ubuntu regarding sustainability, training of artisans and providing employment opportunities.

Research question: How does Vukani Ubuntu remain sustainable and respond to the demand for scarce skills?


A qualitative investigation into the orientation of Vukani Ubuntu was conducted to address three core variables: (1) sustainability of an established NGO, (2) training in artisan scarce skills, and (3) addressing the unemployment situation. This case study is designed to maximally portray the complexity of Vukani Ubuntu’s operations. Vukani Ubuntu is purposefully selected as it addresses the three problem areas of investigation. An interpretivist paradigm is used to gain meaning from the data. A face-to-face interview was conducted with the CEO, Mr Demos Takoulas. Mr Takoulas supported information with documentation of the enterprise. Both interview and documentation information was used to conduct content analysis.

Ethical considerations: The company Vukani Ubuntu has given permission to use its name and publish the findings as they would like to provide a model that other NGOs/NPOs can benefit from. Stakeholders in NGOs and NPOs could take methods applied by Vukani Ubuntu into consideration.


This case study highlights the following aspects that seem to contribute to the success of this NGO:

Track record as sustainable NGO since 1999
The company managed to fulfill the core developing stages suggested by Li & Guo [4]: (1) Core training skill development is identified and training opportunities developed. The company successfully identified the high demand for artisan skills, such as electrical, boiler-making, fitting and turning, water and waste management, as well as basic engineering and construction. (2) The necessary financial regulations and orderly governance of the (3) standardization of training standards are put into place. (4) These core factors contribute to the sustainable growth of the company. CINOP Global, specializing in recognition of prior learning, the University of Amsterdam and the Central Statistical Organization play a major role in ensuring sustainability and replication of the success factors to other NGOs. Sustainability address the following social economic needs: unemployment, skills training and economic growth, discussed accordingly.

The company has been proactive in addressing unemployment and work creation needs in the South African society with highest unemployment rates in the world. It provides in the creation of local work opportunities that are currently imported. The company further has a national database for artisans, making unemployed individuals visible to companies. It also provides in the up-skilling of jobseekers.

Skills training
Training is provided to unemployed individuals previously did not have training opportunities. The training could potentially prevent the import of skills. The company potentially plays a major role in the demand to fill 3000 artisan vacancies identified in 2014. This enterprise has developed eleven unique community development projects in five different provinces, benefitting 1080 individuals to date. Vukani’s training is also unique in the placement of job seekers with relevant skills. This organization therefore fills the gap of providing a platform for an opportunity for education. This promotes the cultural coexistence that [3] refer to by assisting in educating and training local people in need. The company provides up-skill training and job placement opportunities for previous disadvantaged individuals, marginalized people and especially plays a role in the empowerment of women and people with disabilities. The company keeps identifying additional future training and skills development opportunities.

Economic growth
The company potentially assists in economic growth, not only making people employable in areas of work that people are imported, could also be self-sustainable, start own businesses. This is in line with the SA government’s approach of economic growth and work creation. As NGO Vukani Ubuntu forms a link between stakeholders: government, industry and funding organizations. The company has also developed a ‘starter box’ that provides the generic information of developing an NGO.
It is envisaged that a positive spiral of sustainability provided by this NGO potentially develops into economic growth, depicted in Figure 1.

case study of a sustainable ngo figure 1
FIGURE 1. Positive sustainability spiral of development


Vukani Ubuntu addresses the contradiction in the current situation in South Africa with a high demand for artisan skills that is currently imported, while high unemployment is straining the economy. Vukani Ubuntu fill this gap by providing training skills in basic engineering and construction. It provides solutions to shortcomings in the job market. This NGO plays an important role in promoting equal opportunities for individuals with disabilities, gender equality, multi-stakeholder partnerships, and development of marginalized individuals. These skills training are not readily available or affordable.

Limitations, future research and implications for management
Generalizability of the findings in providing a starter box for other NGOs should be applied with caution. The concepts provided would not necessarily be transferable to NGOs in another sectors or other countries. Future research should investigate success factors of the starter box and possible additional aspects that should be considered. Business could consider investing in NGOs such as Vukani Ubuntu that provide the skills development needed.


Vukani Ubuntu is playing an active role in the much needed training of the unemployed. This pilot project may provide valuable information as model for development of future NGOs/NPOs. Above all Vukani Ubuntu provides job and training opportunities to desperate people, opening a window of opportunities.


[1] Inyathelo: SA Institute for Advancement. (2014). Media Centre Funding policy changes push non-profits into business field. Retrieved from http://www.inyathelo.org.za/news-and-discussions.html?id=47:funding-policy-changes-push-non-profits-into-business-field
[2] Kapustina, E., & Voronova, E. (2015). Legislative background and civil activities of NGOs in different countries. The 3rd Human and Social Sciences Conference, 152–157.
[3] Lacárcel, A. C., Antonio, J., Núñez, L., Angustias, M., & Lucena, H. (2015). Analysis of Quality Models Applied in Non-Formal Education: Non-Governmental Organizations and Nonprofit Organizations. Journal of Social Sciences, 3, 86–96.
[4] Li, C., & Guo, J. (2015). NPOs in China: Capacity-Building Development Since the 1990s. Asian Social Work and Policy Review, 9(1), 79–93.
[5] Manpower South Africa. (2014). Talent Shortage Survey. Retrieved from https://candidate.manpower.com/wps/wcm/connect/ZACampus/967b02f4-2449-4a05-847e-d5f5d42b4bdd/Manpower-TSS+2014.pdf?MOD=AJPERES
[6] Nattrass, N. (2014). Meeting the Challenge of Unemployment? The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 652, 87–105.
[7] SA News. (2014). “ Year of the Artisan ” to help address critical skills shortage. Retrieved from http://www.sanews.gov.za/south-africa/year-artisan-help-address-critical-skills-shortage
[8] SA NGO Pulse. (2014). Donor Engagement Forum. Retrieved from http://www.ngopulse.org/event/donor-engagement-forum
[9] SA NGO Pulse. (2014). For and NotForProfit Big Bang... Retrieved from http://www.ngopulse.org/blogs/and-not-profit-big-bang
[10] Similon, A. (2015). Self-regulation systems for NPO coordination: Strengths and weaknesses of label and umbrella mechanisms. Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics, 86(1), 89–104.
[11] Solidariteit. (2008). Skills Shortage in South Africa. Pretoria: Solidariteit. Retrieved from http://www.navorsing.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/6AppendixA.pdf
[12] Wilkinson, K., & Chiumia, S. (2014). Is SA worse off now than 19 years ago ? Retrieved from http://africacheck.org/reports/is-sa-worse-off-now-than-19-years-ago-the-facts-behind-that-facebook-post/

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