Nico Esterhuizen and David Brown explain how JAM South Africa had to step up during crises

The JAM CFO and country director unpack the NGO’s efforts to help South Africans in tough times.

Normally, JAM South Africa’s operations are focused on preschools, where the NGO feeds up to 120,000 kids. Country director David Brown explains that the feeding schemes of JAM South Africa are there to address the critical undernourishment of preschool children and to encourage attendance, enrollment and continuity at preschools in underprivileged areas. “The children have to be at school in order to get that food,” he says. “It reduces the food load on poverty stricken families enormously and, in the long run, will contribute to the economies of those areas.”

However, since the Covid-19 outbreak, it has had to shift its modus operandi as children were no longer able to attend school. “As soon as the preschools that we work with closed, we had to enable these children to take home their rations,” David says. The children took 30 days’ worth of food home on a monthly basis.

It also became apparent to the JAM team that the children’s families needed food as well. So again, it had to shift its model to providing family food parcels. “We had many corporates wanting to distribute food parcels into the various areas across the country where they drew their staff from, or that was part of their markets, all of which had been heavily impacted by the pandemic,” David adds.

However the work didn’t stop there. JAM South Africa then had to help these schools get ready to reopen once the lockdown restrictions eased. JAM South Africa supplied the schools with ECD readiness kits they needed to meet the Department of Social Development’s requirements to get them up and running again. “We also became part of the presidential ECD stimulus campaign, and registered thousands of preschools and their staff so they would get payment under that campaign,” David says.

Rise as One
Then, in July 2021, civil unrest broke out across South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces, and JAM South Africa couldn't ignore the cry for help from the country’s citizens. “We are an organisation that has a formal theory of change, which speaks to intervention programmes that we formally adopt to help people from a certain place in the economy rise up to where they can effectively contribute and look after themselves,” JAM International CFO Nico Esterhuzien explains.

The NGO, which normally doesn’t undertake emergency response in South Africa, found itself having to step in during the country’s time of need again. “The size and impact of the looting and unrest really struck us as an organisation and we decided to implement emergency response programmes in the affected provinces.”

The Rise as One movement started with citizens across South Africa stepping up and helping in areas that were affected by the unrest or, in some cases, stopped the looting activities entirely. “Communities across every level of society came out and got involved in the relief efforts,” David explains. And the Rise as One movement went global.

JAM International launched a Rise as One campaign, which included its affiliate offices in the UK, Canada, US, Netherlands, Australia, Switzerland and Germany. These countries, who all had members with an affinity to South Africa, wanted to help. The NGO also received a lot of support from its existing and new corporate funders, as well as many food retailers and wholesalers. “Again, we had to gear up very quickly and respond to the crises that the nation was facing,” David explains, which meant that JAM International had to repurpose some emergency funds.

“We reengaged with some of our donors, who contribute upfront for larger projects, to repurpose their funds,” Nico explains. “We also have some of our own reserves that we have to keep on our balance sheet which we deployed for use due to the major impact of the unrest.”.”

JAM used this repurposed and reserve funding to purchase and distribute food to the affected areas immediately, as many communities had been depleted of food supplies from the looting. “We purchased food from Johannesburg and Cape Town and air freighted some into KwaZulu-Natal, as all transport to the affected communities had been suspended,” David says. “We had some food parcels ready for other purposes that we repurposed to get into KwaZulu-Natal immediately.”

But all of this, he explains, needs to be replenished again. “Most of the funds have been recovered through the Rise as One awareness campaign, but it’s a balancing act. If you allocate funds for emergency purposes, you have to ensure that you find ways to replenish that, because it could impact other operations.”

Nico adds that luckily JAM South Africa has seen a very good response from corporates and individuals that have raised funds and really came to support the people in the country. “Corporate South Africa really came together and helped a lot of South Africans. It’s been good to see how people rise as one,” he says.

To date, JAM South Africa has delivered food parcels to 8,200 families in areas of KwaZulu-Natal and 3,600 in Gauteng.

Gearing up for the future
David explains that these two emergencies have shown the fragility of food security in the country. “Because emergencies had always been very isolated, as a nation we hadn’t really been geared up to deal with a crisis of this scale.”

JAM has learned a thing or two during these crises, including the use of technology to reach a lot more people at a lower cost. “Our SMS voucher programme [where people receive an SMS saying their parcel is at a set location and they can collect at a set time] has proven very cost effective, because it reduces our input costs, like diesel and trucks.”

This, Nico concludes, will also free up some reserves for future emergency funds and enables them to do a lot more in terms of helping communities in need of upliftment.