Working Together to Advance Social Impact

By Tracey Henry, CEO Tshikululu Social Investments 


Can different types of funders collaborate for better impact?  

Can different types of funders collaborate effectively to scale impact? This question arises, considering that all social investment vehicles operate within a broader ecosystem and rely on multiple stakeholders to achieve positive outcomes.  It can safely be said that all these different stakeholders, including private or philanthropic trusts, corporate social investment trusts, or community trusts, know that collaboration is essential.   

Tshikululu Social Investments’ unique positioning as providers of comprehensive trust management and advisory services to various social investment vehicles, including private foundations, corporate social investment trusts, B-BBEE trusts, and community trusts, puts us in a unique position to reflect on how these stakeholders can collaborate effectively. We define collaboration as working together to achieve a mutually desired outcome. It goes beyond joint funding partnerships and can involve intentionally establishing structures to facilitate cooperation and knowledge sharing. 

A prerequisite for diverse stakeholders to collaborate is that they should start off with a good  understanding of their respective social intent and specific drivers that may influence their work. Our recent Community Trust Benchmarking report (released in 2023) shares detailed insights on this specific type of social investment vehicle and the issues that drives decision-making, which philanthropic funders would need to consider when contemplating collaboration. The research report focused on identifying best practices to enhance the governance and social development intent of community trusts. Throughout the report, we use the term “community trust” generically to refer to broad-based ownership schemes established for community benefit. 


Understanding community trusts  

Tshikululu Social Investments offers comprehensive trust management and advisory services to various social investment vehicles, including private foundations, corporate social investment trusts, B-BBEE trusts, and community trusts. In our recent Community Trust Benchmarking report (released in 2023), we focused on identifying best practices to enhance the governance and social development intent of community trusts. Throughout the report, we use the term “community trust” generically to refer to broad-based ownership schemes established for community benefit.   

Community trusts play a crucial role in Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) transactions and are intended to benefit amongst others local mining communities. However, at times, challenges in governance and implementation have led to tensions and unrest within communities, impacting the mining companies’ social license to operate. 

The key findings of the research report are distilled into best practices that provide insights into the key characteristics shared by well-managed trusts from the perspectives of governance, operations, and strategy to achieve long-term sustainable impact for the communities they serve.  


Key findings from Tshikululu’s Community Trust Benchmarking Report (2023) 


  • Purpose-driven approach: Successful community trusts have a clearly defined purpose that extends beyond mere compliance. They employ a theory of change to map out long-term goals and connect them to shorter-term outcomes, ensuring sustainability and impact. 


  • Strong governance and oversight: Well-managed trusts have trustees with diverse skills and profiles, including financial and legal expertise. Balancing independent and founder trustees, along with community representation, fosters effective governance. Formal induction and training promote transparency and accountability. 


  • Intentional community engagement: Effective trusts engage transparently with communities, seeking feedback and involving beneficiaries in decision-making. Formal structures ensure inclusivity and prevent preferential treatment. 


  • Robust operations: Trusts must have well-designed processes for governance, administration, and implementation. While some trusts lack internal capacity, collaboration with sponsors/founders or outsourcing ensures effective operations.  


  • Monitoring and evaluation: Embedding impact assessment into project planning from the onset of a project or programme design is crucial. Clear developmental targets/indicators need to be attached to all funding that is disbursed to ensure accountability and to measure outcomes effectively. Trusts should attach clear development targets to funding, integrate monitoring into project planning, and engage expert support or build the internal capabilities for continuous impact tracking. 


The findings have been shared widely in the mining sector through webinars and workshops to ensure that the ultimate intent of community trusts, namely societal impact, is strengthened for the benefit of the designated beneficiaries, Importantly, the lessons documented in our report extend beyond community trusts; any investment vehicle with a social intent can benefit from these learnings. 


Considerations when thinking about collaboration  

Through our work with a diverse collection of funders, we have developed an awareness of the considerations social investors should reflect on when thinking about collaborating, particularly regarding co-funding. 

Alignment of purpose, values and goals 

Firstly, social investors need to align in terms of fit and by that we mean that there needs to be alignment in terms of purpose, values and what success looks like, that extends beyond mere compliance. This means that there needs to be an understanding regarding the purpose and the proposed theory of change which maps out long-term goals, outcomes and impact and is connected to shorter-term outcomes. For example, some social investors may require quick, short-term “gains” in order to address immediate and urgent community and/or stakeholder issues. Other social investors may adopt a longer-term and/or systemic approach that will take time to achieve desired outcomes and impact. What works for one social investor, may not work for another, so being clear upfront about intent, impact, risk tolerance and how to mitigate these will assist in determining the likelihood of partnerships and collaborating.  

Alignment of the rules of engagement  

Secondly, social investors need to be aligned in terms of the rules of engagement in order for collaboration to work. While social investors may be aligned in terms of purpose or fit, the how and who needs to be clearly defined. This includes clarity about roles and responsibilities and ensuring that designated resources are held accountable to drive collaboration. Defining a working framework or memorandum of understanding is advisable. It serves to formalise collaboration, by agreeing upfront on how to manage and report on risks, timeframes and how and when the lifecycle of a particular collaborative initiative will end.  All of this takes time and commitment to work through the details required to pave the way for meaningful engagements and collaboration.  

Understanding the broader ecosystem 

Lastly, understanding the broader ecosystem and stakeholders relevant to each social investor is important to assess alignment and opportunities to collaborate. For example, a community trust’s stakeholder map may look quite different to that of a philanthropic funder, albeit that there may be areas that overlap. A community trust’s stakeholders may include industry bodies such as the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, auditors focused on B-BBEE reporting, municipal structures, other mining groups, labour organisations, and traditional leaders that may influence strategic choices. In our view this is one of the key differences between for example a community trust and a private or philanthropic trust and may influence decisions to collaborate. This does not negate the opportunity to collaborate, but being cognisant of some of the drivers that impact decision making, stakeholder priorities and reporting requirements within each social investor’s ecosystem can influence decisions to co-fund initiatives. 


Ongoing effort to advance impactful social investments  

Circling back to the initial question, we can confirm that it is indeed possible for different types of funders to collaborate effectively to scale impact. However, they can only do so if they have the willingness to learn from one another. Successful collaboration also depends on comprehending the intricacies of diverse stakeholders and reporting obligations. Steadfast commitment to collaborate in addressing complex challenges is essential for informed decision-making and the ongoing enhancement of impactful social investments. By fostering a collaborative environment, we can collectively drive positive change and create lasting societal impact.  


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