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Building a Group Savings Program in South Africa

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By: Raees Ahmed
When I was first offered an internship by Rooftops Canada, I was overjoyed. It came at a time when I was completing work on a post disaster development project in Haiti. After one month’s training with co-op and social housing organizations in Toronto, I left for a five month internship with the National Association of Social Housing Organizations (NASHO) in Johannesburg, South Africa to help start their first bulk purchasing program.
NASHO is a national federation of 16 social housing institutions that house about 21,000 low income families across the country. NASHO provides training to its members and represents their voices in government relations and more generally, in the housing market. Although still fairly young, NASHO boasts a large number of highly motivated social housing developers and managers. They very much share the values of Canadian housing activists. In the words of NASHO’s part-time CEO, Malcolm McCarthy, “Social Housing is not about making units, it’s about ensuring people live in decent communities with adequate services”. A participant at the 2010 NASHO Conference in Johannesburg added, “Social Housing is not about making units, it’s about making people”.
Rooftops Canada has supported NASHO from its launch in 2002. This included visits to Canadian co-op and social housing federations and associations to learn about their bulk purchasing programs. The program at NASHO is intended to generate funds to assist the organization with its future operations, provide savings for its members, and improve the living conditions of their low-income tenants. This includes looking for opportunities to “green” housing operations.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the first product to come on stream will be property insurance. When all NASHO members switch to the new insurer, revenues will cover the costs of a staff person for the program. Banking, security services and maintenance supplies are the next in line.
In developing the strategy we borrowed heavily from the experience of the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association and the Co-operative Housing Federation of Toronto. I am grateful to the staff of the two organizations as well as the Social Housing Services Corporation and the Toronto Housing Company for the continued support and for sharing their experience. A successful NASHO and a successful bulk purchase program will definitely contribute to the development of the social housing sector in South Africa.