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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


ENGELBRECHT, Lambert. The ACVV as welfare pioneer: from welfare for poor whites to contemporary challenges for inclusive developmental social work. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2011, vol.51, n.4, pp.597-612. ISSN 2224-7912.

The ACVV was the first formal welfare organisation in South Africa, and was officially instituted in 1904. The laudable contribution made by this organisation towards the establishment of sophisticated social welfare services and structures was however eclipsed by the fact that these services were in the main focused on poor whites. It is against this backdrop that the historical markers of the ACVV are analysed in this article, followed by an overview of the context of its current inclusive developmental social work, in order to present contemporary challenges facing the ACVV and similar welfare organisations. The most distinctive characteristic of the ACVV is in all probability the fact that it has a stable organisation culture, with women, language and religious persuasion having been the chief elements since its inception. This organisation culture has remained the definitive unifying factor for volunteers who make up the very backbone of the organisation, and this in spite of continuous criticism and pressures over the past century to make politically correct changes. For organisations like the ACVV to survive within a social development context subject to socio-economic and political transformation, an ongoing evaluation of the elements of the organisation culture and of the subsequent impact on the body of volunteers, is indispensable in order to distinguish whether these elements add value to sustainable social service delivery or merely serve the interests of current institutions. The ACVV manages its volunteers within a value-driven learning environment, as becomes apparent from its continuous education of volunteers to keep pace with changing demands, laws and regulations of the government. This value-driven learning environment must always renew itself, as evidenced by the ACVV's adjustment to current tendencies with innovative programmes. The fact that the ACVV has always focused on the development of volunteers' strengths, contributes to their taking ownership of the organisation. Not only do social programmes serve to empower the service users, but the capacity of volunteers is also developed. The challenge is to integrate, from a strength's perspective, the service users, volunteers, auxiliary workers, community development officers and social workers, into one social development community, all with equal input, to manage in a productive manner any possible conflicts resulting from different approaches to service delivery. The core business of the ACVV, namely family care work within the context of poverty alleviation, has always served to illustrate its focus on social services to vulnerable people. The organisation has never, despite political pressures, lost this focus and has never become involved with other social actions which could estrange its volunteer corps and compromise the quality of its service rendering. The history of the ACVV also shows that the vision and mission of development-directed social welfare organisations should be focused and delineated in such a way that social workers' theoretical and professional grounding should steer their service delivery, such as rendering statutory services. In South Africa no other profession has been authorised to deliver statutory social services. Where this is not a priority and where workers are not available to render such services effectively, service users have no recourse to any other safety nets and social workers fail to meet basic principles of social development. Placing principles of social development only within the orbit of economic projects such as job creation, has proved throughout the history of the ACVV to be unsustainable and insignificant, chiefly as a result of the overwhelming critical psychosocial problems coupled with a lack of essential resources, facing frontline social workers. To the contrary, the integration of economic activities and social work activities through, for example, the development of entrepreneurial skills has always been a driving force in the ACVV's operations. This is not an alien poverty alleviation philosophy of the organisation and should always form part of social development - but then through consciously facilitating such actions in all services on all levels and not only as isolated projects in some programmes. The goal should be a situation specific balance between developmental and remedial functions in the employment of social work methods (case work, group work and community work), with an eye to the delivery of effective developmental social work services. History has proved that a partnership of the ACVV and the state is unavoidable especially in a financial sense, but that attendant demands could adversely affect the qualitative functioning of the organisation, and the political aims and agenda of the state could jeopardise the organisation culture of the ACVV. As a result of globalisation and in the interests of financial survival and functioning independently of the state, it is a matter of great urgency for the ACVV and other NGOs to diversify their income base in a creative manner. Opportunities, for example, for entrepreneurially directed service delivery to the private and industrial sectors, with an eye to the core business of the organisation, should be identified towards generating a sustainable financial income for the organisation. The ongoing capacity building of informal organisations, currently characteristic of the ACVV, should also be strengthened and should be marketed as part of social development to local as well as international sponsors and should therefore be accounted for in the income base of the organisation. The loyalty, integrity and quality of not only the ACVV's volunteers but also of its social workers and other staff, have always been above reproach, chiefly flowing from the unifying organisation culture - currently in competition with economic and other powers due to globalisation. In future, retention of staff and volunteers will have to be managed creatively by combining all the strengths of the organisation to make the job prospects attractive and sustainable. The capacity and services of the ACVV, developed throughout more than a century of experience and transformation of social services for poor whites to inclusive developmental social work, still demonstrate a significant, positive impact on the lives of vulnerable people in SA - an asset and an achievement which cannot be attributed to many institutions in SA.

Keywords : ACVV; women's organisations; welfare; non-governmental organisations; apartheid; poor whites; social development; inclusive developmental social work; transformation; volunteers; organisation culture.

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