The NRASD was established and launched on 21 August 1997. This date marked a decisive turning point after a long period of public consultations at which the need for closer cooperation between the church, the religious sector, the state and public institutions was highlighted repeatedly.
The association was established by representatives of the religious organisations (Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic and Jewish) involved in a national conference on the transformation of welfare in South Africa, hosted in Cape Town by the EFSA Institute.
The establishment of the NRASD was a response to specific challenges:
- Firstly, it was a direct response to a challenge posed by a former minister of welfare and population development, Ms Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, when she stated:
There are obvious benefits to the establishment of a formal network of religious organisations. Ideally, this would lead to exchanges of best practice models, joint endeavours to improve the conditions of people through high impact initiatives and resources sharing. From a government point of view, and more specifically the welfare department, it will enable us to engage in a structured manner on a regular basis.
- Secondly, in the absence of a national religious network that could enter into formal agreements with government and international donors, international support for social projects in South Africa could not be accessed. Since the birth of the democratic South Africa, the lack of formal cooperation (and formal agreements) between the state and faith-based organisations had prevented local religious networks from qualifying for and meeting the conditions of international donors to receive substantial funding for social upliftment programmes. International donor funding is increasingly directed away from South Africa, mainly to other needy parts of the world, for example Eastern Europe.
Today the NRASD represents the concerns and interests of different faith welfare networks, which include Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic and Jewish traditions. It has established itself in a relatively short period as an important national role-player that strives to fulfil the following functions:
- consultations with government departments and ministries;
- joint lobby processes for changes on programme level; and
- implementation of a new development partnership with the government.
The basic approach of the NRASD is to strengthen the capacity and programmes of existing networks to enable them to play an even bigger role in this field. Together the religious groups represent by far the largest networks for social, welfare and development work in South Africa.