By Brendan Powell, General Manager at Isilumko Media
The strong sense of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) evident in South African culture has been attributed to, among other things, our unique sense of “ubuntu”; earning us a reputation of being one of the world’s most generous and philanthropic societies. While that’s a good start, Corporate Social Investment (CSI) has evolved beyond philanthropy and charity and beyond unfocused contributions that fail to meet local needs; into a strategic business tool that empowers communities through sustainable development.
Santa Claus-type hand-outs of the past are a far cry from trends we currently see emerging, with a distinct shift from tokenism towards strategic investment. Such investment manifests in various forms at corporate and community level. The basic premise is that by empowering communities, one generates community goodwill which ensures local ownership of CSI projects – the key to sustainability. Furthermore, building effective partnerships with government and improving an organisation’s reputation among peers and public is achieved through a synergy established between CSI and aligned brand marketing – also a key component in business sustainability.
The basic components of a good CSI programme include direct engagement with beneficiary communities through relevant and effective forums, Public Private Partnerships and constant project evaluation. The latter is apparent in the hands-on approach many investors have started to employ. By taking ownership, companies add significant value to their respective industries and become accountable for the sustainability and longevity of the project and its impact. Establishing a clear link between the brand, its values and the CSI project ensures that the company retains a passion for the initiative, further ensuring long-term sustainability.
Corporate accountability and responsibility requires a balanced and integrated approach encompassing social and environmental performance, as well as economics; widely known as the Triple Bottom Line. Such an integrated approach is also encouraged by local legislation such as BBBEE. A debateable dilution of the purpose of CSI, the Socio-Economic and Enterprise Development elements of the scorecard nonetheless reinforce the importance of CSI, making it critical to the business agenda. Yet it is still believed that the general sentiment of companies, big and small, is one of putting back into the country.
Corporates are holding their projects closer to their hearts; they’re getting their staff, the general public and affected communities involved ensuring exposure of the brand’s involvement; thus adding to the profitability of the investment as well as ensuring its sustainability. The collective commitment of the entire corporation from the CEO to the most junior employee; also serves as a great team building exercise and boosts company morale.
One can’t deny that profitability forms the platform for business success; but this is weakened if business growth is not accompanied by transformation. A trying economic climate sees CSI spend having to be accountable to the income statement; this is why purposefully building marketing activities into the project, facilitates a variety of results driven conclusions. When financial managers are crunching numbers, CSI spend is more easily justifiable when supplemented by promotional budgets to increase the PR and marketing reach of the campaign; achieving somewhat of a multi-faceted success scenario.
CSI is thus becoming a lens through which to approach operations and development initiatives – ensuring responsibility and sustainability are carefully considered. An understanding is unfolding revealing the broader context within which CSI exists; one of citizenship, empowerment and transformation.
Let me close with the sentiments of William Clay Ford, CEO of Ford Motor Company; “There is a difference between a good company and a great company. A good company offers excellent products and services. A great company also offers excellent products and services but also thrives to make the world a better place”.