Sustainable CSI — support small biz to grow communities
by Nontokozo Madonsela (@NontokozoM88) Corporate social investment (CSI) should never be undertaken with a box-ticking approach and a donor mentality; a business mindset is more effective than a charity one. Instead of donating money or even time, companies should look to support businesses already active within communities. This is a form of social entrepreneurship.
Deliberate, systematic and practical
For private enterprise, CSI should be deliberate, systematic and practical — the same way every company conducts its commercial business. And, as with like every sales and marketing strategy, CSI should also aim to have the broadest possible impact.
To have impact, it’s essential to have focus. Organisations should review their CSI strategy to ensure a focussed approach that meaningfully addresses our country’s key challenges — take youth employment, as an example. In this instance, your CSI programme would support youth development initiatives that operate sustainably and lead to measurable results: real jobs, careers, profitable businesses and community benefits.
This approach also meshes neatly with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent call to enable youth employment. In his 2018 State of the Nation speech, Ramaphosa called on us to roll up our sleeves and work together to address youth unemployment, to prepare for a new era of technological change, and to encourage growth for shared prosperity. The response came from every corner of the country: count us in! This was just the call South Africans had been waiting for. Yes, individuals and companies alike want to uplift the poor, create jobs and reduce inequality, but how?
Instead of rallying their workforce and painting walls at a preschool for a day, companies should consider hiring a local painting business to complete the project. This will provide employment, grow business and probably ensure a more-efficient outcome.
An even more systematic approach would involve conducting an audit of schools in the community that need painting, and then hiring local small businesses to do the job. Similar multiplier benefits may be achieved by looking at a community’s maintenance, security and catering needs.
Investor businesses may also offer their expertise to coach and mentor their community partners on how to be more effective in their communities. Engaging with organisations that are already active in a community would build mutual respect and give benefactor companies more credibility.
Corporates can make a significant contribution, cost-effectively, by being a catalyst for enduring change, instead of a saviour with a chest full of donor funds. Creating a business opportunity is more likely to endure. That way, when the corporate partner leaves the picture, the project sustains itself as a business.
Building businesses creates more jobs than charitable donations do. There will be an innovative way of doing this in every sector — companies themselves will know what methods to use.
Technological empowerment is another way to enable development on a business basis. There are numerous examples of African tech solutions to African challenges. You can already buy goats on Facebook, and there is a South African crowd-farming platform that helps investors purchase cows online, and have them managed remotely, like an investment portfolio.
Partnering, mentoring and sharing
The challenge is not the ideas but the opportunity to make them real. Effective CSI can be about partnering to enable tech innovation that benefits communities and opens up sustainable business opportunities. This might mean creating free wi-fi zones, building an API interface for community developers to build apps on or, simply, hiring township businesses to build websites and apps. Mentoring and sharing expertise can also help community businesses to grow. Given the platform, the ideas will come.
As businesses, we all need to introspect in the industry we’re in, and think of ways we can make enduring sustainable change. We need to really leverage all the abilities of existing small businesses, and all South Africa’s talent and creativity. Then we will really be heeding the president’s call — really be making a difference.
Nontokozo Madonsela (@NontokozoM88) is group CMO at MMI Holdings. She has over 18 years of experience in brands and marketing, specialising in marketing and brand strategy, creative development process, delivery of brand and corporate identity and strategic execution of advertising and marketing campaigns.
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