To redress the imbalances of South Africa’s painful past and the starkly visible contrasts in wealth and society, organisations need to do more than pet fluffy kittens and paint walls with their Corporate Social Investment (CSI) initiatives.
A truly impactful CSI strategy should be focused on closing the gap, on being relevant to the community and bringing about tangible and sustainable change.
Provides a conduit
“A powerful CSI programme is one that provides a conduit for employees to get involved, that is relevant in the community, and that helps South Africa to build bridges and close gaps around the injustices of the past,” says Senzo Mbhele, Group Strategy, Tarsus Technology Group.
“There are different schools of thought that drive CSI programmes – one where people should be allowed to flourish and do as they want, and the other where the company focuses on one specific area, community or project.”
Develop a precise CSI strategy
Mbhele leans towards the latter view, one where the company builds a robust CSI strategy around a clearly defined and focused objective, working closely with a targeted community or project on a consistent basis. He believes that this is a far more efficient use of company CSI budget. Instead of using the required percentage of net profit to tick boxes, use it to develop a precise CSI strategy that delivers tangible results.
“Just think about what a difference one company could make if it decided to, for example, focus on education within its specific sector,” Mbhele continues. “The results would be far more measurable, the results incredible, and it would instantly align people and company alongside a common goal. There is a need to create a CSI ecosystem that empowers the employee and engenders a culture of giving that goes beyond painting walls.”
A more dynamic CSI platform
This doesn’t mean that sending water to Cape Town or making quilts for a community in need are not good enough, rather they are steps towards building a more dynamic CSI platform. A strategy that can be fine tuned down to water conservation or investing into water innovation. The right step forward is one taken with the organisation’s expertise and industry in mind.
“Going back to education as an example,” says Mbhele. “If an IT company decided to focus on basic education all the way from early childhood development through to matric, they could provide the resources that these educational institutions need to achieve this.
“They can build a library of computers, get employees to train people in using these computers, and appreciate the impact they are having as they watch the children grow, learn and achieve things they may not have necessarily had the opportunity to do before.”
The legacy of the old South Africa is not easily swept aside under paintbrushes. CSI must go beyond having an impact at a shallow level and instead look to how it can solve the systemic challenges that affect the country and its people.
Only through this focus can CSI truly deliver on its potential and its mandate. A targeted and relevant CSI strategy will keep employees focused, on track and engaged with the company and its CSI initiative as they can see how they are making a real and relevant difference.
1, 520 km of giving
Fancy a quick run from Joburg to Cape Town? No? Well, the answer given by Jessica Harvey, Microsoft Marketing Co-ordinator at the Tarsus Technology Group was a resounding “Yes!”.
Harvey is joining a group of runners in an annual fundraising event with MAD (Make A Difference) that will support the MAD Leadership Foundation and its goal of providing scholarships to deserving kids.
She will be running the 1, 520km in just seven days in 24-hour relay-style running in a bid to raise as much money as possible. Each runner is required to run at least 20km per day, reaching a grand total of 140km over the course of the week at an average speed of six minutes per kilometre.
“Nervous and excited”
“I am nervous and excited at the same time, but I can’t wait to get started,” she says. “I am passionate about this project and the work that MAD does. My sore legs will change someone else’s life forever – they will get to go to university and get a degree and gain access to opportunities thanks to this endeavour.”
Harvey’s MAD2Run adventure takes place in April 2019 and, for her, made sense as a fundraising initiative. She loves running so she put that together with her need to make a difference to people’s lives and the rest, as they say, is history.
“It is so important to be a part of something like this and to work for a company that encourages people to get involved in CSI initiatives,” says Harvey. “While Tarsus are not involved in this particular event, they have given me incredible support and helped me spread the message to increase donations.”
Building a rich company culture
For Harvey, CSI is incredibly important in a company and in helping to build a rich company culture.
“It talks to the kind of employees you’ve got – if you have people who get involved in CSI projects, then you know that they will help you to build teams, push people to do better and will play a role in helping your organisation to grow,” she concludes.