South Africa Strategic social investment is more than the traditional concept of charity and philanthropy; it is the value created for both society and business. By planning CSI as a part of a company’s overall plan, businesses can ensure that profits and shareholder value are not mutually exclusive/disconnected from behaving ethically to their stakeholders but in fact, can have ‘shared value’: a balance between economic and societal value.
Shared value is where corporate policies and practices enhance the competitive advantage and profitability of the company while simultaneously advancing social and economic conditions in the communities in which it sells and operates. Potential benefits of strategic social investment are significant and well documented. It can create significant opportunities for businesses, enabling them to meet regulatory requirements, enhance reputation and loyalty, motivate staff, attract quality employees as well as open up new market opportunities.
If, and when, management begins to understand that CSI, and nation building, forms part of its success and should be considered one of its strategic pillars, more sustainable and long-term development can be delivered, resulting in both social development and economic growth.
How to make it strategic
Social investment is a business imperative. This means that its delivery cannot be ad hoc or informal.
CSI must be subject to the same standards of professionalism as any core business function. This applies to knowledge, systems and processes. Subjective factors like sentimentality, favouritism or a desire to influence can never be the basis for sound, sustainable CSI. Part of this professionalisation includes a defined strategy, mandate, budget, dedicated resources and well-defined funding criteria in line with the company’s vision and mission.
Quality, not quantity
Even relatively small companies, which will never be among the big spenders globally, can be leaders in terms of the quality of their CSI. In South Africa, for example, quality CSI spend has historically generated disproportionate practical outcomes in comparison to bigger spenders. So remember that size isn’t everything and the biggest project isn’t necessarily the most successful.
Often, it’s the smaller, more manageable project underpinned by a set of workable ideas and anchored in the community that stands the test of time. Indeed, your vision as a CSI practitioner should always be to ‘punch above your weight’: something that the Nation Builder Benchmarking Tool aims to enable every business to do.
Work from a base of knowledge. Get to know and understand your environment, the community and the local economy. Aim to develop this knowledge yourself. Recruit consultants if you have to but remember that consultants come and go – and their views are only a partial interpretation. Take the time to digest and make sense of the impressions you gather in the ever-changing, contradictory and confusing contexts that make up a community. Distil your ideas and share them with colleagues and where appropriate, external stakeholders.
Develop areas of excellence
CSI is better suited to some areas of development than others. Therefore, it’s important to focus on what works as well as what is relevant or has a sensible fit to your business. Start with projects that look as if they’ll succeed. Key indicators are a good track record, able leadership and sound analysis.
Bear in mind that it’s not always about scale: often, excellence emerges in the most unlikely of circumstances — for example, in small, struggling projects where people are doing things right. Remember that CSI is about helping others to make more of themselves, both at an organisational and a beneficiary level.
The power of relationships
Relationships cannot be bought; they must be built. It’s hard work, done consistently over time. It means keeping your promises, showing you care and taking the long view, amongst other things. Most importantly, it means engaging constructively and sensitively when there are difficult issues and always looking for solutions together.
Recognise the work of your partners
An important part of grant making is how the funding you provide empowers others to do more for those in need around them. No matter what the nature of your involvement in social upliftment, recognise and acknowledge the work of your partners. Key to this is to acknowledge beneficiaries as the most important agents of change in their lives, and not just your contribution to the work on the ground.
Nothing sets in motion positive and lasting social change like restored dignity, empowerment and self-determination among people and communities. After all, social investment is about investing in the lives, hopes, health and futures of human beings, and so, ultimately, the future of our country.
- By Lauren Henning, Nation Builder public affairs director, and Paul Pereira, WHAM! Media. First published by Nation Builder (proudnationbuilder.co.za).