Quick tips if you’re starting a CSI career…

  • By Paul Pereira

I’d already had good careers in political analysis and journalism when I was surprisingly given a managerial job at Nedbank’s head office, dealing with their “good giving” to various causes. Already then, the late Nineties, this was becoming codified work of “best practice” – with all the risk aversion of the scared, carefully presented as “responsible giving”.

I’ve mostly stayed in similar corporate social investment work (CSI) of private sector funding of community projects, in executive roles associated with Anglo American, De Beers, FirstRand, and other big spenders in CSI.

Indeed, although CSI is just one piece of company largesse, it is a zeitgeist of our times that sees many a bright-eyed youngster wanting careers in it, imagining themselves heroically “saving the world”. Whether or not they do, they’ll certainly meet human foibles.

Yet I am often struck at how limited a sense some youngsters seem to have of such work. When I’m asked for pre-interview advice by these CSI hopefuls, they often only want to get a grip on the necessary but boring technical stuff like “monitoring and evaluation” techniques, “impact assessments’’, “integrated reporting”, “asset-based community development”.

It’s all boring because it’s safe, predictable drudgery that changes nothing. On its own, it’s an abdication of CSI’s purpose. For when CSI succeeds, it’s usually a story of empathy, informed imagination, grounded approaches, and patient humour.

Sure, do that “measurement” stuff because your company likes it, leaving you to get on with less-than-predictable work of messy aspirations, and “keep it real”.

Here are some tips for the young CSI officer:

Your job’s cool – after all, every time you use company cash to support someone, you’re choosing to deny someone else. Remember that.

Still, be content in knowing that tens of thousands of people, who will never hear of your name, can truly have their opportunities increased by your job well done.

Go for the tough stuff, taking the hard route of funding all races in need, and don’t exclude minorities. Focus on a future for all our great-great grandchildren, rather than toadying to today’s “wisdoms”.

Stand your ground among colleagues by reminding them that yours is the private sector, with government doing its thing with your taxes. You owe government nothing; SA everything. What defines you is the flexibility of choice that comes with company money being private.

So while the state must try redress inequality everywhere and make ruthless spending cuts, CSI can sustain our artists, our heritage, our islands of creative excellence, even our crazies. We are people, not cattle. To live isn’t only about maths and muti. We also need to dance!

Who else but you can stand with our two million illegals who exist in the shadowy fear of the policeman or official – their children in effect barred from our schools, the adults from grants, and all from clinics, sports teams, housing projects, game reserves, work schemes. Be their hope, and your company will be fondly recalled by their SA descendants a century on.

Scorn the evil of race classification in all its horrible yet beguiling clothes. But sit alone at night, and ponder your own subliminal assumptions. Speak openly on these things, and do it to lessen fears, enhance dignity. Redeem and liberate each other.

Laugh at the cruel and lazy fool who secretly enjoys being “offended”, and who tries to make you self-censor; but never genuinely harm someone’s sense of worth. Stand up for justice always, even – especially – when it costs you. Defend the hated and the ridiculed. Know that our certainties will seem backward in 50 years.

Insist on South Africa’s excellence, for only then do you believe in our people’s potential – and keep answering your country’s call. Value, support and assist the weak of spirit. Know God. Don’t change your natural curiosity about others.

And only then tick the “measurement” boxes.

  • WHAM! Media advises the Muthobi Foundation’s Nation Builder initiative. First printed in the Pretoria News.

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