Nation Builder – Encouraging Great CSI Ground-up

While too many of South Africa’s long-established corporate social investment (CSI) foundations, trusts and programmes tie themselves up in knots about how to change society through being “programmatic”, or “NDP-aligned”, or through searching development’s Holy Grail of “measurable impact”, there’s a whole bunch of other company social investment going on under the radar.

It’s the stuff that medium and smaller companies and their staff are doing throughout SA – heartfelt attempts to do the right thing, mostly in isolation one from the other, and in happy ignorance of the corporate “professionals”. This isn’t work that’s measured (Cape Town’s Trialogue provides SA’s only regular measure of CSI spend and practice, but it confines its research to what the top 200 companies are up to). Open any regional newspaper in centres like Rustenburg, Nelspruit or Polokwane in any week, and you’ll find reports on charitable intervention by local businesses. But do they really have to reinvent wheels of lessons long learned by more established programmes running out of our bigger cities?

They probably do, but shouldn’t have to. That’s the idea behind a new campaign called “Nation Builder”, launched and managed by Pretoria’s Muthobi Foundation. The concept is simple, yet long overdue. It’s to help channel the positive energy of CSI already happening in especially medium and smaller businesses into worthwhile action through encouragement, and by passing on and sharing learnings across the country.

Starting with little fanfare in bespoke briefings being held in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Pretoria and Durban, it’s a campaign that will roll out over a long time, and one that doesn’t presume to have all the answers, much less to judge people or to tell them what it is that they must do. Rather, it provides a platform, a portal, for best practice social investment ideas, learnings, and practices that others can use in their own actions to the common good.

This initiative works off an understanding that the almost R7 billion CSI spend noted by Trialogue in its survey of 200 companies last year is just the tip of an iceberg – there being tens of thousands of companies of all sizes in this country and a general eagerness among ordinary South Africans to muck in and assist their fellows (this isn’t wishful thinking – after all, a Barclays Wealth report puts us as proportionately the world’s second most generous people in giving to social causes – after Americans; Stats SA reckons that one-in-three South Africans made such donations in 2010; and the census tells us that that year saw 1,4 million of us undertake some or other form of voluntary community work.

So the willingness among ordinary folk, including in smaller companies, is there, and they’re increasingly teaming up with similarly willing people in the private sector’s other part – the non-profit sector. The Nation Builder project is about sharing with especially these partners across SA what those in the long-in-the-tooth CSI sector already know about what works best, and what works less well.

This month’s launch briefings with experts in funding and in developmental “doing” is but the beginning of gathering these learnings, for onward distribution to a broader and willing network. The Nation Builder team will collate these lessons and experiences; use a media campaign and distribution through business chambers and suchlike to spread them; and sign companies up to receive ongoing communications of an e-zine and social media sort that keeps the tempo of knowledge-sharing and encouragement going strong.

To more tightly bind companies to this, they’re encouraged to sign up as “nation builders” and to pledge to undertake their CSI is meaningful, thoughtful, long-term ways.

The campaign is run from the offices of the Muthobi Foundation, itself a child of the mining-property-seafaring Mertech Group. The latter is an investment holding company that, uniquely, uses 30% of its net profit after tax for social good, including in carrying all the costs of this campaign now and in future. While companies registering for the Nation Builder campaign are required to pay a nominal annual subscription fee for reasons of cementing their commitment to our common goals, these moneys will be passed onto NGOs identified by Muthobi. The Nation Builder campaign is expected to run for a number of years.

• For more information on the Nation Builder campaign, visit

• To see a short Nation Builder YouTube clip featuring 2013 Comrades Marathon winner Claude Moshiywa, go to

• WHAM! Media is a communications consultant to the Nation Builder campaign.