“Now is the time for you to stand up. If you care about yourself, your family, your neighbours, your friends, your colleagues - about South Africa, you must stand up.” Lead SA
Corporate Social Investment is more than just a business requirement
Every morning Lucky gets up at 4am to catch a taxi to Durban City centre. He knows he has to be there by 5:30am to beat the waste pick up people. His destination is a block of government building but more importantly the rubbish dump behind the buildings. What Lucky is after is the old used computer parts that are randomly tossed into the waste. These disregarded computers and the spare parts he salvages keeps his business alive. Lucky runs a small internet café in a shack at the back of his modest 1 roomed house. He has a dream to one-day bring the internet to all the members of the community he lives in.
On his way every morning Lucky passes the rows and rows of concrete enforced glass front office blocks. People are hustling and bustling to get into these buildings. As he passes he can see his reflection in the glass front. He wonders if he will ever have the opportunity to enter that world. The world that is full of opportunity and promise. He tried once to apply for a small loan from a local bank. The money was intended to buy two new computers so that he could kick start his dream. Sadly the only response Lucky got was a blank are you crazy stare. His only option left to him is to scavenge the city computer dumps.
Lucky story is not unique in South Africa today. Some of the information used is perhaps stretched but the outcome is real. If it had not been for well directed CSI money then Lucky would still be searching the rubbish dumps to keep his dream alive.
It’s more than a requirement, it’s an obligation to society
Corporate Social Investment has almost been thrust upon companies and many are spending their contributions in noble and honourable ways. Equally there are companies who shy away and do everything in their power to avoid it. A small financial contribution to a local charity or club is about as much strategic thought this BEE requirement will receive. This article is not intended to be prescriptive but rather to provide some insight into an experience that has yielded tremendous results.
Connect with your company’s value and beliefs
CSI spend should not be seen as an option but rather as an obligation to the greater need of society. We live in such a diverse country made up of many cultures, where the needs are great and varied. Companies who claim they do not know of any cause are simply avoiding their obligation. Many of the communities whose needs are desperate and pressing have contributed to this economy without any significant gain. We can just contemplate the toll our migrant labour system had on healthy family life and developing good moral values. These are some of the issues society is desperately trying to deal with. The real question is not if a need exists but rather to find those needs in society that are closest to the value and beliefs in your organisation.
Involve your staff
Companies should get their staff involved in their CSI initiatives and not just make it the prerogative of a few of the senior elite. Too many of these projects involve nothing more than just a ribbon cutting exercise or some soil turning ceremony. The only resemblance left afterwards is a lonely picture in a passage or a silver-plated spade hanging in the CEO’s private pub. It is difficult enough today in these tough times for managers to motivate their employees as many still rely on the outdated carrot and stick approach. Why do some people just go off and do crazy things. Why does a man in the name of humanity decide to cycle around Africa or why does one woman visit 80 countries in a year with only a stray dog as a travel partner and in the process giving up well paying, lucrative corporate careers.
The answer is simply because they believed so strongly in their cause that it drove them to take action. Many of the CSI projects out there are run by similar individuals. By linking your investment projects to your organisational value and belief system and also involving your employees will allow this energy to flow into your organisation. This energy will deliver motivated employees beyond any executive’s imagination. A few hours or days a year for employees actively involved in these projects will yield miracles. The result will be more productive, more energised and happier employees.
Pay it forward
The essence of any CSI initiative should be based on the concept of paying it forward. This concept requires that the beneficiary of the good deed should be a stranger to the creditor. The debtor (Company) is given the option be the creditor (State) to pay the debt to some one else (CSI recipient) instead of paying the creditor (State). In the famous movie that highlighted this way of thinking actor Haley Joel Osment urges his fellow man to reward people in advance for what is going to happen and not for what has happened in the past. Society will never be fixed if rewards and investment is based on action first. Most of the great entrepreneurs in the world succeeded based only on what they believed might happen and not on any track record. It might require from those tasked within companies to administer these funds to show some decision making based on risk and insight rather than sound management principles.
Impact your current market
Marketing departments in companies spend much time and resources connecting with the target market. Hours of deliberation are dedicated into what the next creative advertising campaign or innovative PR initiative will resemble. Sadly as reported in Buy-Ology by Martin Lindstroom as many as 70% of these efforts fail. CSI investment offers a unique opportunity to companies to invest in developing their own markets. If you are selling welding equipment then run a welding training program for novices or if you own a computer franchise then use your CSI contribution to train people who have never used computers! In that way you can use your expertise to connect with possible future consumers.
Make the experience count
It is essential that the community as a collective should benefit from the investment. More specifically the benefits should be real and tangible. The effect of the investment must not be ascribed to something that happened in the past so that the cost can be reflected in an annual report. Desmond Tutu described the spirit of Ubuntu as a person being a person through other persons- therefore operating with a spirit of Ubuntu means being open and available to the community. If CSI projects are not going to leave lasting legacies that will remain within communities for a long time then these initiatives should be carefully reconsidered. Companies have a unique opportunity to impact South African society for the good of the country.
Lucky’s big break came when a local NGO offered him a seat on a company sponsored business course. Funds were donated to this NGO through a CSI initiative and they were now able to provide Lucky with the skills lacking in his business make up. For the first time in his life Lucky now understood many of the terms and ideas business owners take for granted. Things such as cash flow, a business plan, marketing strategy and leadership started to make sense.
Lucky was now able to move from running on enthusiasm to managing a business on good sensible principles. Since then Lucky has managed to secure funding based on his solid business plan and recently acquired his new premises in a tradable part of town. He now owns and operates a computer school teaching his community essential skills they would have never been able to obtain.
If you are involved or responsible for initiating CSI investment in your organisation then appreciate your responsibility and the impact you can have on society. Take the time to make a difference and more importantly show the community how much you care.
I would not be doing my own cause justice if I did not mention the great work the UBUNTUMISSION is doing in South Africa. Take a few seconds and visit their website www.ubuntumission.org. If it’s a cause you find valuable then get involved.
Huthwaite Africa is the sole licence holder for all the products and services provided by Huthwaite International. All of the programs have been developed from research and validated and proven to deliver success in a complex market. Huthwaite Africa is the sole provider of SPIN SELLING® the world’s most researched, most validated and most proven performance improvement program. We also provide marketing consulting and intervention that will result in products and services being more closely aligned to customer decision making and therefore better market share and sales.