Thermo Fisher Scientific supporting the Stop Hunger Now organisation in South Africa.

Cape Town - CSR and sustainability programmes form a crucial link with profitability, research reveals – and they are also emerging as a key differentiator in the recruitment process.

Corporate social responsibility programmes are a key mechanism to boost engagement and attract top talent, research among Top Employers across South Africa shows. 

Effective CSR programmes grow the three Ps: profit, people and planet, says Billy Elliott, Country Manager of the Top Employers Institute in South Africa. Increasing this ‘triple bottom line’ is a consistent pattern among Top Employers – and research shows 97% of Top Employers in the country have defined an organisation-wide CSR programme.

Why you should be leveraging CSR

The Top Employers Institute, which certifies and recognises excellence in the conditions employers create for their people globally, helps organisations stay on top of current HR Best Practices. One of the areas that the Top Employers Institute research is how to ensure an effective CSR programme.

The majority of Top Employers across South Africa implement all these practices in their CSR programmes, says Elliott. “Taking CSR seriously as a differentiator is as essential in the competition for talent as it is for reputation-building among stakeholders,” he adds.

“CSR and sustainability programmes are the primary way that organisations demonstrate their willingness to improve society and give back in a meaningful way,” says Elliott. “As such, these initiatives are emerging as key mechanisms not only to make employees feel proud and involved with the organisation, enhancing organisational culture – but to attract new talent.”

How you should be leveraging CSR

Forbes contributor James Epstein-Reeves agrees that an effectively implemented CSR programme can have a major impact on employee engagement and stakeholder relationships and therefore, ultimately, profitability. Echoing Elliott’s sentiments on the three Ps, Epstein-Reeves cites a link between CSR and innovation, brand differentiation, employee engagement and even long-term cost saving.

Effectiveness requires buy-in, points out Elliott. Across South Africa, 94% of Top Employers consistently make information about their CSR programme freely accessible to employees, and 87% consistently evaluate their impact and effectiveness. In order to encourage employees to participate, over 75% grant special leave for participation in CSR activities.

South African Top Employer Thermo Fisher Scientific, for example, supports Stop Hunger Now, an international body that coordinates the distribution of food and other life-saving aid. Kirstie Bean, HR Leader - Africa, for the company, says via Thermo Fisher’s CSR programme, Get Involved, employees from various divisions work together to pack food hampers, sometimes up to 20,000 in one drive.

Leveraging CSR for the long-term

Portia Bangerezako, Head of Sustainability at Top Employer South Africa, Sanlam, says that as a financial institution, Sanlam aims to help build economic resilience, and their progress is reported annually in the sustainability report. The report links CSR to the company strategy overall, and employees are encouraged to volunteer ideas.] 

Some targets set by Sanlam include reducing their own electricity and water consumption; a transformative partnership with WWF SA, identifying strategic water sources (an open source project which is accessible to all); and a high resolution water risk filter tool to help individuals and companies determine their water risks. 

Sanlam also piloted a project that allowed for self-sustaining active ownership for organised labour, intended to capacitate union members and enable them to query issues pertaining to Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) targets. Sanlam spent a total of R207 million on skills development for its employees and R116,7 million on enterprise and supplier development in 2016.

Most of these goals are long term. CSR is a marathon, not a sprint, but done right, it benefits all, Bangerezako points out.  “We continue to look at ways to improve our business, our client service, our employees and the wider society, and are committed to having a material impact on the Sustainable Development Goals.”

The Top Employers institute helps leading employers around the world adapt to the rapidly changing HR environment.