OPINION: Corporate social initiatives need re-evaluating

By Dr Peter Matseke Time of article published Jul 17, 2019

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In a few days, South Africans and the global community will commemorate the 10th anniversary of International Mandela Day.

As declared by the UN in 2009, it calls on all citizens of the world to take action and inspire change to make this world a better place.

This spirit of volunteerism is deeply rooted in the African philosophy of Ubuntu or Botho as we know it in South Africa and translating to “I am because we are”.

It is good news that corporates have united around the 67 Minutes for Mandela programme. Many corporates involve their staff and do something charitable in the community on this day.

Writing for, Drew Hendricks has observed that there are many research studies which show that doing something good for someone else is good for an individual's well-being.

“For businesses, charitable giving has an added benefit: it provides networking and marketing opportunities while also increasing the business's presence in the community. If a business also encourages employees to participate, workplace morale will improve as each person feels as though they are making a difference in the community.”

Mandela once said: “In Africa there is a concept known as ubuntu - the profound sense that we are human only through the humanity of others”.

In the contemporary business environment, it is becoming increasingly important to see ourselves as members of the communities we serve and make a positive impact on our employees, society and environment around us. This speaks to the people-planet-profit model of good corporate citizenship or corporate social responsibility (CSR), which has been institutionalised into corporate governance by the King framework.

A decade of commemorating International Mandela Day provides an opportunity to reflect and assess the impact of the work we do in commemorating the late global icon. Perhaps this has become something we do merely to report in our annual reports, newsletters, social media and websites as compliance with the King report?

However, amid difficult economic conditions, South Africa is contributing billions of rand to corporate social initiatives (CSI) projects and programmes.

According to Trialogue, which looks almost exclusively at CSI projects in South Africa, total estimated CSI expenditure in 2018 amounted to R9.7billion, a 2.5percent real increase from the R9.1bn estimated spend in 2017.

This amount represents total CSI spend over the year and is worthy of commendation in a depressed economic environment.

In the same report, Trialogue indicates that over the year, “39percent of companies most commonly held four or more company-organised volunteering initiatives per year, while 21percent limited these initiatives to Mandela Day only”.

This tells us that CSI, in its current format, is not sustained. It is a common principle of success that repetition, consistency and sustained efforts yield the best results.

Looking at the frequency of CSI programmes as reported by Trialogue, we must necessarily also look at the value and impact of the CSI we are conducting.

The same report finds that community/beneficiary benefit amounted to 55percent, followed by the measurement of benefits to non-profit organisations which stood at 41percent while impact on company reputation stood at 39percent.

In light of the billions of rand, time and personal effort being invested in projects, I am not sure these outcomes or impact is a good use of resources.

Is it not time that we began to re-evaluate how corporates conceptualise their CSR projects? Are we working with communities in defining projects and then putting resources behind these projects to ensure sustainability and incremental successes? Are we creating permanent change or more dependence?

Our contribution to people, profit and planet has to be more than just a tick box or compliance exercise.

At Clinix, we have taken a different approach to our CSI programme which is aligned with our founding values, the foundation of which is to serve underserved communities with medical services.

In aligning our social investment with our core values, we have undertaken to provide free surgical procedures. Over the past three years we have performed, among others, cleft palate reconstructions, cataract removals and other life altering surgeries. This year more than 100 patients will receive permanent benefit from our programme.

In light of the ever-increasing need in our country including rising levels of poverty and inequality, it may be time to evaluate how we use the sometimes meagre resources we have to create the most benefit and conditions for sustainable change.

Communities and people in need are not just tokens through which to demonstrate that we care. We have to care enough to do what is needed to engage in CSI activities with meaningful social impact.

Let us use the 10th anniversary of International Mandela Day to do the introspection that is required to create real change and development in communities. Any efforts to uplift communities and those in need must be celebrated and scaled.

Dr Peter “Kop” Matseke is the chief executive of Clinix Health Group.


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