One of the most significant ways to scale the impact of a CSI programme is by working with, or influencing, government. This topic was discussed at a Trialogue CSI forum in 2015.
CSI can play a highly influential role, for example, by investing in pilot projects or developing lead practice. Corporate social investment budgets are typically less than 1% of what government is spending on health and education, for instance, but CSI departments can tap into other corporate resources, such as skills, processes, products and tools that can be used to good effect. Deliberately aiming to influence government was the topic of the forum discussion, which was considered in detail.
What are the barriers to corporates engaging with government on social development?
Most forum attendees agreed that engaging with government – particularly in key sectors, such as health and education – is critical. While outcomes can be achieved with individual CSI activity, long-term, sustainable, systemic change most likely requires companies to work with government. A number of themes emerged in discussing the potential successes and failures of a working, government-corporate relationship. These include:
- Time frame: Corporate social investment departments are constrained by boards that want to see immediate results. Projects tend to take longer when working with government and most companies need to show CSI results to auditors at least annually.
- Politics: Company representatives felt more comfortable with the idea of supporting communities of practice and research, rather than taking more direct approaches that might be construed as political.
- Broken systems: Government policy is often honourable, but policy implementation is repeatedly hindered by systems that don’t serve, a lack of clear lines of accountability and shortfalls in capacity to deliver.
- High staff turnover: This is evident in both CSI departments and government. A new entrant to, or key exit from, a particular project or partnership can derail the hard work.
The following suggestions on how to navigate these challenges emerged:
- Supplement over supplant: Aim to supplement government provision of services, not supplant it, and include an exit strategy as part of your intervention. The goal should be to leave behind skills and tools that can be used by government for years to come.
- Sign an MoU: Define roles clearly and insist on drawing up and agreeing to a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). Trialogue research has shown that although more than half of surveyed companies have working partnerships with government, less than half of these have formal MoUs in place. A key reason for this, say CSI managers, is that contracts take about 18 months to finalise.
- Extensive stakeholder engagement: When working with government officials, the important part is to include all stakeholders. Engage with as many levels of government as possible: national, provincial and municipal. Often success comes down to identifying and maintaining a relationship with one specific dynamic individual or department.
- Create shared value: Understand the value proposition for government, company and all stakeholders and seek a solution that creates shared value for all.
- Work from within: Corporates are sometimes unaware of the level of bureaucracy that officials, such as social workers, face. It is important to first understand the systemic issues. You can’t work with government from the outside. You need to get involved and work from within.
- Encourage collaboration: There is a disconnection between government departments. Work to connect the Department of Health to the Department of Environmental Affairs, for instance. Often one government department is unwittingly holding up another. Linking those departments allows resources to be shared.
- Keep it relevant: Any work completed with government needs to align with government Key Performance Indicators (KPI). Match your work to these priorities or agree on alternative KPIs to be pursued.
- Provide training: Work together in identifying problems and offer business skills as part of the solution.
- Move the goal posts: Ask the right questions to identify the real challenges and be flexible in your approach when addressing them.