Can CSI influence systemic change?

Corporate involvement in advocacy programmes and development research, from a funding and collaborative working perspective, can bring about social change. A Trialogue CSI forum in 2015 explored the extent to which this type of involvement can promote systemic change.

What is meant by systemic change in the CSI context was unpacked and presented as two case studies of initiatives in the education sector. One was an international example (Northern Kentucky Education Council) and the other was South African (National Education Collaboration Trust).


Corporates do have a role to play, but there are challenges Although most corporates recognise the importance of funding systemic change, there is some hesitation to do so, largely owing to challenges such as a lack of buy-in from management, limited control over outcomes, a shortage of resources and concerns about brand dilution. Furthermore, when it comes to funding large-scale, collaborative programmes or projects, corporates may face difficulties in working with competitors from the same industry. Such challenges can be mitigated by the formation of an independent body that sets the ground rules or makes interventions ‘company agnostic’.

Corporate approaches noted at the forum

  • The Tiger Brands Foundation’s in-school feeding programme partners with government and supplements government’s school feeding programme. The public-private partnership model employed has been very positive. By connecting with an existing government nutritional programme, the National School Nutrition Programme implemented by the Department of Basic Education (DBE), which already exists in these schools, the Tiger Brands Foundation’s breakfast feeding programme demonstrates good potential for scalability.
  • Shanduka Foundation is involved in a public-private partnership with Kagiso Trust and the Free State Department of Education. The two organisations each contributed R100 million and the Department matched the funding with a further R200 million. The five-year programme is incentive-based and operates in two districts in the Free State, impacting over 400 schools. The organisations have a shared vision to improve the education system in these districts and conduct continuous monitoring and evaluation (M&E) to track performance. If the model is successful, government will be able to roll it out in other districts and provinces.
  • The Banking Association of South Africa’s (BASA) Teach Children to Save initiative is a financial literacy programme teaching children to save. The programme is a collaborative effort of the banking industry and broader financial sector with BASA playing the co-ordinating role. The initiative also promotes volunteerism in the sector where professionals deliver one-hour savings lessons to learners in grades 4 to 7.
  • The Hollard Foundation has partnered with the Midvaal community to ensure that the rights of every child in the community are met. It is working with the non-profits and government in the area to build capacity and strengthen collaboration and co-operation.
  • RCL Foods recognises that the communities in its areas of operations are an important part of the success of its business. It works closely with local government identifying priority areas and partners with other organisations in the area to raise the necessary funds to roll out programmes that have scalable impact.
  • National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT) is a partnership aimed at strengthening co-operation among stakeholders – business, government and others in civil society – in order to drive resource mobilisation, programme design and implementation. This strategic collaboration contributes to achieving the education goals of the National Development Plan and is working to improve the capacity of the state to deliver.

Winning strategies

  • To achieve systems change, there needs to be a mindset shift from a short-term, project-driven approach to long-term interventions seeking societal change. Internal advocacy of CSI within organisations is key to secure support for this approach and get past the competitive business focus on short-term results.
  • CSI practitioners are constrained by funding cycles, board cycles, and impact cycles. Nevertheless it is important to make room for organic, developmental processes.
  • There is a need to work with other corporates and to collaborate more, as one organization cannot achieve systemic impact alone.
  • Collaboration between all parties in the NPO, private and public sectors is ideal.
  • Partners and collaborators need to agree on common outcomes and these outcomes must be specific and achievable. A common set of measurements should be in place.