According to Trialogue’s annual research, total estimated expenditure on corporate social investment (CSI) amounted to R9.1 billion in 2017. It is also estimated that, over the past 20 years, companies have contributed approximately R137 billion to social development, but what long-term impact has this spend had in our country?

The Trialogue Business in Society Conference 2018 probed CSI’s ability to contribute to positive systemic social change in a panel discussion featuring case studies from Discovery, Anglo American Platinum and Volkswagen South Africa.

Creating shared value  

Discovery’s head of corporate sustainability Ruth Lewin explained the company’s commitment to addressing challenges within the healthcare sector; alleviating the strain on public healthcare by emphasising the importance of prevention and wellness, and encouraging and incentivising its members to lead healthier lifestyles. This, based on the company’s shared value business model of finding economic value in solving social problems and society, in turn, gaining an invaluable service.

Discovery’s shared value business model is built on four pillars: a strong monitoring and evaluation system that includes clear targets and from which strategic insight can be drawn to ensure that systemic change is brought about; partnerships with various stakeholders, including different levels of government, civil society and other companies; addressing social issues in replicable and scalable ways, and placing community engagement and ownership at the centre of its social development initiatives.

Going beyond compliance and emphasising community engagement

Sanah Machaba, social performance manager at Anglo American Platinum, acknowledged that mining doesn’t always have a good reputation within communities, but said that Anglo American Platinum’s contribution to investment and growth was going beyond mere compliance with the Mining Charter. Engagement with different stakeholders, including youth, traditional and women leaders in the communities in which it operates helps to inform Anglo’s developmental initiatives. “There was a point raised: ‘Nothing for us, without us’. What we have done well over the past few years is community engagement,” said Machaba.

Importantly, the responsibility for execution and maintenance of social programming is not the sole responsibility of CSI practitioners – accountability ultimately rests on the shoulders of mine executives.

Asked about the impact of mine closures on communities, Machaba explained that Anglo American Platinum South Africa has sister companies in other parts of the world that it can look to in terms of managing closures. According to Machaba, given the duration of mining rights, Anglo American has initiatives linked to the lifespan of mines; whether they are 20 or 50 years. The company facilitates the involvement of other sectors to try and ensure sustainable communities once the mines have been shut down; thereby reducing the occurrence of ‘ghost towns’.

The value of consultation and partnerships

One of Volkswagen’s global principles is that it works to help solve social problems. Locally, the company focuses on addressing poor literacy. “We’ve been investing in education for about 30 years and, throughout all the years, we were not able to see tangible change in education, despite all the investment. So we decided to move into and identify what we believe is the single most binding constraint in achieving the outcomes that could bring the change,” said Nonkqubela Maliza, Volkswagen South Africa’s director of corporate and government affairs.

“We believe that the most systemic change that we can make in South Africa today is to really make sure that children are able to read and understand what they are reading by the time they are 10 years old; that this will arguably change the face of society. It will lead to reducing inequality,” said Maliza.

The company consulted with experts to find out where they could make measurable impact. In 2015, through its Legacy Literacy initiative, Volkswagen South Africa decided to focus on ensuring that learners in Uitenhage – where its factory is located – are functionally literate by the time they reach Grade Four.

In addition to focusing on learners, the programme also engages family units, caregivers, clinics and pregnant mothers, to encourage reading and education at home, from an early age. Buy-in from educators and the Department of Education has proven essential for the successful execution of the project. Volkswagen South Africa works in seven schools and government is replicating the company’s programme in 20 other schools.

Fundamentals to development underscored

Meaningful stakeholder and community engagement are increasingly being prioritised among development stakeholders. This discussion once again underpinned the imperativeness of listening to, understanding and allowing the communities that are being served to self-identify their needs and develop a strong sense of ownership of developmental initiatives.

Another key theme to emerge from this discussion was the value of partnerships. Companies should ensure that the developmental programmes that they develop – in consultation with relevant experts and communities – should be easily replicable and scalable, so that government can pick up on and further the innovations initiated by business.

Written by Khumo Ntoane