Corporate social responsibility (CSR) or corporate social investment (CSI) refers to business practices that involve contributing to, or participating in, initiatives that benefit society, uplift its people and/or conserve the environment. Social investment has become a mainstream mandate as forward-thinking companies embed CSI into the core of their business operations with the aim of creating shared value for business and society.
It's no longer a question of whether companies should engage in corporate social investment initiatives, it’s now a question of to what extent they will do so, and how they will create real and meaningful impact.
However, what we have realised is that the language around corporate social investment needs to change – and for good reason.
“Over the years, there has been a noticeable, side-stepping away from the term ‘CSR’ (or CSI). Part of this is due to the negative associations it sometimes provokes...This search for new language reflects our new expectations of what it means for a company to be socially responsible...” – Denielle Sachs, Director of Social Impact, McKinsey
As it currently stands, particularly in South Africa, our general understanding of the language associated with CSI is far too wrapped up in compliance rationale (oh, and the many, many acronyms!). While compliance is important for regulatory and accountability reasons, a compliance-driven social investment (or giving) approach tends to result in the least possible effort, commitment and consideration, and provides very little motivation or vigour required to positively impact and effectively change our nation.
And it’s not just us that thinks so. Business in general – both locally and globally – is realising that effective corporate social investment, or good giving, is not just about being compliant to codes or gaining tax advantages – it is so, so, so much more than that: for businesses, communities, individuals and the future of our nation itself.
As a result, we are seeing a movement focusing on good giving as an action as well as an outcome.
What is good giving?
Goodness is not just a touchy-feeling concept of kindness, generosity and charity. It is about the virtue of integrity, correctness, trustworthiness, and sincerity.
Good giving is not about enforcing some moral code, or any other level of compliance. It’s about using what we have for good purpose and in a way that has value. Not just giving for the sake of ticking boxes and meeting regulatory requirements, but giving that aims to have the most impact. This in no way means giving any more than one is expected or able, but it implies giving in ways that are future-minded, well considered and result in effective partnerships, effective social and economic impact as well as longer term benefits for business, communities and the future of our country.
Good giving is a form of “enlightened self-interest”, where in giving, we also benefit in the long run because socio-economic standards are strengthened and empowered.
Good giving is about our collective efforts
Good giving is about effective social contributions, strategic socio-economic development investment and partnerships that will lay the foundations for positive and uplifting change for generations to come. However, no business can (or should be expected to) do this alone. The real power is in the collective efforts of the business community.
“The potential to bring about real change together, as a body of businesses, and knowing that our joint efforts affect the lives of people in our country in a tangible, uplifting way. As corporates and as individuals, we vastly underestimate the power we have to transform our communities. I think now, especially, as South Africa attempts to distinguish itself as a developing country, strategic CSI initiatives are becoming crucial in the corporate environment. It begins and ends with us”. – Ronnie Khoza, Aurecon’s Head of Offices: South Africa.
When the concept of good giving starts to “click” for businesses in South Africa and begin to see it as an immense privilege with the incredible power and potential to create opportunities and a future we hope for – we could potentially experience a major shift in our economy and a more enlightened approach to building our nation through our good giving commitments, not just for others or for impoverished communities, but for ourselves and the generations we will be handing over to.
Expectations of citizens, communities, consumers, and employees have never been higher, and the needs in our country have never been greater. Khoza’s words play over and over: “It begins and ends with us”. It is a call to action, to good giving. And business will never be the same again.
The next piece in this blog series will look at some basic and practical ways to apply and approach good giving within your business - keep tuning in.