This article first appeared in the Pretoria News in June 2015 as part of the In Good Company column.
Planning forms a large part of our lives, from the smallest of holidays to the most substantial company strategy implementation. Planning is the starting point, a process that defines how we reach the end by establishing objectives en route.
In the often emotionally charged space of social investing, working without an overall plan and direction can result in short-sighted, reactive decisions that carry very little business rationale, and are unlikely to result in mutually beneficial or sustainable social impact.
While emotions can diminish the importance of planning, social investment should not be devoid of emotion – as it is the very fuel that drives purpose, and the desire to use business for the greater good. However, like any wise business undertaking, a focused approach to planning allows us to reign in the impulsive nature of our human emotion, and to set healthy parameters and realistic objectives so as to achieve better results for our efforts and investments.
Corporate social investment (CSI) has come into the spotlight more and more recently, due to a growing recognition of its significance to overall national progress, and the direct benefit this brings to business.
One challenge is that many in senior management still struggle to acknowledge or embrace the importance of dedicating time and close attention to this facet of business, which may sometimes seem to be more in the line of charitable donations than a long term investment for social returns.
Taken seriously, social investment needs senior management buy-in, along with their involvement in setting a company’s CSI and strategy - therefore embracing the short- and long-term business benefits of this work.
Planning is therefore key to one’s success in social investing, and a well-defined starting point and road map helps us to successfully navigate to the final destination of effective social impact.
Then come the pressures of compliance, profit, and tax benefits associated with CSI.
These are all important and even fundamental. But box ticking alone is not going to change the future of our country, and nation building by businesses involves so much more than simply getting CSI right.
It requires a mindset shift that looks beyond simply fulfilling obligations and means “working towards social cohesion as well as the expansion of basic services and improving the performance of the economy”, as the government’s Social Cohesion and Nation Building Unit puts it. Once we realise that our own - personal and corporate - futures are tied up in the future of our country, we will begin to view social investment differently.
Already, future-minded business leaders are shifting their view of social impact as a mere exercise in philanthropy, compliance or even a moral conviction; and are recognising it as an added investment in the future of our economy and the sustainability - even the success - of our businesses.
The recent “CEO sleep out” in Johannesburg to show solidarity with the homeless and to mobile CSI for associated work, has attracted widespread comment, both for and against. This points to the trickiness of working in social investment and how intentions in this work are perceived.
The reality is that no business operates in isolation: it involves interaction with employees, customers, suppliers and many other stakeholders.
The most basic way to positively contribute to social development in a given community is simply by doing business well: employing and empowering local people, developing staff, offering consumer choice, contributing taxes and, of course, making a profit.
The social investments that a company undertakes gives an edge to the basic good that comes from the private sector’s success – using business resources and acumen to partner with community organisations, schools and state institutions in areas that can have a “tipping point” positive effect, in partnerships where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
Done properly, reaching out in this way brings benefits to employees, the communities from which they come from, consumer bases, and to the overall South African community of which business is a part.
It’s not about handouts. And it’s not just about the poor - it is about each of us. After all – our very own futures are entirely wrapped up in the future of our country.