This article first appeared in The Pretoria News as part of The In Good Company column.
As a Christmas gift to myself, I bought a necklace called a “Giving Key”. It’s part of a job creation initiative that repurposes old keys; engraving each one with an inspirational word of one’s choice. The word I chose was “Courage”. Not because I am fearless, but to compel myself to make good and hard decisions in the face of uncertainty or fear. As Professor Brené Brown, the renowned author of “Daring Greatly”, writes: to “be brave and show up”.
Courage ought to be one of the key virtues for businesses to pursue in 2017. Not just the courage to persevere, and be successful, but the courage (and wisdom) to consider how one’s business could, or should, address pressing social issues, social justice and upliftment, and socio-economic development. In other words, how they undertake corporate social investment (CSI).
Aristotle called courage the first virtue, because it makes all of the other virtues possible, and as far as business is concerned – courage is the cornerstone of leadership, innovation and social relevance. It takes courage to be open to change and learning. It takes courage to be willing to ask hard questions of ourselves and the relevance of our business in today’s socio-economic context. It takes courage to prioritise doing the good and the right thing – pioneering things, hard things and sometimes unpopular things.
At it’s essence, CSI is about investing in people and in opportunities to strengthen people’s skills and capacities and support them to participate fully in employment and the economy.
A 2016 research report published by the Bureau of Economic Research showed that effective CSI has the potential to stimulate production to the value of R25.6 billion, support almost 63,000 jobs in South Africa and generate R7.7 billion in labour remuneration. In all, effective CSI has the potential to increase the South African gross domestic product (GDP) by R12.5 billion.
This is as encouraging and optimistic as it is ambitious and daunting. But it is not far-fetched. If this potential impact is to be attained, and in order to make a more effective social impact, businesses need ask challenging questions about one’s role in and relevance to significant social issues, and responding in ways that might require bolder and less-travelled roads. This means that CSI strategies needs to be more focused on deeper societal concerns, and most significantly, it requires a return to the heart of what matters the most: people.
Some of the big questions that need to be asked are: ‘what are the issues that really matter in our country? Are we taking diversity and transformation seriously enough? How can we engage better, more effectively with charities and communities to have a more meaningful and authentic social impact? Which of our social investment approaches are outdated, ineffective or lukewarm – or even unhelpful? How can we take strides towards reducing our environmental impact? How can we use our business expertise and resources for social good?
When businesses demonstrate a willingness to adapt to change, to ask and address these challenging questions, to step up to the plate and find new and better ways to use their businesses as a driving force for change, reconciliation and development in South Africa, then we all benefit. “Being brave and showing up” might come at a cost, but it will sow seeds for a great harvest in years to come: for business, the economy and for all. This will certainly require great courage – but without it, there will be little progress.
Henning is the Public Affairs director of Nation Builder, a platform that equips business leaders to achieve the greatest possible positive impact in our country through effective social investment. www.proudnationbuilder.co.za