When it comes to social upliftment and economic empowerment it often seems the loudest voices in the room are those demanding that businesses give more, do more, be more and tick more boxes. Yet it is critical to reflect on the groundwork that is being done and what has been achieved, as well as to be encouraged by a bigger vision of what could possibly happen through the effective application of corporate social investment funding.
Are businesses still committed to social upliftment in South Africa? The answer is a resounding yes. Both financially as well as ideologically. This is reflected by Trialogue's report that the overall Corporate Social Investment (CSI) spend in South Africa in 2015 was R8.1 billion. Also reassuring is data extracted from the Nation Builder Good Giving Benchmarking Tool, a free online self assessment for South African businesses that measures a company's CSI against best practice.
To date, the initiative has tracked more than R312 million of CSI funding, the majority of which came from small businesses with an annual turnover of R50m or less. According to the companies that have used the tool, the most prolific reason for undertaking CSI is to "contribute to South Africa's social development", and not simply for tax benefits or regulatory requirements, as might have been expected.
Furthermore, in more than 50% of the companies that completed the assessment, the CSI functions and commitments are driven and fully backed by the founder or owner of the company as well as the board.
A foundational study undertaken by the Bureau for Economic Research (BER) last year estimates that the R8.1bn of reported CSI funding has the potential to increase the GDP by R12.5bn, resulting in an overall R25bn in additional economic output.
Added to this, the BER projects that the same value of CSI spend would sustain close to
63 000 jobs and generate R7.7bn in labour remuneration.
But how can we possibly realise and capitalise on this potential? The answer is simple, but not immediate: by applying current funding as wisely and effectively as possible and making every cent, every hour, every mistake, every courageous conversation, count for something of substance. Honing one's social impact effectiveness comes from planning and taking time to understand socioeconomic realities, as well as learning from each other.
We can harness the potential impact of our current CSI spend if we are willing to view our responsibility to society in a fresh light. First, it is not solely business's responsibility to achieve social and economic empowerment, but a joint effort between government, civil society individuals and faithbased organisations.
Second, social investment and economic empowerment isn't a burden if undertaken diligently; it can be rewarding. It is a great privilege to build into the future of our nation. Third, we can get better at how we approach and implement our social upliftment commitments. And last, we can have greater impact if we measure what matters. What sorts of things should matter? People and progress. Not simply the number of walls painted, blankets donated or meals served. Things that endure and create hope and opportunities. Deep and lasting change are usually the things that require time, trust and patience.
For now, it is crucial to set our eyes on the potential impact of what can be achieved through our CSI such as the potential R25bn economic output and resultant jobs and to commit to finding ways of being even more effective and impactful.