There has been a recent trend in the corporate social investment (CSI) space amongst practitioners that is worth shouting from the proverbial rooftops. That is the willingness, in fact, the urge, to connect, share and frankly help each other become smarter at addressing social challenges which seem relentlessly persistent, despite our “best efforts” and intentions. “Best efforts” is deliberately put in inverted commas, because once these are peer reviewed, you inevitably discover areas that need improvement. And that is a very good thing.
These connections often happen informally following CSI conferences or as a by-product of participation in collaborative platforms. Or, they happen in the formal context of participation in board and standing committees of industry forums. The Association for Savings and Investments (ASISA), for example, has a Centre of Best Practice for Consumer Financial Education (CFE). CFE is such a critical enabler of economic inclusion, so the value of doing this and doing it right cannot be underestimated. All forms of connecting are absolutely necessary to foster a culture of sharing knowledge.
Often we think of the value of sharing your learnings in monetary terms. Management and funder resources are limited and there is increased pressure to get it right quickly, both for business and society. And what better way to cut your own learning curve and save costs, than to look to lessons learnt by your peers? But, what is often underplayed is the human element, which speaks to the mandate of corporate social investors such as the MMI Foundation, the corporate social investment arm of financial services provider MMI Holdings. We are meant to make sure our efforts deliver the greatest amount of good for the vulnerable in society in a sustainable manner. This means remaining teachable, recognising that you don’t have all the answers, listening to your peers and partners, whether government, non-profits, civil society and even employees, to make sure the best solution is being put on the table. But then you have the responsibility to pay-it-forward yourself and share your own learning. Because, to be blunt, if we don’t, what is the human cost of ill-conceived, hastily designed programmes that are not infused with available knowledge of best practice? If the most vulnerable were placed in front of us, could we say with conviction that we are doing our best as we are supposed to?
The MMI Foundation aims to improve communities’ social and financial wellness and recently underwent a strategic shift to focus on youth employment, one of the biggest socio-economic challenges facing our country. This move represented the biggest change the Foundation has undergone since becoming the MMI Foundation (it was previously known as the Metropolitan Foundation before the merger) in 2011. It was a time-consuming process involving much debate and research. The journey would have been much more difficult and our confidence in the end greatly diminished if we did not have access to the learnings of others. We hope to pay it forward before the end of the year by publishing the results of our research.
Within the last quarter alone the MMI Foundation has been part of various sharing platforms; one of them is the Peer Learning Platform that Nation Builder is about to launch. The focus of our contribution was this journey of a strategic shift. It was a great opportunity to train our sharing muscles. We had to reflect and be honest about what worked, what didn’t, take a breath and press send. As a partner to the Forgood Online Volunteering platform, we also get to share in the collective wisdom of its Client Councils and we have partnered with Trialogue to share the learnings of our own consumer education programs on their knowledge hub.
But we’ve also seen that we do not just need to share externally, but also share internally. One of most important changes we have made was to remove the siloed approach to CSI portfolio management. MMI Foundation oversees the CSI investments of client-facing brands Metropolitan, Momentum, Multiply and Guardrisk. Although there was some strategic alignment, there was a lot of room for operational integration. Once we pulled portfolio managers of the different brands together, we could remove duplication of efforts and could become a learning-orientated team, pulling on each other’s resources and evolving expertise. Because, sharing really is caring.
Lackay is the Group CSI Manager for MMI Holdings and is responsible for the operational management of MMI Foundation and a shared knowledge contributor to the Nation Builder Peer Learning Platform.