‘When South Africa locked down, we were able to act rapidly together with trusted partners and well-established, high-impact networks in communities across South Africa,’ says Shawn Theunissen, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at Growthpoint Properties.
Although Covid-19 certainly brought on challenges, Theunissen says it would be incorrect to maintain that most of the challenges were new. Covid-19 simply brought old realities to light in a stark and irrefutable way.
Having developed, integrated, measured and refined its social responsibility framework to deal with many of the challenges highlighted by the pandemic, Growthpoint’s long-standing track record of social partnership stood it in excellent stead when responding to the coronavirus crisis.
It continued its support of initiatives that prioritise education in previously disadvantaged communities countrywide, as well as growing small businesses. Growthpoint also improvised additional support to long-standing partners primed to respond to one of the most desperate needs – hunger.
‘Our CSR partners make a real difference with life-changing programmes. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 lockdown suddenly made their normal work impossible in many cases. With unwavering, agile support, we were able to help them achieve their ongoing objectives in new ways.’
Technology is the fuel that will spark a bright future of our younger generation, and tech inequality became a concern.
‘Among our education projects, the most affected were those in the villages and townships where technology is still a challenge. Some initiatives battled due to a lack of data or network connectivity because of their remoteness. An immense shift was achieved by providing them with more and better connectivity. Strengthening access to technology, and through this quality education on all levels, not only enabled them to continue with their work during the lockdown but will go a long way in levelling the playing field in future,’ observes Theunissen.
The Growsmart literacy competition, a leading educational initiative launched in the Western Cape over a decade ago, was moved onto radio for the first time to reach learners in their homes and ensure the continuity of the programme.
Innovative ways to continue contributing to society through initiatives in communities were also applied internally for Growthpoint staff.
Their ground-breaking Growthpoint GEMS programme provides financial support to the children of its lower-income staff to enable them to pursue a quality education. These young ‘GEMS’ received laptops and access to online tutors to assist with their learning during lockdown.
With social partnerships already entrenched in its culture, Growthpoint’s business response had far-reaching social and economic impacts. It offered financial stimuli to small, micro, and medium enterprises (SMMEs) across the country, designed to protect the jobs of the people who work in them.
‘We started by providing retail rental relief of some R390 million to SMMEs to sustain their businesses and ours for the long term.’
Supporting SMMEs is not new to Growthpoint. Its constant action over 12 years of developing small businesses through its Property Point enterprise development programme has changed the small business landscape in the property sector, mobilised transformation, and helped build a productive entrepreneurial ecosystem in the property sector by accelerating small business growth.
‘Property Point entrepreneurs benefited from the guidance provided in numerous online sessions during lockdown to help them reposition themselves to take up market opportunities post-Covid-19.’
Naturally, Growthpoint integrates small businesses into its supply chain. It continued paying suppliers retained for services, regardless of their ability to perform their work; for example, cleaning and security services.
‘Jobs were affected in all sectors. Our concern needed to be about everyone on the value chain.’
Growthpoint also contributed to the national and industry response to Covid-19. The property industry was united in communicating with government on how best to support the sector, especially retail and shopping centres, during this time.
‘A coordinated response, with Growthpoint playing an active leadership role, gave the property sector one voice, where all were represented,’ explains Theunissen.
To make an impact on the broader community, executives donated a percentage of their salaries to the Solidarity Fund, while board members donated their board fees.
‘Our swift reaction to immediate needs was coupled with a focus on the sustainability of the organisations and initiatives that we support, and the readiness to adapt for the future.’