When the pandemic hit our shores in March 2020, businesses had to adapt, learn and make a whole lot of new decisions. One of the best, most impactful decisions was that of our big-name companies – Telkom, Old Mutual, Nedbank, Naspers and others – to contribute to the Solidarity Fund, which disbursed over R3.2 billion in Covid education and relief efforts. Their decisions saved lives.
Other decisions had to be made, mostly under duress and on the basis of ever-changing information. Government made decisions that were not always popular; they were accused of ‘saving lives but ruining livelihoods’ through harsh lockdowns, and of doing a disservice to the country’s poorest children who could not move to online classes under lockdown. Could better decisions have been made? It’s hard to tell. It’s tough weighing up options when lives are at stake.
Generous and slightly crazy
CSI departments went into overdrive in response to the crisis, and some incredibly valuable and generous decisions were made. Food became everyone’s priority, as it should be. However, we did see generosity coupled with a little craziness at times. Who needs a convoy of ten fancy vehicles to drop off food parcels at a handful of households? I witnessed this with my own eyes. Unfortunately, it reinforced the stereotype of the privileged vs the have-nots, who were forced into exaggerated displays of gratitude for the ever-clicking cameras. Was this a failure of imagination on the part of the organisers?
Then there were the sub-contractors tasked with food delivery who were so clearly in a hurry to end the working day that instead of delivering the parcels one by one, simply dropped them off at the home a local chief. Another failure of imagination. Most traditional leaders are either ill-equipped or unwilling to pay the costs of delivering parcels. One wonders how many of those food parcels ever reached their intended recipients.
Not that I wish to take CSI to task (this time). CSI managers worked hard, and their efforts made a difference. But CSI, among all the sectors that constitute our economy, is prone to ill-considered decisions because …
- a) spending time on projects is much harder than allocating money to them; and
- b) few CSI managers have experience on the ground. They have not worked in education, entrepreneurship, childcare, healthcare, feeding schemes, rape counselling or a myriad other areas of social development. Most are creatures of boardrooms and budgets, not the coalface. Criticism? No – just a fact!
As we enter 2021, a whole landscape of new decisions opens up before us. None of us has the experience to deal with what we’re facing now – a battered economy, soaring unemployment, an intense need for food and financial relief, and a deepening crisis in both education and violent crime – to mention only two. How on earth do we make good decisions given the choices before us?
Our Year of Better Decisions
For Corporate Social Responsibility News South Africa, 2021 is the Year of Better Decisions. We’ve always been in the business of helping NGO and CSI managers to make wiser, more informed decisions. Now this becomes our overarching goal for the year.
As you plan for the challenges ahead, ask yourself a few simple questions:
- Out of all possible ways to achieve my goals, have I made the best decision?
- Is there a better way to achieve this?
- Do I have the necessary knowledge, or could I benefit from outside input?
- Is every detail of the plan the best option available?
To spend wisely, we need to make the best possible decisions; to delve deeper, consider all options, picture a variety of outcomes and, where necessary, get outside help.
To help make this your Year of Better Decisions, CSRNEWSSA spent December putting together a comprehensive package of CSI-related ideas, guidance and expertise. A sampling of what you can expect in the year ahead:
- Mission Educate 2030: Our education supplement examines the future of education, and how CSI can spend its money optimally in this woefully struggling sector.
- The Decisions Podcast: A four-part series examining how decisions made during the first wave of the pandemic helped organisations survive and thrive – and lessons learned for the future.
- The Rise of Small Business in CSI: Our entrepreneurship print publication that showcases young entrepreneurs, and how CSI can partner with these small, youth-driven businesses bursting with promise.
- The Great Funders’ Conference: Our annual event bringing funders and NGOs together, with a focus on the post-Covid economy.
- Goal 3030: Yes, you read that right. Why two 30s? In 2030, what goals set in 2020 will you have achieved, personally and professionally? And in 30 years’ time – when most of us now in our forties will be retiring or retired – what contribution will we have made through our chosen career? Will lives be improved because of us? What will we have built, and what aspects will last?
Learning from the best
As we strive to make better decisions, let’s keep the big picture in mind. The world’s leaders have not been satisfied with ‘good’ decisions, but have always made the best possible decisions with the knowledge they had. Ten global leaders who made life-changing decisions:
- Henry Ford made the best decision when he installed the first moving assembly line for the mass production of cars, bringing the time it took to build a vehicle down from 12 hours to 1½ hours.
- Thomas Edison made the best decision when he realised that electricity could be passed through a thin platinum filament in a glass vacuum bulb, giving light at the flick of a switch.
- The Wright Brothers made the best decision when they built the first ever aeroplane, inspired by a childhood toy helicopter powered by a rubber band.
- Nelson Mandela made the best decision when he made reconciliation and cooperation his priority, rather than ‘getting even’.
- FW De Klerk made the best decision when he read the signs, abandoned apartheid and convinced white South Africa that the way forward lay in working together.
- Bill Gates made the best decision when he developed a personal computer every household could afford.
- Steve Jobs made the best decision when he gave the world a gadget for storing 10 000 songs in your pocket.
- Mark Zuckerburg made the best decision when he realised that people longed to connect, and invented Facebook.
- Sir Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web – what a life-altering decision that was.
- William Colgate – where would we be without our toothpaste?
Your decisions are important, too
In the light of what these men achieved we’re apt to play down our own decisions. Yet as professionals working in the vital space of social and economic development, our decisions, too, have impact, and can affect millions of South Africans. Good decisions are all very well, but the best decisions are made on the basis of knowledge, a positive attitude, team work and inspiration – all of which are available to you.
In support of your Year of Better Decisions, we will be interviewing CEOs, CSI managers and experts in all kinds of undertakings across the country to learn from the best. Stay with us as we examine where the economy is going, how CSI is taking shape and what leaders, funders and top decision-makers are thinking now.
With the right information at your fingertips, 2021 can be your Year of Better Decisions.