On 17 September 2019, just under 100 development practitioners, academics, and captains of industry met in Johannesburg South Africa in a bid to charter a new course for CSI in South Africa. One of the aims was to develop South Africa’s very first CSI development agenda, under the banner ‘The Localised Sustainable Goals’.
The Localised Sustainable Goals are a narrowing down of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which establish the standards for governments to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.
They address the global challenges the world faces, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice.
In South Africa, the SDGs are far from being achieved. As an industry, CSI plays a critical role and can do a great deal to see these goals realised. The problem, for many, is that while the goals are noble, attainable and crucial for a just and sustainable future, they are broad. It falls to specific industries to translate these goals into manageable, do-able chunks that all can understand and contribute to. For the CSI sector, this means re-interpreting them as the Localised Sustainable Goals.
On 17 September 2019, NGOs and funders met to dialogue around this concept. The challenges are huge, but when they are formulated as specific goals, they have the power to unite efforts and raise the standard of the development work conducted by corporates and their NGO partners.
It was agreed at this forum that the name of our CSI industry-specific Localised Suatainable Goals is The Citizen’s Agenda.
The Citizens’ Agenda
At this stage, The Citizen’s Agenda is broad. It encompasses both a mindset or a heart attitude, and a set of specific goals to which corporates engaged in CSI may subscribe – and may help determine, since the field is still open for discussion.
Charlene Lackay, group CSI Manager for Momentum Metropolitan Group, points to the fact that for corporates, CSI needs to start with their own employees:
‘I’ve had in mind something akin to the Citizens’ Agenda for a while. Some corporates have 30 000 plus employees. All of them are citizens. They come from their homes, wherever that may be, by whatever means of transport they have and there are certain things that frustrate and challenge them as individuals. They are challenged by the insecurity they feel in their homes, by unemployment within the family, by failing education standards for their children, by lack of time to do the things they need to do. We need to ask ourselves what we are doing to enable them to become active citizens – to fully claim their space as citizens.’
The Citizen’s Agenda is premised on the idea that employees and their families are our first responsibility when it comes to social investment.
A second point of departure is that the goals of the Citizens Agenda need to be formulated in a way that recognises their interdependence. Currently, 80% of funders channel their funding into education, leaving connected sectors high and dry. Education cannot be separated from nutrition, transport, family wellness, unemployment or environmental concerns, all of which impact upon a sense of wellbeing and an ability to learn.
A united industry
In addition, the reality underlying all corporate CSI efforts is that there is a massive disconnect between the many programmes attempting to tackle South Africa’s pressing issues. We lack a common, properly formulated goal, broken down into areas of endeavor and geographical locations; as a result, we get duplications, failures born of ignorance, and programmes aiming for almost opposite ends.
As CSI practitioners we need to see ourselves as one, united industry, with a common ethos and goal, in which each of us plays a part. In this way we might focus on job creation where it is needed, transport where it is needed, physical and mental health, parenting skills, technology education, food gardens, cooperatives, skills development, arts and culture, solar power provision and a whole host of other human needs in ways that are coordinated and interconnected.
Benefits of collaboration
With collaboration, properly coordinated, we would stand a higher chance of reaching our common goals. A basis of good collaboration is for each party to know their strengths and limitations. Instead of working in silos, clusters of corporates could unite under a few clearly defined goals, each one fulfilling specific tasks for a defined period, then regrouping under new goals as things change. This takes close collaboration with other role players. It means coming out of our silos and allowing our work to be enriched by connecting with others.
Collaborations need not be restrictive. They can be fluid networks that we step into and out of so that someone else in the network can pick up where we left off. Success often follows when we know when to step forward and when to step back. These are things we can only do if we are working with a ‘network’ or collaborative mindset.
Measuring our success
How would projects conducted under The Citizens’ Agenda be monitored and measured? In this regard the newly formed CSI Council will be helpful. The CSI Council has committed itself to the initiative and will be calling for collaboration to discuss this and other aspects over the next six months. Look out for our notifications.
A broad and human approach
CSI does critical work, often with generous budgets, but has the potential to be so much more than it is. As industry practitioners, we need to look at ourselves as individuals and as contributors to a much larger picture; we do not work for a corporate only, but are uniquely tied into the realities we see around us, and called to make a difference. This is not ‘just a job’.
Do we understand the pressures our employees face daily? Are we in touch with the communities in which they live? When violence sweeps through our streets, or when crime shatters a neighbourhood, what is our response as CSI managers? We manage huge funds and have the power to do so much. We need to break free of our rigid boundaries and get in touch with the real world as it unfolds in front of us. Our plans need to leave room for the unexpected, so that we are able to respond swiftly, vigorously and collaboratively when crises hit.
The Great Funders’ Conference revealed many gaps in how CSI is currently undertaken. In the coming months, we hope to dialogue further on how we may deepen our support for employees and their communities, broaden our reach, and collaborate with one another to boost the effectiveness of what we do – all under the umbrella of The Citizen’s Agenda.
We hope you’ll be a part of the conversation!