From inequality and poverty to education deficits, socio-economic issues continue to disproportionally impact South Africa’s black people. Although some things have been rectified post apartheid, many deep-rooted issues persist as government efforts and CSI still have not quite achieved fundamentally transformative, sustainable social impacts. For CSI managers, this means that it may be time for a decisive step change in policy and approach where initiatives have not been generating lasting, measurable social change.
Those which meet the immediate, critical needs of disadvantaged communities are necessary and justifiable, but do they always support sustainable development goals? As CSI managers, are we truly putting our companies’ social impact aspirations into action? Transformative social impact is measured by significant positive changes that address South Africa’s social challenges, resulting in improved lives and changed attitudes into the long term. Most importantly, communities are empowered to ensure a sustainable future for themselves rather than continuing to be dependent on external investment. This is, in fact, the measure of a social impact initiative’s success.
Organisations in step with this mindset have moved from practising basic philanthropy to visionary programmes addressing key socio-economic issues. Seeking to empower communities for growth and development, they ensure sustainable livelihoods and the restoration of dignity.
Prioritising social impact delivers lasting, measurable outcomes. Distributing food parcels to communities struggling with food insecurity, for example, is an appropriate response, but a comprehensive crop cultivation project will also set them up for the long term. This should include the provision of seed, implements, infrastructure, energy, irrigation, skills development and even awareness campaigns on nutrition.
Collaboration with other stakeholders and communities will widen the impact. The establishment of a produce co-op, training in marketing and financial management, and financing of trucks will boost wealth creation and yield sustainability indicators.
These success stories begin with a shift in focus beyond the size of CSI spend to digging deeper and reaching wider for insights, resources and partnerships, and alignment with municipal, provincial and national development plans.
Doing short- and long-term needs assessments requires an understanding of complex interlinked community issues. Deeper, trust-based community engagement is indispensable. Let the communities voice their perceptions before, during and beyond project execution by means of ongoing two-way communication and even surveys. Post-project feedback will provide valuable learnings.
Collaboration with other stakeholders – government, industry members, NPOs, NGOs, municipal structures and labour leaders – can increase the availability of resources, speed up sustainable change and create shared value.
Proven game-changing initiatives include ensuring access to quality education, services, infrastructure and the labour market. Local economic development is key in long-term poverty eradication. Empowering entrepreneurs, for example, should comprehensively include the provision of finance, training and mentorship, equipment, infrastructure and networking opportunities.
Impact-based initiatives take a multidimensional approach to help ease South Africa’s social woes. CSI managers need to leverage their strategies from an in-depth understanding of the issues. The COVID-19 pandemic has again highlighted the plight of women and youth. Women’s employment rates have dropped and gender-based violence has climbed. Addressing GBV can include collaboration with community leaders, the provision of shelters, skills training, counselling and awareness campaigns.
Many of South Africa’s youth are facing hard challenges such as unemployment, the temptations of drug abuse and gangsterism, and a lack of quality education. Access to education and skills training is key in transforming the lives and future of our young people, as are rehabilitation programmes for those who have made some bad choices.
To address education deficits in rural areas, more than the construction of a new classroom is needed. Is there a safe road the learners can take to school? Will they be protected against criminals in the school grounds? What infrastructure, equipment and learning materials are lacking? Are there potable water sources and safe toilets? Are there enough adequately trained teachers? These are key factors.
To ensure sustainable positive impacts on South Africa’s troubled social landscape, it may be time to do things differently. CSI managers can, in close partnership with communities and other stakeholders, lead the change by responsively focusing on the achievement of significant, transformative social impact with every initiative. Slowly but surely, our country will move closer to social justice for all.