On Thursday, 8 October 2015, the CSR News team excitedly headed off to the head office of AVBOB in Pretoria, where we would interview the company’s CEO, Mr. Frik Rademan. Most people know AVBOB as being Africa’s largest Mutual Assurance Society which provides a one-stop funeral insurance and burial service solution. However, not everyone is aware that this amazing company is about so much more. AVBOB is committed to helping underprivileged communities with their CSI (Corporate Social Investment) projects which have made a huge impact on the lives of many. It is for this reason that we were so honored to be in the presence of Mr. Rademan, who was more than willing to answer all of our questions.
As we entered Mr. Rademan’s luxurious offices, we were made to feel extremely welcome by him and his esteemed team. We could already tell how humble Mr. Rademan was by the way that he greeted us.
To start off the interview, we asked him about his background and how he came to be part of this amazing organization. He told us of how he grew up in the Free State and studied his articles in Accounting through Unisa. In 1982, he was approached by a friend who asked him about whether or not he wanted to work for AVBOB as a financial manager. Although not convinced at first, he went for an interview and immediately liked the atmosphere within the company, which proved to be the beginning of something great as through the years, he made his way up the corporate ladder and eventually became group CEO in 2011.
When we asked him whether he ever envisioned himself as becoming the CEO of Africa’s largest Mutual Assurance Society, he laughed as he told us “Never ever”. “The only ambition I had was to do my best and make a difference” he said.
We also asked him about his passions in life, to which he responded that his passion is to create wealth for the company and for policy holders. He believes that family is important both at work and at home, which is why he takes it so seriously.
Once we were finished discussing Mr. Rademan’s background and passions, we asked him about AVBOB’s success as a company. He indicated that it was difficult to single out one particular element, and then went on to explain what makes the company so unique and successful. He attributed AVBOB’s success to their loyal and passionate employees; their outstanding brand name; the quality products and services; AVBOB’s set of values which they live out; and AVBOB’s amazing mutual status which allows policy holders incredible benefits such as free funerals. As he spoke about this, we could tell how proud he was about the company.
We then spoke about AVBOB’s CSI projects which see the upliftment of disadvantaged communities. When asked why AVBOB is so committed to this cause, Mr. Rademan’s eyes lit up as he explained the company’s goals and objectives which are aligned with making a difference. “We want to show people that we are dedicated to making a difference at the beginning of life, not just at the end of it”, he told us. Ever since AVBOB’s inception in 1921, countless contributions have been made to charity organizations and this continues through the amazing library project.
The AVBOB CSI Library Project
The library project is a nationwide project, by which AVBOB partnered with Touch Africa, embarking on a three year campaign to provide 30 mobile libraries to previously disadvantaged schools throughout the country. After AVBOB decided to implement this amazing project, they realized that they needed help and this is when they appointed Touch Africa to help them with the containers that they would turn into libraries. This included refurbishing the containers and dealing with the logistics of sending them to rural Africa. The library project involved launching these libraries and partnering up with the Department of Education to help out with providing the books.
When asked what the motivation behind this project was, Mr. Rademan’s passion was evident as he explained how AVBOB recognized the need for education which can be reached through the ability to read. He quoted Nelson Mandela as saying: “Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world”. He went on to tell us: “Stats showed that only 8% of public schools had libraries and we had to do something about this, as if you can’t read, there is no life for you”. AVBOB therefore recognized this need for education and saw this library project as an investment to the country.
Research, studies and investigations were then conducted in order to find the most deserving schools who would receive these libraries, which were then run by the schools themselves or by appointed librarians.
When asked about the challenges which arose with these projects, Mr. Rademan told us of the challenges which came with maintaining these libraries. “It was difficult at times, but the challenges were nothing that cannot be overcome”, he said.
Mr. Rademan also mentioned that of the 28 library projects he had attended 27, as they filled him with so much pride. To us, this said a lot about the passion which Mr. Rademan possessed when it came to this initiative.
The impact of the library projects
Next, we asked Mr. Rademan about the impact which the library projects have had on disadvantaged school and learners. His passion once again shone through as he spoke of the invaluable asset which these schools acquired. “Most learners had never been inside a library before, and it was a joy seeing their faces light up”, he told us.
He went on to read us a review from a Grade 6 learner, who expressed her joy at being able to have access to a library. These projects were a resounding success and the feedback received was very positive. He closed off by saying and we make sure that there is air-condition as containers are hot.
The future of AVBOB CSI projects
When asked where he sees the library project heading in the future, Mr. Rademan indicated that although they have already committed 40 libraries throughout the country with the possibility of adding more, their focus is on sustaining these libraries so that they are run properly and are able to continue performing their function. “We would love to build more libraries, but we need to make sure that all these libraries can be sustained”, he told us.
We then asked Mr. Rademan about any other CSI plans and partnerships for the future, to which he told us that AVBOB is continuously providing adhoc donations to other areas such as hospitals, and they are definitely considering further partnerships for the future.
Some advice on making a difference
After hearing such inspiring stories of how AVBOB is giving back to the community, we felt that it was only fitting to ask Mr. Rademan about any advice which he would give to any other organization or individual who is wanting to make a difference with regard to uplifting the underprivileged communities in South Africa. “If you want to do something, do a proper needs analysis and make sure that your project is really needed to make a difference”, he told us. “Know all your expectations and decide on terms and conditions”. Mr. Rademan urges all businesses to try and make a difference, no matter how small. More importantly, he encourages business to actually be involved in their project and take a personal interest.
Our final thought
After this interview, we left feeling extremely inspired by the passion and dedication of Mr. Rademan and his team. What struck us most, was the fact that these CSI projects were being done, not out of a need for attention or monetary gain, but out of a genuine desire to help others and make a difference in South Africa.
We think that AVBOB is a true example of successful corporate social investment, and we look forward to seeing what else they have to offer for the future of our country.