Wikipedia defines integrity as ‘the practice of being honest and showing a consistent and uncompromising adherence to strong moral and ethical principles and values.’
I find it key in business and in every area of life.
This week I was called upon to remember some essential moral and ethical principles that have guided CSRNEWSSA since its inception. In the face of all sorts of competing claims and temptations, I was guided by what we stand for, why we exist, what has successfully brought us to where we are today. I believe similar claims and temptations occur to many businesses and NGOs, so my experience in this area may be of assistance to you.
CSRNEWSSA was born out of a desire to inject life and vigour into the NGO and development space, which I see as critical for the development of our country. Without well-structured, professional, thriving NGOs, and committed funders who understand and support their work, where would we be as a country? Government cannot go it alone; in fact when it works alone, it frequently fails abysmally.
So we exist to tell the stories and promote the dialogue that support NGOs and development in general. We do not exist to promote the interests of any one NGO, or any single corporate entity.
- We want to oversee, promote and act in the interests of the CSI industry as a whole.
- We want to encouraging and stimulate, guide and challenge, and, where possible, bring people together so that they better understand the roles of others in this exciting, much-needed, somewhat flailing industry.
In CSI, we have pockets of excellence, and we have all manner of disasters, including rampant unprofessionalism, narrowness of vision and frequent misunderstanding and communication breakdown – all avoidable and all treatable. But to bolster the sector we need someone looking out for the whole industry. That is where we see ourselves. That is why CSRNEWSS exists, and why we recently branched out to form an industry watchdog body, the CSI Council. Think of it as the eyes, ears and teeth of CSI. You’ll hear more from the Council in coming months.
And then we have The Great Funders’ Conference, now entering its fourth year, formerly known as ‘Funders’ Round’. It is at this conference that so many great things happen – for individual NGOs, who find funding, and for CSI as a whole. To believe me, you simply have to be there.
But every year, as I dust off and tie up the loose
ends of the conference, I am personally inundated with emails of job offers
from various stakeholders and conference participants. Many hope to make my
team and me their corporate sales agents or PR machines.
The offers are tempting and well meant, I think, but they are a honey-coated trap for me, as I discovered about four years ago. I was beguiled by an offer and got myself into something I never should have. I found myself begging for mercy as I struggled to fulfil a task I was not cut out for. Needless to say, the relationship between that organisation and myself suffered a blow and has still not quite recovered. This is what happens when you take on tasks not meant for you. To be successful at what we do, we have to know our core mandate, our reason for doing what we do – and it needs to go far beyond money.
So as much as I appreciate the offers many have extended, I believe I would be doing an injustice to the real task before me – which is to develop CSI as a whole.
Think of it like this: In the financial industry, when speaking to your bank about a long-term savings plan, you will not ask them for specific investment advice. If you do, they will make a point of telling you they are not permitted to give such advice. They know their core mandate. They stick to it. They go so far as prohibiting their staff from setting foot outside of their stipulated boundaries. And within those boundaries, they do an excellent job (although it might not always feel that way).
So it is with CSRNEWSSA. How would we fulfil our mandate to support the whole CSI industry if I or any member of my team were to act as mouthpiece for any single NGO, project, training course or event? We would lose credibility in an instant. We stand for the whole CSI industry, every NGO and NPO, every willing funder who seeks to do things better and make a difference in our country.
This is why CSRNEWSSA cannot sit on NGO boards, or be a consultant, or promote a course, or take on any of the many interesting job offers that come our way, usually in the first week after The Great Funders’ Conference.
We will promote a project where it forms part of an arranged, paid-for advertising campaign on one of our media, but we cannot make phone calls on behalf on an organisation, bend the ear of a funder with regard to an excellent programme, or do anything that favours one NGO over another. To do so would be breach of trust.
So we thank you for the thought, and trust you will understand that we must focus 100% on our core business and our true purpose.
This, we believe, is what develops integrity. One cannot be all things to all people. We are grateful to have a task we love, and to have the energy and passion to constantly expand and build on that task – but we cannot deviate into side roads, lucrative though they may be.
We wish the best for all of you. Let each woman and man know their calling and do it with zeal and excellence. In this way we will foster mutual trust and respect, and develop the industry we love, for the greater good of all in South Africa.