Time after time, I found myself annoyed when the CSI department was considered merely to be where all the “goodhearted” people hung out.
When I started at Momentum Metropolitan Holdings, there were no specific CSI-related study courses. On-site training was all that was available. My bosses claimed that I was too technical, too ‘numbersy’.
That I was calculated and harsh. I found myself saying no to many of the requests I received, however politely. There was always a perfectly rational explanation for it.
I often cringe at the ineffective clichés of short-term assistance, instead of offering professional skills. For instance, distributing a great number of boxed, non-biodegradable, non-reusable sanitary pads to young girls is unhelpful in the long term. Once the supply is finished the girls have no way of buying more.
However, if well-meaning do-gooders would instead distribute washable, reusable sanitary pads, available from an enterprise near an informal settlement, it would be a more enduring gift besides the obvious of showing thoughtful giving.
I strongly believe giving should not merely be to make the donor feel good but needs to make a lasting impact on a problem for it to be really worthwhile. Problems present a challenge to build solutions that will live long after you are dead.
The responsibility lies with CSI departments to do more skills development in this area. There was a great study done where the results showed employees felt better about their company if they perceived the company to be making a difference in disadvantaged communities, whether the perception and the actual reality were synonymous or not.
For the team at Momentum, it matters immensely that our CSI efforts translate into the most effective they can be. That’s why we restructured for excellence. It was painful because we had to ask ourselves to reimagine ourselves as specialists and full-value trade owners of the portfolio of monitoring and evaluation.
We looked for a smaller portfolio with fewer partners, and we decided to address the risk that youth employment presents to the achievement of a prosperous and inclusive South Africa. As a result, we devised a skills-based volunteer programme that encouraged and rewarded the volunteers, so utilising the wide variety of skills available in the company.
We asked our NPO partners to name their greatest challenges and challenged the employees to come up with suitable solutions. The NPO was invited to select the solution that best suited its problem and culture. However, company partnerships may require approval by head-office, which in turn may create a delay and sometimes a barrier to local collaboration.
Recently, a partner in Port Elizabeth approached me with challenges that impacted graduates during their skills training programmes. These can be anything from financial constraints, lack of literacy, familial pressures to the unpredictability of the labour market and frequent restructuring within companies.
These can cause graduates to appear to be under-performing in their jobs. Therefore, continued mentorship is of great benefit to a new employee. I am also advocating a data collection system that makes information available on job vacancies and then marry these with trainees possessing suitable abilities for a position.
As corporates, our asset is our relationship capital with our business partners and service providers, which we can use to negotiate on behalf of development sector partners. Bringing the right people together can create ecosystems that allow partnerships to flourish. Also, employees have a vested interest in improving their communities. We should inspire an understanding within our corporations of the power we hold as a force for good in our communities.
I’ve learned not to squash caterpillars because they could become butterflies, so when someone tells me about a wonderful initiative that will be gone when they are gone, it is my job, and that of my team, to guide, to advise and to influence them.
Well-intentioned but ill-informed ideas may contain the seed that will grow into a worthwhile initiative in time. Embracing a heart-centred approach allows you to follow a course of action you know is right and not be influenced by external pressure.
About Charlene Lackay:
As the Group CSI Manager at Momentum Metropolitan Holdings, Charlene leads a passionate team of socio-development specialists striving to enable the life aspirations of marginalised youth and supporting them on their journey to employment. She holds a Masters in Journalism from Stellenbosch University and has over 15 years’ experience in media. Previously she worked at SABC2 and various print publications and is currently working as a continuity presenter on RSG.
She has been an integral member of the Nation Builder Business Collabs from the start. Charlene has shared best practice case studies with the Collab participants and has contributed knowledge articles to Nation Builder’s Online Community. She has also been a speaker at the In Good Company conference, and Momentum Metropolitan Holdings was one of the headline sponsors of this conference.
Charlene is also part of the steering committee which Nation Builder convened in order to oversee an impact management research and development initiative. They meet bi-monthly to discuss and review various international and national monitoring and evaluation tools and standards.