Botswana has become an interesting case study of how neither a national corporate social responsibility mandate, nor an intensive awareness campaign can really stand alone in ensuring robust private sector involvement.
The government’s heartfelt appeal to private companies to take up their responsibility is as necessary as putting legislation in place. The problem is that, despite some admirable responses, in many cases the plea has fallen on deaf ears. The property development and management sectors, especially, seem to be lagging behind. Is there any way these stragglers can be stirred into action?
Granted, many foreign-based and even local companies have enthusiastically embraced CSR. Debswana Diamond Company, a joint venture of the Botswana government and British-based Anglo American, has an established policy of providing generous support to create a legacy of prosperity, sustainability and community empowerment.
Stanbic Bank, part of the Standard Bank Group, focuses on youth employability, entrepreneurship, education and health, and committed USD81 000 to COVID-19 relief in 2020. South African-based SPAR supports home-grown initiatives in Botswana such as charity events, sport and conservation, aiming for positive environmental, economic and social impacts.
Bank of Botswana provides grants and donations for a wide range of causes from care for the physically challenged to skills development. Locally based retailer Choppies has donated BWP3 400 00 for COVID-19 relief as well as more than BWP1 000 000 to other causes. Through the government’s Adopt-a-School initiative, other companies have helped more than 200 schools in need of infrastructure, equipment or training.
These contributions are invaluable, but more is needed. During the pandemic, female-led households and the youth were especially hard hit. In December 2020, unemployment was at 24,5% in general and 35,5% amongst the youth. These troubling figures need a proactive response.
The lockdown has also impacted CSI through damaging the financial resilience of some companies, and reducing the sporadic charitable giving of others. Now, more than ever, the private sector needs to stand up and be counted. Contributing to the central COVID-19 relief fund would be a good start, but it is also time to address the noticeable lack of enthusiasm for CSI amongst many smaller companies. Unearthing the root cause is essential for getting them on track.
One approach would be to raise awareness of the specific role they can play in community upliftment. The private sector contributes to socio-economic development through tax revenue as well as the provision of jobs, goods, services and trade, but CSI can have a uniquely empowering impact. Insightfully applied, it has individualised, life-changing impacts on communities, even reaching the distant rural ones. This difference is one that many private sector companies have not yet grasped. Neither are they aware of how closely their profitability is linked to the well-being of the communities where they are based. A thriving business can help create a thriving community.
This is also why, when a national CSR mandate is put in place, it needs to be accompanied by an awareness drive. Enlightened companies often go above and beyond the legal requirements to ensure sustainable impacts. Where both corporate policies and legislation are absent, CSI may be perfunctory, sporadic or even lacking. As always, awareness is the first step in addressing social problems.
A deeper insight will also show that CSI can deliver more than promotional mileage. A well-integrated CSR strategy will increase shareholder value and enhance employee satisfaction. An engagement strategy which involves all stakeholders, especially community members, will improve relations and communication.
Pending specific directives from the government, what can CSI practitioners do to get their programmes on track? Insightful, sustainable, board-approved corporate policies are needed. Close engagement with government, the beneficiaries and other stakeholders is also key, as is identifying the specific needs of the beneficiaries. Prioritise programmes which will have a lasting socio-economic impact, such as job creation, education, skills development, equity, healthcare and energy provision. These outcomes support the achievement of sustainable development goals.
If South African companies with branches in Botswana continue to provide a significant socio-economic boost, and the less involved home-grown companies can now step up and help shoulder the load, Botswana may just bounce back sooner from the economic slump.