Corporate Social Investment and Responsibility (CSI/CSR) remains a critical anchor to the development of South African communities and the forging of strong links between businesses and their markets. Whatever the field in which you’re engaged, chances are that your organisation’s CSI is its strongest link to the community in which it does business.

CSI plays a critical role in the development of South Africa, and yet, apart from the big names whose work is known, many corporate and NGO contributions go undiscovered, poorly marketed and completely isolated.

Just over a year ago CSRNEWSSA introduced South Africa’s The CSI Index ~ the first ever CSI workforce and communication survey in South Africa. The Index records the demographics of the people who run CSI and the ways in which they communicate their goals and achievements.

“… many corporate and NGO contributions go undiscovered, poorly marketed and completely isolated.”

Community development affects us all

South Africa is one of only two African countries that has legislated corporate social responsibility, giving it a legal framework through which businesses are expected to play their part.  In the last several years, countries including Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, Zambia, Sierra Leone, and Zimbabwe have considered or enacted legal measures and/or policies that restrict civic space.

These restrictions have taken many forms. In some countries, unregistered associational activity is criminalized, as in Uganda. In others, CSOs (Civil Society Organisations) are subjected to political litmus tests, as in Nigeria. In still others, CSOs are limited in their ability to receive foreign funding, as in Ethiopia. These restrictions limit the ability of individuals to exercise their freedom of association and prevent CSOs from carrying out their work. Regardless of the rationale behind these regulations, the degree of such control, in many cases, reaches draconian proportions and should be carefully scrutinized. The right of association is guaranteed under the African Charter for Human and People’s Rights (ACHR), and limits on the right must be demonstrably necessary.

Community development, or the lack of it, affects us all. Government has to do its part, but business has long been recognised as an essential partner in the process of uplifting and re-shaping South African communities.

Private-sector programmes are making a difference ~ and yet problems remain, with many communities still untouched. In addition, excellent CSI programmes are hampered by a lack of communication and a lack of knowledge of where the essential help is most needed.

The survey

There was a need to monitor and measure certain aspects of the CSI industry to fill out the picture of its members and its methods.  The first South Africa CSI Index was launched in 2017, taking a rather forward looking and less conventional approach to research; it used digital framework tools to engage both respondents and the results.

This year we followed similar initial steps, but report in greater detail, making both the survey results and this overview of CSI staff and marketing efforts available to a wider audience than previously.

The survey was sent to just under 500 CEOs, academics, senior managers, CSI practitioners and entrepreneurs, all of whom worked either in large corporates, medium-sized enterprises, parastatals or NGOs. A total of 25% responded and of that 25%, 77% completed the survey successfully ~ a relatively high response for online surveys ~ of which the vast majority gave comprehensive information and insightful commentary.

Together, these responses yield a clear picture of how entities are either communicating their vital role in South African society or failing to do so ~ and the consequences of this success or failure.

The changing face of social responsibility

Whether we embrace it or not, the concept of social responsibility has become integral to the way businesses operate in the world around them.  Investing in communities is no longer an optional extra – it is key to the way companies are perceived and relate with the constituencies that support them.

The World Bank has reported that South Africa remains one of the world’s most unequal societies, with the poorest 20% consuming less than 3% of total expenditure, and the wealthiest 20% consuming 65% of total expenditure. Inequalities at this scale are maintained by exclusion, built into the structure of our society and our institutions, and requiring massive injections of funds and energy to unravel.

“Inequalities at this scale are maintained by exclusion, built into the structure of our society and our institutions, and requiring massive injections of funds and energy to unravel.”

It is a task our government takes seriously enough to legislate on, yet many companies still see the requirements as onerous and fail to embrace them in a way that works for either themselves or communities. The fact is that corporate social investment, properly conducted, yields inestimable benefits for companies that see its potential for growing their customer base and enhancing public sentiment.

The hand-out mentality

As the hands and feet of corporate social investment, NGOs play a critical role in our society, impacting communities with dedicated individuals and innovative programmes. Generally, however, when it comes to sourcing of funding, far too many NGOs still see themselves as beggars. The innovation we see in their programmes is not reflected in their funding strategies, which mostly comprise seeking hand-outs.

“ … far too many NGOs still see themselves as beggars.”

NGO staff are often afraid to make the big decisions that will grow their sector and empower themselves. Those that tower above the others spend money, think strategically and have found ways to get word out of what they do.  Think of the big names; CANSA, Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, Gift of the Givers. These are organisations that invest in boosting their profile across all media, and back up the image with solid programmes that are felt at every level of society, it’s no wonder they each got a mention in the report from various sector organisations.

Think globally

Organisations that make a difference have a global outlook, seeing links in what they do with a much bigger picture. The global advocacy and grassroots campaigner, ONE, for instance, now has a membership of over 9 million people and has done more than almost any other organisation to shift the way governments look at poverty and development.  They have a clear focus on justice and equality, rather than charity, and have managed to capture public imagination with their combination of fast-paced, high-energy advocacy work and relentless pressure on governments to turn words into actions. ONE was founded by international singing legend Bono, and reflects a positive, fresh and no-nonsense approach to change. They do not solicit funds.

Actor Matt Damon has created waves in the CSI sector through the organisation he co-founded, WATER, bringing clean water and sanitation to 10 million people across the world through affordable loans.  ONE and WATER reveal the vastness of what CSI can achieve ~ and that is without compelling legislation. In South Africa, with all our legislative guidelines, companies still battle to reach communities, and much of our CSI spend remains unspent or hastily allocated. This is largely a function of the way both funders and NGOs see themselves and reflects a lack of real partnering between organisations and communities.

“… companies still battle to reach communities, and much of our CSI spend remains unspent or hastily allocated.”

The goal of the CSI Index is to reveal a comprehensive picture of how companies conduct and think about their CSI.  Who are the people who run these programmes, and what are their challenges? How are they marketing their programmes, and how successful have they been in building community partnerships through these programmes? Who makes the decisions? The finding was that, in general, companies are not fully optimising the potential of their CSI, and that great programmes go undetected, buried deep within companies’ and NGOs’ websites and known only by the limited numbers they directly affect.

The results

In total, only 20% of respondents employ small teams of 2 to 5 people to run and market their CSI programmes. The majority ~ 66% ~ entrust that entire portfolio to 1 person – a tall order, given the growing importance of CSI and the sizeable percentage of profits that are required by law to be ploughed into social investment.   According to the Social Development – their most recent report published in 2016 – there were 153 677 registered NGOs in South Africa.  These are the organisations which, together with their funding partners, play a vital role in educating, upskilling, housing, counselling and providing water, legal and other services to South Africans. Without them, development would be a shadow of what it is.  Their contribution is clear ~ what remains is for more to recognise their own power, and to market themselves in ways that are informed, consistent, professional, and get results. “66% entrust their entire CSI portfolio to 1 person.”

Although the survey was sent to corporates, academics and NGOs, the majority of respondents – 43% – work in the NGO sector, with the remaining 57% split between funders and PR companies. Ninety per cent are black, 77% are aged between 35 and 44 and only 13% have bachelor’s degrees.

Interestingly, 29% of people working in the CSI sector come from countries outside South Africa; 26% come from Mpumalanga and 23% come from Gauteng, with the various other provinces represented by 6% and 3% of respondents. The survey revealed no one in CSI from North West Province.

Amongst our CSI decision-makers, 77% are single, 19% are married and 3% are divorced. Decision making was generally not a problem for our respondents; 71% were either owners of their organisations or managers with considerable decision-making power. Most concerning was that 66% of respondents have to take all CSI-related decisions on their own. When one considers that total CSI spend in 2017 was 9 billion rand*, and that according to our survey, 91% of CSI managers are spending over 40 hours a week in the office, a picture emerges of an over-stretched CSI workforce. Vast sums of money are being handled by individuals often working long hours, having to allocate funds, monitor their use, and communicate their results to the general public on their own. It is a tall order.

“… a picture emerges of an over-stretched CSI workforce. Vast sums of money are being handled by individuals often working long hours, having to allocate funds, monitor their use, and communicate their results to the public on their own.”

*According to Trialogue’s annual Business In Society Handbook.

Marketing and communication

Funding and running community programmes is one part of the CSI picture; to get maximum return on their investments, both funders and NGOs need to know how to market and communicate their CSI work. Community awareness fosters goodwill, builds a sense of trust, and strengthens the bond between companies and their markets. For NGOs, getting a consistent message out fulfils the same function, raising public awareness and esteem for the work done.

Although most respondents felt that CSI in South Africa is making significant progress, the sector remains poorly communicated.  The majority ~  80% ~ of respondents relied mostly on their organisation’s website to advertise their programmes and projects.  This means that most organisations depend on the public to find them; their excellent work is buried deep on a website that may be outdated and is frequently user-unfriendly. Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are also used, but again, messages on these platforms are available only to followers and friends. Twitter was used by 80% of respondents, Facebook by 60% and either YouTube, LinkedIn or Vimeo by 40%.

“80% of respondents relied mostly on their organisation’s website to advertise their programmes and projects.”

Managing Social Media

To be effective, social media need astute management. Although 60% of respondents said they use these platforms once a week, 40% said they used them ‘now and then’. With Facebook having recently tweaked its algorithms to minimise corporate use and boost personal use, CSI managers are going to have to become a lot  more creative to be seen and heard.

Messages conveyed across all media also need to be consistent, having the same key themes, logos, colours, and ‘tone’. NGOs, on the whole, are staffed by people un-trained in marketing ,who frequently lack the time or skills to let the broader community know what they are doing.

Changing perceptions

What has become apparent is that vast sums are allocated to CSI, but only a fraction is used optimally, either for the recipients or for the company or NGO itself. The challenge lies with the mindset of the CSI workforce and with company’s corporate structure which relegate this critical function to small teams, sometimes comprising one person. Without regular updates on the economic, political and social forces shaping our country, and exposure to global best practice, it is easy for CSI to lose its focus and its momentum.

The full report will be available for the public shortly
If you are interested to received the full report please email – index@csrnewssa.co.za

The end