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.