“We face steep and daunting challenges” according to the President, but these words might not reflect the true depth of the water we are treading. In Thursday’s State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Ramaphosa called the government on state capture, took responsibility for last year’s unrest, announced cannabis as our best bet, and called on businesses to solve the unemployment issue. “We all know that Government does not create jobs. Business creates jobs”, Ramaphosa stated. Though this statement evoked mixed reactions, it clearly indicated that Government needs help. Through meaningful Corporate Social Investment (CSI), businesses can tackle unemployment at its core: Education.
South Africa has one of the highest unemployment rates globally at 34.9%. The expanded definition of unemployment, which includes people who no longer bother to seek employment, reveals a true unemployment rate of 46.6%. The country also tops the inequality statistics, according to World Inequality Lab data, as the ridiculously wealthy become wealthier and the poor become poorer. The majority of the top 10% wealthiest South Africans are black, but the gap between the wealthy and the poor only increases.
The relationship between unemployment and education is not new information. Improving education will not only create skilled workers to reduce unemployment, but also increase the average income which reduces inequality. The President’s claim that “the ability to attract skilled immigrants is the hallmark of a modern, thriving economy” only emphasises the issue that South Africans are not being empowered to fill the skills gap but rather pacified with grants. Communities need the grants in the interim, but real change is achieved by empowering South Africans through education and skills development.
Ramaphosa’s SONA committed to investment in school education infrastructure as well as the promise that “we will work harder”. That was it: no strategy, no accountability, and no indication of real change were offered. Although infrastructure is essential, real meaningful engagement is necessary on all levels: schools, students and graduates, as well as entrepreneurs and micro-businesses need assistance in order to truly affect unemployment and, consequently, inequality. This also indicates that CSI through painting classrooms and throwing building supplies at schools will be redundant. It creates the opportunity for businesses to create a meaningful contribution that weighs more than numbers.
CSI CAN BATTLE UNEMPLOYMENT AND REDUCE INEQUALITY THROUGH EDUCATION INITIATIVES
Though financing is necessary, rather than tossing funds at communities without coordination, CSI can do what government fails to do: improve the poor state of education in South Africa. A possible strategy to achieve this involves the support of education initiatives on three levels (schools, students/graduates, and entrepreneurs/microbusinesses).
PARTNERSHIPS WITH UNIVERSITIES
Universities in South Africa have established community engagement units and community engagement is a coordinated and active contribution made by students. All faculties have community engagement projects and universities can greatly assist the private sector in terms of coordination. Specific focus should be placed on Education faculties. Education students, as pre-service teachers, are essential to directly assisting learners through afterschool programmes. Students assist learners with homework, develop motivation, and provide the attention and care that learners need to progress to matric. This is a reciprocal relationship between students who gain valuable experience and learners who need the additional attention. Meaningful financial contributions, to comply with the 1% BBBEE Socio-Economic Development (SED) obligations, are optimised by partnerships between companies and universities due to the established community engagement coordination structures.
WORK INTEGRATED LEARNING AND INTERNSHIP OPPORTUNITIES
The President’s suggestion to “drop experience as a hiring requirement” is not the viable or the only option available. Work Integrated Learning opportunities for students and internships for graduates are beneficial for both businesses and the individuals involved. These opportunities provide additional assistance to existing employees, at no or minimal costs to the business, and provide the valuable experience that students and graduates need to make them employable. Additionally, companies may benefit from the creativity and innovative ideas of the youth.
EMPLOYEE VOLUNTEER PROGRAMMES
Entrepreneurs and micro-businesses need guidance and training regarding the various aspects of business. There are many ways existing businesses can provide this through skills and knowledge transfer from employees to entrepreneurs and microbusinesses. These initiatives improve the company’s reputation, enable employees to become actively involved, and, of course, contribute to the success of local entrepreneurs. These initiatives also contribute to Socio-Economic Development (SED) and BBBEE points. Platforms like forgood.co.za can get the ball rolling, but businesses can incentivise the strategy through gamification principles: rewarding volunteers who commit the most time as well as creative initiatives through an event day or, probably much appreciated, day of leave. Competitiveness between departments in larger corporations can contribute to employee motivation as well. Additionally, many employees feel more positive about their companies when they see meaningful contributions to the community being combined with recognition for the individual’s contribution.
OTHER MEANINGFUL WAYS TO CONTRIBUTE
Libraries and laboratories
Technology is cool, but many schools do not have electricity and basic resources. Creating school education infrastructure will take a while so, rather than donating fancy technology, focus on essential laboratories and libraries. An iPad without electricity to charge it is really just an expensive plate.
Security companies can use employee volunteer programmes to battle theft and vandalism at schools.
Ask the universities
Universities already have programmes like feeding schemes or know where help is urgently needed. Partnerships will provide guidance and coordination for businesses with specific target areas.
THE LIFEGUARDS SOUTH AFRICA NEEDS
South Africans have lost faith in their government, but Corporate SA can give communities what they need right now: hope that things can get better. After all, CSI always has been the “feel good” role of business and communities can benefit from feeling good right now. Sustainable and meaningful contributions can restore the faith in our future.
“The path we choose now will determine the course for future generations,” as the SONA stated. Whilst the government struggles to keep the country afloat, will Corporate South Africa come to Ramaphosa’s rescue through meaningful CSI? Will investors abandon ship and citizens plea every man for himself? Will communities rise to the occasion or sink in their loss of faith? “Indeed, we are engaged in a battle for the soul of this country.” Even if the voyage fails, at least the crew could all get stoned.