I was recently asked to share my experiences of what Covid-19 was like and where I think CSI is headed. I thought I would put my thoughts together in this piece that I hope will help us all define the new course we are taking for the betterment of our country.
I would like to start by saying that CSI divisions in South Africa are the only corporate business units that are legally obliged to shift, shape and drive social change in our country. So, those who sit at the helm should be visionaries, forward thinkers, risk-takers, and people who are committed to what they are doing. They should have a conviction that says, ‘Even if I lose my job, I will fight for social change.’
Here are my 3 recommendations for repurposing your CSI strategy and vision:
1. Fire everyone you have worked with for the last 20 years
I read a fascinating book some years ago about making a change. The author said, ‘If you want to make a change, you have to take radical steps.’ His first principle was: If you want to get a new couch, get rid of the one that is in your lounge right now – and have nothing in your lounge. And, after a few days of wanting to lounge around and finding you have no couch, you are bound to take steps to get one. But, if you keep your old couch, chances are, you will take longer to change it.
How true. So, step 1, fire everyone you have worked with for the last 20 years – immediately – IF they do not understand the new trends and have not helped you realise there is a seismic shift happening all around you.
If they have not helped you so far, I doubt they will help you now to make it through the current global shift.
2. Find a creative team that can do true research
I am sorry to say this, but I am always astounded when black CSI managers get white companies to do research in deep rural communities. It makes sense when it is a white CSI manager getting their colleagues to do the research – but to hire a white person for a black strategy is dumb. It’s like asking a man to help with period pains! Enough said.
I always ask myself how on earth black CSI managers expect someone who has never truly experienced poverty to pick up the blind spots or what I call the ‘phantom problems’. We have failed to pick up the phantom problems and will continue to fail because the wrong people carry out research for the wrong demographics.
Science shows that, to learn something to the fullest, you need to experience it for 7 years. Even our schooling system provides our education in 7-year stages. For a white person to get the research right, even for a second, they would have to live in a township for 7 years. And I mean without having the luxuries of life, living township life the way township life is handed to us black people.
I really don’t think this needs brain surgery for us to understand it, or needs us to go to the moon. I call it common sense.
3. Expand your strategy to deal with a lot more than just your company focus
We are no longer sitting in a place where corporate social development or investment can just partner with programmes that are aligned with our corporate strategies. It is something that needs to be relooked: We are on the verge of a social war and, if we do not understand this, we will see it through gender based violence spikes, xenophobic strikes rises and more thefts and high jacking taking place.
I think you can definitely support the programmes that speak to your core-business, but you also need to take a percentage of your budget and put it towards the country’s real social needs, such as housing, job opportunities and food.
When I was asked what we should be looking at post Covid-19, I said this, and I said it clearly: We have to pay attention to the political landscape of our country. When I was asked by a big corporate to help them define their vision of giving, I said they should provide housing. And I will keep saying, ‘Housing is a priority’ – otherwise we will remain in the rut we are in.
We will be in trouble if building houses does not become the standard focus area for all CSI practitioners. People are desperate for a simple structure called home. Covid-19 clearly revealed that our people have no homes: When social distancing was announced during Covid-19, most black people were not able to do it – because there were 9 people living in 24 m2 shacks in Alexandra and in 54 m2 RDP housing in Soweto.
You, CSI Manager, are the only person who has the legal right to build houses without consequences. I think we all know that, before we got here – in our cushy jobs – the worst worry in our lives was, ‘Will I be able to pay the rent?’ – and that remains with us to some extent. Now we worry, ‘Will I be able to pay my bond?’
CSI Managers are the only people
who can legally build houses without consequences.
Let us begin by taking away the stress of having no home from our people, and using the resources given to us wisely and holistically.
Any CSI manager in South Africa can tell you about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but I think we need to look at this hierarchy again because it speaks truly to what South Africa’s social sector needs now. According to me, it means people need homes, then jobs, then food – but we can provide food parcels for those we have given homes to but who cannot find jobs, because jobs are hard to come by. Let’s give these people a holistic service.
I am sure we all heard about the Mpumalanga Russian problem. What intrigued me the most about it was the question of ‘Is there a plan to absorb these students into South Africa’s job market after studying in Russia?’ It seemed that the answer was not clear.
I am also sure we all know that Education is the most funded programme in South Africa and, potentially, across the world. But, a couple of years ago, I spoke to a CSI manager from a financial institution that was asking us to help them repurpose their CSI voice. What stood out was what she said next: ‘We invested so much in STEM but only had 1 graduate.’
Something like ZAR 10 million and 25 bursaries later, and only 1 good result to show for it!
I think the 24 failures were because of the personal struggles of the learners at home: When they went home, there was no food – if they had a home at all. Imagine if you were at university trying to get an education, while your mother is in a shack with 5 of your siblings. That would indeed be traumatising.
But the Mpumalanga Russian question and the CSI manager’s despondent comment made me realise that Education should not be the most funded programme in South Africa.
We CSIs need to relook at how we do our social giving.
In closing, let me reiterate that we need to read the social signs and we need to have another look at our purpose: Just this week I heard in the news that hijacking has risen, and children have been raped, murdered and dismembered (just take a second to think about this) – and a man recently took the lives of 6 sex workers and let their bodies decompose in his factory (garage). These are signs that our people are getting desperate, and we need to get together as CSI and relook at the way we do our social giving.
All this tells me that CSI has failed many South Africans over the last 30 years. But we are embarking on a new journey for the next 30 years. Please join us, be bold, be a visionary and take serious risks. We have nothing to lose at this point.