Why Is CSI South Africa Failing To Change Lives?

According to the latest governmental data from 2019, the Gini coefficient in South Africa was 0,65 points in 2015. South Africa had the world’s highest inequality in income distribution (Statista, Nov 17, 2021).

For the longest time I have been trying to figure out what CSI South Africa’s collective funding is doing so that it doesn’t impact lives as it ought. I mean – the country with arguably the largest social responsibility budget by corporates in Africa is the most unequal country in the world!?

Wait, wait, wait! Let me repeat that. I really don’t want this statement to miss you: The country with the biggest corporate social investment budget in Africa is the most unequal in the ENTIRE world!

Before you continue reading, just think about that for a second: The country with the biggest corporate social investment budget in the WHOLE of Africa is the most unequal in the homes of all living beings!

I am not sure if this indicates selfishness or foolishness on our part.

Think about it

In the Christian Holy Bible – and I am not evangelising – when they want you to think about a statement in the Psalms, they say Selah. So, I say to you, after the above statement, please selah.

The Christian Holy Bible has a Scripture that comes to life in what I am about to say, so I would like to cite it here.

‘This book of the law…’ the Scripture says, ‘you must meditate on day and night’. If you look at this Scripture, which is found in Joshua 1:8, you might think it means absolutely nothing. But it came to life for me when I realised that, when the Scripture says, ‘you must meditate on it day and night’, it simply means you must THINK.

You see, the Christian Holy Bible is my guide for living and it is saying here: As you live your life today and tomorrow and every day, and something doesn’t fit or makes no sense – meditate about it, ponder on it, look at that thing from every angle – and don’t stop until you have at least triangulated your thinking around it. If you think long enough about it, the answer will reveal itself.

That’s how I find the best results when I think about a thing. For example, I have been thinking for 2 to 3 weeks now about why we are failing so badly to truly impact lives, if we have such a big budget for social responsibility. You might say, ‘You have no right to say to me, “We are not impacting lives!”’ Yes, I have no right – but let’s put it to the test.

In any test, the results speak louder than whatever a student says. My cousin from Mpumalanga entered her first year at UJ (University of Johannesburg) this year and, whenever she visited me, she literally studied from Friday until I took her back to res on Sunday. Her results speak louder than words: She got 5 distinctions out of 7 exams, and 100% attendance. With these results, I cannot doubt that she was truly studying.

So let us in CSI South Africa test my words in the statement I asked you to selah about.

Test my words

The country with the biggest social responsibility investment budget in Africa is the most unequal country in the entire world. Those are the results we got for our exam that we have been studying for (investing in) since 1994.

What bugs me is that countries like Botswana, Malawi, Swaziland, Zimbabwe trump us. That’s not to say that something is wrong with these countries – but these countries are dependent on South Africa for their survival – and yet, according to the report, although these countries’ scores were very close to South Africa’s, South Africa took the cup. Selah!

The answer to my title’s question is: We are failing because we are focused more on corporate strategy than on social strategy.

The government of our country wrote a fascinating National Development Plan which is due to mature in the next 7 years. This plan marked its 10th anniversary this year this year and, to celebrate it – we got the highest mark in our exam about being the most unequal country in the world. Selah!

The National Development Plan

If I ask how many of us know the pillars that govern this plan, most of us working in CSI would have to admit they know hardly any of them. If I asked how many of us know the Sustainable Development Goals, most of us, whilst we might not know all 17 of the SDGs, do know those that are aligned to our corporate strategy and the corporate priorities that govern our social responsibility. But not so much the social strategy…

Yet the National Development Plan drawn up by the South African government is designed to deal with the social responsibility (fabric) of our country.

For those of us who are still learning about the plan, let me explain:

The National Development Plan (NDP) is an action plan for securing the future of South Africans as chartered in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996. The Constitution says in its preamble that we must ‘Build a united and democratic South Africa, able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations’.

The NDP has 6 pillars that represent the broad objectives of the plan to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality.

    • uniting South Africans of all races and classes around a common programme to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality
    • encouraging citizens to be active in their own development, in strengthening democracy, and in holding their government accountable
    • raising economic growth, promoting exports, and making the economy more labour absorbing
    • focusing on the key capabilities of both the people and the country. These capabilities include skills, infrastructure, social security, strong institutions and partnerships, both within the country and with key international partners
    • building a capable and developmental state
    • creating strong leadership throughout society that works together to solve our problems.
  • a reduction in the number of people who live in households with a monthly income below R419 per person – from 39% to 0%.
  • a reduction in inequality as measured by the Gini coefficient – from 0,69 to 0,6.

This can be done by addressing the underlying causes of poverty and inequality by redirecting the focus of policymaking from short-term, symptom-based policies to longer-term policies based on sound evidence and reason. At the core of the NDP is the aim to ensure the achievement of a ‘decent standard of living’for all South Africans by 2030.

A ‘decent’ standard of living

  1. adequate nutrition
  2. clean environment
  3. employment
  4. housing, water, electricity and sanitation
  5. quality education and skills development
  6. quality health care
  7. recreation and leisure
  8. safe and reliable public transport
  9. safety and security
  10. social protection.

It is clear to me that government alone cannot provide a decent standard of living: It requires determined and measurable actions from all social actors and partners across all sectors in society – including corporate social investment/responsibility practitioners.

The NDP is divided into 13 chapters that address the most pressing challenges facing South Africa, and provides solutions to these challenges in the form of proposals and actions. The plan also outlines sector-specific goals and a vision for South Africa to be achieved by the year 2030.

I am not saying, ‘Do not follow the Sustainable Development Goals’; I am saying, ‘If you have been following them for the last 30 years in your various roles, from Millennium to Sustainable, and still we are the most unequal country in the world, perhaps we should pivot towards the national development agenda. Perhaps the SDGs are not for us yet.’

The NDP and its proposals need to be implemented in the correct order over the next 7 years (3 phases) for Vision 2030 to become a reality. The NDP calls on all South Africans from all walks of life to join forces, uniting all energies towards the implementation of this plan.

This is our plan, our future, let’s make it work!

So what am I saying?

I am saying that we have 7 years to make a real difference to the lives of the millions of South Africans who could not ‘social distance’ during Covid-19. The beginning of a social housing agenda by corporate social responsibility/investment practitioners will not, in itself, create housing. We have to mobilise more than one team to build houses. We have to think creatively so that we can be part of, and not apart from, the pillars of the NDP.

Let’s look at the first pillar, for example:

Uniting South Africans of all races and classes around a common programme to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality.

Let’s begin by saying, ‘We are going to look for 9 small business construction suppliers across the 9 provinces to begin the first year of the next 7 years by building 100 houses in each province.

‘We will select them according to their diversity, including giving opportunities to blacks, whites, Indians, coloureds, Chinese people, women and youth. Together as corporates, we will work towards the goal of uniting all races and classes in a common programme to eliminate poverty.’

By the time December 2023 comes along, we could have built ±900 houses, changed 900 families, and created jobs for many people through our common agenda. We could change many lives!

We could change many more lives, if we continue on this journey of building 100 houses per year per province as a collective. By 2030, we would have impacted 6 300 families with homes, and dozens more with employment, and the economic opportunities that come along with these houses – from building clinics, spaza shops, repairs enterprises, and the various opportunities that drive social development. The results will be visible for us all to see.

This is just one of the many pillars that CSI South Africa can adopt.

In closing

I have to close by saying – it would be selfish of us to not notice that Covid-19 revealed to us that our people need homes, our people need jobs, our people need food. And if we come together as a collective and begin this simple but impactful journey, we have the potential to change lives whilst meeting both our corporate goals and our social goals.

If you have a budget of R25 million as a CSI practitioner and you give 10% to this common agenda, imagine the social agenda you could fulfil and the impact you could make.

In closing, closing: I am not saying that we should not focus on our corporate agenda. I am saying, ‘The social agenda is now more pressing than our corporate agendas.’ I run a business, I have the corporate agenda spirit running through my veins – but I cannot sit and see my neighbour battling to put a roof over their home and continue as though nothing is wrong. That is bound to cause social inequality between me and my neighbour. And I urge CSI South Africa to relook at your strategies and include a real social agenda in your corporate CSI strategy. Ecobricks and fun runs, sanitary pads and all that kind of stuff are simply a joke compared to the real problems that face us.

In closing, closing, closing: I am not saying we should not be doing those things – I am saying you should also be reconsidering your strategy – you should really be taking another look at your strategy.

My team and I are working on a solution. If this article has moved you somewhat, do reach out to us. We are happy to meet to discuss a plan of action. I am personally reachable at editor@csrnews.africa

Something might come of it, and something might not – no pressure. I think, at this stage, together, we are looking for solutions to make South Africa better for all.

CSR NEWS – inspiring knowledge that changes lives.

Corporate Social Responsibility News (CSRNEWS) is South Africa’s leading Corporate Social Responsibility news, media and publishing firm. We create content on social responsibility, helping government, corporates, consultants, NPOs and NGOs to reach their target markets through appropriate, targeted development news.

1 Comment

  • Sonwabo Modimoeng says:

    This is a brilliant article. It speaks and addresses my everyday discussions with my team, NPO and youth social enterprises we are working with. We at faded Black Innovations would love to be part of the solution.

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