19 – 20 March, 2024 – JHB, South Africa

Building economic participants is critical for SA’s success in 2024 and beyond

By Setlogane Manchidi, Head of CSI at Investec

There is certainly more of an appreciation that what is good for the community is also good for business. However, while we are seeing a move towards meaningful corporate social responsibility, corporations still seem to be grappling with the ‘shared value’ concept. 

While shared value is by no means a new concept, everyday realities and socio-economic challenges have forced individuals and corporations to re-examine their roles, and this concept, as they seek to engage in far more meaningful solution-driven conversations that not only benefit the business, but broader society. 

Yes, we can all agree that businesses must find ways that reconnect company success with broader social progress, especially given that the more aligned and focused corporate giving efforts are, the more likely we are to achieve not only meaningful corporate social responsibility programmes but the ‘hairy, audacious’ social development goals and objectives. In fact, if we want to truly build active economic participants in South Africa going forward, then responsibility with meaning is needed. 

There is no doubt that a more vibrant society is associated with economic growth in production, consumption and exchange, but beyond job creation and broader access, active economic participants also have a high likelihood of remaining invested in the country over time. And isn’t this what we are striving for, to support and protect local economic interests and growth? 

Certainly, my view is that a sense of purpose and contribution from individuals and companies alike contributes to a higher degree of fulfilment amongst citizens, which hopefully has a direct impact on disposable income – meaning the ability to put bread on the table in more households – which should contribute towards more stability and more money circulation within communities. This is where the wellbeing of the nation starts. 

Of course, moving this needle is not easy. To truly effect change we need to support initiatives that help people, especially our youth, to ultimately be best placed to ‘play’ in the scarce skills areas. This means far better collaboration between businesses and the tertiary education sector to jointly examine how to produce these much-needed skills – based on what the country needs rather than mere training and development just for the sake of it.

Economic participants - Elevated view of students writing their GCSE exam

We also need to find better ways of leveraging information and communication technologies (ICTs) as possible platforms that can enable the economic inclusion opportunities for more and more of our people. Lastly, we cannot overlook the importance of a robust small, medium and micro enterprise (SMME) ecosystem, as with growth in emerging entrepreneurs comes the growth of many others through job creation. 

The corporate sector has always known it has a fundamental role to play in this pursuit, but it must now start shifting its thinking towards seeing their efforts as more than just a CSI initiative, and rather start examining purpose-led strategy, focused on sustainable impact that becomes ingrained in the business. 

While we are hearing more and more rhetoric around the significance of purpose in companies, many of these initiatives continue to be driven more by the need to comply as opposed to making a meaningful difference. Sure, benchmarks and certification are important but can derail companies from putting transformative purposes at the centre of their CSI or company initiatives and where, in fact, all other benefits around compliance and development inevitably accrue many times over for the business.

As such, in my mind, there are several vital factors that need to be considered.

Companies must define the meaningful change that they would like to see, contribute towards this, and ultimately achieve. They then need to be more intentional about championing that defined meaningful change. Such change will not happen by chance unless the business becomes more deliberate in its focus. Whilst ambitious companies also need to be realistic about their sphere of influence and the things they can meaningfully shift for the better, which means they need to engage each other in pursuit of meaningful collaboration. Working in silos means there is only so much you can achieve, but together you can scale and create more impact.

In fact, having been in this space for over 20 years, the fundamentals are clear: no single entity should, and could, be expected to address the many social ills that exist in society – rather we should be very selective around our CSI ambit; we can’t make a difference if we have not defined upfront the impact we seek to make and understand how that impact will last. And, finally, given the extent of need in our country we must design and push for scalability. However, we must not confuse quantity with scalability – reaching more people does not automatically make an initiative scalable. Some initiatives run the risk of being potentially compromised because of unrealistic pursuits of scalability. Therefore scalability needs to be clearly defined, carefully considered, and gradually implemented. Quality and depth must be central to any discussion.

We are moving in the right direction in South Africa. However, my sense is that the future of CSI initiatives is headed towards a more social impact driven approach where there is a greater focus on collaboration and positively impacting ecosystems, as opposed to the piecemeal approach. And this is needed if we want to grow our active economic participants locally, shape their futures and tackle the economic growth that is desperately needed. 

 

Setlogane Manchidi is the Head of Investec’s Corporate Social Investment (CSI) in South Africa. He joined Investec in 2003 and in 2005 was appointed as head of the CSI division. Investec CSI has received numerous awards over the years which include the Sunday Times Top 100 CSI Leadership Award and the Mail & Guardian Investing in the Future Award for Promaths, one of Investec’s flagship programmes. Setlogane is a published author of the book titled Corporate Social Investment, A Guide to Creating a Meaningful Legacy

Portrait shot of Setlogane Manchidi - Investec

January 18, 2024

Written by Editor

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