Reana RossouwWritten by

Trends in corporate social investment and development – 2014/15

Research and development| Views: 82

Introduction and background

Over the past 10 years, Next Generation has analysed, reviewed, tracked and commented on the trends in the corporate community and social investment and development sector across Africa and South Africa.  Over this time, the quality and quantity of CSI development programmes have certainly improved. More investors and donors realise not only the strategic advantage that can be generated through these social or community programmes, but also that commitment to healthier communities and society as a whole will benefit the future sustainability of their businesses. Successfully implementing social and community investment and development programmes is dependent on the organisation’s ability and capacity to deliver meaningful, impactful and sustainable outcomes that speak to real development needs, while still effectively running their core business and optimising return on investment for their shareholders.

This article looks at some of the key trends in CSI and development programmes in 2014 and shares learnings for 2015. The aim is to highlight the specific points that need to be taken into consideration in the planning, development and implementation of sustainable social and community investment programmes.

CSI – ‘have to do’ vs ‘want to do’:

2014: It is becoming more evident that companies have an obligation, as a result of consumer and investor pressure, to invest in meaningful, impactful and sustainable social and community development programmes. Companies realise that they have to demonstrate participation in these programmes to shareholders, who are increasingly looking for a return on investment and value created over the short,emedium and long term, while illustrating to customers that they engage in responsible business practices.

This can only be achieved if companies consider and balance all three pillars of sustainability in the execution of their businesses:

  • economic aspects
  • social and community
  • environmental aspects

The last decade has seen an increase in the number of companies that incorporate these three pillars into their strategies and operations because they “want to do the right thing”. For these businesses, a set of strong internal business values, namely core responsibilities, ethical and moral principles, is what guides the way business is conducted on a day-to-day basis. These values are driven from a strategic level by top leadership and are filtered down to all operational levels.

Such values could include:

  • fair treatment and equality of all human rights
  • protection of communities’ livelihoods
  • availability of and access to health and education
  • increased housing, safety and security  for communities
  • protection of the environment for future generations [1]

The outcome is that such values become part of the fabric of the business and contribute to the long-term sustainability of the company.

2015:  Companies should evaluate the original purpose and strategic intent and objectives of their CSI programmes. If these were undertaken because the company had to do it, then it is perhaps time to realign the company’s internal values and incorporate these shared value principles that benefit all stakeholders.

CSI compliance and impact:

2014:  As companies embrace specific internal values and commit to social and community investment and development interventions that contribute to and advance meaningful economic and sustainable social change and upliftment, they are also able to improve compliance to increasingly stringent regulation and scrutiny from government, pressure groups, stakeholders and investors [2].

However, many companies have not yet adopted robust development models that are able to demonstrate the value created to affect meaningful social and community development that will ultimately lead to an enhanced quality of life of communities and society at large.

2015:  Companies need to build more skills and capacity to not only manage and measure the outcomes of their CSI programmes, but also to assess the impacts of these programmes over the short, medium and long term within targeted beneficiaries and community groups or development aspect and context.

CSI commitment, knowledge and insight:

2014: Implementing meaningful social and community investment and development programmes, that deliver positive social and community impacts over time requires long term effort and perseverance as well as deep thought, extensive knowledge and research.  Failing this, companies will merely give money to programmes that are disconnected from reality and fail to address community needs and priorities – the result:  Their development efforts become fragmented and disconnected over time.

2015:   It has been found that companies who have a defined theory of change and deep-seated knowledge of development sciences and engage regularly, have greater impact and return on investment.  Additionally, consideration has to be given to leveraging of resources (e.g. through partnerships) and continuous monitoring and evaluation to ensure that planned objectives, outcomes and priorities are achieved.

Fragmentation of CSI programmes:

2014: Many CSI programmes focus on a single development aspect that do not address the complexities of social structures and community needs.

Duplication of programmes within communities, for example multiple educational or health programmes, in addition to narrowly focused programmes that ignore other community needs, lead to fragmentation of development efforts, resulting in issues persisting and frustrated beneficiaries.

2015: When planning social and community programmes, companies should research the development needs of the communities and gather information of existing programmes in the same community.  This will ensure that programmes are designed to address the right issues as well as specific needs that are not yet addressed by other development programmes and funders.

Companies can, for instance, collaborate with other development programmes and partners through sharing project resources or they can consider additional resource requirements such as infrastructure and local capacity to take development efforts further.

To streamline development efforts over the long term, companies will do well if they develop replicable and scalable development models that further provide efficiencies, economies of scale and shared learning and which are accessible to other development organisations.

Progress on solving CSI problems:

2014: Research indicates [3] that problems such as persistent high poverty and unemployment rates, inequality in the workplace, environmental degradation and social instability persist in South Africa and the rest of Africa.  Progress made in addressing these problems remains slow, and companies will need to make concerted efforts to ensure more effective and efficient development initiatives.

2015: Companies gain momentum and increase the impact of their social interventions and community development efforts, and ensure that their programmes remain relevant in the context of continuing economic challenges.  Greater collaboration and coordination amongst various development organisations and funders will significantly improve the effectiveness and positive impacts of social and community development programmes.

CSI innovation:

2014: South Africa has seen a number of innovations in the social and community development field over the past decade.  These innovations have the potential to significantly improve the effectiveness and efficiency of CSI programme delivery.  Innovations range from holistic educational development models, more effective feeding schemes and food security, to more scientific health care solutions and better conservation strategies that consider the community and result in better access to sanitation, water and energy.

2015: The challenge for development organisations is to find, research and adopt the innovations that will help address the specific development needs that have been identified.  These innovations have often been developed by people who have a deep desire to make a real difference and deliver more meaningful, positive impacts in social and community development contexts.

The owners of these innovations are important stakeholders and collaborators to engage with, to increase the effectiveness of development programmes.

Public sector partnerships:

2014: To address some of the persisting socio economic problems (such as poverty and high unemployment, inequality in the workplace, environmental degradation and social instability), government is increasingly developing regulations, policies, frameworks and structures.  These include the National Development Plan, Rural Development Plan, Extended Public Works Programme and so forth, which are filtered through to the private sector as, for example, sector codes.  Many examples exist of successful development programmes that benefited from strong government and private sector partnerships.  Private sector development efforts are more likely to succeed if government initiatives strongly support (as opposed to working against) the private sector programmes.   Government’s role, at national, regional and local level, is to assist private sector development programmes through the creation of enabling environments such as supporting infrastructure development, highlighting development issues, fostering collaboration and helping businesses to understand and interpret the regulatory landscape.

2015:  The private sector, whether individual businesses or sectors, therefore needs to include governments at local, regional and national level, as key stakeholders in its development efforts. If the government better understands and buys into the value that the private sector brings to social and community development, it is more likely to support these efforts through providing enabling environments. [2].

New CSI practices:

2014: Many companies are starting to consider social and community development programmes that have a broader focus than pure social and socio-economic perspectives.   Future issues that are becoming more critical include aspects such as food security, water scarcity, income and job disparity, waste management and recycling, environmental programmes, carbon offsets and climate change, all of which are entering the corporate social investment and development space.

New practices such as stakeholder engagement, community perception surveys, human rights studies, social audits, baseline studies, impact studies and beneficiation studies are becoming mainstream and new corporate structures are emerging through oversight committees, corporate reporting lines, job titles (community relations practitioners, community engagement practitioners, community liaison officers) and  responsibilities (human rights audits in programmes).

2015:  It is essential that development practitioners take stock of new and emerging trends and practices and remain relevant by understanding the purpose and application of these new trends and practices.  This will allow companies to adapt their programmes where needed and ensure continued alignment to local and international norms and standards, community priorities and needs and government development agendas.

Conclusion

While South Africa has seen some ‘spectacular’ failures in the social and community development context, it has also seen glimpses of brilliance.

Successful social and community development programmes of the future are those that:

  • Are driven from a strong need to make a meaningful and substantial impact and not just because it is required in order to be compliant.
  • Adopt holistic development approaches in the whole development cycle, i.e. planning, implementation and assessment or evaluation.
  • Have clear objectives that address the specific development needs of targeted stakeholder groups.
  • Utilise past learning to build strong internal capacity and skills of the development organisations.
  • Build collaborative partnerships with government and other development organisations to improve effectiveness and efficiency of delivery, while avoiding duplication and fragmentation.
  • Remain relevant in the ever changing regulatory and governance landscape while still addressing real social and community development needs.

Next Generation has worked in the social and community development sector for more than 15 years.  During this time we have trained and assisted numerous companies with specific strategic aspects, including:  strategy development; impact assessments; community relations engagement programmes; social impact, risk and opportunity assessments; socio economic surveys and human rights due diligence assessments.

[1]    Sustainability Values, Attitudes, and BehavioursA review of multinational and global trends, Annual Review Environ of Environmental Resource. 2006. 31:413–44, Leiserowitz, Kates & Parris

[2]    CSI Perspectives 2014. Tshikululu Social Investments

[3]    www.ilo.org/global/research/global-reports/world-of-work/2014/lang–en/index.htm Accessed 8 Oct 2014

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