Real CSI involves more than just giving

Corporate social investment (CSI) is no longer a matter of just doling out money. Corporates are increasingly changing their thinking around how they spend their money on CSI initiatives, realising that more productive means of intervention are required.

Tech start-up Yoco takes a sustainable approach to CSI. CEO Katlego Maphai explains that he does not differentiate between entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship. This is seen in the way the company approaches CSI.

“We apply our smart technology thinking to foster access to card technology and build services to help SMEs grow,” says Maphai. “We’ve extended that ethos into our CSI activities, providing aspiring organisations in Cape Town with our products to enable them to expand their businesses and so further benefit their communities.”

At the same time, these SMEs are likely to become loyal Yoco customers as they develop into larger businesses.

Developing loyalty among customers can be a valuable spin-off from CSI. Uber, for example, advises its customers that a portion of its monthly revenue is donated to various organisations through its UberGiving initiative. Customers are provided with the details of beneficiaries, thereby fostering a personal connection between the consumer and the donation, with the likely result of increased loyalty to Uber.

Local hospitality brand Protea Hotels by Marriott has chosen to give back through investing in talent. By joining forces with Harambee, an organisation that connects employers needing entry-level staff with work-seekers identified for their strengths and potential, the hotel company trains candidates to fulfil roles in its business.  The initiative fills a staffing vacuum, while giving young South Africans the opportunity to enter the job market.

Cape Town Tourism has adopted a similar approach with its Board Development Fund Programme. Board members agreed to forego their remuneration to fund this initiative, which assists historically disadvantaged individuals with support. It encourages skills transfers, partnerships, enterprise and supplier development, and offers marketing opportunities for beneficiaries to grow their existing SMME tourism businesses.

Even not-for-profit initiatives have realised that a different approach is required. According to social enterprise Relate Bracelets, reliance on donations is not a sustainable way to operate a nonprofit outfit.  “The begging-bowl tactic is no longer an option for the nonprofit sector,” says CEO Neil Robinson.  “We run our business as if we are a public, for-profit venture. We put ourselves through the same tests and processes that all other businesses have to pass to succeed.” It’s an approach that is reaping rewards: in six years, the organisation has raised close to R40m from the sale of the bracelets it produces.

More and more, corporates are using their CSI initiatives to create sustainable opportunities for underprivileged South Africans by teaching them skills that will make them more self-sufficient.

The big take-out: CSI initiatives are being used to create sustainable programmes that improve the lives of underprivileged communities in South Africa, as opposed to merely making financial donations.


This article was first published by Business Live on 13 January 2017.