Corporates need to rethink CSI


Mandi Fine | CEO | F/NE Group | mail me |

Painting classrooms and box ticking charitable endeavours are fast becoming a thing of the past. Instead, it’s time for corporate social investment (CSI) to take its place in the boardroom and for companies to see it as an integral part of their future business plans.

My first foray into the bewildering world of what was then Corporate Social Responsibility was in 2005 when I met ‘Mum’ Carol, a fierce advocate for children’s rights and head of Soweto’s Ikageng Itireleng AIDS Ministry.

Because HIV/AIDS was the biggest crisis in the healthcare sector at the time, we felt it was a good fit and contributed according to our strengths and services, writing succinct and persuasive fundraising proposals, developing its website and improving its financial and governance structures. Ultimately, we managed to introduce the organisation to bigger donors and to extend its reach.

While this was well and good, we actually learn’t more from them than the other way round and it is those learnings that have led to the realisation that corporate South Africa needs to change its approach.

This association gave us a view into a very large part of SA society to which we would never have had access if we had focused just on large brands and corporates. It gave us a new perspective on healthcare on the ground and some of the very real challenges.

Even when I accepted the Mail & Guardian’s Investing in the Future Award for work done on this project in 2006, I had some way to go to create the model that we use today.

Our approach was unique but we have only now realised that we need to do this at scale. We have also come to the conclusion that the right business model is based on mutually beneficial partnerships rather than charity.

What many still need to realise is that there’s a much bigger model of potential shared value where you can build your own market and base of credibility, enhance brand access and even create a future market for your own products. If you’re strategic, then CSI will come back to your bottom line. You will be seen as the credible brand that was there for those you helped. It all comes back to purpose marketing.

CSI can be likened to information technology (IT). Up until recently, the IT guys were never at the boardroom table. Now that data has become so important, if IT is not there, companies know that they won’t grow and develop new markets.

CSI needs to follow. That’s because we are heading towards a new age of consumers who are just as concerned about a brand’s integrity and credibility as it is about its goods and services.

Up until now businesses have approached charitable projects as corporate social responsibility and not as corporate social investment in their own well-being. There is a big difference. Instead of companies viewing working with non-profits as a means of elevating their brands and, ultimately, their own bottom lines, they see it as something of a corporate grudge purchase – something that is done on the side in a corner office.

But moving CSI from the corner office into the business mainstream and formalising it, companies can both measure the time and resources committed to specific projects and leverage and measure the benefits to all parties.

Closely aligned with this, is the need for companies to draw from their own areas of excellence when contributing.

That’s because I quickly realised that organisations like Ikageng often struggle to reach their full potential because they lack skills that we take for granted in the private sector – in this instance, operations, communications and fundraising acumen.

Businesses get it wrong because we give money or paint houses instead of focussing on our so-called day jobs. We are now looking within and contributing our marketing, advertising and communication skills in order to elevate NGOs as brands with their own stories.

Going forward, active partnerships between NGOs and the private sector are the most replicable and effective models for unlocking the next level of growth in this area. Instead of the usual competitive mind set of ‘what is mine, is mine’, businesses need to look to collaboration.

One of my first lessons was that NGOs have mastered the art of collaborating. With limited resources and funding, they are willing to cooperate with various partners in order to get the work done. Competition is not even a consideration.

In fact, without collaboration that includes government, many projects could fail.

Without government and non-profits on board, corporates would have to replicate on the ground structures that are already in place. Doubling up is not sustainable and wastes precious resources.

We learnt what could be achieved through linkages through our work with the Breast Health Foundation (BHF) which supports women with breast cancer and educates the public on breast health and cancer prevention.

We also fine-tuned our model after working with the Reach for A Dream Project. Touching the lives of children and families battling life threatening diseases through the creation of 16 dream rooms that help families to connect and are fitted out with technology to help children to learn enabled us to take that next step and formalise F/NE For Good as a partnership with the Ramson Cross Foundation.

This takes both us and CSI to a new level. We can be the facilitator for these types of projects, helping companies and NGOs to benefit and, in so doing, actively alleviating some of the on-the-ground challenges that are a daily reality in the world of healthcare.



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