7 ways to better invest in CSI

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Investing in social development plays a vital role in increasing opportunities and ensuring sustainability for all South Africans.

South African start-ups encounter a lot of challenges and friction given the economics of today.

Finding the right opportunities and skillset to develop their business will help entrepreneurs grow their businesses. Networking and adopting a collaborative approach with those already in the industry are great starting points.

Keri-Leigh Paschal, the executive director of Nation Builder says a lot of small businesses lack the understanding of social development and don’t know how to engage with it. However, getting corporates to invest in social development plays a vital role in increasing opportunities and ensuring sustainability for all South Africans.

Nation Builder, a not-for profit organisation, which was officially launched in 2013, has the main objective of equipping, enabling and mobilising businesses in order to leverage what their business has at its disposal towards social good and nation building.

“Nation Builder was established so that we could help businesses leverage what they have. Sometimes businesses don’t have money that they can invest, but can leverage products or staff or skillsets, or whatever they have at their disposal to use it for social good, and nation building,” she said

Paschal offers seven tips on how corporates can invest towards long-lasting social development:

  1. Your purpose
    It is important to know and understand that your motivations for giving affect your social impact (i.e. Is it just for compliance and tax benefits, or is your goal to make an impact on society by improving education?) While there is no right or wrong reason, it is essential to make sure you know why you are doing what you are doing. Be sure to write this purpose down!
  2. Strategy and planning
    In order to ensure that your giving is effective, it should be well planned. Strategy is what keeps your giving sustainable in the long run. Look at things like your long-term objectives, how your CSI relates to your core business strategy, which stakeholders should benefit most from each investment and how the progress of each investment will be measured. Select a project or not-for-profit organisation (NPO) – preferably a well-established one – that aligns with your values and get to know them. Always document your strategy.
  3. Sustainability
    Placing priority on sustainability as part of, and aligned with, a company’s core strategy is the recognition that business can – and has a responsibility to – contribute to a more prosperous and sustainable nation through its interactions and impact on people, the economy and the environment. Make sure that your strategy is sustainable and look at things like succession planning, stakeholder relationships and project exit strategies.
  4. Implementation
    This is where you start to take action and your well-thought-out plans are tested, adjusted and altered according to the many variables that you face en route to your desired outcome. It is vital to keep monitoring the course of the journey to ensure the project is heading in the right direction. Invest in relationships and ensure that you continue to manage the expectations of all parties involved in your CSI.
  5. Partnership and collaboration
    It is common knowledge that collaboration can achieve far greater impact in a far shorter period of time than if you were to work alone. It is the process of pooling knowledge, resources and relationships for the sake of pursuing shared goals. It is essential to have peers who can support, challenge, give insight and walk the continuous journey of learning with you – peers who include implementers, investors and beneficiaries. It is especially important to remember to treat beneficiaries as partners and not as subordinates. They have been involved in social development for a while and probably understand the needs in society better than you do.
  6. Team positioning and governance
    It is important to determine where the CSI function fits into your company. Do you have a CSI team? Who decides on the purpose, strategy and sustainability of your company’s CSI? Who reports on the progress of your CSI? Do these people have the skills and expertise to run this in-house, or should you consider using an external consultant? Could you empower staff to become champions of your social investment initiatives?
  7. Monitoring and evaluation
    Monitoring helps you to understand whether the implementation of the project is being carried out effectively, and evaluation helps you to understand whether the intended impact is being achieved for the target stakeholders. It does not need to be complicated and can be a quantitative (numbers and ratios) or qualitative (anecdotes) in nature. Make sure you know what you want to measure but also ensure that the reporting that you require does not place an unfair burden on your partner NPOs.

When all of this is said and done, however, the key is to remember that social investment is fundamentally about people. It is so important for funders to realise the great impact of deep relationships in the success of a project. If you only do one thing to invest in long-lasting social development outcomes, invest in relationships. It is even worth allocating time and funds for building relationships with your partners (implementers, co-investors and beneficiaries) as part of your CSI spend. By investing in these relationships, the initial phase of a project may take a little longer, but the results will be exponential and sustainable.

Nation Builder has an online self-assessment to help businesses establish how well they are already doing in its social investment. The assessment helps identify where there is room for improvement to ensure that every cent invested in social development has the greatest effect possible.

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