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Businesses and NGOs must work together to unlock power of CSI

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Better collaboration and alignment between business and the NGO community would ‘massively increase’ the impact of corporate social investment (CSI) programmes in South Africa.

Speaking on World NGO Day on 27 February, Keri-Leigh Paschal, executive director of social impact non-profit Nation Builder, said businesses spent billions of rands on CSI each year – R10.2bn in 2019, according to the annual Trialogue Business in Society Handbook – but a lack of internal resources, knowledge and grassroots insights often meant these programmes had little impact.

“Business has a key role to play in building an inclusive society and economy for all South Africans – but they can’t do it alone. In the world of CSI and social impact, collaboration is essential. Businesses, NGOs and NPOs are partners on this journey of building the nation. We’re different role players, but are all equally important,” said Paschal.

One of the biggest challenges for businesses in the CSI space is that their social impact programmes are put in a silo, away from the daily running of the business. They are also often under-resourced, which means activities are poorly planned and not sustainable, leading to the old bugbear of rushed spend at the end of year just to get the budget spent. At the same time, thousands of NGOs with specific skills and networks struggle to survive because of a lack of funding partners and long-term programmes.

“There are two issues here. One is that businesses should realise that there is an entire world of resources and insights out there that they can tap into, such as Nation Builders online forum. The second is that there’s a real opportunity to bring business and NGOs closer together to combine business acumen with grassroots experience and heart. This would meet the needs of both communities, and change the world in the process,” says Paschal.

By linking with NGOs and NPOs in key development sectors, businesses will be able to move away from mere compliance to making a genuine difference to entire communities, says Paschal. By far the most supported development sector in South Africa is education (50%), which is where most government spend is focused on. This is followed by social and community development (15%), food security and agriculture (9%) and health (7%).

“Businesses have to keep the end goal in mind when building social impact strategies. Strengthening ecosystems that support the society in which they operate is essential for business sustainability. These systems are complex and therefore require partnership and collaboration to jointly run interventions that will ultimately result in systemic change,” she said.

“Ultimately, it’s all about bringing the human element to the forefront and putting the joy back into social development. CSI shouldn’t be clinical. It’s deeply human, and involves learning about people, and building bridges. If businesses truly anchor themselves in our country, and forge partnerships that unleash their investments, the results will be transformational.”

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