An interview with Ronnie Khoza, Aurecon's Head of Offices, South Africa, on the importance of corporate social investment in South Africa.
Why is corporate social investment (CSI) such a pivotal issue these days?
I believe that much of a country’s success lies in the involvement of corporates in their communities. Because of the economic power big businesses hold, they are in a position to make a real difference when it comes to the many challenges our country faces. Simply by living and working in South Africa, we should feel ethically compelled to support the historically disadvantaged of our society. This is both a duty and a privilege.
Isn’t corporate social investment Government’s responsibility?
Yes, but not only theirs. As the President so aptly stated in his February 2012 State of the Nation address, “Government alone cannot solve the challenges faced by the country, but working together, solutions are possible.” Laying all responsibility in the hands of the government is taking the easy way out. Getting involved oneself demonstrates the active, hands-on concern that is vital to addressing social wrongs and empowering people. This is essential in a democracy as young as South Africa’s.
What is the private sector’s responsibility when it comes to CSI?
That is up to the institution. If the resources of a company are not at least partially used to create sustainable solutions to the socio-economic concerns of their communities, I believe that they are doing their country, their potential clients and ultimately themselves a disservice. Businesses should realise that when they commit to becoming part of the social dialogue between government and themselves, they commit to building the nation block by block. And addressing historical inequalities is a challenge worthy of construction!
What’s in it for corporates?
There is no lack of NGOs with good causes out there, and it is not difficult for businesses to find CSI initiatives that allow the business to align their social investment with their company values. Doing so strategically reinforces their commitment to their own core values and enables CSI to be so much more than simply charity. Instead, it becomes a genuine partnership between the business and the beneficiaries. Such a joint venture, like investing in education, may be long-term, but it encourages development that is sustainable and meaningful for both parties involved. For example, I work at an engineering management consultancy which provides tertiary institutions with bursaries to assist previously disadvantaged students further their careers in engineering. For us, this not only cultivates the knowledge and skills of potential employees, but also reinforces our brand proposition of ‘fostering human achievement.’ It’s win-win!
What makes CSI work?
I think for social investment to work, employees in the company should truly invest – by this I mean, actively participate in the process and progress of the project. It is so easy for CSI initiatives to turn into window dressing, where money is simply spent ‘for the show’ and staff is not actively involved. An initiative that staff and managers truly believe in is one they will devote time and energy to, and gain a sense of fulfilment from. In this way, CSI becomes a drive from which we can all benefit. So it is not just financial support but also time, commitment, passion and sustainability that make CSI work.
What top tips can you give to companies wanting to start CSI programmes?
CSI should be made a key part of business strategy. It should be aligned with company values and practical measures should be taken to incorporate CSI initiatives into each venture undertaken, where possible. As mentioned before, ensuring that employees take ownership of the initiative by involving them in the process is vital. Speaking from experience, we’ve realised success in the past at Aurecon by giving staff the opportunity to nominate worthy causes and by encouraging them to organise events. It is also a good idea for management to appoint a BBBEE compliance and CSI programme coordinator, who would be specifically tasked with ensuring that efforts in this area are ongoing, targeted and cohesive. Having dedicated personnel reminds us that CSI is not a sidenote, but a priority.
What excites you most about CSI?
The potential to bring about real change together, as a body of businesses, and knowing that our joint efforts affect the lives of people in our country in a tangible, uplifting way. As corporates and as individuals, we vastly underestimate the power we have to transform our communities. I think now, especially, as South Africa attempts to distinguish itself as a developing country, strategic CSI initiatives are becoming crucial in the corporate environment. It begins and ends with us.
About Ronnie Khoza
Ronnie served as a Director at one of Aurecon’s heritage companies from 1999-2003. Previously the Chief Executive Officer of the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB), which is part of the National Department of Public Works, Ronnie helped grow its reputation exponentially. His invaluable industry experience means that he brings to the table a unique understanding of what our industry requires from an engineering company in terms of service delivery. Coupled to this, his rich experience in diverse management roles at a variety of firms means that he is ideally positioned to manage, coordinate and oversee the effectiveness and efficiency of our RSA Offices.