Project Description

Held in Johannesburg (11 November), Durban (12 November) and Cape Town (13 November)

Trialogue’s primary research shows that more than two-thirds of companies participate in collaborative activities. However, corporate willingness to fund advocacy programmes remains low (39%) and willingness to fund development research is not much higher (59%). Are corporates in South Africa achieving systemic change?

At the November CSI Matters Forum, Trialogue unpacked what is meant by systemic change in the CSI context and presented two case studies of systemic change initiatives in the education sector – an international example (Northern Kentucky Education Council) and a South African one (National Education Collaboration Trust). The discussion that followed explored how corporates can influence systemic change through collaboration, replication, research and advocacy, with corporates providing examples of programmes that have a systemic impact and the pros and cons of participating in programmes that aim to achieve such change.

A summary of the discussion follows.

Should CSI be funding systemic change?
  • The overall consensus is that corporates do have a role to play in funding systemic change.
  • Although most corporates recognise the importance of funding systemic change, there is some reluctance to do so, largely due to a lack of buy-in by management, a shortage of resources and time and concerns about brand dilution.
  • One of the disadvantages of funding big programmes is that corporates have less control over the programme. Mondi raised the example of corporates having more control if they work with one particular school as opposed to working at a district or national level.
  • Another potential issue is the intense competition in some industries. For example, Barclays Africa raised the difficulty of banks in SA collaborating, as all banks are competing in the same space. There needs to be an independent body that sets the ground rules or makes the intervention ‘company agnostic’ where there is no branding and no use of products.
  • A distinction was made between internal and external systems change, with a number of corporate CSI practitioners saying that they have a significant advocacy role to play inside the company to change the way that it does business.
  • Systemic change is a broad and overwhelming concept. It is therefore important to understand what part of the system your CSI project intends to influence. Creating boundaries within the system is key to remaining focused enough to have the potential to influence systemic change. Try to identify the pressure points that will trigger the change you seek.
  • CSI projects may be able to influence systemic change if they focus on creating projects that are replicable and scalable. For example, the concept of preschool started as a franchise in Germany and spread to the UK, and is now a recognised part of the education system globally. In this case, a key point to consider is whether the project can be adapted to different contexts.
Example of programmes that aim to have a systemic impact
  • Tiger Brands Foundation’s in-school feeding programme partners with government and supplements government’s school feeding programme. The Foundation realised that to provide breakfast to all school children in South Africa (i.e. to change the school feeding system), they would need to approach other corporates and organisations to assist in order to take the project to scale.
  • Shanduka Foundation is involved in public-private partnership with Kagiso Trust and the Free State Department of Education. The two organisations each contributed R100 million and the department matched the funding (a further R200 million). The five-year programme is incentive-based and operates in two districts in the Free State, impacting over 400 schools. The organisations have a shared vision to improve the education system in these districts and conduct continuous M&E to track performance. If the model is successful, government will be able to roll it out in other districts and provinces.
  • The Banking Association of South Africa’s (BASA) Teach Children to Save initiative is a financial literacy programme to teach to children to save. The programme is a collaborative effort of the banking industry and broader financial sector with BASA playing the co-ordinating role. The initiative also promotes volunteerism in the sector where volunteer bankers and professionals in the financial sector deliver one-hour savings lessons to leaners in Grades 4 to 7.
  • BRIDGE is a non-profit organisation that drives collaboration and co-operation among educational stakeholders. It facilitates face-to-face and online engagement to share knowledge, working practice and resources within the education community in order to improve the quality of teaching and learning in the country.
  • The Hollard Foundation has partnered with the Midvaal community to ensure that every child in the community’s rights are met. They are working with the non-profits and government in the area to build capacity and strengthen collaboration and co-operation.
  • RCL Foods recognises that the communities in their areas of operations are an important part of the success of their business. They work closely with local government identifying priority areas and partner with other organisations in the area to raise the necessary funds to roll out programmes that have scalable impact.
Do corporates fund advocacy and research and if not, why not?
  • Supporting research and advocacy in the relevant developmental field is another important way that CSI may be able to facilitate systemic change. Research influences how people respond to problems and changes in policies. Advocacy can assist by educating the beneficiaries and public as to what they should be expecting from the system, and plays a role in influencing both decision makers and policy makers.
  • Overall, it was felt that advocacy and research is expensive to fund and in many cases it is difficult to justify the expenditure. For example, research houses are typically for-profit organisations and therefore do not align with some CSI departments’ financial management systems.
  • Others felt that they expect the NGOs that they work with to be the experts in the field and have the most up-to-date data.
  • Although research is sometimes commissioned by CSI departments, it is not often shared externally. The example was raised of the number of companies doing research in the mining industry, yet there is a reluctance to collaborate and share learnings.
  • Some organisations reported buying research when they need it, for example Prime Media buy reports off the internet for a fraction of the cost of conducting their own research.
  • In many cases, municipalities are key repositories of information (i.e. integrated development plans), but in practice the ability to get information is variable.
  • Corporates are less willing to fund advocacy programmes. However, Mondi highlighted that they do fund advocacy and recognise the business benefits of doing so – such as their partnership with WWF. WWF and Mondi have entered into a strategic partnership that focuses on increasing environmental stewardship in the packaging and paper sectors.
Key success factors for systemic change
  • There needs to be a change of mindset from short-term project driven to much longer term societal change. Internal advocacy of CSI within organisations is key. CSI practitioners may struggle with gaining the support of board executives that have little understanding of the development space. A disconnect exists between the extensive time and effort required to develop a truly impactful programme, and the competitive business focus on short term results. Taking time to educate your seniors can help them to come around to a different way of working in the CSI space.
  • CSI practitioners are constrained by funding cycles, board cycles, and impact cycles. Nevertheless it is important to make room for organic developmental processes. We should attempt to design programmes that balance the constraints with the organic processes. Being too prescriptive can prevent the programmes from moulding to their local contexts.
  • There is a need to work with other corporates and to collaborate more as one organisation cannot achieve systemic impact alone. Barclays Africa suggested it is easier to do this with corporates who you do not compete with.
  • Collaboration between all parties – NPOs, private and public sector – is ideal. For example, Illovo Sugar raised the challenges that some of the unions pose if you don’t have them in your corner.
  • Partners and collaborators need to agree on common outcomes and these outcomes need to be specific and achievable. A common set of measurements should be in place.