Can CSI act as a developmental ‘change agent’?

Kindly hosted at Investec’s offices in Johannesburg, on 23 August, and Old Mutual’s offices in Cape Town, on 25 August 2016

Trialogue’s recent quarterly CSI Forum discussed the potential and need for CSI to act as a ‘change agent’, to influence lead practice and activities of other role-players in a particular development field.

The South African National Development Plan and Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development were presented as the national and global development agendas with which corporate social development initiatives could align. While there is no exact methodology for alignment, it is important for companies to understand the broader contexts in which they are working, and to recognise when and how their efforts can be enhanced through knowledge sharing and collaboration.

In 2015, government spent about R800 billion on social development, while corporate South Africa spent just 1% of that – around R8.1 billion. Collaborative and cohesive consultation between business and government can help extend the impact of these investments, to address more than just the symptoms of the country’s social challenges.

Delegates were asked to reflect on the following issues:

Is there evidence of effective development emerging from the CSI sector?

The general sentiment was that there are many companies that have achieved varied degrees of effectiveness and success in CSI. If the details of innovative approaches, proven project blueprints, and genuine lessons learned from project successes and failures were shared, success could be enhanced and even scaled across the sector.

Are lessons shared with other developmental players?

Delegates agreed that there is far too little sharing within the sector, citing business competition and promotion of a variety of agendas as the main deterrents. Getting management to agree to ‘exposing’ a company’s failures or challenges can also be difficult. Knowledge sharing would be easier between companies that are not in direct competition, but perhaps on the same value chain.

Overall, the will for knowledge sharing does exist. However, there needs to be industry motivation, as well as coordination, to ensure simple mechanisms for sharing, as well as reliable information management. In addition, effective sharing requires effective monitoring and evaluation – which is a challenge in itself.

Should CSI engage with academia in developing lead practice?

In theory, yes. However, different working cultures and agendas can make it difficult – academics with purist views and long, contemplative timelines, and corporates with a need for action and quick solutions. What is often a significant gap between recommendations and implementation also requires considerable facilitation.
Is there sufficient emphasis placed on engaging with government policies and processes?

While the need is acknowledged, existing collaboration with government is mostly permission-based engagement. Too often, government does not seem to view corporate as an equal partner, but more as a cash contributor for development. It was however noted that, ultimately, corporate cannot ‘move the bar’ without collaboration with government, which allows for a much greater and more extended developmental impact.

Delegates also discussed the possibility of using their experience to influence larger policy debates. An example of this would be companies that sponsor bursaries being able to inform the national review of the possibility for free tertiary education.

Does information on lead practice exist and is it referenced by CSI practitioners?

Linked to the discussion about lack of sharing in the sector, delegates agreed that there is too much repetition of mistakes that could otherwise be avoided. It was also noted that the complexities within development are often underestimated, with companies acknowledging that they don’t always factor in time for the research of lead practice and, when they do, the lack of a comprehensive body of knowledge often leads to desktop research or trawling through foundation reports.

2017-12-04T18:38:04+00:00 October 17th, 2016|CSI, CSI Forums|