Thoughtful and strategic stakeholder interaction is as crucial for smooth business operations as it is for effective development. A panel session at The Trialogue Business in Society Conference 2018 discussed three companies’ approaches to stakeholder interaction and how partnerships are being fostered to ensure that developmental efforts are sustainable and meeting community needs.
Holistic interventions require multiple partnerships and long-term investment
The Sasol Inzalo Foundation was started to strengthen the study of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) nationally. Based on research into where in the education value chain they could affect the most significant change, the Foundation identified points of intervention and rigorously tested solutions. The first phase of intervention focused on the challenges experienced by learners transitioning from Grade 12 to the first year of university. The Foundation partnered with a tutoring organisation to better understand what the transition was like for learners and tracked their progress throughout their undergraduate studies, intervening and offering support where possible.
The next phase of intervention was the creation of postgraduate fellowships. In partnership with universities, the Foundation awards bursaries for postdoctoral degrees in STEM education. The Foundation originally aimed to support the attainment of 20 postdoctoral achievements. In the 10 years of the Foundation’s existence, 17 have been completed so far.
The Foundation also partnered with the Department of Education to provide STEM books for Grade Four to Nine learners, identified as the ‘missing middle’. The books are created using an open source licence and the model is replicable, encouraging other companies to contribute their own specialty insights.
Programme manager Cynthia Xoli Malinga shared some of the challenges of working as a small team and having to outsource work to implementing partners. She explained that the implementors don’t always adhere to the brand ethos; referring to monitoring that was done posthumously. This is especially problematic because Sasol Inzalo Foundation prioritises safety by, among other efforts, investing in thorough scoping and risk assessments, as well as long-term impact evaluations.
Managing stakeholder expectations and securing board buy-in
AECI community development specialist Nicole Solomon spoke about how stakeholder relationships develop over time, as was the case with the company’s Wise Wayz Water Care project, delivered in partnership with environmental NPO i4WATER. The initiative evolved from a group of 100 unemployed women who lived near to the AECI Industrial Complex in KwaZulu-Natal and would clean the nearby river daily, without safety gear. Because the group was not yet registered as an NPO, they were initially given donations in kind. Recognising their dedication and potential, AECI began to more critically engage with the community, developing conservation skills, providing health and safety tools and establishing community farms to assist with ensuring food security. A lasting outcome from this partnership has been the establishment of two local businesses that employ community members.
i4Water convenes several stakeholders, including community members, the Ethekwini municipality and The Water Research Commission, to facilitate the project. According to Kirsten Mahood programme director at i4WATER, some relationships grow while others shrink. She advised that NPOs must be open to funders who want to be involved throughout – as well as at various stages of – the programme.
From an NPO perspective, Mahood found the management of diverse stakeholder and beneficiary expectations to be challenging, commenting on the need to adapt programming and go back to funders and stakeholders to renegotiate, to ensure that programmes are adequately meeting community needs.
From a business perspective, Solomon flagged AECI’s biggest challenge as securing buy-in from the board, especially in the project’s infancy, and shared how being able to motivate benefits to the business proved impactful.
Capacity-building decreases dependency
According to Satam’s stakeholder manager, John Lomberg, when business expresses an interest in assisting government, there is an assumption that the corporate will take over the role of government and solve all the issues. However, in its work with municipalities, Santam aims to build capacity and empower, rather than fulfil the role of government.
In line with its core business as a risk underwriter, Santam currently assists 53 municipalities through the Local Government Support Programme to create disaster risk management solutions. It provides municipalities with resources; firefighters and communities with training; installs early detection systems in informal settlements, and more.
To reduce dependency from the municipalities that it works with, Santam initiates entry and exit plans for the duration of their three-year programming; bringing different stakeholders together and investing in capacity-building to ensure that municipalities become self-sufficient. To ensure effective execution, municipalities must meet strict criteria, including permanent leadership structures and secured support from their mayors.
Santam measures the commercial benefit of this programme through the exchange of data that informs how the insurer underwrites. Social benefit is measured by examining the outcomes at the end of the programme; how many people were saved, how many assets were protected and the extent to which the municipality is equipped to respond to emergencies.
Written by Khumo Ntoane, edited by Zyaan Davids
Image © Brett Eloff