On the second day of the 2023 Trialogue Business in Society Conference, Trialogue managing director Nick Rockey discussed strategic CSI in action with Mary-Jane Morifi, the chief of corporate affairs and sustainability at Tiger Brands.
Tiger Brands was the recipient of the Trialogue Strategic CSI Award 2022 for its EduPlant programme, which was established by non-profit organisation Food & Trees for Africa in 1994. In 2019, Tiger Brands began supporting EduPlant, South Africa’s longest-running school greening and gardening programme.
Rockey began by explaining why business benefits are just as important to a CSI programme as developmental benefits. “Business benefits are justified as shareholder funds are used, and shareholders must understand the rationale behind expenditure,” he noted.
Strategic programmes tend to have greater longevity within organisations and are more aligned with companies’ greater purpose. EduPlant addresses food insecurity in marginalised communities, which aligns with Tiger Brand’s aim to “nourish and nurture more lives every day”.
EduPlant takes a holistic view of food security, from supporting school feeding schemes to taking care of the environment and promoting biology and science as potential career paths for learners, said Morifi.
EduPlant partners with approximately 300 schools around the country to help them produce their own food. In 105 of these schools, EduPlant also partners with the Department of Basic Education to provide breakfast for learners every day.
“Learners don’t just get to grow vegetables, which are cooked as part of the school nutrition programme,” Morifi said. “The school gardens become an extension of the classroom, where children can learn directly about photosynthesis, for example.”
Morifi said learners had passed on gardening tips to their parents, many of whom have been able to grow their own product, selling it to neighbours or providing it to creches. “The result is a generation that understands how to grow its own food, which means the initiative goes beyond philanthropy,” she pointed out.
Morifi noted that schools compete in the EduPlant School Gardening and Nutrition Competition, with various categories and cash prizes for the winners. “This generates a sense of pride and improves the learners’ health,” she said.
Although the company doesn’t intend to diverge from its core mission to provide nutrition to learners, it has ensured that the schools within which it operates do not have pit latrines, which have led to the deaths of many learners.
“As developmental partners with the DBE and with schools, we don’t just want to focus on vegetable gardens,” Morifi said. “The sanitary conditions in schools are also concerning. You need to assess what’s required without moving too far out of your lane.”
One of the key challenges the company has faced is how to help communities become more self-sufficient.
“Food hampers are an important and necessary part of food security in the country, but we don’t want to encourage an intergenerational supply because people are without financial means,” she said. “We have challenged ourselves to explore how people can fend for themselves in the long term and acquire skills so they can find jobs or start businesses. This is transformational, not just philanthropic. We want to offer people dignity and hope.”
Tiger Brands’ sustainability strategy focuses on three areas: health and nutrition, enhanced livelihoods, and environmental stewardship.
EduPlant feeds into all three, helping communities to become healthier, more resilient, and more productive. Citizens in these communities can then afford to buy the company’s products, Morifi pointed out, noting that the company cannot create wealth if communities are not thriving.
“We hope that our brands will be top of mind when people make purchasing decisions because they see us as a force for good,” she said.
Tiger Brands measures the success of EduPlant in terms of social return on investment. “For every R1 we spend, we get R6 in social return,” said Morifi. We can measure impact in terms of how well fed the children are, whether they concentrate and achieve in class, and whether they can bring their talents to fruition.”
She drew attention to the positive media exposure the company receives for its CSI initiatives, but also for its employee volunteering programme, which focuses on environmental stewardship. “For example, we remove garbage from some public spaces and grow food there,” she explained.
Partnership can be a valuable way to scale such programmes, Morifi pointed out.
“We invite other corporates to partner with us. ‘Sustainable Development Goal 17: Partnership for the goals’ makes a lot of sense. Although it can make for strange bedfellows, as one can even partner with competitors, it’s about creating an environment in which everyone can thrive.”