Trialogue has been a South African pioneer in the fields of corporate social investment (CSI) and sustainability since 1999.
A 51% black-owned company and the Southern African local authority of the CECP Global Exchange, Trialogue empowers corporations to be a force for good in society. The company has offices in Cape Town and Johannesburg and shares its knowledge through an annual CSI Handbook, popular annual conference, training programmes and forums, consulting and reporting services.
How did you start your consultancy?
Trialogue was founded by myself and my wife, Vanessa Rockey, and Rob Worthington-Smith, in 1999 when South Africa was a young democracy. At the time local companies were involved in what we termed corporate social investment (CSI). For most businesses back then a somewhat informal approach to giving was adopted, although some such as the Anglo American Chairman’s Fund had formal structures in place and had been operating since the late 1950s. One of the early drivers of corporate giving was the Sullivan Principles which compelled American companies who did not disinvest from South Africa during the apartheid years to contribute to social, economic and political justice.
“For corporates, I suggest that greater and more sustained impact is created when CSI is strategic to the business, which implies some form of alignment to the business and its priorities.” – Nick Rockey, Trialogue
What were the challenges in terms of starting up Trialogue?
When we approached companies initially, there were rarely staff dedicated to managing CSI. It was usually part of the marketing, public relations or human resources departments. There was also confusion about what constituted community funding. There were also visionaries in this space who provided a wealth of insight about the early days of corporate-community support. When we decided to bring out our first CSI Handbook, Safmarine was one of those companies which understood our vision and provided substantial backing to the first edition. Other backers of this edition included Alusaf, Consol Glass SA, FNB, Joint Education Trust, Telkom and Toyota.
What have been the successes that give you the most pride?
Our first CSI Handbook (originally produced under the BMI brand) when our research indicated annual CSI expenditure by local corporates was R1,5 billion). Last year (2017) marked our 20th-anniversary edition, renamed The Business of Society Handbook. SA expenditure was estimated at R9,1 billion. In 2007 we launched the Trialogue CSI Conference, bringing together development practitioners from companies and NPOs to share lessons and ideas. This has grown into an annual event, attracting more than 450 delegates from various sectors. In 2014 we launched the Trialogue Strategic CSI Award to recognise projects that epitomise best practice CSI in South Africa. Then, in 2017, we introduced the Knowledge Hub as a digital platform to share insights and research on across a number of developmental topics (http://www.trialogueknowledgehub.co.za). It offers examples of best practice projects, case studies, local and international research findings, and many more tools. These can assist schools, educators, philanthropists and companies that want to start up their own projects, as well as researchers and media needing up-to-date information.
What are your future goals and aims?
Our goals are to continue to influence companies and encourage leading practice, by building on our knowledge platforms, our research and advisory work. For instance, there is room to extend the number of topics covered through the Trialogue Knowledge Hub and to enhance the insights and research associated with each topic. Through the Global Exchange, which is now represented in eleven regions across the globe, there is potential to extract lessons from these other countries and to share South African stories with the exchange partners. On the research side of things, we have been part of a pilot process to introduce corporate research in Kenya and Ghana. And with regard to the nature of investing, I believe there is a role for ‘venture philanthropy’, where through collective contributions the ability to scale solutions for government adoption of practice is explored. To this extent, we are partnering with the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship to look at how existing teacher internship models can be tested and scaled.
“I believe there is a role for ‘venture philanthropy’, where through collective contributions the ability to scale solutions for government adoption of practice is explored.” – Nick Rockey, Trialogue
What advice do you have for individuals or organisations eager to start their own NGO?
I would advise them to learn from others with experience. We can assist, via the Knowledge Hub, our Conference and Handbook which can be downloaded free from our website, or ordered online. (https://trialogue.co.za/publications/csi-handbook-20th-ed-2017-free-download/). It is also worth talking to others in your field of interest. Those in development are generally happy to share their experience and offer advice. For corporates, I suggest that greater and more sustained impact is created when CSI is strategic to the business, which implies some form of alignment to the business and its priorities.
What is your best financial advice for NGOs?
There are some regulatory aspects that are important considerations for funders. For instance, NPO registration enhances credibility and creates a separate legal personality for an organization. Tax exemption is also important, which is provided by SARS. Note this does not happen automatically. A registered NPO must apply separately to SARS for tax exemption in terms of the Income Tax Act.
BBBEE status is another important factor, particularly when engaging government or applying for public and/or private sector funding. Companies can earn BBBEE points by contributing to causes that promote enterprise and supplier development, skills development and socioeconomic development. If a company contributes to these through an NPO, the company will only earn BBEEE points if the NPO complies with the requirements set out in the Codes.
Aside from regulatory aspects, companies are increasingly looking for longer-term partnerships with NPOs. They will select those that not only comply with regulations, but those which align to their needs or interests, and which can provide the company with the assurance that their funding is being used effectively. So NPOs that have proper measurement and evaluation processes in place and report accordingly are more attractive to long-term corporate funders.
“NPOs that have proper measurement and evaluation processes in place and report accordingly are more attractive to long-term corporate funders.” – Nick Rockey, Trialogue