When effectively and equitably implemented, technology can empower people with access and increase opportunities; particularly in low-resourced communities with poor infrastructure that hinders or excludes people from full economic participation.
A breakout session at The Trialogue Business in Society Conference 2018 explored how business can use technology to help ensure that its services become more widely accessible, beyond its established and expected client base, as well as how technological advancements can be leveraged to improve responsible corporate citizenship.
Shifting value from profit to purpose
“CSI was previously about giving and spending money. Today, the business has a choice between simply giving money, or investing in platforms, applications and smart technology that can achieve developmental goals,” said Nkululeko Magadla, Managing Executive at Vodacom. As an example, Magadla shared how Vodacom identified small-scale farmers in Kenya and built technology platforms to help them access the broader market, sector expertise and financing. Magadla explained that the commercial scalability of the platform helped to shift Vodacom’s focus, from the amount of money spent on the initiative, to the value of the solution created.
Refilwe Maluleke, Managing Director of Yellowwood, agreed that alignment between a brand’s CSI and core business promise make a powerful statement about that company’s commitment to sustainable and shared development. Inclusive business is about more than “reaching into communities to do something,” said Maluleke, explaining that it is also about enabling access to goods and services for a broader base of consumers. Furthermore, inclusive growth and innovation is about understanding what the true need is, and co-creating solutions to meet those needs. In terms of development financing for example, this could mean changing funding, lending and equity models.
The changing face of development financing
Global trends in social entrepreneurship and impact investment are starting to take root in South Africa, which is influencing the way that development finance is structured. Altesh Baijoo, Chief Operations Officer at RainFin – an online credit marketplace that enables borrowers to access affordable debt capital – explained how developmental funding is being blended with commercial systems for greater impact, and that institutional investors are increasingly seeking to understand business’s commercial impact measured against environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria.
Balancing public and commercial interests
Data is also an important tool for developing responsive and inclusive technological solutions, said Magadla. Data drawn from wearable technology, such as smartwatches and fitness trackers, could be used to improve healthcare, and consumer behaviour data could influence credit scoring mechanisms. However, using individuals’ data does come with its own risks and there is a need to balance public and commercial interests.
Underscoring the importance of striking this balance, Maluleke said that, while a commercial business model or product can be used for the greater good of society, companies must also be more deliberate about the development of products and solutions that are socially inclusive.
Collaboration between development and business innovation stakeholders is key. Big companies have the capital and technology, while start-ups are nimble; non-profit organisations have a deeper understanding of community needs, and government determines policy. Each of these elements should be combined to form broadly impactful social solutions.
Written by Hilary Alexander, edited by Zyaan Davids
Image © Brett Eloff