On day two of the Business in Society Conference 2022, Trialogue Managing Director Nick Rockey engaged in conversation with MC Gugulethu Mfuphi to explore CSI trends. 

Rockey acknowledged that the sector has faced numerous challenges during the past few years. As a sector dependent on corporate profits, which declined during the pandemic, it experienced disruptions on many levels. But Rockey believes the sector is starting to recover. He highlighted the increasing complexity of CSI and development work in what he calls ‘CSI 3.0’. 

The future of CSI involves increased complexity


Despite declining corporate profits over the last few years, Trialogue’s research has shown a trend in companies wanting to increase their CSI budgets. More companies hoped to increase budgets than decrease them. This is also in line with global trends that Trialogue has seen as part of an international network called the Global Exchange, where research is compared across country contexts.  

Rockey noted that the early days of CSI were mostly about grantmaking. Businesses would make charitable donations to projects, and reporting comprised pictures of the projects and beneficiaries. CSI then shifted to longer-term flagship programmes, where companies supported programmes for three to five years, looking more holistically at what the intervention would deliver, as well as looking at outcomes, tracking and measuring. There was a stronger alignment of CSI initiatives with business goals.  

With a shift to a shared-value approach, business has channelled more thinking and resources into their CSI work. Now, CSI is more complex, and involves looking at the entire ecosystem.  

“That’s difficult. That’s complex,” said Rockey, “And it’s not for everyone to move into that space. But now we see companies invest in a developmental area, understanding all the players in that space – and they’re very different players – government players and NPOs that are operating there, researching that environment, and bringing those players around a table and looking at how to make a difference more holistically in that area.”  

Rockey also highlighted other CSI trends, which all show deeper thinking and effort to change the system: 

  • Using financing models such as innovative finance and outcomes-based finance  
  • Increased data use 
  • Funding advocacy as part of CSI programmes 

There has also been an increase in collaboration and cross-sector engagement, though Rockey pointed out that organisations protect their space. While NPOs are naturally protective over their funding streams and processes, corporates are protective over their brands. Bringing together stakeholders with different cultures and agendas is a difficult task that takes time and patience.  

“It’s really about the level of complexity and the timeframes. If you’ve got a little bit of funding, it’s absolutely fine to look into a good organisation that you can donate to. If you’ve got an appetite to bring in and align programmes to your work and build relationships over a longer period of time, build a relationship primarily with an implementing partner and do good work in that process. And if you have an appetite for really trying to push boundaries, get into that more complex space,” Nick advised. 


How corporates and NPOs can make an impact and build relationships


Nick advised corporates to ensure impactful CSI investments in the following ways: 

  • The golden lesson: ensure you leave behind a positive difference. 
  • Think carefully about how you will exit a programme and what it will look like when you leave. Don’t raise expectations and leave people stranded. Stay the course and understand that when you leave, you’re going to leave something behind. 
  • Understand the developmental space you’re working in, and if you don’t, make sure your partner does. 
  • CSI is about working with people’s lives: don’t underestimate the complexity, and do no harm. 

Nick also shared advice to NPOs about maintaining relationships with funding partners. He emphasised the importance of trust, transparency, and building relationships. NPOs must  understand that they’re working on a collaborative journey with funders and be transparent about what’s working and not working. Having open, honest conversations builds trust.

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