Rethinking and strengthening social development in the contemporary world

17 October 2017 | Mammuso Makhanya | Opinion

Focusing on the role of social development as a key component of the businesses of the future requires us to identify effective means of placing people at the centre of business. Let us look at a comparison of the more traditionally used methods is social investment against the future of this sector.


Reflections and projections of a CSI-trotter

The more things change, in some respects the more they stay the same. When considering current trends of social investment programmes, one can identify themes that we have progressed from in the past three decades of the social investment sector. It is useful to revisit these when crafting the future, and these are some examples.


Social investment as a force for social justice

In the late 80’s many organisations would use their social investment funds to support bodies that fight for social justice. Such funds would be key in ensuring the functioning of organisations like the Association for the Advancement of Black Accountants of Southern Africa (ABASA), the Institute for Democratic Alternatives in South Africa (IDASA), the Black Sash, etc.

The socio-politico-economic temperature in apartheid South Africa at that time demanded such a focus, and if one juxtaposes that period with the present-day environment, social investment is increasingly pushed to be a tool for justice. Stakeholders are calling for ethical people centred in working for the greater good, and civil society’s voice is loud on this expectation from businesses.


Un-coordinated efforts

In the early to mid-90s, the trend of businesses keeping their corporate social investment efforts at arm’s length was prevalent, and there was almost zero employee engagement. Civil society was scrambling for funding, which was sometimes rerouted via government development efforts.  This made for unclear, un-coordinated approaches that were classic ‘charity work’ rather than systemic social investment efforts.


Social Investment as a tool for business development

From the mid-90s to early 2000s, South Africa was at the dawn of democracy, ushering in transformative laws and strategies for redress like Black Economic Empowerment and Employment Equity. Social investment became a powerful vehicle for business development and brand differentiation, and became useful for acquiring government business and support.

So, what does social development in a contemporary world look like?

Today social development and investment efforts have matured to less self-serving efforts, to rather a deliberate effort in re-writing the country’s inequality, poverty and unemployment. The call is for social investment to be a force for radical socio-economic transformation.

Social investment is key to sustainable business and innovation

From the mid-2000s we start to encounter an introduction to the concepts of “blended value propositions” when looking at return on investments. These evolved after 2010 to leading businesses entrenching into their strategies ideas of conscious capitalism, ethical profiteering and sustainable business practices.

The move also happened form focusing on “Corporate Social Responsibility” to taking about Social Investment, saying a lot about how its perceived value within those businesses.


Social Investment turns businesses into preferred employers.

Millennials are increasingly expecting the companies that recruit them to have good work practices and be visibly doing goo in their communities; it can also be seen as a competitive edge.

More companies are increasing the community’s role in sustainable product development and ethical sourcing. Examples of these are Woolworths locally, sourcing fresh produce from small-scale farmers; and Nike internationally, sourcing ethically produced soccer balls.


Beneficiary organisations are regarded as partners in social investment

We are seeing a growing trend where funders draw in beneficiary organisations, and involve them in crafting sustainable programmes for their communities.


Introduction to meaningful employee engagement

Employee volunteer programmes result in employees sharing their skills and knowledge with programme implementing partners depending on needs identified.  Employees also get to source funding from their employers, to support the social investment programmes/ organisations that are close to their hearts.


The question that remains then is:

What is it that we need to rethink and strengthen, to ensure sustainable development and inclusivity – from a business perspective, and from a civil society perspective?

  • The importance of social policy and social development is stressed in the UN Agenda 2030, which recognises its role for attaining a people-centred, inclusive and integrated sustainable development.
  • Calling for social investors (public and private) to collaboratively pool resources in addressing systemic causes of socio-economic challenges, and finding long-term sustainable solutions.
  • Insisting on stakeholder accountability, transparency and communication of social investment spend.
  • Increasingly embracing technology as a tool for social development, implementation, reporting and advocacy efforts.
  • Stronger voice of stakeholders like employees, civil society, shareholders.