The increasing socio-economic conditions faced by many South African communities call for corporates to start channelling adequate resources into their corporate social investment (CSI) programmes. Apart from increasing their CSI spend, utilising the skills at their disposal (their staff) in partnership with the beneficiaries to implement the programmes will add value to the investments they are making in communities. Furthermore, transferring the ownership of the CSI initiatives to the beneficiaries will not only turn them into participants of social change, but also ensure that their CSI initiatives are sustained.
On 9 March 2012, I had some of these ideas while I was travelling to Diepsloot, north of Johannesburg, to witness the launch of the Transnet Volunteers for Villages Programme (EVP). The EVP is a pioneering programme that will see intensive volunteering efforts ploughed into selected villages over a period of three years, and has now become a major component of Transnet’s CSI spend. Travelling with a newspaper journalist, two photographers and one of the organisers of the event, I was reminded of the current socio-economic challenges faced by the majority, especially the historically-disadvantaged, requires commitment from government, private sector, civil society and the communities themselves to work together.
Transnet Foundation, a CSI unit of Transnet, used the day to introduce its staff, who will be volunteering a maximum of 24 hours a year or three hours per week for a period of three years, to doing community work at various centres within Diepsloot. Their involvement is limited to three years, a time in which all interventions must have reached sustainable levels.
Briefing the employees on the EVP, rules for engagement and the introduction of the village walk guide, Susie Mabie, senior manager for EVP, emphasised the need for the volunteers to integrate themselves into the community. Mabie urged the volunteers to use their three years of engagement to transfer skills, guide and to capacitate the community.
The importance of involving employees in CSI was reiterated by Cynthia Mgijima, head of Transnet Foundation, who pointed out that while the developmental needs of most underprivileged communities are extremely broad, spanning education, health, infrastructure and far more, the vast wealth of skills found within the ranks of its employees offers a match for all requirements. “With engineers to trades people as staff, we believe that we can create many and diverse volunteering opportunities for our employees,” she explained.
The volunteers then embarked on a ‘walk about’, hosted by Patrick Maseko, to Skills Development Centre, Bona Lesedi, Diepsloot Pre-school, OR Tambo Clinic, Diepsloot Youth Centre, Diepsloot Methodist Church, and Diepsloot Primary School.
The highlight of this event was when Ernst & Young, in partnership with Transnet, donated 300 pairs of shoes to Grade 1 learners at Diepsloot Primary School, which currently accommodates 1 100 learners. Ernst & Young accounts coordinator, Zonke Mnyandu, explained that her company saw the need to make a contribution to the school, after hearing that the Transnet Foundation adopted it. Mnyandu emphasised that the donation is an acknowledgement of the important role that schools play in shaping our future.
The delighted school principal, Joe Makhafola, assured everyone that the donation will make a difference in the lives of the beneficiaries. Makhafola is of the view that the shoes will go a long way in keeping the learners inside the classrooms even during winter. He further explained that many of the learners abandon classes during the winter season as they are unable to cope walking to school bare-footed in the extreme cold.
“This should not be the last time we see you,” he pleaded.
Meanwhile, the school provides two meals a day (breakfast and lunch) to the learners since many of them come from extreme poverty backgrounds and struggle to concentrate during the lessons, due to hunger.
In order to take its CSI programme to another level, the Foundation is also considering monthly ‘Help Desk’ sessions, where the community representatives will be able to consult a panel of experts from various fields, drawn from Transnet staff. “In this way, we feel that we as South Africa’s freight carrier are not just focussing on our own core business, but on the communities within which we operate,” says Mgijima.
- Butjwana Seokoma is information coordinator at SANGONeT.