Making CSI Matter to NGOs

development ngos corporate social investment
Wednesday, 18 March, 2009 - 12:21

The recent 'Making CSI Matter' conference explored different models and approaches for CSI and development. However, for CSI to truly make an impact in the development sector in South Africa, and to matter to NGOs, we need to create the space for an honest assessment and deliberation about the nature of the relationship between CSI programmes and NGOs.

Now in its second year, the ‘Making CSI Matter’ conference which took place from 2-4 March, attracted approximately 300 participants from across the corporate social investment (CSI), development and business sectors. The conference was hosted by Trialogue and examined external influences and consequences for effective development, and different models and approaches for CSI and development.

Speaking at the conference, Transcend Corporate Advisors director, Kevin Lester, highlighted the significance of collaborative relationships between NGOs and corporates for CSI programmes to make an impact. Lester pointed out that NGO should play the role of service providers.

“We need to see NGOs as partners,” he explained.

Trialogue’s Cathy Langerman stated that currently an estimated R4.1 billion is spent on CSI programmes in South Africa. Langerman said this amount was small relative to government funding, but has the potential to have a large impact.

ABSA CSI general manager, Mihlote Mathye, pointed out that for CSI programmes to be effective, corporates should have management structures that are willing to support these programmes. Mathye challenged other corporates to follow ABSA’s lead of involving the majority of their staff in CSI programmes.

AfricaScope promotes the use of information communication technology (ICT) tools such as the Social Mapping Tool to inform the CSI decision-making process. Using a Google Earth application, it provides a detailed understanding of where a company’s CSI projects are implemented.

AfricaScope director, Craig Schwabe, argued that the Social Mapping Tool can assist can assist CSI practitioners to make informed decisions when allocating funds to community-based programmes. AfricaScope works in partnership with Trialogue to develop and implement the Social Mapping Tool.

A major concern with CSI is that many non profits are unsure of the corporate agenda. Speaking to this issue, director of Catholic Welfare and Development, Lungisa Huna, warned that many financially vulnerable NGOs are forced to “reinvent themselves” to fit into a corporate's CSI goals or developmental programmes.

Furthermore, NGOs criticised corporates for failing to provide funds for operational costs when investing in CSI programmes, while some CSI departments do not have the capacity to implement their own projects.

In a similar vein, NGOs often accuse corporates of “dumping” money on them. NGO participants argued that this money should be coupled with NGO-donor partnerships to ensure funds are channelled to projects and/or beneficiaries.

According to Eric Atmore, director of the Centre for Early Childhood Development, many corporates do not assist NGOs to put proper monitoring and evaluation systems in place. Atmore expressed concern that this practice will lead to many ineffective CSI programmes in the country.

Continuing the debate on CSI, Standard Bank’s group corporate affairs director and member of the executive committee, Tina Eboka, argued that it is important for corporates not only to give money but also contribute to skills development in communities. She said that partnership between the bank, small business and NGOs are crucial to addressing socio-economic problems in the country.

Tshikululu Social Investment (TSI) CEO, Tracey Henry, urged corporates to invest in the country’s key asset, the people. Henry also pointed to the problem of NGOs and CSI departments that invest in individuals as this is not sustainable. She warned that CSI should not be an extension of corporates’ marketing departments.

Interestingly, especially as one of the aims of the conference was to ‘provide CSI and development practitioners and leaders with the platform to learn, share and debate’, the relatively few speakers from the NGO sector on the second and third days of the conference was concerning.

While a few NGO speakers in plenary were able to share their experiences with CSI, the inputs from other NGO representatives would have been very useful. There are many critiques of how CSI programmes operate - ranging from concerns about the nature of partnerships, how projects are ‘branded’ and the ‘marketing-driven’ approach to CSI, to as expressed by Atmore, the absence of institutional support for monitoring and evaluation.

Other concerns include the extent to which CSI programmes are reaching out to projects in rural and under-developed areas and the emphasis on supporting welfare organisations, with little investment in projects focusing on advocacy and lobbying.

For CSI to truly make an impact in the development sector in South Africa, and to matter to NGOs, we need to create the space for an honest assessment and deliberation about the nature of the relationship between CSI programmes and NGOs. The same goes for other forms of financial and related support to NGOs.

Future Making CSI Matter conferences should create the space for this to happen.

For more information about the conference, visit the Trialogue website or call Gill Siebert on 021 762 1166

- Butjwana Seokoma is the information coordinator at SANGONeT.

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