Nation Builder - Encouraging Great CSI Ground-Up

Community Development CSI SMMEs
Wednesday, 28 August, 2013 - 09:00

In this article, the author focuses on the ‘National Builder’, a campaign aimed at helping to channel the positive energy of CSI already taking place within SMMEs into worthwhile action, through encouragement, and by passing on and sharing lessons across the country

While too many of South Africa’s long-established corporate social investment (CSI) foundations, trusts and programmes tie themselves up in knots about how to change society through being ‘programmatic’, or National Development Plan (NDP) aligned’, or through searching development’s Holy Grail of ‘measurable impact’, there is a vast amount of other CSI going on under the radar.

It is what medium and smaller companies and their staff are doing throughout South Africa - heartfelt attempts to do the right thing, mostly in isolation from one another and in happy ignorance of the corporate ‘professionals’. This is not work that is measured (Cape Town’s Trialogue provides South Africa’s only regular measure of CSI spend and practice, but it confines its research to what the top 200 companies are doing). Open any regional newspaper in centres like Rustenburg, Nelspruit or Polokwane in any week, and you will find reports on charitable intervention by local businesses. But do they really have to reinvent the wheel of lessons long learned by more established programmes running out of our larger cities?

They probably do, but should not have to. That is the idea behind a new campaign called ‘Nation Builder’, launched and managed by Pretoria’s Muthobi Foundation. The concept is simple, yet long overdue. It is to help channel the positive energy of CSI already occurring in medium and smaller businesses into worthwhile action, through encouragement and by passing on and sharing the best practices across the country.

Starting with little fanfare in bespoke briefings being held in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Pretoria and Durban, it is a campaign that will roll out over an extended period, and one that does not presume to have all the answers, much less judge people or tell them what it is that they must do. Rather, it provides a platform, a portal, for best practice social investment ideas, lessons and practices that others can use in their own actions for the common good.

This initiative works off the understanding that the almost R7 billion CSI spend noted by Trialogue in its survey of 200 companies in 2012 is just the tip of the iceberg. There are being tens of thousands of companies of all sizes in this country and a general eagerness among ordinary South Africans to assist their fellows. This is not wishful thinking. After all, a Barclays Wealth report puts us, proportionately speaking, as the world’s second most generous people in giving to social causes – after Americans. Statistics South Africa reckons that one-in-three South Africans made such donations in 2010; and the census tells us that the same year saw 1.4 million of us undertake some or other form of voluntary community work.

So the willingness among ordinary folk, including in smaller companies, is there, and they are increasingly teaming up with similarly willing people in the private sector’s other part - the nonprofit sector. The Nation Builder project is about especially sharing what those in the experienced CSI sector already know about what works best, and what works less well, with these partners across South Africa.

This month’s launch briefings with experts in funding and in development is but the beginning of, gathering these learnings, for onward distribution to a broader and willing network. The Nation Builder team will collate these lessons and experiences; use a media campaign and distribution through business chambers and suchlike to spread them; and sign companies up to receive ongoing communications of an e-zine and social media that keeps the tempo of knowledge-sharing and encouragement going strong.

To more tightly bind companies to this, they are encouraged to sign up as ‘Nation Builders’ and to pledge to undertake their CSI meaningful, thoughtful, long-term ways.

The campaign is run from the offices of the Muthobi Foundation, itself a child of the mining-property-seafaring Mertech Group. The latter is an investment holding company that, uniquely, uses 30 percent of its net profit after tax for social good, including in carrying all the costs of this campaign now and in future. While companies registering for the Nation Builder campaign are required to pay a nominal annual subscription fee for reasons of cementing their commitment to our common goals, this money will be passed to non-governmental organisations identified by Muthobi. The Nation Builder campaign is expected to run for a number of years.

For more information on the Nation Builder campaign, refer to

To see a short Nation Builder YouTube clip featuring 2013 Comrades Marathon winner, Claude Moshiywa, refer to

- WHAM! Media is a communications consultant to the Nation Builder campaign.

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