Endless analysis of the country’s problems is not productive: to address South Africa’s problems demands sustainable, meaningful initiatives and active citizenship, say prominent business figures
Business leaders addressing a FirstRand-led Beyond Painting Classrooms (BPC) briefing for employee volunteer organisations in Sandton said South Africa needs people to play a more active role in solving the country’s problems, with employee volunteer programmes an important platform for achieving this.
Meaningful employee volunteer programmes need to encompass a great deal more than a once-off “67 minutes effort” or the handing over of a cheque, they said. Senior management buy-in is crucial for ongoing and sustainable programme. To have greater impact, it is important that employee volunteer programmes tap into the skills resources available in each organisation.
Strategic approaches to employee volunteerism
Addressing the breakfast briefing, Paul Harris, the former FirstRand CEO who was instrumental in launching the group’s volunteer programme in 2003, said his ongoing involvement in multiple development initiatives had taught him several key lessons. “One thing is that over-analysing South Africa’s problems achieves nothing. We need to accept that we have a lot of problems in the country and then focus on finding solutions to those problems. We need to draw up action lists to address them.”
Organisations also had to recognise the moral imperative to be good corporate citizens, he said. “It’s the only way we can fix this country.”
Other key learnings were that personal commitment was needed on the part of participants in development programmes, programmes had to be inclusive across organisations, senior management had to be the evangelists of social development programmes and that the greatest impact is achieved when organisations use the skills sets and resources they have to effect meaningful change. “All citizens can make a contribution, but the contribution you make should preferably use the skills sets you have,” Harris said.
Ziaad Suleman, CAFSA board member and COO of IBM, echoed these sentiments and noted that once-off initiatives were not enough, “South Africa needs sustainable programmes to make a meaningful difference.”
“For impact, organisations need to pick a play – focus on the areas they are strong in and which are aligned with their own strategic objectives,” Suleman said. To secure ongoing buy-in from senior executives, programmes need to be relevant and meaningful. They also need regular reflection points to assess whether their programmes remain relevant, he said.
Best practice in employee volunteering
The Beyond Painting Classrooms initiative was established by FirstRand in 2012 with the support of Charities Aid Foundation of South Africa (CAFSA). CAFSA is an NPO which promotes philanthropy, volunteering and corporate social investment in South Africa. The BPC initiative provides opportunities for corporate employee volunteer stakeholders to learn about good practices in the field, discuss challenges and build knowledge collectively.
Reporting back on the biennial conference held in 2017, Desiree Storey, Manager of the FirstRand Volunteers Programme, said: “We all need to be activists.” She pointed out that collaboration and knowledge sharing is important in driving meaningful change and that BPC briefings and conferences aimed to achieve this. “In our 2017 conference workshops, participants actually came up with solutions to real problems they experienced in the EV space,” she said. Storey launched a comprehensive report on the 2017 conference https://www.firstrand.co.za/csi/volunteers/Pages/Conference2017.aspx as a resource tool for use by South African employee volunteer programme managers and practitioners.
CAFSA CEO Gill Bates said the 40-page conference report offered rich data and information emerging from the event, now available for reference by all in the employee volunteering space. “The conference themes encompassed creating an enabling culture, creativity and innovation in employee volunteerism, the education landscape and employability, and the impact of collaboration on employee volunteerism.”
Through the use of ongoing feedback tools, the input of over 180 conference participants was distilled. “We learnt that we have to collaborate – we need each other. We also determined that ethics are crucial, and that it is important to reward and recognise employee volunteerism,” Bates said.
To sustain knowledge sharing and best practice efforts, BPC stages regular networking breakfasts, workshops and conferences. Upcoming events will include networking breakfasts in Gauteng in July and November this year, and workshops to be staged in Cape Town in May, KwaZulu-Natal in September and the Eastern Cape in March 2019. The next Beyond Painting Classrooms conference will take place in August/September 2019.
The Beyond Painting Classrooms initiative was established by FirstRand in 2012 with the support of Charities Aid Foundation South Africa (CAFSA). CAFSA is an NGO which promotes philanthropy, volunteering and corporate social investment in South Africa.
For information, please visit https://www.firstrand.co.za/csi/volunteers/Pages/beyond-painting-classrooms.aspx