The evolution of CSI – for the better of communities…and the economy


By employing dedicated Corporate Social Investment (CSI) departments, that do concise and researched CSI planning, corporates can have a bigger and better impact on the communities they support to ‘effectively’ uplift people from the ground, to the boardroom, says Glenda Mansfield, CMO of Marketing CSI South Africa.

It’s Global Entrepreneurship Week and no conversation around the growth of new business and business leaders, can be complete without a discussion that involves CSI and the role it does and can, play in growing a better economy.

Society has begun to expect more from businesses in the way of economic and social enrichment into society. Many consumers believe companies should go beyond their economic and legal responsibilities for the betterment of the communities they operate in – and a business’ CSI initiatives are evolving to meet this growing expectation. This has led to a transformation from the once-off casual donations that previously sufficed, to carefully planned CSI systems.

The evolution is so advanced that it’s no longer unusual for companies to have divisions dedicated to their CSI initiatives. Where once CSI may have been a small part of operations that dealt reactively to criticism and offered sporadic community upliftment, companies are now engaged in a high-level, strategic approach.

There is greater emphasis on aligning CSI objectives with the business’ goals, business model and company policy, which, strangely enough, is yielding results – more often than not, better than anticipated. CSI has literally transformed into a sustainable factor of everyday company life that warrants planned management, engagement, measurement, reporting and – in return – produces greater rewards for the company and the community.

As CSI has evolved, companies have learned that sustained, integrated projects with a focus on one specific area for a long period of time, has a deeper and more lasting impact. Projects do however, need to be focused, with monitoring and evaluation methods in place so that objectives can be reached and measured. Casual giving, adhoc changes and short-termed campaigns have less of a meaningful impact, and in many instances can end up ‘costing’ the company (either in lost investment for no return, or loss of reputation that costs a whole lot more to restore and which monies, could have been better spent on delivering meaningful and worthwhile social and economically viable projects).

While the economic global recession has certainly shrunk social spending, most companies recognize the need to maintain their CSI budgets, despite the downturn. Those who are truly future-facing and with a workable business strategy, understand the value of remaining committed to their communities (who are also their consumers), often diverting marketing spend into grassroots interventions that reap long-term harvests in lean and more bountiful times – it’s about loyalty (from both sides of the equation).

The development of CSI shows that where before CSI spend was considered an ‘add-on budgetary item’, rather than a worthy investment with tangible benefits – it is now seen as a vital company expenditure.

In South Africa, companies are becoming more responsive to the social needs in their communities. The successful implementation of CSI initiatives is more common, and there is a steady growth in businesses offering sustained and considered support to communities and NGOs, resulting in more effective impact felt on the ground – where it counts. CSI has become a significant process of creating company values, encouraging ingenuity, and providing opportunities for employees to impact society as a whole.

The next generation of business leaders are even more likely to prioritize CSI and understand that complex social and community problems require innovative CSI implementation, and not just a quick fix. In fact, the next generation of business leaders are as likely to come from CSI initiatives as they are from any other source, maybe even more than any other source, since they come from the ground-up and generally remain in touch with what communities need (as opposed to want), which answers the coming ‘austerity’ period the world is entering.

As the CSI landscape continues to evolve and grow, there is a greater emphasis on those companies that do not adapt to the changing environment. Consumers will no longer be satisfied with “green-washing” or business engaging simply in unplanned and casual offerings. Businesses that understand the importance of CSI will see the benefits to their bottom line. As the CSI landscape progresses, all eyes will be on companies moving towards a motivated workplace and a better relationship with society – and on those companies making a consequential impact.


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