Impact SA

CSI during an economic downturn – why more should be the norm

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A view from Lynette Saltzman, MD, Dis-Chem

It may seem contrary, but tough economic conditions make an even more compelling argument for an unwavering commitment to corporate social investment initiatives.

With 2021 being the 15th anniversary of the establishment of the Dis-Chem Foundation, it’s fitting to look back to see what we have accomplished, yet in this tight economic climate, we need to place an even greater focus on our future endeavours by continuing to build our activity and focus areas.

An important role to play

We have long held the belief that as a corporate entity we have a role to play in making our society sustainable by improving the lives of individuals within organisations while relieving the burden on struggling communities. From day one, the Foundation focused on four key parameters: impoverished families with no basic food and shelter, abused woman and children and abandoned babies who need a safe haven, young girls who need sanitary pads to ensure they do not miss going to school and people who need primary health care services.

We have also long believed that successful, sustainable CSI cannot be conducted at arms’ length. The days of only writing a cheque are long gone.  Instead, we chose to include our customers as a true partner to our business in getting the Foundation off the ground and ensuring its on-going ability to care for the less needy in and around our communities. 

How the Dis-Chem Foundation works

The mechanism is simple – the Dis-Chem Foundation is a beneficiary of the Dis-Chem Benefit Programme and every time a Benefit member swipes their card when purchasing, Dis-Chem donates a percentage of the eligible purchase to the Foundation.  With 5,7 million members, it gives us the critical mass to grow and build on our ability to impact peoples’ lives.  We cannot do any less than we have done in the past. If anything, we need to do more.

HAVE YOU READ: Digitising CSI to maximise social return on investment


Core to the Foundation is continuity – a once-off donation has short-terms benefits, yet an on-going commitment can effect real change and can allow an NGO or charity to better plan and care for its beneficiaries. 

Our partnership with Lambano Sanctuary, a residential care and support facility to 30 orphaned and vulnerable children infected with HIV, commenced in 2015.  We have supported both Little Eden, an organisation providing life-long care to 300 children and adults with profound intellectual disability, and Alexandra-based feeding scheme Ponelopele Drop-in Centre, since 2014.  

This year is the eighth year we are running our Million Comforts campaign where we work in tandem with customers and suppliers to donate sanitary pads to needy girls. While Covid-19 may impact on actual school attendance, it does not diminish the very real need for hygienic sanitary protection for hundreds of thousands of young women. These are only a few of the thousands of organisations and projects that the Dis-Chem Foundation support on an ongoing basis

Meaningful is key

Reviewing the Foundation’s long-term beneficiaries is not to pat ourselves on the back. Rather it is to recognise that meaningful corporate outreach needs longevity and commitment.  Meaningful is key: Atang from the Smile Foundation underwent a cleft palate repair in 2019 at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital which was generously supported by the Dis-Chem Foundation. While he still attending speech therapy sessions at Thelle Mogoerane Hospital, he is now coping very well both at home and school. His surgery has changed his life, giving him more confidence and as a result he is excelling at school, and last year was named one of the top learners in his grade.

Another example is that of Sam Nonyane who lost his wife when she gave birth to their twins in January 2020. He was literally left holding the babies. His life changed when he met with one of the Dis-Chem employees who shared his details with the Dis-Chem Foundation. The foundation contacted Sam immediately and since February 2020, has assisted with the supply of baby food, nappies, and other baby products.

Against this background, the diminishing of any CSI initiative cannot be considered.  In a society where global and local economic conditions are increasingly impacting on the ability of marginalised and disadvantaged members to improve their opportunities and outlook, at best it would be doing them a great disservice. 

At worst, it would be grossly negligent.  If anything, corporate South Africa should be looking to see where and how it can do more.  That is what makes good corporate citizenship, and in our case, it runs parallel with good consumer citizenship.

HAVE YOU READ: Why CSI isn’t where you should be skimping


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