Digitising CSI to maximise social return on investment

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South African corporates collectively spent R10.7 billion on CSI in 2020. Imagine if all that money achieved its intended outcomes. It could change millions of lives for the long-term. CSI has the power to be transformative, but only if the spend is commensurate with the social return.

This is according to Nozizwe Vundla, Head of Sanlam Foundation. She says, “Currently, unfortunately, we don’t always see CSI funds being used as they should be. However, ramped up digitisation, and monitoring and evaluation may soon mean a different landscape, where businesses take tracking CSI as seriously as they do sales figures. All too often, corporates allocate money to CSI as a tick-box exercise to satisfy spending quotas.

Mindsets must change

“Mindsets need to move to a more deliberate, collaborative, control-tower approach. B-BBEE Level One targets are of pivotal importance for South Africa’s shared progress, so the compliance spend by corporates is substantial. Unfortunately, the net result can be that compliance often outweighs developmental impact.”

In the spirit of authentic transformation, corporates should adopt a developmentalist mindset, she says. “Through targeted interventions to do the hard slog in communities to maximise impact, the goal should be to disrupt the dysfunctional cycles in South Africa’s socio-economic landscape, focusing on maths and language literacy in the education sector, or financial literacy to upskill more women SME owners.

“But it’s not enough to just have the heart for developmental interventions. To optimise impact, we need efficient oversight. That’s where monitoring and evaluation come in. To achieve this, it’s critical corporates have the requisite technology, digitisation and expertise.”

In the last ten years, to bring deliberateness and transparency, monitoring and evaluation have started to be taken seriously as core to corporate foundations. Another major component is regular, rigorous reporting as corporate foundations must be accountable to their board of trustees. By having a digitised operational system, collating information and progress over the preceding quarter can make reporting much easier.

The importance of clear targets

Having all these systems in place is a way for corporates to adopt a developmentalist approach, streamline efficiencies and maximise social return on their CSI. It’s also extremely beneficial for the NGO industry. “By setting clear targets and using the monitoring, evaluation and learning approach to track progress, there’s an opportunity for corporates to assist NGOs through real-time reporting and skills assistance. Ultimately, this should catalyse an accumulative cycle of mutual benefits. This means more people doing more meaningful things in the communities they serve.” 

Using digital systems to have oversight over an ecosystem brings increased agility. It takes one click of a button to see what’s happening at any given point. This empowers corporates and their NGO partners to implement change much quicker, where it is needed most. It also minimises the risk of any financial mismanagement, which brings greater assurance that allocated funds will not only reach beneficiaries – but will do so with maximal impact.  In a society with a dearth of trust in how money is spent for social impact, this peace of mind is extremely important.

“Having robust technology to ensure watertight delivery of the goals means a far higher success rate. In the business of CSI, that means more lives changed in a measurable and meaningful way. It’s about being extremely intentional, which starts with clear goals,” concludes Vundla.

READ MORE: Post-Covid-19: A chance to leapfrog Africa’s development through digitalisation

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