Press releases

Offering expertise can bring change

16 November 2016

Corporate social investment is about empowering people to prepare for and withstand global shocks, writes Sibani Mngomezulu.

In an effort to control the uncontrollable, some countries around the world — with access to advanced technology and big capital — are engaging in a practice called "weather modification".

China is reportedly spending $30m to shoot salt and mineral-filled bullets into the sky. The aim: to make it rain.

The Chinese claim they have used this technology successfully since 2008, when they cleared the skies for the Beijing Olympics by forcing the rains to come early. According to the World Meteorological Organisation, at least 52 countries (including the US) have weather modification programmes; 10 have had them for more than five years.

In the fluctuating and unpredictable realm of global finance, certainty is a rare and valuable asset and a road to great wealth. It is far from a perfect science, but the fact that scientists continue to tinker with nature, highlights humanity’s discomfort with uncertainty.

While dominance over the natural world may help governments and corporations protect their investments in the short term, the really sustainable interventions must be made closer to the ground, inside the often forgotten local communities.

Myriad economic, social and environmental factors have placed enormous pressure on governments to support a growing and more urbanised world population.

The best way to protect modern society against the unexpected is to ensure that people, who make up societies, are strategically developed and uplifted over the long term.

By doing so, economies will mitigate against poverty, hunger, disease, protests and the violence that is often sparked by dissatisfaction. Ultimately, the better off people are, the better corporations and governments will operate.

Even the most labour-intensive industries, such as mining and construction, are recognising that good relations with their workers are vital for creating business growth.

Social contribution should not just be about avoiding certain risks; it should be seen through the lens of benefit where having a local populace that is truly empowered, in the broadest sense of the word, is the key to growth and certainty within uncertainty.

According to a research report by Trialogue SA, companies are spending more on corporate social investment than ever before. Education initiatives made up almost half of the R8.2bn that companies spent on corporate social investment in 2014.

Through this, corporates had amplified the R254bn education budget 3%. While this is laudable, the space in which corporates can make a real difference is by offering their wealth of commercial expertise to communities in need.

Civil society and big business can pool their efforts to develop real, sustainable programmes based on sound business principles to bring highly innovative solutions to underdeveloped communities.

An ecosystem of social consciousness needs to be supported by market thinking, to ensure that the sustainability and growth of social entrepreneurship emanates from communities with the support of business.

The largest comparative study on social entrepreneurship in the world, conducted by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor and released in June, showed that social entrepreneurship is taking root in developing and developed countries.

Angel Investment

The report shows that an increasing portion of entrepreneurs are focusing on making a positive effect rather than just making a profit.

One of the biggest challenges is access to the start-up funding needed to get ideas into commission — 
"angel investment" in the world of business.

In the early 2000s, Barloworld teamed up with the African Leadership Initiative and middle managers were selected to attend an annual conference. I was one of the lucky few selected and I was surprised by the experience — in essence, it changed my life.

The African Leadership Initiative network is made up of people from very different backgrounds united in common goals. As a collective, it has a more powerful voice.

The managers were invited to examine their own lives and explored different views from modern-day leaders and civil rights movements.

The programme created a shift from an expectation-driven leadership style to one that seeks real significance.

It is leadership that aims to change people’s lives rather than gain maximum benefit for itself — all the while still meeting business objectives.

his experience amplified what I intuitively knew, that companies need to understand that they are not only accountable to shareholders and stakeholders, but to broader society too.

Enterprise development, environmental sustainability, skills development, health programmes, feeding schemes and transformation initiatives need to be closely integrated into everything that the organisation does.

We need to foster a climate of inclusion, particularly in creating gender equality, which is still nascent globally. Women remain largely excluded from economic leadership.

This is not just about legislation, which already exists in most cases, but rather about deep-seated mind-sets that need to shift.

Multinationals need to promote local people to positions of leadership, and these leaders need to hold themselves to a high standard of work and understanding about their businesses.

Companies also need to understand what people’s needs are — based on their knowledge and expertise — and help them grow.

While most companies have well-established leadership development programmes, progressive and consistent mentorship and coaching takes place informally.

Barloworld achieves this by developing a leadership pipeline realised through programmes targeting young leaders. These include graduate programmes, formalised mentoring and coaching and the company’s executive and leadership development programmes for developing its top-level management.

We also support Enactus, a powerful platform for SA’s youth that allows them to showcase their entrepreneurial spirit, envelope-pushing ideas and willingness to make a difference in their communities.

Through strong foundational development in social consciousness, we hope to create leaders with the right kind of awareness about issues affecting our communities.

The people living in the communities surrounding our businesses are not just our neighbours, they are future employees and customers too. We need to understand their needs and who they are for real and sustainable future-proofing.

So, while it may not always be possible to predict (or control) the weather, making changes on the ground will go a long way to mitigating against the inevitable storm.