By Peter Andrew, CEO, CCI South Africa
How a company contributes to the wellbeing of its communities and the society it operates within plays a crucial role in how both employees and customers of that brand might perceive it. Contributing in a positive way earns a brand trust, and may even help attract new employees and investors who prioritise the corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities a company engages in. Research indicates that CSR programmes can boost employee morale along with its brand image while building trust and credibility with its stakeholders. These are all solid and justifiable reasons to engage in CSR. But are these the best reasons to have a CSR programme? Do companies have a responsibility to be good corporate citizens beyond employment and profit?
Growing a people-led industry
Thirty years after the dawn of democracy in our country, South Africa has a historic and persistently high inequality rate. There are many reasons for this, but one thing is undeniable – South Africa has an aggressively high unemployment rate. We must find ways to move our unemployed youth into sustainable careers. Youth unemployment has a negative effect not only on the individual and their immediate family, but also has serious negative economic and social consequences. We need people who are gainfully employed, have career opportunities, can support their families, and are optimistic for a more prosperous future.
This is where the Business Process Outsourcing industry is a beacon of hope. The BPO industry is built on its people. It's also an industry that has a low barrier to entry for our unemployed youth who, for many reasons, have not had the means or opportunity to pursue higher education. Individuals with varied educational backgrounds and qualifications all have an opportunity to enter the workforce in the BPO sector. South Africa is bursting with talent. Many of our young people are resourceful and hard-working, with excellent problem-solving skills that make them a great fit for the BPO industry.
Impact sourcing offers motivated young people from disadvantaged backgrounds the chance to enter formal employment with many avenues to develop professional skills and transferable credentials that are applicable in many areas of a company. It sets them up for future success as well as helping them make an immediate positive impact on their families.
While the BPO industry is already actively engaged in job creation with bold growth targets in place, a CSR programme that is developed with the needs of this industry in mind can contribute meaningfully to addressing social challenges, and also contribute to the long-term growth and welfare of the sector. And this is true for many sectors, not just business process outsourcing. Industries such as hospitality, tourism and retail also spring to mind – sectors that are driven by people as much as a specific set of initial skills required to gain entry into the sector.
Building skills for the future
It doesn’t start when young people complete matric and leave school. It must begin much earlier – we must introduce digital skills into our school learners so that by the time they leave matric, they have the basic skills that will make them more employable and empowered to engage in the digital economy. Here, public-private partnerships could make a crucial contribution to ensuring that our school children have access to the skills they need. It’s no secret that there are many challenges facing our government and here private-public partnerships can support the government’s efforts to provide a quality education while providing school children with access to important life, communication and tech literacy skills.
Companies have a responsibility to contribute to the education of our youth so that even if they leave the educational system after matriculating, they have skills that will enable them to find employment and thrive in those environments. In the instance of the BPO industry, this could look like equipping school learners with communication and digital skills that will make them suitable entrants into the BPO industry after their secondary schooling, which in turn provides the opportunity for companies to grow meaningfully and add jobs to the economy. This virtuous circle is beneficial to all involved and has a direct impact on the local and national economy.
Meaningful impact, not just window dressing
CSR programmes are one tool to help blunt the effects of inequality through measurable and impactful engagements with social and environmental issues. However, any responsible business leader and shareholder wants to see clear outcomes and long-term benefits from their investment. Companies should scrutinise their CSR efforts to ensure that the inputs and outcomes of these programmes are aligned with the company’s purpose.
It’s also important to embrace partnerships not just with the local, provincial and national government, but also with non-profit organisations that have the necessary skills. This has a twofold benefit – the funding that companies are putting into their CSR programmes will be used to maximum effect, and it allows companies to harness the skills and expertise of others to pursue outcomes that are not core to their business, such as education engagement, while aligning with their purpose.
The pursuit of sustainable growth needs a holistic approach – one that prioritises environmental, social and governance principles to create lasting value, not only for stakeholders, but for employees and society as a whole. As CCI, we believe in the transformative power of meaningful engagement, with our government, our partners and with our local communities. Every company wants to create profits and grow. With a CSR programme that supports the company’s purpose, we can uplift lives and create opportunities along the way to build resilient communities that thrive in harmony with our business undertakings. Not only does this deliver tangible benefits to society, it also delivers value to the bottom line – a winning combination for companies and people alike.