Women In CSI Summit Outcomes Report

The inaugural Woman CSI Summit took place on 26 July at the Maslow Hotel, Sandton. Recognising the important role that women play in spearheading corporate responsibility investments as well as in establishing NGOs that serve their communities, it was a timely conference with the theme “power, purpose and building a resilient community”.

The programme focussed on natural disasters and humanitarian relief, CSI boardrooms and bosses, the green economy and the launch of the latest CSI magazine, Matter.

This report will focus on the riveting discussion facilitated by Reana Rossouw of Next Generation Consultants on the challenges in the sector, “the way we operate” in the boardrooms and specifically “the spaces where we don’t agree”. The panel consisted of practitioners and academia. 

Prof Steven Friedman set the tone for a robust discussion by referring to his book, Prisons of the Past, published last year. He debunks the oft cited myth that things used to work better in the past, by stating that the problem at the moment is that “we have not changed enough”. 

He suggests that there may have been an “unspoken understanding” between business and political leaders that the privileged status of whites would be extended to include everyone, an unworkable solution. 

Thus we have the situation where 10% of the population have opened its doors to a third and two-thirds are excluded. Those who earn a wage are “inside” this scenario and those who don’t are not, resulting in the “cruel fantasy” of numerous plans to create jobs. 

Friedman suggests livelihoods should be created instead to sustain everyone. For example, there is a thriving informal economy run by township entrepreneurs which is considered “embarrassing’ because it doesn’t fit the norms of the insiders. 

Citing James Mulder he discussed bridging programmes which was designed to change black students to  

fit into previously white universities, effectively shoehorning them into the terms of a white culture. His solution is to address the gap between the insiders and outsiders by listening to the outsiders.

Dr Yaa Ashantawee is an academic who started a school for African children in KwaZulu-Natal. The aim of her project is to make the children proud of their African identity. 

Mama Yaa, as she prefers to be called, suggests that the status quo of NGOs approaching the corporate sector should change. It should be the other way around. Corporates should do their due diligence to seek out “a practical example of a community in action”, thereby identifying worthwhile projects. That’ll address the mistrust that inequality brings: divide and rule, the way that someone speaks, etc., the “nitty-gritties” of CSI that is intimidating. She suggests that CSI should begin their strategy with the end goal in mind, what is their purpose in terms of skills development and supporting the “cottage industry”. A keen pan-Africanist she advocated a pan-African view of unity and collective responsibility. She was critical of political parties starting foundations, creating an ethical issue for corporates.

Noluthando Matu Mvabaza, representing CSI practitioners and a CSI manager for the Road Accident Fund, talked about going out into the field, doing due diligence and then having to come back, write a report that ticks all the boxes and present it to the boardroom where inequalities still prevail. The boards, schooled in the Western way of doing business, would ask for three months bank statements and audited financials from people who have never banked. Development and empowerment therefore goes astray. 

Dave Wilson, who worked at Deloitte for 25 years, is a co-founder of the National Mentorship Movement, a programme for the youth. Wilson suggested that the reason why we are stuck is that it takes long for culture to evolve and change and it is easier to co-opt others into it. He demonstrated the powerful nature of culture by referring to his past as a cadet on SAFMarine ships. People would adjust to fit into the culture on board a ship. However, the current crisis in South Africa presented an ideal opportunity to bring change. But corporates do not have enough resources to address the issues at hand. 

To make a difference therefore requires partnerships, trust, collective effort, multi-year engagement, and getting away from the box ticking. 

Rossouw ended the discussion by asking people under 30 to give their input. Three young people highlighted their difficulties with accessing CSI funding. They need technical support for grassroots projects, policy development and frameworks. Matu Mvabaza suggested a CSI Indaba where companies have stands and receive proposals for their previously published criteria. 

Simphiwe Mtetwa
Simphiwe Mtetwa is South Africa’s leading Corporate Social Responsibility news, media and publishing firm. We create content on social responsibility, helping government, corporates, consultants, NPOs and NGOs to reach their target markets through appropriate, targeted development news.

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