Corporate social investment is a powerful agent for change in SA, especially when it goes towards empowering women, enabling them to contribute their full potential to the economy


​Women are perhaps SA’s most under-utilised resource. Although the country has some of the most progressive gender-equality legislation in the world, this has yet to be integrated into mainstream society and, by extension, the economy.

Women still draw the short straw when it comes to literacy, education, employment and financial independence, and have less access to public services and social protection than men. The unemployment rate of women is 2.9% higher than the national average of 24.9%, and men are more likely to be employed than women, regardless of race, according to Statistics South Africa.

Even though women are rising up to support the economy – there are now five female central bank governors in Southern Africa (from Madagascar, Botswana, Lesotho, Seychelles and SA) – women in rural and underprivileged communities are still sidelined economically, not to mention more vulnerable to social ills such as gender-based violence and poverty.

The government can only do so much, and it is becoming increasingly important for big business to step up and help to empower disadvantaged communities, particularly women, in light of the important role they play in households.

Cell C’s Take a Girl Child to Work Day is one of the most successful gender-centric CSI campaigns in the country. Since its inception, it has exposed more than 650 000 female learners in grades 10 to 12 to work environments in business and the public service sector, most notably the Presidency and the Department of Education. The impact on girls’ motivation to succeed by exposing them to the ‘world of work’ in a multitude of professions and businesses should not be underestimated.

This year, on 29 May, the theme ‘Dream, Believe, Achieve’ aimed to show female students that it is possible to reach their goals, and to raise their perception of what is achievable. ‘It expands their horizons, broadens their knowledge and begins to challenge the stereotypes instilled within our educational systems,’ says Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, Deputy Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities. The project has also grown to incorporate mentorships and bursaries.

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The unemployment rate of women is 2.9% higher than the national average of 24.9%, and men are more likely to be employed than women

Transnet allocates 30% of its CSI budget to gender equality and equity. One such beneficiary is Masizakhe Home-Based Care, an organisation based at Mbutye in Elliotdale in the Eastern Cape, which takes care of abused women as well as orphaned and vulnerable children. Transnet donated R50 000 to the home.

Clover’s Mama Afrika initiative supports women who are making a difference in their communities. These women are taught skills that they can use to earn an income by working with orphaned and abused children, the elderly and infirm.

Launched in 2004, the initiative supports 38 ‘Mamas’ who collectively care for over 14 400 children and over 2 500 elderly as part of 262 self-help projects, of which 178 generate income. Sewing, gardening and hairdressing are some of the skills imparted by the project. Women entrepreneurs have the greatest potential to positively impact both the economy and gender equality. With this in mind, Coca-Cola’s #5by20 campaign is a phenomenal force for empowering women with small businesses. Its mission is to give five million female entrepreneurs a substantial boost by 2020, enough to take their nascent businesses to the next level. This, in turn, creates additional opportunities for even more women.

The campaign works with female entrepreneurs – ranging from fruit farmers to artisans – from over 200 countries, though the majority are from SA, Brazil, the Philippines and India. It offers access to training, financial resources and mentorship.

With the help of #5by20, Laly Mathebula in Johannesburg converted her late husband’s butchery into a thriving business, which has since become a popular tourist destination.

The Amy Biehl Foundation receives CSI support from Chevron South Africa, which provides sporting, cultural and educational activities to youths in communities, where HIV/Aids, gangsterism, crime, violence and poverty can have adverse effects – particularly on young women.

The corporation also supports an initiative called Intervention with Microfinance for Aids and Gender Equity, which reduces vulnerability to HIV as well as gender-based violence by promoting financial and psychological independence.

Insurance company 1st for Women has donated over R30 million to numerous female-related charity organisations that focus on gender-based violence and cervical cancer.

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‘Even through the global recession, many companies managed to increase their CSI spend’


Sport also plays a vital role in uplifting women in rural communities. The Sports Trust is a public benefit organisation with an NGO status that provides kits and equipment, and builds facilities in disadvantaged communities.

‘We understand the need to integrate gender equity measures to ensure that women and children can access developmental opportunities for both abled and disabled sport,’ says Anita Mathews, executive director of the Sports Trust.

‘Women and children are the backbone and future of our country. By giving them sporting opportunities, they have the chance to better themselves and live healthier lifestyles, to have sustainable opportunities in their communities and be kept away from social ills.

‘Sport also allows them to live their dreams, [while] various structures and programmes [will help] to identify talent and tomorrow’s sporting heroes.’

One of the Sports Trust’s biggest successes has been the implementation of 28 multipurpose courts in all nine provinces, which each provide five codes of sport on one court (netball, basketball, tennis. volleyball and five-a-side soccer). They are shared by the surrounding communities and schools in each area.

‘These sports allow participation of the girls and they are encouraged to play sport at their schools and also compete in leagues, representing their schools in other competitions that are hosted. One of our trustees, Nedbank, has implemented two sports courts to date [through] their Goals for Goals campaign. Harmony Gold Mining company has implemented four sports courts at schools in their mining communities to help enhance education through sport,’ says Mathews.

In SA, plenty of money is being spent on CSI – that much is certain. Just under R8 billion was contributed last year (including cash investment as well as goods and services), up by almost R1 billion from 2012, according to research by sustainability and CSI consultancy, Trialogue.

But just how much good it is doing and, by extension, how much is helping address gender inequality, is hard to tell.

CSI is, however, entrenched in SA companies, and corporate philanthropy will continue to be an important factor in the development funding mix, says Trialogue content manager Michelle Matthews.

‘Our research shows that CSI has continuously outstripped inflation over the past decade. Even through the global recession, many companies managed to increase their CSI spend.’

The vast majority of SA’s CSI spend is not specifically focused on women. Very little, in fact, is directly allocated to addressing gender equality. However, there is hope that this will change as corporates continue to increase their awareness of the essential contribution women can make to a prosperous economy.

By Rachel McGregor
Image: Fredrik Broden/