Corporate social responsibility (CSR) and corporate social investment (CSI) have evolved from being ‘feel good’ activities or concepts to ones rooted in the notion that they influence businesses’ operating environments in a way that could determine their future. Core to this notion is the understanding that a business cannot function well in the long-term if society is failing.

At the JSE, we have evolved our strategy and come to appreciate the important role that business can – and does – play in improving society and helping to redress the many imbalances that exist. We also understand the need for business to apply its collective mind to what it wishes to achieve from CSR and CSI in their various forms.

Given the plethora of challenges that exist in SA (let alone globally), deciding where to start and what to support can be daunting. Organisations each have their own guiding principles but more and more clearly we see the emergence of what companies describe as a strategic focus on CSR. This is characterised by companies choosing to get involved in areas where they have a natural ability to make a difference given their unique talents and skill sets, as well as where they can directly impact via their value or supply chain.

Arguably, however, strategic CSR can be seen as broader than that which supports a company’s strategy or value chain and stakeholder group. One could say that contributing to a nation’s success and addressing its challenges is in itself very strategic. So the idea of calculated CSR may very well recognise the interconnectedness and systemic dependencies of business, government and civil society on one another, and how challenges in any one of those spheres affect the others.

A look at the CSI landscape in SA provides examples that quite clearly demonstrate this line of thought as it reveals that the biggest areas that corporates invest in are education, community and social development and healthcare. All of these are national priority issues, most clearly outlined in the National Development Plan.

Moreover, despite challenging economic times, CSI expenditure has grown by 13% in nominal terms between 2012 and 2013. This continued prioritisation of CSI and its alignment with pressing national issues gives us hope that business, government and civil society can work together more effectively to address the many social challenges that we face. It also presents us with the opportunity to use our various skills and talents for the ultimate success of our country. The test will be how effectively we channel these considerable resources.

Siobhan Cleary
Director: Strategy and Public Policy, JSE

July 2014
Image: Matina Steyn