Corporate SA is investing millions in a better education system for the country’s students and upskilling its teachers


​According to research undertaken by corporate social investment (CSI) and sustainability consultancy, Trialogue, SA companies directed R7.8 billion to CSI initiatives during 2013. The lion’s share went to the education sector, with 89% of research respondents supporting it through 43% of their CSI spend.

Some 55% of companies said they had increased their CSI expenditure from 2012. Those driven by licence-to-operate obligations tended to spend more than others. Interestingly, 84% of companies listed ‘moral imperative’ as the driver for their CSI spend. The research also showed that corporates are the most significant source of support for non-profit organisations, which receive around 23% of their income in this way.

Tebogo Molefe, senior CSI manager at SA’s Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), says that companies have realised they cannot operate in isolation from communities. ‘There has been a shift in recent years to a more strategic CSI, where corporates align their CSI programmes very closely with their business strategies. CSI is no longer viewed as a charitable activity but is now considered a business imperative,’ says Molefe.

Kone Gugushe, divisional executive of CSR at Nedbank, says that as the SA society evolves, so does the type of social intervention. ‘As more citizens gain access to basic services, we need to look at other important ways of empowering our people – through improved education and healthcare, as well as community development and sports development initiatives.’

Nedbank has spent more than R400 million on its socio-economic development projects over the last five years. In 2013, the company supported 584 projects worth R117 million, benefiting more than 135 000 beneficiaries. Education is one of the group’s key focus areas with an investment of R57 million.

‘We believe that the creation of a knowledge-based economy is critical to the future growth of our country. The chronic skills shortage in particular undermines the country’s development efforts and as a result, half of Nedbank’s investment is funnelled towards education,’ she says.

According to Gugushe, strong private-public partnerships are necessary to provide good quality education. Nedbank’s Back to School campaign is a result of close co-operation with the Department of Basic Education (DBE). It was established in 2010 as part of the Fundisa programme that aims to provide holistic support to learners and schools while contributing to the government’s National Development Plan. The programme has already invested over R8 million towards uniforms, shoes, stationery, books and bags for more than 8 000 learners. This year, Nedbank invested R2.5 million, which benefited 2 000 learners across the country.

Gugushe explains that Nedbank uses a two-pillar education model. The first supports education through the various life stages of an individual – from early childhood development to tertiary education. The second focuses on providing holistic support to beneficiary schools. ‘We have already seen the benefit of this programme. For example, in 2013, the Nedbank Fundisa Maths and Science programme assisted more than 200 learners, with a significant improvement in results,’ she says.

‘They achieved 73% passes in mathematics compared to 56% in 2012, and 65% in physical science compared to 51% in 2012. Furthermore, the class of 2013 produced 14% distinctions in mathematics and 10% in physical science.’

Any investment should seek to make a sustainable and tangible difference to the lives of those affected, says Gugushe, and not simply be a ‘stop-gap’ to address a short-term need. ‘We have CSR initiatives that provide mobile laboratories as well as learning materials to schools. However, beyond this we also make sure that the teachers are properly trained and use the material effectively to ensure that learners receive the very best benefit from these investments,’ she says.

Laura Nel, head of corporate affairs at Johnson & Johnson, believes that social development in SA has become more co-operative in recent years.

‘Not only between government and business but also between business and business.

‘In the past it might have been more about getting your name on a billboard but nowadays there are collective challenges and we need to collaborate in order to overcome these,’ says Nel. CSI programmes are important because ‘business cannot thrive in a failing society’. The inverse, she says, is also true. ‘Society cannot thrive if business is failing. It is a symbiotic relationship. The one must do well in order for the other to do well.’

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‘The creation of a knowledge-based economy is critical to the future growth of our country’


An educated workforce is a productive workforce, says Nel, so investing in the sector makes a lot of sense. ‘Education is the foundation on which everything else is built, yet it is one of our biggest gaps as a country. When we invest in education, we do so in line with the efforts of the DBE and other government departments.’

Not only is it necessary to identify which needs are greatest but also to ensure that these are best matched to Johnson & Johnson’s particular skills and resources, says Nel.

For the past 20 years, the company has run its global Bridge To Employment (BTE) programme. Operating in more than 40 countries, its aim is to encourage teens from disadvantaged communities to stay in school, excel academically and elevate their career aspirations, while equipping them with the skills needed to access tertiary education and hopefully a career in the health sector. It does this through academic-enrichment activities and higher-education preparation as well as career readiness and exploration opportunities.

In May 2011, Johnson & Johnson launched Africa’s first BTE programme in Cape Town. It partnered with the National Business Initiative (NBI) and three higher learning institutions, as well as various community partners and government agencies to provide maths, science and life-skills support to as many as 50 students.

Together with the University of Pretoria and the NBI, Johnson & Johnson launched the second programme less than a year later, in March 2012.

‘BTE is a model that is easily transferable,’ says Nel. ‘It can be adapted to different industries, sectors and schools. It is a flexible model and the basics of it are really strong.’ Johnson & Johnson is currently working with the NBI on the matter, as they have expressed an interest in scaling it up. ‘We hope to have a BTE programme in every school in South Africa,’ says Nel, adding that at its crux is partnership and collaboration.

‘A lot of companies are playing their part to improve education outcomes in South Africa,’ says Molefe, reiterating Nel’s sentiments regarding co-operative partnerships. ‘However, there is a need to improve co-ordination and collaboration to maximise CSI efforts.’ She believes that initiatives such as the National Education Collaboration Trust can help address some of these challenges.

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‘Education is the foundation on which everything else is built, yet it is one of our biggest gaps’


Education is one of the IDC’s key focus areas, says Molefe. The company prefers a developmental approach by investing in long-term projects – with an annual CSI budget of R38 million, education expenditure accounts for 60% of it.

‘In the past year we spent R21 million on education projects,’ says Molefe, adding that this investment included support for schools, technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges and universities.

‘The IDC’s university support is focused on development programmes that promote access to science, technology and engineering, particularly for poor black students whose matric results are inadequate for automatic access to these fields,’ she says. The focus area for TVETs is on equipment and facilities improvement.

In partnership with the DBE, the IDC works closely with the provincial departments and districts where its adopted schools are located – identifying and addressing challenges at these institutions. Molefe says they have already seen many positive results from this collaboration.

‘Our whole-school development programme is holistic in that it addresses aspects of education and learning as well as school management and infrastructure,’ she says. ‘We have seen marked improvements in our programme across the country. This is a five-year partnership with 20 schools to provide a comprehensive support and development programme. Sixteen of the 20 schools are in rural areas and many of them have significantly improved their performance over the past year.’

Gugushe says that the achievement of true social sustainability is not simply about charity or providing financial handouts.

‘It demands absolute commitment to the principles of community empowerment, social transformation, economic upliftment and business development, in addition to job creation,’ she says. ‘These social imperatives are key drivers of South Africa’s sustainability.’

It makes good business sense for corporates to support education. The youth of today is, after all, the workforce of tomorrow. Allocated correctly, corporate South Africa’s many millions of rands of CSI spend in education programmes and initiatives will undoubtedly make a marked difference.

By Toni Muir
Image: Mr.Xerty ©