/ 27 October 2006

Working together to invest in the future

“When we want to work for a better future for our children, we must work together.” These were the words of former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano on Thursday evening at the Mail & Guardian and Southern Africa Trust’s 2006 Investing in the Future Awards.

The awards ceremony, held at Summer Place in Johannesburg, had a distinct Mozambican flavour, with the keynote speaker, Chissano, and the winner of the Drivers of Change Award both originating from the Southern African country.

The Investing in the Future Awards are an M&G initiative aimed at honouring companies and organisations that contribute to the well-being of society by investing in people.

This year, along with the merger of the existing Investing in Life Awards, saw the introduction of two new categories: the Investing in Education Award and the Drivers of Change Award in partnership with the Southern African Trust.

The new education award recognises the growing investment in education, while the Drivers of Change Award recognises individuals and organisations across Southern Africa who are making a real impact on overcoming poverty.

It was thus fitting that Chissano was present as keynote speaker when José Negrão posthumously won the inaugural Drivers of Change Award for his involvement in the birth of a revolutionary land policy in Mozambique.

In a speech prepared for delivery at the gala awards ceremony, Chissano reiterated that cooperation among Africans is of the utmost importance if poverty in Africa is to be defeated.

“As I have said on many occasions, the only way we, in Africa, will win this war on poverty is through coordinating our efforts,” he said. “When we work for a better future for our children, we must work together. And our efforts at development must go together with our work for peace. And we cannot have peace while children continue to go hungry, face violence and live with the effects of HIV/Aids.”

Chissano said developing people to rise out of poverty “is our aim and will be our victory. Each time we manage to increase access for communities to healthcare and education, it is a victory. For every new family that has access to water and sanitation, it is a victory.”

The former president also emphasised how important it is to combat illegal guns.

“Only last week, our two countries marked the 12th anniversary of cooperation in this area,” he said. “Since 1994 South Africa and Mozambique have, together, recovered 420 000 illegal firearms and 26-million rounds of ammunition.”

The winners

Chief Executive’s Award of Excellence: Food and Trees for Africa

Since 1990 the organisation has planted 2,3-million trees and helped set up more than 1 300 organic food gardens in the country’s poorest urban and rural communities.

Investing in the Future Corporate Award: BTA/Anglo Platinum Short-Story Competition

The competition encourages new writers, most of whom have only recently become literate, to try their hand at short stories, and generates stories suitable for new readers.

Investing in Education: Buffelshoek Trust

The trust’s aim is to raise and organise donor funds from businesses and the government to facilitate access to education and healthcare, as well as poverty alleviation and job creation for the people of Manyeleti, a rural village in Limpopo.

Investing in Education: Merit Award: Film and TV unit, Monash South Africa

The unit, set up in 2003, addresses capacity-building in the sector, focusing on transformation by giving historically disadvantaged but talented individuals access to tertiary education.

Future Enterprise Development Award: Richards Bay Minerals

The company realised that even better than creating jobs in northern KwaZulu-Natal, where unemployment remains one of the biggest challenges, is creating new companies in the region, which it can then contract. This boosts the local economy and creates employment and wealth in a poor area.

Best Corporate Employee Community Involvement Programme: Fine Healthcare

Fine Healthcare is a small company with only 11 employees. It specialises in healthcare communication and uses its core business to become involved in the community.

Not-for-Profit Organisations: Gun Free South Africa

Started 10 years ago, Gun Free South Africa is a grassroots lobbying and advocacy organisation involved in reducing the number of guns in circulation among members of society and helping end gun violence in South Africa.

Drivers of Change Award: Dr José Negrão

Negrão made it his lifelong work that the poor of Mozambique were not only heard but also accommodated and catered for when the country passed new legislation. He died of a cerebral haemorrhage last year at the age of 49.

Drivers of Change: Merit Award: Treatment Action Campaign

The Treatment Action Campaign wages war against the HIV/Aids pandemic and, alongside other civil society organisations, is still calling on the government to develop a more effective treatment plan and to engage in issues surrounding practical policy implementation.

Investing in Life Corporate Award: Richards Bay Minerals

As part of its corporate HIV/Aids programme, Richards Bay Minerals is getting involved in drama, funding gardens, and a centre that cares for the infected.

Most Innovative Award: MaAfrika Tikkun

MaAfrika Tikkun is an organisation that aims to alleviate poverty and assist people struggling with HIV/Aids, particularly orphans and vulnerable children. Care-giving volunteers, selected from within the community, are assigned five vulnerable children in their community.

Most Innovative Award: Merit Award: Themba HIV/Aids Organisation

The Johannesburg-based company uses theatre to tell people about HIV/Aids and aims to shift attitudes surrounding the disease and reduce the stigma associated with it.

Grassroots efforts needed

A unionist during the recent Checkers strike summed up a lot of what the Investing in the Future Awards have tried to signal to business since it was launched 17 years ago, writes Reg Rumney.

She pointed out that the company was spending a lot of money on supporting the Woman of the Year Award, yet did not provide crèches or transport for female staff who had to travel long distances and work unsociable hours.

The equable treatment of staff, the acknowledgement of unions and the rights of workers, were some of the things the judges focused on when the then Weekly Mail launched these awards. The awards were designed to be an antidote to a kind of corporate boasting that was featured in newspaper supplements at the time. Company social spending was simply applauded, without any critical examination of supposed good deeds.

At first, companies received awards for their overall social responsibility but, over time, the nature of the awards and the supplement to the Mail & Guardian that accompanies them have changed.

Any institution that hopes to survive has to balance the drive for constant adaptation with the need to retain some core defining characteristic. The Investing in the Future Awards have evolved to concentrate on projects, as an espousal of corporate citizenship, rather than on companies themselves.

This emphasis recognises the partnership of civil society with business, but brings with it the danger of the kinds of contradictions that lead companies that produce life-threatening products or harm the environment or employ skullduggery of one sort or another to use ill-gotten gains to sanitise themselves.

It is not for nothing that civil society continues to suspect that what is known in South Africa as “social investment” is simply a corporate fig leaf.

Crucially, the Investing in the Future Awards have always looked beyond the size of the sums spent on social investment. They have always insisted on a separation between marketing intent and trying to bring about real social change. They have aimed to look beyond the hyperbole and scratch beneath the gloss of corporate giving.

What must always be remembered is that social investment is a part but not the whole of corporate social responsibility. Such responsibility or good corporate citizenship, goes beyond giving.

There is a growing acceptance that social responsibility should be at the core of the business, not merely an add-on. At the same time, in South Africa the emphasis is growing for market-based solutions to social problems, and not-for-profit organisations are under increasing pressure from donors to be self-funding, doing commissioned work as well as advocacy. This creates its own dangers and — to use development-speak — challenges. But it is a reality.

US consultant Susan Raymond, writing on the onPhilanthropy site, underlines the vital questions these developments raise.

“If we no longer know what we mean by the term ‘nonprofit’ or ‘foundation’ or ‘philanthropy,’ how will we continue to make these distinctions? When the world of capital and commercial markets blends into the world of the societal commons, when solutions to social problems are to be found not in voluntarism and the stray philanthropic dollar but on the very concrete commercial landscape of capitalism, how shall we define the nonprofit endeavor? Does the distinction even matter any more?”

Drivers of Change

In this fluid environment, it is fitting this year that a new award, the Drivers of Change Award, has been added and the Investing in Life Awards have been included.

Yet this is not to minimise the extraordinary contributions of the private sector to the societies in which they operate, in money or of time or both. These need to be recognised, and a framework developed for assessing which projects excel.

In developing that framework, over the years these awards have tried to align themselves with developmental thinking about how social investment money is spent. One of the things we have looked at is whether social spending is aligned with government goals, such as poverty alleviation in rural areas.

That, however, must probably be scrapped as part of a review process the judges have asked for to keep the awards relevant and streamline the judging process.

It is worth quoting a recent study of CSI: New Whims for Old?: Corporate Giving in South Africa by Steven Friedman, Judith Hudson and Shaun Mackay.

Friedman et al reject as spurious the notion that social investment can be “professionalised”. Equally, they pour scorn on the idea that social investment money can be a “ready source of government development funds outside the tax system”.

They single out the true role of corporate giving as “providing for those social needs which are essential to society but which are inappropriate destinations for government funding”.

They conclude, “If that view is accepted, the innovation and enterprise which is increasingly denounced as ‘whim’ may be seen as the key to effective and developmental CSI, provided that it adheres to the concern for accountability which is the most important contribution of current CSI thinking.

“Companies which do the unusual and the unpopular, but are open about what they are doing and why they are doing it, are the key to responsible and developmentally useful CSI.”

Instinctively, the judges have always recognised the unusual and innovative in deciding the awards. And in subjecting its initiatives to the scrutiny of the awards process, any company that enters is taking an important step towards accountability.