/ 4 November 2011

Starting from the top

Starting From The Top

Best Corporate Employee Community ­Involvement Programme
AfriSam South Africa

The global economic downturn has made it difficult for small companies to maintain their spend on corporate social investment (CSI) initiatives. But despite tough economic times, the management and staff at construction-materials company AfriSam South Africa have remained committed to opening their hearts and wallets to underprivileged communities.

In 2007, after receiving frequent requests from staff to partner with them on CSI projects, the company set up an employee involvement programme called Mbeu: the Tshivenda word for “seed”. Staff contribute to the programme in two ways: by voluntarily signing up to a Give As You Earn programme they are able to donate a portion of their salary to organisations of their choice. Alternatively, they can initiate fundraising activities to assist their preferred charities.

AfriSam absorbs the administrative costs of the programme, allowing beneficiary organisations to apply the funding directly to the intended projects. The company matches all contributions made by its employees, because it believes that Mbeu’s mission of “planting seeds for a better society” should begin at the top.

Since the inception of the programme four years ago, staff have raised R1?187?534. AfriSam matched this amount rand for rand, raising the total to R2?375?068. “Management is at the forefront of most of these initiatives in an effort to lead by example and encourage other employees to get involved,” said Tsholo Diale, AfriSam’s corporate social responsibility manager.

The projects, which include a “shavathon” in support of cancer programmes and an annual potjiekos competition between different departments, also let employees have a bit of fun and make for great team-building exercises. “The Mbeu programme has helped to encourage a spirit of teamwork within our departments and operations,” said Diale.

AfriSam’s employees are regarded as the custodians of the company’s CSI programmes. They are entrusted to initiate fundraising projects and decide which charities to support. Beneficiary organisations include the Cancer Association of South Africa, Child Welfare, Mount Frere Hospital, the Sunflower Fund and others selected from employees’ communities.

The Charities Aid Foundation, which specialises in employee-giving programmes, monitors and oversees the funding of all projects. Staff contributions are not limited to money. AfriSam allows employees an amount of free time from their work duties so that they can participate and contribute through physical labour.

The company has received positive feedback from staff on the Mbeu programme and it is clear that AfriSam’s CSI strategy is working. “Mbeu has created a positive working environment for employees, because they feel empowered to contribute the little that they can to their respective communities, with the knowledge that the difference being made as a collective is significant,” said Ntaga Mojapelo, AfriSam’s external communication specialist.

The judges were impressed with the energy and commitment to social development in a company with just 2?000 employees. They encouraged other small companies to take a leaf out of AfriSam’s book.