Pro bono professional services

Project Siyakhula and Stitch Wise are two initiatives driven by professional services firm Deloitte. It reveals an organisation that shows a passion for creating an integrated and powerful employee volunteer programme.

“Our greatest assets are our people and the knowledge that they can give to our clients,” says Samuel Payne, corporate citizen manager at Deloitte. “We believe that we can provide non-profit organisations with the skills and expertise that they need to take themselves further. There is a saying, ‘rather teach someone to fish than feed them every day’, and that is exactly the approach we have taken.”

Deloitte offers the knowledge and skills that it sells to clients pro bono or at discounted rates to charities, enterprises and non-profit organisations. Project Siyakhula is its flagship endeavour and showed superb results.

It was started in 1998 when trainee accountants from Deloitte’s Pretoria office wanted to use their knowledge to make a difference to the lives of previously disadvantaged students.

The staff began offering extra accounting and maths lessons and today the programme is run across the country and does far more for the students they support.

“Siyakhula means ‘we are growing’,” explains Payne, “And that is precisely what we are doing. The initiative has expanded nationwide and now we have our staff going out to schools on holidays and over weekends, and sharing their skills with select students from grades 10 to 12.”

The project works closely with the teachers so that the sessions delivered by Deloitte complement their curriculum. They also review the results of the learners over the years so that they can assess how the project can be improved, the areas that are working exceptionally well and how to drive the project further.

Reitumetse High school wrote: “It is with great gratitude we inform you that our school, teachers and learners are overwhelmed by this project. It has impressively stimulated most of our learners to concentrate more on their studies and their performance is improving.”

Driving young talent
What makes the project so interesting is that it addresses several pressing concerns within South Africa — education, the skills shortage and inspiring the next generation.

The students who work with the volunteers are inspired to take their skills to the next level and many of them have gone on to join the company and have themselves become the volunteers who train the next generation.

“We are seeing more of our Siyakhula students coming to Deloitte for interviews and when I ask about how they have heard of us, it was this programme,” says Antoinet Mouton, audit graduate recruitment at Deloitte. “Something is working. There is a growing awareness of becoming a chartered accountant."

Thato Seeletse, a third year Deloitte trainee says: “I used to believe that hard work alone could net you a decent living. They are incredibly smart and willing to learn. A moment that stands out for me is the night before the Siyakhula exams.

"I was trying to explain basic accounting concepts and they were struggling with them. These kids insisted on staying up all night to ensure they were fully prepared for their exam and some were performing their calculations manually, refusing to use a calculator because they didn’t believe in shortcuts. I have never felt so proud.”

Phenny Mantsho, audit manager at Deloitte, explains that the majority of the volunteers have been white people who’ve never been to a township and had limited interaction with previously disadvantaged children.

Many have found the experience so rewarding that they’ve asked higher management to become more involved, and this just goes to show that both sides learn from one another.

“I have never come across learners who are so positive in spite of their living situations and the obstacles they have to face every day,” says Lolla de Beer, second year trainee at Deloitte.

“I joined Siyakhula in my first year to give back to those who are less fortunate, to share what I could to enrich those learners’ lives, but this is where I was wrong. It was me learning from them. I was the student in my own class. The way they looked at life and the goals they set for themselves will make for a richer and more prosperous South Africa.”

Helping businesses in need
Another project that has seen remarkable results is Stitch Wise, where Deloitte provides pro bono work of the highest standard to support an industry that needs their expertise.

The endeavour provides the staff at Deloitte Consulting with an opportunity to share their talents with a business that’s in need and Stitch Wise wanted to increase its customer base and its revenue, while simultaneously contributing to local communities.

“Stitch Wise manufactures personal protective equipment (PPE) for the mines,” explains Palvin Naidoo, analyst in consumer business strategy and innovation at Deloitte Consulting. “Their employees consist of paraplegics — people who previously worked for the mines and have lost limbs as a result of accidents on site. Stitch Wise has hired and trained them, and given them meaningful work in manufacturing this equipment.”

The volunteers from Deloitte created a strategy and a presentation for Stitch Wise so they only needed to approach the mines and show them their brand and their products.

It was a win-win solution that created jobs and gave more revenue to Stitch Wise, while also improving the brand image of the mining industry.

“Deloitte’s assistance and guidance to our company in the analyses produced, the direction and guidance offered, the production of the presentation and the marketing opportunities provided are invaluable,” says Natalie Killassy, chief executive of Stitch Wise.

“The benefits of developing a platform on a number of different levels that will stimulate job creation for the differently abled men and women will have an immeasurably positive effect on our society.”

Deloitte is working hard to ensure that it gives its employees volunteering opportunities by consistently focusing on projects that tap into their highly specialised talent pool.

“We are creating these opportunities for our staff to get involved and we believe it can help with staff retention, it keeps them stimulated and allows them to work for a firm that has values which resonate with their own,” concludes Payne.

CSI that works
The focus of the next breakfast in Firstrand’s CSI That Works series will be on the role of bursary programmes in supporting tertiary education in particular among previously disadvantaged communities.

Themed “Increasing access and support in tertiary education: lessons learnt from CSI funded bursary programmes”, it will take place on October 16 2013.

The rationale for this topic is manifold. It includes the combined effect of persistent poverty, unemployment and low incomes that limit access to education for a significant proportion of young people in the country.

Also, increased access to tertiary education enables young people to participate in the economy, thus providing an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty in previously disadvantaged communities.

Third, bursary programmes have been effective in increasing access to tertiary education for a significant proportion of young people, thus contributing towards equity in education. However, conventional bursary programmes for tertiary education are increasingly becoming inadequate in the face of the following challenges:

Bursars progressing from Grade 12 are often academically unprepared for tertiary education and most drop out before graduation;

As a result of poverty and thus limited financial options, bursars whose financial support only cover tuition and books often drop out as a result of lack of livelihood support;

To provide adequate content, research will be conducted on CSI funded bursary programmes to: determine the appropriate levels of involvement of CSI entities in the management of bursary schemes; define the minimum requirements of what should constitute a bursary programme; evaluate the significance of non-monetary support within bursary programmes; and review government’s role in financing education through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme of South Africa.

The research will culminate in a report documenting the lessons learnt from CSI funded bursary programmes. Speakers from selected bursary programmes will share their experiences at the breakfast meeting on October 16.

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