Strategic social investments are a catalyst for social progress

The inauguration of the Barloworld Mbewu programme to facilitate the growth of social enterprises signalled the cementing of a new approach to the company’s mission to make a difference. Over the years, Barloworld has sought to use its core capabilities to contribute to economic activity and, through the Barloworld Foundation, it has invested in a number of different areas, including education, youth empowerment, health and welfare.  Barloworld has sought to do more and measurably contribute to social progress — particularly in the face of increasing poverty and unemployment. The outcome of the community support programmes review was the design of Barloworld Mbewu, a programme to help facilitate the growth of social enterprises, to enable them to scale up and become sustainable entities. 

At Barloworld, we believe social enterprises are an important channel for sustainable change and development and that by supporting social enterprises, corporates have an opportunity to make a significant impact in communities across South Africa.

This three-year initiative is set to grow carefully selected social enterprises, helping them to become sustainable and so uplift the communities they serve. The programme provides seed funding, access to further finance and incubation to selected social enterprises.

Diverging from traditional CSI/CSR approaches

Barloworld Mbewu introduces a new vision for shared value for corporate South Africa. Corporate social investment (CSI) by corporate South Africa total billions annually. However, despite noble intent and social investments, social and economic challenges — growing unemployment, poverty, service delivery issues and an increasing class divide — are clear indications that traditional CSI/CSR approaches are simply not enough to deliver the desired impact.

The traditional approach to CSI programmes tends to offer ongoing financial donations or support to those in need, which often fosters a culture of dependence, with limited long-term sustainability. Barloworld Mbewu differs from traditional CSI initiatives in that it nurtures self-sustainability and enables beneficiaries to move away from dependence on grant funding. 

Strategic social investment

Strategic social investment can help overcome challenges such as youth unemployment and the marginalisation of communities.  Strategic social investment demands that companies interrogate their traditional approach to CSI with the aim of reconfiguring it. NGOs should be encouraged to create sustainable funding models. The current funding criteria for NGOs must include impact measurement. This approach will help to build an ecosystem of economically sustainable businesses anchored in the desire for social value creation.

With the support for social enterprises gaining momentum, Barloworld believes that now is the time for corporate South Africa to roll up its sleeves and collectively work to consolidate its role as a catalyst for social progress. Through a united push and targeted initiatives, corporate South Africa can catalyse social enterprises into vehicles that help to deliver change and real progress.

Noluvo Ngcwabe is head of corporate social investment at Barloworld

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