Your company is never too small to engage in CSI

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Herbert Moyo

COMPANIES come in all sizes, ranging from the small to large corporations but regardless of size or location, there is just no escaping the need to integrate Corporate Social Investment (CSI) into their business models.

CSI can be either be monetary contributions, employee time and resources, or gifts in kind which bring benefits to the host communities over and above those directly associated with core business activities.

Such projects are not marketing initiatives to grow the company, but they assume a strong developmental approach which utilises company resources to benefit and uplift host communities. It is another way of the company saying to its hosts, ‘we recognise you and we are aware that we are the fish and you are the sea without which we cannot survive and flourish. And in recognition of that fact, we have to give something back to uplift you because doing so ensures our own survival as a fish needs a robust and healthy marine environment to survive. This is a symbiotic and not parasitic relationship’.

In the not-so-distant past, companies never thought of anything else but how much profits they could make on their investments. For instance, a mining company simply applied for the requisite licence from the government, installed its machinery, kicked out the local communities and started digging for precious minerals.

If the local communities were spared evictions from their ancestral lands, the company would simply carry on as though they were not even there.

If at all they were engaged by the company it was often as lowly paid unskilled labourers on a short-term basis.

We have seen here in Lesotho and many other countries the after-effects of mining operations which include scarred unsightly and dangerous mine dumps. Some of the dumps were filled with the residue of highly toxic chemicals such as sulphur, lead and mercury which flowed into river systems to cause harm to animals, flora and human beings.

Not even a single road or school would be built and local communities would be left behind to deal with desolate wastelands while the companies simply moved on to another mining site upon exhausting minerals in a certain area.

Thankfully, this is a new era and although it is often not enough, companies that set up shop in Lesotho are now fully aware that it cannot continue with business as usual. Those few that are still ignorant or merely paying lip service are sure to be awoken out of their stupor by vigilant communities who are well aware of their second generation rights.

The diamond mining companies as well as those in charge of the bi-national Lesotho Highlands Water Project which supplies water to South Africa and generates electricity for Lesotho would be the first to testify that CSI is no longer about charity. It is a vital component of any business model.

Basotho, like most other people the world over have become fully conscious of their human rights which now include second-generation human rights which enjoin the world to recognise economic, social, and cultural rights of peoples.

These are also called the green rights where communities are entitled to a healthy environment free of the dangers posed by unmitigated business operations including air and water pollution, climate change, destruction of biodiversity, loss of soil and the resultant food insecurity.

CSI in Lesotho now includes companies developing and implementing such policies to ensure the local communities enjoy their rights while the companies also make profits out of their business ventures.

The clients are no longer mere customers paying for services but valuable partners whose other interests are looked after by companies.

Some of the noteworthy examples include programmes by the likes of Standard Bank Lesotho and Vodacom Lesotho to contribute to the good health of clients through funding to fight deadly pandemics like HIV/AIDS and conditions like autism in children.

Such initiatives go beyond mere charity because after all healthy people make a vibrant workforce, contribute to the country’s skills base, in addition to being worthy clients with disposable incomes which companies require to stay afloat.

We have also seen how banks are setting up entrepreneurship hubs to develop the next generation of entrepreneurs as well as develop programmes to ensure financial literacy among clients. These are all initiatives which prove that CSI in Lesotho is not a mere charitable exercise but a vital business model because without financial literacy, banks could suffer in the long term as clients fail to manage their finances and end up closing their bank accounts.

CSI can no longer be a window dressing exercise of feigning concern for the community and the environment.  It is a serious proposition about the survival of both businesses and the communities from which they rack their profits.

Gone are the days when communities were simply illiterate or ignorant about their green or second-generation human rights.

This is the digital millennium of the savvy community members and customers that are so well informed about just about everything happening around them.

At the simple click of a mouse, Basotho will get all the information they need to know about companies that eschew CSI and engage in the unmitigated destruction of the environment to obtain their product.

They will be informed about a company’s track record of exploitation and conversely they will be informed about that company’s competitor who implements CSI to benefit communities.

And such customers are more likely to shun your company and gladly welcome and consume the products of your rival who has an excellent CSI record.

A 2014 Nielsen survey showed that more than half of online consumers around the world surveyed (55 percent) said they would pay more for products and services from companies that are socially and environmentally-responsible.

A simple click of the mouse will tell today’s communities all they need to know about companies that eschew CSI and engage in the unmitigated destruction of the environment to obtain their product.

They will be informed about a company’s track record of exploitation and conversely they will be informed about your competitor who is well-known for CSI which has benefitted and continues to benefit communities around the world.

And such customers are more likely to shun your company and gladly welcome and consume the products of your rival who has an excellent CSI record.

As the Entrepreneur website rightly observes: “Consumers frown upon companies that ignore social responsibility and develop unethical reputations.

“What’s more, companies with these reputations are more likely to stumble into legal troubles, which could result in their failure.”

So who would you rather be; that company with an unsavoury reputation of unbridled greed at the expense of the community or the one that has a vibrant CSI which is not only looked upon favourably by the community but actually utilises the CSI in a way to grow its own customer base through empowering more people?

Beverages conglomerate Cola-Cola has a “5by20” initiative to empower five million women entrepreneurs worldwide by 2020. And there is a consensus that empowered women can have a long-lasting effects for businesses through increased revenues.

They also contribute to creating better-educated and healthier families – which translates to more prosperous communities as noted by the Entrepreneur website.

And you do not have to be a commercial giant like Coca Cola to implement CSI. In fact you can become one by implementing CSI. Here in Lesotho some large and small companies have started implementing CSI.

The choice in Lesotho, as indeed is the choice elsewhere in the world,  has clearly become that of either becoming a company with an unsavoury reputation of unbridled greed at the expense of the community or the one that utilises CSI to grow its own customer base through empowering people.

And the best bit is that a company does not need to be a commercial giant to implement CSI. If anything a company can become a commercial giant by implementing CSI. Here in Lesotho some large and small companies have started implementing CSI.

There may be some challenges here and there but every company knows there is no other way but that of integrating CSI into their business model.

And there is no shortage of CSI opportunities given the high levels of joblessness, poverty, high HIV/AIDS prevalence and poor infrastructure in the country. A company can choose which of these challenges it wants to tackle through CSI and it will be ultimately rewarded in the end.

As part of promoting CSI in this Kingdom, the Lesotho Times introduced this yearly bumper supplement in which we give local companies a platform to showcase their various CIS initiatives and ambitions and highlight their efforts in giving back to the communities from which they reap their rewards. As shown by the increasing number of participants in this project, CSI has assumed a special meaning and importance in Lesotho and is increasingly becoming part and parcel of every serious entity’s business model. That is what every country needs for social and economic growth.

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