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Dialogues on CSI unpack reputational drivers

Kaelo Engage, producers of Kaelo - Stories of Hope, South Africa's multimedia CSI communications platform, hosted Kaelo CSI Dialogues, held recently at Lilliesleaf Farm in Rivonia. The event discussed the need to integrate corporate social investment (CSI) activity into the broader strategy, thereby positively influencing a company's reputation.
Citizenship, together with workplace and governance drivers, accounts for almost 40% of influence on a company's reputation. However many companies fail to maximise the influence that these activities have on their reputations, primarily because they do not effectively communicate the good they are doing. Indeed, many organisations mistakenly view CSI as a standalone function, rather than integrating it throughout their operations in a manner that can improve their reputations.

Key speakers

Key speakers were Kaelo Engage strategic director Sara Butchart, Justin Cain, GM of the Reputation Institute, Telkom Foundation head Sarah Mthintso, Saras Naidoo from the Gauteng Premier's Office and Greater Capital's Mmamohau Tswaedi, who presented practical ways that companies can translate community-focused values into reputation enhancing activities.

Butchart said that as consumers increasingly choose whether to do business with companies, based on how those organisations relate to their communities, CSI has become a key driver of reputation. Accordingly, "unless companies make known to their stakeholders what they're doing, the positive effect of their good deeds will be rather muted," she said.

There's a need for credible platforms

Yet only around 3% of CSI budgets - R186m out of a total R6.2bn spent on CSI in 2011 - is spent on communications. Butchart called for a shift creating credible platforms for communities to talk about the good that is being done for them. She also noted the need for leaders to become more socially conscious or risk undoing the good that CSI activities do.

"Organisations benefit most from high profile leaders who're willing to 'walk the talk', instead of merely signing cheques. Doing good needs to come from the heart, else people simply won't buy it." Leaders visiting communities and having face-to-face discussions with beneficiaries can help improve communications in a more powerful way than any media release reporting a project's successes could have.

Cain pointed out that it makes business sense that companies should leverage the power of CSI by integrating it into their business objectives, throughout the drivers that influence reputation.

Recommendations for integration included the following:

  • Performance: Companies should acknowledge that their good performance is directly related to the communities that support them and allow them to operate.
  • Products/ Services, Innovation: Companies should innovate around products or services that consider people's needs, making life easier for them. For example, selling airtime in R5 denominations or washing powder by the scoop.
  • Workplace: Companies need to create a working environment and offer employee remuneration and benefits in such a way that demonstrates its care and concern for its workers.
  • Governance: Good governance is about ethics - doing what is right because it is the right thing to do, rather than merely ticking boxes. as prescribed in the King Code.
  • Leadership: Leaders need to live corporate values more than anyone else in the organisation does, thereby demonstrating organisational integrity and raising the company's CSI ethos to its highest possible level.