"Traditionally, women and girls have been marginalised," explains Cell C Corporate Social Investment Manager, Mercia Maserumule. "Yet they constitute over 50% of our population in South Africa, they are a critical resource pool for desperately needed skills and even more importantly, they are the future mothers who must inculcate generations to come with the values, ethics, principles and aspirations that our country will need to develop sustainably."
Consequently Cell C's CSI philosophy focuses principally on education of this crucial, and generally most vulnerable sector, complemented by a supportive Career Choice Expo and the Girl Child Bursary Fund.
"We are in this for the long haul," emphasises Maserumule. "While there is always room and need for the ad hoc interventions where community needs are pressing, the Take A Girl Child to Work Day® by its nature is long term. The initial contact with these girls needs to be sustained. When girls are exposed to the realities of the world of work, a whole new dimension is opened for them. They see successful women from all walks of life who enjoy equality with men and other women of all backgrounds. This is a powerful stimulus for an often newfound belief in their own abilities. It gives them hope. It inspires them. They are able to enter into dialogue about their own needs and the roles which they can fulfil in our socio-economic development. It creates an excitement which lectures, presentations and courses may not necessarily attain."
The power of this initiative has been recognised by the President's Office and the Deputy President as well as by the Department of Education which has continuously endorsed it. Government departments at all levels are intensifying their support and SMMEs and companies across the board have thrown their hats into the ring too.
An estimated 50 000 girl children participate annually in the campaign, with over 350 000 being involved since 2003. "We have also seen a consistent increase in the number of partners from the corporate sector, government and NGOs," adds Maserumule. "Over 1600 have joined in the initiative since 2003 and the campaign also enjoys the personal support of President Mbeki, Deputy President Mlambo Ngcuka and high-profile business executives such as Deputy CEO of the JSE Securities Exchange, Nicky Newton-King, who act as custodians."
"Feedback from the girls themselves has demonstrated amply the value of this exposure to them, many of whom come from very disadvantaged backgrounds," continues Maserumule."
The Take a Girl Child to Work Day has now extended its reach through the Career Choice Expo and Girl Child Bursary Fund, which supplement the project and further promote its long-term influence. The Bursary Fund was launched in 2007 and raises funds via an SMS campaign and corporate donations. It received a significant boost this year through a R200 000 donation from ABSA bank. Cell C matches all funds raised.
The Career Choice Expo which was also introduced as an extension of Take a Girl Child to Work Day® in 2007 aims to reach boys and girls from grades 9 to 12 in rural communities. It has already been hosted in seven of the nine provinces, reaching 6000 learners from 60 high schools. Corporates and government departments have been quick to appreciate its importance with 22 stakeholders exhibiting in 2007.
"We like to target these more remote areas, in partnership with the Congress of Traditional Leaders in South Africa to give both boy and girl learners opportunities to learn of career options and talk to career experts," states Maserumule. "There are talents and abilities in these regions which would lie undiscovered otherwise. We simply cannot afford to neglect any pocket of potential if we are to take our place in the world stage."
Thinking globally as well as nationally has become integral to Cell C's CSI policies. This has led to its funding the South African Model United Nations debate which is organised by Education Africa. "Teams of four learners, two from a resourced and two from an under-resourced school are assigned a country," she explains. "They become 'diplomats' and have to research the problems and find solutions for issues of international importance."
Children learn public speaking, debating and research skills. They obtain an invaluable awareness of the importance of international relationships and diplomacy and are exposed to global problems like debt relief, refugees, global warming and genocide. Provincial contests lead to national finals and the winners represent South Africa against other countries at the international conference in New York
Cell C also plays its part in the HIV/AIDS arena, having joined forces with the Starfish Greathearts Foundation to train home-based caregivers and community members to provide support to orphans and vulnerable children in rural communities.
"We also support communities where we operate through the Hola 7 Community Development Fund which makes once-off ad hoc donations in areas that enrich the lives of people, such as providing hospital beds for hospices and equipment for shelters and children's homes. In this way we are able to function not only at macro level looking at the future, but at 'micro-level', meeting immediate needs, touching individuals and changing their present circumstances."
In 2008, Cell C will be extending its Take A Girl Child To Work Day®, addressing the environmental and daily challenges girls face, soliciting more involvement from corporate SA and the government and getting communities enthused.
"Whether children look back with regret or fulfilment depends entirely on the choices they make today," concludes Maserumule, "We want to ensure that they are in a position to make the right choices."
About Cell C
Cell C (Pty) Ltd is one of three cellular operators in South Africa. Cell C offers products and services to 4.8 million active subscribers - 610, 000 postpaid subscriber; 3.5 million prepaid subscribers; 578,000 controlchat subscribers and 125, 000 community service telephones (CSTs). With a network capable of providing voice, data and multimedia communications, the company is committed to delivering to subscribers a full range of GSM services, based on the key principles of affordability, accessibility and value for money. Launched in November 2001, Cell C has rolled out 2,187 base stations nationwide and now carries over 87% of its own traffic. The network operator has roaming agreements with 425 telecommunications operators in 170 countries worldwide. Cell C is South Africa's most empowered telecommunications company in terms of equity ownership, preferential procurement, employment equity and enterprise and skills development. Visit: www.cellc.co.za for more information on Cell C and its products and services.