This post has been adapted from a presentation by Charlene Lackay at Nation Builder’s annual In Good Company conference on 15 August 2019.
Charlene Lackay is the Group CSI Manager at Momentum Metropolitan Holdings. She found, to her irritation, that the CSI department was considered merely to be where all the “goodhearted” people hung out. At the time she started at Momentum there were no specific study courses in CSI. Onsite training was all that was available. She explained that her bosses claimed she was too technical, ‘numbersy’, calculated and harsh. However politely, she was always saying no to many of the requests she received, but there was always a perfectly rational explanation for it.
Lackay felt nauseated at the ineffective platitudes spoken by colleagues; the short-term assistance offered by them when faced with a tragic news story. She wished she could persuade them to offer their professional skills instead. For instance, collecting a great number of boxed, non-biodegradable, non-reusable sanitary pads for distribution to young girls was unhelpful, for once the supply was finished the girls had no way of buying more. However, if well-meaning do-gooders, would distribute washable, reusable sanitary pads, available from an enterprise near Tembisa, it would be a more enduring gift besides showing thoughtful giving.
Giving should not merely be to make the donor feel good, but needs to make lasting impact on a problem for it to be really worthwhile. “Problems present a challenge to build solutions that will live long after you are dead,” says Lackay.
She was concerned that there should be more development skill within CSI departments. She came upon a study that claimed employees felt better about their company if they perceived the company to be making a difference to disadvantaged communities, whether the perception and the actual reality were synonymous or not. So the perception prevailed over the facts.
For the team it mattered immensely that their CSI efforts were the most effective they could be. “We restructured for excellence and it was painful because we had to ask ourselves to reimagine ourselves as specialists and full-value trade owners of the portfolio of monitoring and evaluation,” explained Lackay.
They looked for a smaller portfolio with fewer partners and addressed the way they wanted the risk that youth employment presents to be the attainment of a prosperous and inclusive South Africa. They devised a skills-based volunteer programme which encouraged and rewarded the volunteers, so utilising the wide variety of skills available in the company.
They asked their NPO partners to name their greatest challenges then challenged the employees to come up suitable solutions. The NPO was invited to select the solution which best suited their problem and culture. However, company partnerships may require approval by head-office, which in turn may create a delay and sometimes a barrier to local collaboration.
A partner in Port Elizabeth approached Lackay, describing challenges which impacted on graduates in their skills training programmes like financial constraints, lack of literacy or familial pressures. Added to this was the unpredictability of the labour market and frequent restructuring within companies; these can cause graduates to appear to be under-performing in their jobs, as they frequently have to adjust to yet another superior.
Continued mentorship from job-skills training alumni is of great benefit to a new employee. A data collection system making available the information about job vacancies and marrying these with trainees possessing suitable abilities for a position, would prove of immense aid in directing job-seekers to appropriate vacancies. By changing your mind-set from negative to positive, looking for the good in every situation, asking a lot of questions and listening carefully to the replies you could be far more supportive to those graduates who require closer contact.
“As corporates, we own enormous power in our relationship capital with our business partners and service providers,” Lackay remarked. This asset may be used to negotiate on behalf of development sector partners. Bringing the right people together can create ecosystems which allow partnerships to flourish. Also, employees have a vested interest in improving the ethos of their streets and cities. We should inspire an understanding within them of the power they hold as a force for good in their communities.
“I’ve learned not to squash caterpillars because they could become butterflies, so when someone tells me about a wonderful initiative that will be gone when they are gone, it is my job, and that of my team, to guide, to advise and to influence them,” explains Lackay.
Well-intentioned but ill-informed ideas may contain the seed which will grow into a worthwhile initiative in time. Embracing a heart-centred approach allows you to follow a course of action you know is right and not be influenced by external pressure.
John C. Maxwell said: “People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
As the Group CSI Manager at MMI Holdings, Charlene leads a passionate team of socio-development specialists striving to enable the life aspirations of marginalised youth and supporting them on their journey to employment. She holds a Masters in Journalism from Stellenbosch University and has over 15 years’ experience in media – previously having worked at SABC2 and various print publications and currently working as a continuity presenter on RSG.