It is important for an organisation to recognise that corporate social responsibility (CSR) goes further than philanthropic, ethical, legal and economic concerns.
The long-term sustainability of your company, of the economic and business environment in which you operate, of the workforce and, ultimately, society as a whole depends on it.
B-BBEE, the scorecard implemented by the South African government that seeks to measure a company’s commitment to transformation, is a significant element of CSR within the South African context as it seeks to redress the inequalities of the past.
I am of the view that South African companies implementing B-BBEE with a focus purely on achieving the maximum points for the minimum effort are missing an opportunity.
A preoccupation solely with what score can be achieve seems misguided to me. Focusing on the processes that ultimately produce the score – that’s where our attention should be directed.
So how do you get past a detached, numbers-only approach to B-BBEE, and to corporate social responsibility in general?
You need buy-in and engagement from all levels of the organisation. And how is this achieved? I believe it all comes down to an alignment of values.
If you can understand and appreciate this, then you can begin to take a proactive approach in redressing the issues and disparities of the past more effectively – in a way that goes beyond window dressing.
You can begin to affect meaningful, economically tangible change in a way that aligns with your company values. This is a proactive approach to B-BBEE implementation.
Here’s how we took the proactive approach:
One critical aspect of B-BBEE is black-owned shareholding. In 2016, we entered into a partnership with a B-BBEE shareholder: a joint venture between two well-known and influential South African trusts, Ma Afrika Tikkun Endowment Trust and Simanye Trust.
This wasn’t a business alignment where we sought a shareholder in our same sector that we could collaborate with and add scale to. It was an alignment of values.
Fortunately, we found a shareholder whose mandate, strategy and focus was consistent with the values that underpin our corporate social responsibility and development ethos, both locally and worldwide: education and employability.
They’re not an active operational business partner. What they are, for all intents and purposes, is our social investment arm, focused on holistically nurturing and skilling underprivileged people from “cradle to career,” to quote Afrika Tikkun’s slogan.
And because social responsibility is their specialisation, where ours is automation and information technology, it makes sense for them to run the operational aspects of our social investments.
This leaves us to focus on those aspects that ensure our business remains healthy at a strategic and operational level, while simultaneously creating a longer-term sustainability, the benefits of which will be seen now and in the future.
But it goes further than that.
Because our shareholder’s focus on cradle-to-career development entails finding appropriate jobs for their alumni, their ear is firmly to the ground, listening to what markets are identifying as national skills shortages.
At the moment, the two most glaring areas of skills shortages in South Africa are in accounting and in engineering, with the country’s labour force not having adequate numbers of suitably skilled workers to meet the demand in these areas.
In responding to this, our shareholder initiatives would almost certainly have a positive impact in improving the availability of engineers in the market, and a company like Rockwell Automation would obviously benefit from that.
But not just our company; society as a whole. Because if there is a serious lack of skilled people to the point where the ability of businesses and institutions to execute their core functions is incapacitated, our society begins to collapse.
We can ignore this, or we can do something about it. We chose the latter.
Understanding that B-BBEE is in fact a necessity to the long-term sustainability of our country, has enabled us to position ourselves – from a regional developmental view – as an important cog in our society’s wellbeing.
Then there is the more human element to engagement. My own, and the experience of some of my employees, being physically involved in our initiatives – that is, in contributing time not money.
Interacting with learners within our shareholder’s programmes and interacting with their employees – people whose motivation and excitement is simply about educating and uplifting others – is inspiring.
And I want to give this opportunity to all our employees, to get personally involved; to create an enabling environment where they can personally contribute to meaningful social change in their country. Social change that will have a positive impact on future generations of our employees.