There is an increasing awareness of the role companies play in the economic and ecological development of societies and economies, said Germany’s Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) regional director Peter Conze, speaking at the Southern Africa German Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SAGCC) launch of its Competence Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in April.
“Companies have to contribute to this type of development and, worldwide, they are striving to make their business decisions more sustainable by applying the concept of social responsibility,” he explained.
“Enterprises and the economy by themselves will not solve social issues and the link, or bridge, to bring citizens into the economy is important for development,” noted Stephan Ohme, the development cooperation counsellor at the German embassy in South Africa.
“We want to bring companies into a CSR framework. We also need them, other- wise we cannot reach the communities and, from a State point of view, we cannot attain certain social effects unless we have companies engaging in strategic CSR,” he said.
The centre will pool the resources and expand collaboration of companies around CSR initiatives, aiming to deepen the socioeconomic impact of such projects.
United Nations member States, including South Africa, signed the UN Global Compact, which is a strategic policy initiative for businesses, States and organisations, committing them to aligning their operations and strategies with ten universal principles. Specifically, this is interpreted as indicating that companies and organisations have an inherent responsibility to the communities and societies they function in.
“Every business works in a special setting in a specific community and, with that, has a certain responsibility,” said centre manager Silke Partner.
“With the centre, we can bring together a more systematic approach to support member companies and the SAGCC,” she explained.
Further, CSR falls under the bigger umbrella of sustainability, and this is where the centre will provide support, information and collaboration services to interested companies.
“The centre is well placed to make a systemic difference. It was set up to ensure that German companies in South Africa develop a comprehensive and holistic strategy on how CSR is implemented, and where they can pool resources, experience and expertise to make a real and sustainable change in the country,” said South African Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) chief director Jocelyn Vass.
However, while corporate social invest- ment was commendable, companies should rather use their expertise to develop individuals and enterprises, she said.
“Companies also have inherent areas of competence and it is this expertise that must be incorporated into their core business strategies around CSR.
“For me, that is one of the significant areas where the centre can play a role, as well as through companies’ supply chains and value chains, where small, medium-sized and microenterprises and black industrialists can be nurtured and developed. “To what extent are you using your core competence to drive sustainable change through social responsibility?” she asked.
Further, the coordination of corporate and governmental efforts around CSR and the pooling of resources are critical to making a systemic difference in South Africa, she said.
The platforms provided by CSR working groups, and the CSR Competence Centre, in particular, are to enable business to start advancing sustainability as an ini- tiative that makes business sense. CSR should be incorporated into the corporate culture and should form part of any corporate strategy and should be linked to the bottom line, emphasised CSR advocacy organisation National Business Initiative programme manager Achieng Ojwang.
“We need to focus on activities that give people the potential to generate income for themselves, and they should be sector- specific and targeted initiatives. “Specifically, under the latest Industrial Policy Action Plan, we must concentrate on activities that can increase the employability and earning power of beneficiaries,” said DTI black economic-empowerment transformation director Mvozo Mtyhobile.
“Key here is targeted skills transfer – technological and innovative activities that will improve people’s lives and enable them to develop themselves,” he emphasised.
Meanwhile, the role of training in CSR and similar initiatives was expected to develop and contribute to creating a stable society that could then further develop, concluded SAGCC CE Matthias Boddenberg.