Gamede explains that the AEL social investments are usually concentrated in Thembisa and the surrounding area as 80% of the company’s employees live there. “Focusing on the area where our employees live is beneficial for two reasons. Firstly, it becomes easier to encourage our employees to volunteer their time if they are working within their own communities and, secondly, by improving the communities in which our employees live we indirectly improve their lives too,” explains Gamede. The AEL CSI drive is divided into three key focus areas. The first is the HIV/Aids trust which focuses on aiding the Nurturing Orphans of Aids for Humanity (Noah). This NGO takes in and looks after aids orphans, many of whom are HIV positive. The company takes care of the needs of the Thembisa chapter of the organisation.
In addition, AEL is dedicated to generating interest in science, maths and accounting as high school subjects. With this in mind, the com- pany has invested R80 000 each in three Thembisa high schools, and R20 000 each in three primary schools for books and training infrastructure.
AEL human resources manager Peter Jordan explains that, as this was the first year of these sponsorships, the committee encountered a number of unexpected problems.
“We found that the schools tended to focus on their short-term needs and did not really worry about building sustainable high-quality departments in those fields. We are currently working on a plan wherein the schools justify the expenses and then we give them the money,” explains Jordan.
He adds that, in future, AEL hopes to work alongside NGOs, such as Equip, which will determine what a school needs in order to generate sustainable quality and AEL will then arrange that. For this year, the company aims to meet the short-term needs but Jordan believes that it will take permanent partnerships to make the entire process sustainable. The process also requires that the schools have functioning governing bodies. “In order to facilitate this we have been trying to get staff involved in this aspect of running a school. Already we have staff members on some of the school boards,” says Jordan.
The third initiative involves investment in students from Cida. AEL sponsors 11 students with payment of fees and the arrear amounts owed by some students. Ten of the eleven students were found to be living in con- ditions which were not conducive to academic pursuits. These students received sizeable allowances to improve their accommodation or, where this was not possible, to contribute to family expenses. “Normally we preferred it if a student could move close to campus but if this was not pos-sible then we aided them with travel money so they can get to and from campus,” explains Gamede.
In addition, the students receive a small amount of pocket money. The students were chosen by Cida from the criteria which AEL gave it. The students had to come from the Thembisa area, could not be sponsored by anyone else and had to be performing reasonably well academically.
“We weren’t searching for the top student necessarily but were rather looking to help those in the most dire need,” says Gamede. “To date, AEL has sponsored corporate social investment projects to a total value of R850 000. This includes an ad hoc programme, which is responsible for R200 000 of that budget.
“Under the ad hoc programme we aid people who contact us and fit our criteria to some degree. Obviously we can’t help everyone but this lets us do something for individuals and small organisations in desperate need of help,” explains Gamede.
One of the ad hoc causes which received help came from a prisoner in Leeukop, who was determined to get an education and contacted AEL on the slim chance that it may be able to help him.
“At AEL we believe that the way to improve South Africa is to uplift its people through education. We are also aware that this country faces a terrible scourge in the face of HIV/Aids and so are committed to doing what we can in this regard too,” concludes Gamede.