To the best of my knowledge, no other publication in the world delivers such immediate and direct benefit to its vendors as The Big Issue. It’s a simple, yet brilliant business model as much as it is a good monthly read. This is just one of the reasons the Spirit Organisation [a privately owned family organisation which operates its corporate activities under Spirit Invest and its philanthropic activities under the Spirit Foundation] has supported The Big Issue and its vendors over many years. We simply respect and appreciate what the publication stands for, how vendors are given a hand up and frankly, it’s an uplifting experience to be associated with it.
This month, it is my distinct honour to serve as the guest editor of The Big Issue. I have scripted a piece close to my heart, which is the under-researched area of business and society and in particular the role of philanthropy. I will be developing my thinking on this area as an Honorary Professor at the University of Stellenbosch Business School and would appreciate any feedback you may have to enhance my work in this area. My Stellenbosch University colleague, Dr Armand Bam, who is the Managing Director of the Spirit Foundation, writes on the role of the disabled in the economy, which is not only thought-provoking, but is a useful guideline for employers. Spirit Education Foundation Senior Manager, Saskia Wiese brings her many years of teaching experience to the fore in a challenging piece (page 30), examining why some schools work while others fail, despite operating in similar circumstances.
Petronel Nieuwoudt, the Founder and CEO of Care for Wild, pens a brilliant and moving piece on their unique work, a project supported by the Spirit Wildlife Foundation, but emphasising that wildlife conservation is about far more than ‘just animals’. We then profile two remarkable sporting projects with a big impact. iCaddies seeks to ‘professionalise’ golf caddies so that the service provided to clubs and players is of the highest calibre, while ensuring that the skills caddies bring to the fairway are properly appreciated. Warwick Masi Pumas (page 36) is a story of grit and determination, combined with a fantastic community spirit and may indeed serve as a model for others.
Thank you for purchasing this copy of The Big Issue, for being part of its community of supporters and for making a contribution to the improvement of the life of your vendor, and let me turn to my own contribution.
BUSINESS CAN BE GOOD FOR SOCIETY
For South Africa to work, business has to work for all of us, not just for some. It’s a simple proposition that masks a raft of challenges and opportunities. Doing good business means creating shared value, rather than merely shareholder value. Doing good business translates into being a good corporate citizen. Doing good business demands being good for society, rather than harming it. But these are mere platitudes unless put into practice as part of the vision, mission and ethos of any company.
Conversely, examples of bad business are littered all over our corporate landscape and have damaged our country’s reputation, eroded trust, impoverished lives and contributed to an often toxic relationship with communities and government. The Zondo Commission provided a chilling view into the repulsive belly of the beast that is state capture. Central to this national tragedy was the role played by bad business. The full extent of businesses’ role in state capture is incalculable, but we now have the evidence and names of those who were complicit and now the state must bring the accused to justice, rather than allowing them to live luxurious lives in Plettenberg Bay and in the plush suburbs of North London. Failing to do so will deeply undermine faith in the justice system, further erode investor confidence and leave us all vulnerable to its repetition.
Of course, bad business goes far beyond state capture and includes the spectacular collapse of high-flying listed corporations, duped by their own in-house financial criminals masquerading as CEOs. The ease with which some CEOs have built false wealth on value manipulation, tax avoidance, greed and envy is grist to the mill of our country’s bold and brilliant investigative journalists. Yet too little attention has been paid to the feeble role played by the boards of listed companies, who in violation of the principles and ethos of our very own King IV Code on Corporate Governance, merely went through the motions, enjoyed the ride (while shareholders were being taken for one) and have been let off scot-free. They too must be held to account and exposed for the charlatans they are.
But does this make all South African business bad? Demonstrably not! In fact, we now have some of the most responsible corporates anywhere on the planet. Truly, some sectors and companies have been dragged kicking and screaming into the brave new world of post-apartheid business, but many more have embraced the multitude of opportunities derived from political freedom and flourished as a direct consequence. But what makes a good corporate citizen nearly three decades into democracy?
There is no single formula to this, nor should there be. The internal and external operational environment of sectors and companies varies widely. That of a gold mine, for example, is demonstrably different from a tech company. Employment equity, sustainability and regulatory requirements can also differ significantly across sectors. But equally, the size, scale and operations of companies cover a wide spectrum. There is no single yardstick to measure corporate citizenship, (and B-BBEE scorecards don’t achieve this), and so it behoves individual companies and their leadership to design, craft and implement programmes that are both appropriate and impactful.
GREAT CORPORATE CITIZENSHIP
One form of corporate citizenship that has proven to be particularly impactful is that of philanthropy. Generally understood to denote the desire to improve the welfare of others expressed by the generous donation of money to good causes, philanthropy works if conducted with thought, commitment and care. Philanthropy is not a case of throwing money at a problem to make it go away. Rather, it stems from an internal sense of values, community and responsibility. Of course, to achieve this requires resources, but unlike the Carnegies, Rockefellers and Gates of this world, one does not need to be a billionaire to engage in effective philanthropy. Nor do you have to wait until you have accumulated your fortune at retirement age to launch your philanthropic efforts. As an aside, corporate philanthropy should not be viewed as a form of absolution from bad corporate practices while accumulating your pile.
Rather, philanthropy may be viewed as a lifelong engagement of shared value creation, the beneficiaries of whom can be personalised and specific. In other words, it is entirely legitimate for businesses to identify and support issues close to their heart, or personal values and beliefs. Oftentimes philanthropy emerges from personal experience and an innate desire to help ensure others benefit from one’s positive experiences, or avoid making the same mistakes. Philanthropy has two other unique and appealing features. The first is the opportunity for the donor to grow with their identified projects. In other words, you too can learn from the experiences of those you support. The second is that, in the pressured and hectic corporate world, working with credible, well-governed programmes, such as those funded by the Spirit Foundation, including The Big Issue, provide the peace of mind that every hard-earned cent is being spent wisely and with maximum benefit for the intended beneficiaries.