Friday, December 3, 2021

Botswana’s corporate should sector integrate CSR initiatives to enhance impact and sustainability

As is the case in many countries, Corporate and Social Responsibility in Botswana has over the years evolved and changed for the better. Many companies ÔÇô big and small are doing much more than has ever been the case to integrate and indeed incorporate Corporate and Social Responsibility into their overall strategies. This is indeed commendable, especially at a time when our economy is going through difficult times such as is the case today. At the moment, Government which has traditionally been literally a breadwinner for the weakest, poorest, vulnerable and least privileged members of our society finds itself struggling to even meet its minimum key obligations.

It is in times like these that the corporate world should step up to the plate and supplement government efforts by making up for the shortfalls. There is however a problem when it comes to the way many of our companies are carrying out their Corporate and Social Responsibility initiatives. The first defect has got to do with strategy. Many of the companies, and these include even the largest in the country are still to fully integrate CSR into their overall strategic directions. This notwithstanding such companies’ capacities and overall brand consciousness. Thus CSR Projects are haphazard, implemented in piecemeal and even on ad-hoc basis, with no clear goals and targets to guide those implementations. Because CSR is not part of the company strategies, including our most powerful companies, it is not unusual to see such entities often waiting to be approached by NGOs, by communities or some such powerful voice before they could embark on CSR projects. In other words when it comes to CSR our companies are reactive rather than proactive.

The other defect, still very much linked to strategy is that of sustainability. Because CSR is not part and parcel of systematic financial planning and projection for many companies, it goes without saying that many such programmes are often not sustainable as they too often rely on the goodwill and even caprice of a particular executive at any given time. If CSR programmes were planned for and more importantly integrated into companies’ overall policy they would become sustainable for as long as the company itself is alive and trading. As it is, on account of the fact that CSR initiatives are seldom planned for, they too often are the first to fall victim of financial hiccups that companies from time to time find themselves having to contend with. The challenge therefore for many of our companies is to find a way through which CSR programmes are planned for and accorded similar seriousness and importance that are often attached to other revenue generating projects in the company. In countries where companies were quick to appreciate and internalize the importance of CSR programmes, such initiatives have often turned out to be critical in helping forge and engender a culture of good corporate governance among such companies.

In fact the same is true for such issues like the environment. Companies that have integrated environmental programmes within their broad strategies have been found to be more compliant on matters of corporate governance than those who have no concerns on what effect their operations may have on the environment. CSR, we need to keep reminding ourselves is not by any mark a gesture of benevolence. May there was a point in time when may very well have been so. But not anymore. But in today’s word, CSR is basically an appreciation by a corporate entity that its life and profitability are intricately linked to the wellbeing of communities among which the company operates.

It would be foolhardy to continue believing that the bottom line alone would insulate the company from disaster while remaining oblivious of the state of the environment and much more importantly disregarding the conditions of people around who the company exists. This means that CSR programmes should not be for publicity. What we often see happening in our country is that companies that are in the middle of a crisis, including a public relations one often horridly hobble something and call it CSR. That is disingenuous and also disrespectful to those people targeted as beneficiaries because such people are, unbeknown to them they are being used as atonement fodder for breaches (more often ethical) that they neither know about nor understand, much less have been party to.

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