Where before the responsibility of driving change may have been relegated to the realms of NGOs or the state, the pandemic has emphasised the role that companies play as agents of social progress. The global socioeconomic environment calls for collaboration between the public and private sectors, NGOs and civil society in an attempt to harness the power of ‘collective impact.’ These types of partnerships serve to illustrate that united effort can be a powerful instrument for social change and reconfiguration.
This is the opinion of David Morobe, Executive General Manager for Impact Investing at Business Partners Limited, who states that, in the past, the corporate community placed profitability and social responsibility on opposite ends of the business spectrum. “In a global climate that is characterised by environmental realities like climate change alongside social challenges such as inequality, gender discrimination, high unemployment and poverty, many in the private sector are only now waking up to the fact that it has a critical role to play in alleviating the severity of these issues.”
Morobe is a fervent advocate for the notion of “shared value” – a concept coined by Professor Michael E. Porter of Harvard Business School and Mark Kramer, co-founder and managing director of social impact consultancy, Foundation Strategy Group (FSG).
In a work entitled, The Ecosystem of Shared Value, Kramer and FSG Managing Director, Marc W. Pfitzer highlight the connection between social progress and business success. In illustrating their point, the authors cite the example of global mining company, Anglo American – the corporate that put its weight behind the first large-scale programme to diagnose and treat HIV/AIDS in South Africa. What began as a programme dedicated to reducing absenteeism in the workplace and safeguarding its workforce, became the basis of a national initiative that would serve to promote a preventative approach to the virus and provide care, support and treatment to those affected.
Giving credence to these sentiments, Morobe explains: “We can garner invaluable learnings from the international business community, who have charted a way forward for companies on the African continent. As leaders in the South African business community, it is our duty to demonstrate how creating shared value through our policies and practices not only enhances our competitiveness in our respective industries but also enhances the socio-economic condition of our communities.”
Morobe adds that Business Partners Ltd has always been invested in contributing to social transformation, which is demonstrated by the company’s focus on, not only providing finance to SMEs but ensuring that these investments lead to job creation and social change in terms of supporting black owned and women-owned enterprises. The company has, since its establishment, facilitated over 671 000 jobs through investing in SMEs. Recently, Business Partners Ltd adopted the environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles in its decision-making process for business investments.
“This means that all applications for business finance are looked at through an ESG lens alongside financial factors. Where our clients fall short, we provide support and technical assistance for them to align and/or implement ESG principles,” says Morobe.
There is much to be gained for all parties who use their collective impact towards effecting change. NGOs have the social influence and resilience to bring grassroot issues to the forefront of public discourse. Governments have the political prowess and influence to drive change at a macro level. And the private sector brings with it a substantial amount of economic sway and social resources – the kind that can get initiatives off the ground. Through collective impact, these institutions can mobilise their resources and shoulder the costs of social transformation together.
Adding to the discussion on collective impact, Morobe asserts that there is much to be said about the role that small businesses have to play in the shared value ecosystem. Their agility and ability to adapt to evolving and volatile environments makes them a formidable force in the South African marketplace. As potential drivers of social change, SMEs can measure their impact at every stage of the supply chain without being hampered by bureaucracy. They are also in the unique position of being able to educate and train their teams towards building a culture of ownership and accountability.
Morobe adds that one need only look at the exceptional level of innovation that came out of the SME sector, which was hard-pressed during lockdown to find ways to drive revenue under the most challenging of circumstances. “We saw product and service diversification, community-building, strategic price modelling and repositioning. We saw an outstanding level of resilience, which is demonstrative of the importance of the SME sector as a tool for social impact.”
Independent investors, business finance companies and state entities find themselves at a crossroads, in a time that calls for meaningful, measurable impact not only towards a prosperous economic future but one that is underpinned by values such as equality and fairness.
“As business leaders, ours is an environmental and a social imperative to become the catalysts for change. That may mean collaborating with our competitors, or having difficult conversations with state leaders and being humble enough to learn from the experience of communities on the ground. Embracing shared value has the ability to open up new doors of possibility and opportunity both within our companies and our communities,” concludes Morobe.