Good business during Covid-19 and beyond

Finding the golden thread that takes CSI from boardroom box ticking and into company culture and conversations, has never been more front and centre than during the current Covid-19 pandemic.

 Kennedy Dembetembe, Senior Manager: Corporate Social Investment (CSI) at African Bank says that as the spread of Covid-19 continues, the one thing that is clear is that this pandemic is a vital reminder that human beings are on this planet to take care of each other — and business is a way we can leverage this purpose.

Last year African Bank reworked their CSI strategy to employees. Our aim was to create a culture of volunteerism throughout the organisation, despite its geographical spread across the country. “We realised this was possible using data that provided insights as well as real human interaction. Employees now sit at the centre of our corporate volunteer programme. It’s the only way to ensure they are involved and to make a meaningful impact,” says Dembetembe.

“We have a golden thread that runs through all of our volunteering and CSI initiatives so that everything we do is connected. Our focus is on education and our method for getting people involved is collaboration,” he says.

To initially get the programme off the ground African Bank did three things to cement its employee volunteering programme. The first was collaborating with Forgood, an online organisation that connects passionate people with needy organisations to develop a volunteering platform aligned with the golden thread of education and one which allowed employees to become involved in a variety of different programmes.

“We realised CSI can change the way employees feel about their workplace.   By allowing our people to find their own pathway and support what inspires them, it really set the tone for what we wanted to achieve. The platform also allows us to capture insights and data that lets us fine tune what we offer and gain deeper understanding into what our people are interested in.”

Currently, more than 1 000 African Bankers have signed up at the Midrand Support Centre, with the Bank now on a drive to share the platform with the rest of our people around the country. The goal is to make it as easy as possible for people to sign up, pick a passion, and get started.

The second thing African Bank did was to collaborate with its people to launch the ‘forgood’ platform. “To do this, we dug up some old marketing banners and used the skills of the women who run Authentic Roots in Soweto,” says Kennedy. “This group of gogos repurposed these banners into 5 000 pencil bags”.

The idea was simple. To keep the golden thread of education woven into the launch of a culture of volunteerism, the CSI team decided to do a drive to provide underprivileged students with the stationery they needed for a year.  Staff were encouraged to fill the handmade pencil cases in their spare moments throughout the day. “It was about participation, engagement, collaboration and community.”

Some 1 500 stationery bags were given to the Winnie Mandela Secondary School in Tembisa. The remaining 3 500 pencil bags were distributed to learners across the country through staff within the African Branch Network.

“The Winnie Mandela Secondary School is in the heart of an extremely poor community so we felt stationery was the right choice,” says Dembetembe. “ We first consulted with the school to find out what they needed and then we went out and bought exactly that. We believe consultation is a big part of CSI”.” The launch event was designed to grab the hearts of the African Bank people and it worked. Once a quarter the Bank hosts a forgood-linked event that drives further awareness.

The final thing was collaborating with the Bank’s leadership to put Key Performance Indicators in place that measured CSI activities as part of employee performance reviews. Starting from the top, the company has put “advancing lives and getting involved” as a Key Performance Indicator to ensure that our people do one activity per quarter and fundraise for the NGO of their choice.

“This is not a tick box exercise,” says Dembetembe. “It’s an ethos embedded into the organisation where everyone knows what is expected and required of them. We believe the most important thing is to be committed, as a company, to the lives of others. ‘Forgood’ has been instrumental to the success of the project and now we can confidently say that we have a simple and transparent volunteer platform that works.”

Bank employees have become increasingly involved in what forgood has to offer and they are bringing their own ideas forward, helping to make a difference in areas that are important to them. “It’s become a space for African Bank people to do more as part of their roles and careers. Covid-19 has highlighted the need for programmes like this and the need for greater compassion and humanity,” he concludes.