by Taryn Springhall

Corporate social investment in education

Are we winning the ‘war’ against poverty and unemployment?

Investing in education means better skilled workers for the future
Are we winning the ‘war’ against poverty and unemployment

Former president, Nelson Mandela, said that education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world. It is in that spirit that a number of big corporate companies have taken up 'arms against the sea of troubles' that plague the education system, with the goal of winning the war against poverty and unemployment. 

Fraught with challenges such as limited resources and tools for teachers and learners alike, it has been widely reported that education standards are dropping.   

It is safe to say that calls to action from the government and notable business leaders to get involved have been heard as most sizeable corporate companies have implemented long-term CSI/CSR programmes as part of their business strategies. 

CSI goes far beyond simply donating money. It is an investment whose application can be seen throughout the communities in which these companies operate. Fortunately, South African companies, big and small, know the difference between charity and investment and education is set to benefit from this approach. 

In December last year, an open letter or ‘call to action’ from 33 prominent business leaders were published in an attempt to ‘build a winning nation’. 

In their statement they declared that they “(would) aggressively promote and prioritise appropriate education, skills development, and work-related internships through corporate social investment and other initiatives”.

They went on to say: “Our over-riding goal will be to ensure that school and university systems equip students with the skills they needs to find good jobs and compete in a global market place.”  

Their public declaration cited poverty, unemployment and failures in the education system as some of the serious challenges for the country. 

The government has long since made similar pleas to the private sector to assist them in trying to fill the gaps in their ability to deliver basic services, particularly education. Proof that gaps exist can be found in Trialogue’s CSI Handbook. 

Published in November last year, the document reported that a CSI spend of R6.9 billion in 2011/12 was only 1.1% of the government’s more than R615 billion annual budget for social services which included education, health, housing and social protection. 

In comparison, the top 100 companies in South Africa accounted for 69% or R4.8 billion of the total CSI spend for 2011/12, of which mining companies were amongst the biggest contributors. 

The numbers are a clear indication that when it comes to education, good governance is a job for the corporates. Fortunately, South African companies have risen to the challenge and many are carrying out CSI initiatives. 

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