By Maxine Volker
These days successful companies are invested in doing good in the world around them. Looking beyond, yet not past, increasing profits and productivity, companies are exploring how to give back in meaningful and sustainable ways. Dedicating their resources and time to various environmental, social and economic causes means they are making important corporate social investments. However, the recent global pandemic has swept nations off their collective feet and turned the world upside down. COVID-19 has changed life as we know it and businesses have been structurally shaken. So how exactly are companies giving back during this time and what does this mean for those they are trying to support? We explore.
Without knowing the way things will be post-COVID-19, companies are faced with uncertainty on all fronts. With no economy or sector beyond the reach of this devastating pandemic, businesses are having to look at strategies for long-term survival. Facing the challenges of dealing with prolonged global and local instability, the anxiety and possible retrenchment of staff, as well as possible loss of clients and customers, in many ways, the idea of corporate social responsibility has taken on a wider meaning in terms of including the wellbeing of staff.
CSR is often viewed as giving back to the community at large, but in these times, giving back to staff is a key social responsibility. COVID-19 has created uncertainty for everyone. Businesses are faced with economic challenges, resulting in individual employee insecurity – it’s ultimately a domino effect. With a dangerous health crisis threatening the globe, employee security needs to be a top priority. Businesses need to be focusing on those they depend on most, and this is not only for the benefit of the employee. When someone feels uncertain about financial security, they are going to do everything in their power to put this insecurity at bay. Employers should understand that in the absence of financial security from their employers – where possible – workers are going to seek safety elsewhere. If this results in leaving their current place of work, companies will suffer a loss when the world does eventually go back to normal. However, CSR in terms of employees extends beyond providing security. Giving employees flexibility regarding working hours and revisiting requirements are also ways in which companies can look out for the wellbeing of their staff in light of the recent changes to work structure. Taking into account things like childcare and elder care are important, as workers are now having to juggle family obligations on top of work priorities. Employee wellbeing needs to be a top priority, this will benefit both parties.
Many big companies are devoting their resources to aiding the world at large during this time. Whether this be in the form of supporting small at-risk businesses or donating to relief funds, there are many ways that companies can do their bit.
- Standard Bank’s CSI initiatives are aimed at achieving and sustaining positive social development of the communities they operate in. Through various community interventions, effective community re-investment reinforces their values and achieves business objectives. Standard Bank Group’s Corporate Social Investment expenditure is funded by an annual allocation of not less than one percent of previous year’s after-tax income from its South African operations.
- Discovery and Vodacom have formed a partnership which enables free COVID-19 online doctor consultations. This platform allows South Africans to access professional healthcare without having to travel to healthcare facilities.
- The Sasol foundation is now offering free online primary and high school textbooks and resources during lockdown. In addition, Sasol, in partnership with the Department of Basic Education and Africa Teen Geeks, has launched free science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) “Lockdown School”, which provides online classes on STEM subjects.
- Unilever’s Enterprise and Supplier Development Fund assists small businesses – crucial in this time of uncertainty
- Starbucks has given all employees access to therapy during COVID-19.
- Uber and Uber Eats have taken the decision to provide their employees who are either diagnosed with the virus or at risk, with 14 days of financial assistance.
- Companies have also become creative in the way they are giving back and creating awareness during this time. For example, clothing brands are now manufacturing and selling masks. Although this does serve as a form of creating revenue, it also promotes awareness around the importance of staying safe.
The devastating effects of COVID-19 have been widespread. An unprecedented stress has been placed not only on companies as a whole and the world at large. However, it is vital that businesses do not disregard CSI during this time. Every bit helps.