Reconsidering CSI in times of disaster

Posted: May 4, 2015

CSIBy Carine du Preez, Public Relations Officer: Y&R South Africa

It’s easy to reflect on and critically consider corporate social investment from an academic perspective when you have an honours degree in development communication. You have knowledge of developmental paradigms and models; you can do an environmental scan in your sleep and you can point out the communicational flaws in projects at a glance.

But in practice? To be honest, although legislation may be fairly static, the current landscape in any country remains dynamic, challenging, and demands constant re-evaluation of SED and CSI initiatives. We are currently experiencing a perfect storm of local and global humanitarian crises, and it’s prompting me to critically evaluate our collective understanding of what it really means to invest in development and to contribute to relief efforts – especially as marketers and as part of the creative community. As a communication officer I deal with an influx of proposals on a daily basis, and although all are noble and touching, corporate South Africa needs to be cut-throat about who they are supporting, the reasons why, and the hierarchy of needs against the backdrop of the current societal landscape.

The two main events that are dominating the news at this moment in time, is of course, the xenophobic attacks and the Nepal earthquake. I’ve closely been following both on Twitter and in the print media, and would like to package my observations in a constructive, digestible manner.

  1. Tax Deductibility Should Not Be A Deciding Factor

Although fairly self-explanatory, it’s an issue that needs to be underlined clearly. I’ve heard top management motivate for a project with the dreaded ‘and it’s tax deductable’ many times, and I strongly feel that CSI-initiatives should be needs-driven, while strategic plans should also allow for smaller ad hoc projects throughout a calendar year. You never know when disaster will strike or when another agency or client throws a Random Acts Of Kindness (#RAK) nomination your way…

  1. Carefully Consider The Purchase Of Advertising Space

A prominent banking group recently took out half a page in The Citizen to communicate their strong condemnation against xenophobic attacks. Again, although noble, I couldn’t help praying that they were given the space for free. If not, the media spend could be much better utilised in the form of a donation to a relief organisation – especially since very few people were on the other side of the issue. In times of crisis, your reputation is not what is important. Helping individuals to get back on their feet to eventually be able to have bank accounts in a foreign country… now that’s a win-win.

  1. Contemplate The Influence Of Technology

It’s worth considering the influence of technology in our CSI-thinking, and to invest in initiatives that are highly efficient in their efforts through the use of tech.

In an article titled ‘The internet and the earthquake: how the web reacted to Nepal’s killer shock’ by Stuart Thomas, the author highlights tools like Safety Check by Facebook – an app that allows people to let friends and family know that they’re safe, check on others in the affected areas, and mark friends as safe. “Google has its own similar tool for managing information during disasters. It confirmed it would also be updating its satellite imagery to aid in rescue and recovery efforts and had earmarked US$1 million to the response with a gift-matching service,” Thomas stated.

I believe that locally, technology should not be a prerequisite for CSI innovation. Although I admit to be highly biased in making this point, I have to single out the GIVA one-to-one online giving platform; a project that my agency admittedly worked on. The concept is a simple one – the connection of charitable givers (GIVAs) to individuals in need within the care of NPOs vetted by a leading professional fundraiser. GIVAs have the option of donating to the individual of their choice after reading up about their particular plight, either with their own money or their company’s CSI budget. GIVAs consequently receive ongoing updates relating to the individual they have supported, and they have the option to share their gives and updates in their social media spaces. Imagine the possibilities in times of disaster…

In conclusion, I’d like to urge companies to resist jumping on the bandwagon just for the sake of it and to align their efforts with what they are good at. One of our clients, who are leaders in the hospitality and training industry, recently had the idea to contribute 100 self-baked loaves of bread to a refugee camp. I sincerely praise them for their spot-on thinking. We find ourselves in an industry that has increasing clout in finding creative solutions to business and social problems – let’s pursue it regardless of the trophies that could end up on the mantle.