Beyond profit: running a business and serving your community


Choosing new running shoes or a new winter coat, doing your weekly food shop, or investing your money?

These might seem like everyday tasks that just get crossed off a to-do list, but this is not always the case. Social and environmental issues matter to people and what was previously just a simple task of making a purchase is now laden with personal values, social consciousness, knowledge of a brand, and what that brand represents.

What difference does that make to you as a business? Well, if social issues matter to people who buy from you or engage with your business, then the stance you take on those issues also matters – whether that is poverty or protection of the environment. In this piece, I’ll look to dissect three key topics that emerged from this year’s South Africa Giving report, released by CAF Southern Africa (CAFSA), and provide an overview of the growing landscape of responsible business.

This is with a view to show how consumer expectations are changing and to enable you to see what you can do to take action on social issues and make an impact on society.

1.) Engaging in civil society matters to your audience: CAF’s research shows that eight in ten people donated money in the past 12 months, and two thirds have taken part in at least one civic activity. And South African youth is a group that particularly stands out– they are clearly politically engaged, socially minded and ready to lead the country to a better future.

Our research also tells us that 47% of people give because they believe we all need to help solve social problems. With this in mind, it is easy to see how companies that take their commitments to communities seriously are on the right footing.

2.) Encouraging future giving: Communicating impact matters to people. Nearly half (46%) of people who took part in the research said that they would donate more if they knew how their money would be spent. If you are a business that has signed up to payroll giving and employee volunteering schemes, why not share how that has impacted the civil society sector and communities in need?

If you are in retail and have introduced a loyalty card that contributes to good causes, why not share those results with your consumers? It’s important to give your consumers the sense that they too are having a bigger impact on society by engaging with your business – if you are demonstrating purpose with tangible change that then gets your consumer talking about your brand purpose, it’s a win-win.

3.) Which causes people give to:  Helping the poor is the cause most commonly given to, with over half (55%) of those who donated doing so. Supporting churches or religious organisations and supporting children are the second and third most common causes to donate to, at 50% and 41% of donors respectively. By providing this level of knowledge and detail, CAF’s research can be a basis for the partnerships corporate clients might want to engage in to maintain the loyalty of their consumers and also make a long-term impact on society by tackling and giving to issues that matter most to their clients.

We are by now familiar with the traditional ‘responsible business’ model in which a company does good through their CSR or community investment. But there is a new model that goes from promoting CSR activities to those already engaged with a brand, to actively using them to drive brand engagement. According to Edelman’s 2018 Earned Brand study, nearly two-thirds (64%) of consumers around the world will buy or boycott a brand solely because of its position on a social or political issue – this is an increase of 13 points from the 2017 percentage.

To meet this demand, many businesses are harnessing the ‘power of private enterprise to create public benefit’ and redefining what success means in business. That is what global network B Corp aims to help businesses do, with just over 2,700 certified companies in 60 different countries. The ‘B’ in B Corp stands for “beneficial”. To join the network of businesses, organisations are measured on social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability, and then are certified by a non-profit organisation.

In South Africa, the B Corp movement is growing but there is still a way to go. Sally-Anne Jansen, Associate Partner at IQbusiness, a local business which has just recently received the B Corp certification believes that the notion of B Corps has not been widely marketed here. Many corporations are unaware of or do not fully understand the motive behind being a B Corporation. Sally’s colleague Stephen Smith added that the B Corp movement has taken a decision to focus on East Africa and have created a hub in Kenya which services that region.

There is no permanent driving presence in South Africa but they have supported us in our efforts. We have tried to drive this from an IQbusiness perspective and have made some, but limited, progress because apart from us truly believing in the B Corp philosophy, the growth of the movement needs to have active capacity behind it. South Africa needs to be redefined as an area of priority.

Can you afford to sit back?

What is good for civil society is good for business and being a successful business today means making money but also serving your communities. A statement from Mauricio Lazala, from the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, reads: “Defending human rights and helping reduce social unrest increases acceptance of investments and business operations, helps companies secure a social license to operate, and lowers the cost of capital.”

In other words, holding social license and capital go hand in hand. Our research shows just how important taking a stance on social issues is to people who give, and therefore people who buy. Being a business that stands for something, that gives back to society, is something people relate to and seek out. So do your research, make your commitment, and take action to back that up. Can you afford not to?

Gill Bates is the CEO of CAF Southern Africa.