Working Together For The Greater Good
The protracted drought in South Africa has returned concerted attention to water security. While government officials and senior civil servants are searching for ways to manage the crisis, several sectors of society, including corporate South Africa, have stepped up to address the problems relating to access to water, which hits those on the lower socio-economic rungs the hardest.
Beyond drought, an estimated 10% of the 55-million-strong population does not have access to safe water, says Hippo Roller’s Director of Donor Engagement Darren Smith. Founded 25 years ago, this social enterprise has been able to distribute 55 000 rollers to date, thanks to budgets allocated to corporate social investment (CSI) and donations. Hippo Roller uses funds sourced from government bodies, nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), and local and foreign firms as well as individuals to distribute 90-litre water containers, an award-winning initiative.
“It made my life a lot easier. In the past, I had to push a wheelbarrow with a load of three drums. I couldn’t keep this up. After all these years, I’ve lost my strength, and eventually I had to ask young people to help me,” Ephraim Mekwe, a beneficiary based in Mpumalanga’s Marapyane, told SABC 2. “Things improved a lot after we received these hippo rollers. It’s much easier to fetch water in this way.”
It’s estimated that the initiative has touched the lives of up to 400 000 people in urban, peri-urban and rural communities. As a society, we can claim victory and get maximum results, including improving health outcomes, when such projects are done holistically, with the departments of Health and Education also coming on board to improve access to water. The real challenge is to break the cycle of infection – and part of the answer is broadening access to clean water, but that cannot be done in isolation.
Boreholes to bring relief
In July, Operation Hydrate and Awqaf South Africa pledged to spend R7-million to install almost 70 boreholes to help quench the thirst of drought-stricken areas. The drilling of another 28 boreholes is also underway and set for completion in 2016. “This borehole initiative again shows the true spirit of our citizens who donate generously and help those in need,” says Operation Hydrate’s Yusuf Abramjee. AFGRI, Channel Islam International and Illovo are among the organisations that have also invested in drilling boreholes as part of their social investment endeavours.
Cement giant PPC channelled a slice of its CSI spend in the latest reporting period to electrify 150 households in Danielskuil and Tlhakalatlou in the Northern Cape, an exercise that also helped create no less than 100 temporary jobs for local residents. In Diepsloot in Johannesburg, the JSE-listed titan constructed a waste buyback centre and processing plant.
For its part, Total SA, whose head office building is recognised as environmentally friendly, has built the greening element into its CSI model, including backing World Environment Day. The petroleum group, the first private sector entity to support wildlife and environmental conservation back in 1958, works closely with SANParks to pursue other conservation initiatives. In September, the company once again partnered with SANParks and First National Bank to host National Parks Week.
“We are very pleased to once again be involved in this project. It is such a good initiative and one that will go far in helping to drive the message that we are all custodians of nature conservation and of our environment,” says Qetello Zeka, general manager of sales and marketing at Total SA.
However, 1.5 billion people (20% of the world’s population) are still at risk of contracting waterborne diseases, and a similar number of individuals have no access to electricity, explains Mphaphuli Consulting CEO Lefuno Mphaphuli, whose electrification firm is also involved in social investment initiatives.
Locally, government missed its self-imposed target to have every household on the grid by 2012 (now revised to 2025). That miss keeps more than a 10th of the population or two million households – representing 1% of the continental total – unconnected. On the upside, a variety of firms including JSE-listed Exxaro and the state-owned Industrial Development Corporation have included electrification as part of their CSI budgets in the past.
In an era of renewable energy Total SA has brought on board consumer-orientated alternative energy options in the form of portable solar-lighting products. According to the company, not only is the innovation cost-effective, but it is also a sustainable and safe way to balance the energy mix in the home.
Hindering economic and social growth
The worrisome lack of access to energy sources hinders economic and social growth, while constrained access to water leaves the door open to disease. Since South Africa is in a water-scarce region, poor access to safe water is a reality for many, even in rainy times, despite world-class infrastructure.
Smith states that supporting water- and electricity-related CSI initiatives is a “smart investment”, a point that resonates with Marius Oosthuizen, a researcher and faculty member at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (Gibs).
Oosthuizen cites scenario-planning studies carried out by Gibs, in collaboration with the Oliver Tambo Foundation, where the future of water and energy security in South Africa was examined. “One of our recommendations was that corporate South Africa has a critical role to play, not only in the delivery of water and energy to citizens but also in the sustainability of delivery,” he says. “This requires partnerships with the state on both large infrastructure projects where system capacity is lacking, as well as small, agile local solutions that accelerate access to these basic rights in rural and peri-urban centres. In fact, widening the consolidated supply chains historically associated with water and energy provision would be a mechanism to create jobs and rapidly stimulate the local manufacturing industry.”
Oosthuizen names “energy poverty” – the lack of access chiefly evident among the poor – as a key bottleneck to address pursuant to the national development agenda.
“For these and other reasons, corporate South Africa can demonstrate its social commitment by providing innovative solutions that bring basic services to all South Africans, especially the most vulnerable,” he says. In line with this, Smith, a staunch believer in collaboration for the greater good in the CSI arena, asserts that broadening access “can’t be discounted – it’s a moral obligation”.
The Hippo Roller donor engagement boss praises companies for focusing their strategies and social investment budgets on conservation, energy and water projects. Smith also feels there is still room for focused outputs and urges funders to collaborate more closely.
With more CSI spend going towards these types of initiatives, the country and Africa will be better positioned to improve its infrastructure, he argues. “This will help South Africa and its neighbours to realise their potential as the next global economic growth engine,” he adds. “Unless we have sufficient infrastructure, Africa’s growth will be stillborn.”