Redirecting Social Investment - Business Media MAGS

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Redirecting Social Investment

Has lockdown tilted CSI spending towards more food relief and health efforts? Caiphus Kgosana finds out.

While 2019 saw CSI spend heavily directed at education, with 94 per cent of corporate donors collectively spending 50 per cent of their spend in this sector, food relief programmes only received about 2 per cent of the total R10.2-billion allocated to the collective CSI spend pool, according to Trialogue’s The Business in Society Handbook 2019.

How will this situation read at the end of 2020, when food relief and health-related emergencies emerged early on in the year as the dominant areas for relief as the COVID-19 lockdown impacted gravely on the majority of our communities?

The New York Times pointed out right at the start of the global wide lockdown that “in societies where the virus hits, it is deepening the consequences of inequality, pushing many of the burdens onto the losers of today’s polarised economies and labour markets. Research suggests that those in lower economic strata are likelier to catch the disease”.

As a response to this reality, the Solidarity Fund was set up. Gloria Serobe, the chairperson of the fund, said at that time that the fund will be a rapid response to support four key initiatives: preventative and supporting measures to “flatten the curve”; detecting and understanding the magnitude of the infection problem; assisting with the management of those people in hospital or medical care; and supporting those people whose lives are disrupted by the virus.”

By all accounts, South Africa’s renewed priorities for social funding shifted towards medical-related relief programmes and very basic food relief efforts. The Solidarity Fund’s first humanitarian disbursement, in April this year, saw R120-million donated to provide emergency food relief to over 250 000 distressed households across South Africa. This figure already accounts for more than 10 per cent of the annual CSI spend corporates pooled in 2019.

As part of its healthcare support intervention, the fund reported in May that R905-million had been allocated for the procurement of personal protective equipment and an additional R250-million to the National Health Laboratory Services. Again, on last year’s statistics where corporate spend directed to the health sector was only 7 per cent of the total CSI spend of R10.2-billion, according to Trialogue, this year’s spend seems to have surpassed the 2019 CSI support.

The big spenders

Mary Oppenheimer and her daughters are responsible for the biggest donation to the Solidarity Fund, having donated just over R1-billion to date. The Solidarity Fund is a business, government and civil society initiative with a mandate to support the national health response, contribute to humanitarian relief efforts, and mobilise South Africans in the fight against COVID-19.

The fund, according to statistics released on its website, has raised R3.1-billion since its inception and has allocated R2.2-billion and disbursed just over R1-billion to ongoing projects. The statistics also show that it supported 11 projects in the health sector, mainly buying personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline workers and testing kits.

By the beginning of October, the fund had supported 280 000 families around the country with food parcels and allocated farming input vouchers to 47 000 subsistence farmers in rural areas. It is targeting another 135 000 households through its R100-million food voucher relief programme, whereby each household receives a R700 voucher.

The fund has also provided PPE and medical services to 133 shelters and care centres that assist women and children affected by gender-based violence.

It has partnered with government and other entities to identify beneficiaries. Through MomConnect, a programme registered by the Department of Health to give prenatal care to pregnant women, the fund has reached 45 000 expectant mothers.

The Solidarity Fund has done away with food parcels replacing them with digital food vouchers through a partnership with Standard Bank and smaller fintech companies.

“The food vouchers have the added benefit of enhancing beneficiary dignity by allowing them to choose the items they need,” the fund states.

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