While the news of a shrinking economy does not alarm some of us in the nonprofit sector, who have been engaging business-at-large vigorously to support community initiatives to bleak responses, it is worrisome what this means for the country.
Our society is burdened with social injustices and inequality that is seen nowhere else in the world at this scale; this, coupled with the levels of poverty and unemployment that persist, spells pending doom that may see this country experiencing higher rates of violent crime, corruption, looting and a decline of the social cohesion we have worked so tirelessly to foster.
At a time like this, corporations need to demonstrate bold and decisive leadership which looks beyond short-term profits and declares that this here land is home and we are all here to stay; because when you call a place home you make it so by investing in some paint, furniture, reinforce walls and make it livable: something which it increasingly isn’t for many in the far flung communities referred to as rural.
The recent debate over a fuel retailer’s employee whose selfless act saw many donate and pay it forward, further divided commentators when the retailer joined in on the PR roller-coaster. One problem that peaks out when you consider their haste to get involved is similar to that which exists throughout corporate SA. The decision to publicly acknowledge their employees act of kindness as unique and compelling, should have been met with the embrace of existing personnel development initiatives within the organization. It speaks to a public relations and human resources environment that neither speaks to each other or completely disregards the values enshrined in their wonderfully written annual reports and business plans.
Corporations have staff development and training programmes, which start at the retail floor from something as simple as an employee of the month programme; which is what the normal process of acknowledging this employees act would follow. Thereafter, top management would drill in on this special case due to the media attention and review the employees performance over a certain period and elect to enrol him into their leadership development programmes. This would make sense and prevent staff demoralization, which i suspect may occur from how this whole thing unfolded, not to mention that this should effectively equip the employee with the skills that would serve him the rest of his career and life.
It is further disingenuous to ask said employee to nominate a cause worthy of receiving a donation from the retailer for an amount of money he, himself may never see in his lifetime. This may have been in lieu of paying him a bonus and thus upsetting the personnel ecosystem. This further raises our ire because bringing up those figures against the backdrop of employees, like the one being commended and glorified, who earn meagre incomes that may not meet their monthly needs, is like a smack in the face of all who feel the pain of low-wage earners across the country, further strained by this shrinking economy.
It is reminiscent of what Supplier Development programmes similarly do, on-boarding small businesses into the programme to develop them while maintaining a separate database for companies who actually supply them, and never shall the two converge. It reminds us of the commitments that big business makes about investing in our local economy only to learn much later that those same corporations hyper-inflate prices of bread, airtime and cement, manipulate our currency and misrepresent financial results. In a country where the King Codes on governance demand good faith transacting, it seems there isn’t much of that currency going around.
It is this same good faith we need in the civil society, where big business commits to work with public and non-government institutions to radically reduce inequality and poverty. We need immediate support of impactful programmes that get young South Africans busy, utilizing their hard earned degrees to shape up our economy, provide assistance to state institutions as the public workforce has not and cannot grow fast enough or large enough to support and police all the bureaucratic and legislative policies that have been adopted in this land. Policies such as the Protection of Personal Information Act and the Consumer Protection Act cannot see their full potential otherwise.
While I dare not advocate for a larger public workforce, it is imperative that we start seeing real public-private partnerships underpinned by good-faith. We need bold leaders that see beyond the politics of the day and near-term profits, and who can unashamedly walk into a conference of its investors and make a compelling argument for long-term investment in our country, so that one day we may have another heart-warming advertisement about the richest square mile in Africa, lending its wealth for the upliftment of the square mile right next to it.