Why does corporate social investment affect positive change?

Investing in communities to promote better education, health and livelihoods is essential for the sustainability of businesses, societies and economies. That’s why corporate social investment (CSI) is climbing the priority lists of emerging market CEOs.

By François Bonnici and Marc van Olst

Despite significant spend on social upliftment, there are few success stories of lasting impact. There is instead (as is typical in ‘young’ industries) a fragmented landscape of service providers – and they get in the way of achieving the impact that we need to see from big businesses.
There are four steps that emerging market CEOs can take to accelerate the maturing of this social investing value chain:

1. Business should treat social investments the same way as any other business investment: By ensuring meaningful projects are funded and the best people deployed.

2. CEOs need to agree collectively on a common language or a single instrument to measure the performance of different investments and evaluate the impact not input.

3. By pooling a portion of their social investments towards a single fund, industries can support more significant investments and achieve more efficient fund management, ensuring more for the beneficiaries. A good example is the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria.

4. Finally, CEOs must commit some of their highly capable executives to work alongside full-time community mentors to support emerging entrepreneurs. A “corporate significance corps” of 200 – 300 managers seconded for a week or two a year to social initiatives in marginalised communities would not only help the communities, but massively increase the levels of connectedness, innovation and performance ethic required for delivering social impact. It would be a supreme act of nation building.

This is an invitation to corporates to move beyond the pursuit of success and towards a pursuit of significance; and to see average citizens becoming less dependent on social grants, look after their health better, do more to develop themselves and rebuild their human dignity through self-sufficiency.

Marc van Olst helps communities in the Eastern Cape of South Africa to create livelihoods and improve health and education outcomes.

François Bonnici is the Director of the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business (GSB).


  1. Thanks for creating avenue of support and opportunity for people and diaspora with focus on going back to their root-NIGERIA to invest their acquired knowledge and skills, and make their contribution to Africa’s growth more inclusive and green in areas of technology/energy/education/training/entrepreneurships.

    More grease to your elbow. May the Good Lord Bless You