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Connecting Communities with Business: a Socio-Economic Necessity

February 19 2020 By Candice Lambert

Almost 26 years on from the first democratic elections, very little seems to have changed in the lives of most South Africans and more than two decades of political freedom has sadly not resulted in the long-awaited economic liberation of the majority of the population. South Africa currently holds the ignominious title of being the most unequal country in the world, in addition to having the world's fourth highest unemployment rate (with youth unemployment having reached crisis levels) and more than half the population living below the national poverty line.

 

These bleak realities suggest that poverty alleviation and economic upliftment are priorities which the Government alone cannot achieve and collaboration between all spheres of society (including business, communities, individuals as well as Government) is vital if we are to turn this ship around. The private sector and local communities provide significant opportunities for Socio-Economic Development and Skills Development, which are key drivers in providing our failing economy with a much-needed boost. Moreover, the B-BBEE Codes of Good Practice encourage businesses to invest in Socio-Economic Development as a means of eradicating poverty by creating opportunities that allow previously disadvantaged individuals from rural communities to become involved in productive activities.

 

There are many valuable lessons that businesses can learn from communities, and vice versa. The concept of Ubuntu, meaning "humanity towards others", is strongly embodied in African community life and values and is best demonstrated through the spirit of sharing, collaboration, support, team work, warmth, openness, and respect that endures within many rural villages. Business could benefit from adopting such positive principles, which may serve to provide a level of compassion and balance to the traditional competitive and cut-throat approach that tends to exist within corporate culture.

 

Conversely, business has a great deal of guidance to offer communities in terms of structure, processes and planning. A community would benefit from having a well formulated vision and mission, as well as clearly defined goals and objectives in order to provide focus and direction.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

In addition, other conventional business principles such as time management, communication, proactivity and continuous learning could prove to be of great value, if adopted within communities. Innovation and constant improvement are also key business ideals, which communities should aspire to in today's highly competitive and technology-driven society.

 

Therefore, when a company embarks on a socio-economic development initiative, it offers the perfect opportunity for collaboration between business and the community, which allows both groups to share and learn from each other's intrinsic knowledge and experience, for the benefit of all involved.

 

However, these initiatives do not come without their own unique challenges. When business invests in community-based projects, they are sometimes confronted with many of the difficulties faced daily by individuals within that particular community. It is not uncommon for learners to hand over the bulk of their stipends to support their immediate and extended families, as they are sometimes the only individual within the family to be earning any form of income at all. 

Desperate community members can also easily fall prey to unscrupulous loan sharks who keep them locked in an endless cycle of debt which they cannot escape. The culture of theft and corruption can also take root when beneficiaries of projects are suddenly tempted by having access to company and project resources. All these factors can impact on the success and outcomes of any project and it is therefore crucial to recognise, understand and manage such risks.

 

Progression's core values embrace learning and development as well as collaboration, and we strongly believe that grass-roots development is crucial to address many of the social and economic challenges currently faced in our country. This is best achieved through business building relationships with communities, hearing their needs and implementing projects that address these needs in order to benefit the communities, as well as the organisation, in the long term. Learnerships and other development initiatives are most successful when the needs and interests of all stakeholders are acknowledged and aligned, allowing growth and empowerment to take place for everyone involved.

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