We had the opportunity to speak to Kennedy Dembetembe, Head of Corporate Social Investment for African Bank, about what corporates should look for in their CSI partners and why long-term strategies are vital to any meaningful change they want to see in the communities they serve.

Dembetembe has spent the greater part of his career helping communities and South Africans in one form or the other. He is extremely passionate about making a difference in South Africa and is a firm believer that we all have a role to play in making a lasting difference in our country. “I think there is something that everybody can contribute,” says Dembetembe, “whether financially or through action; we all have something to give in making South Africa the country we all know that it can be.”

Not all NGOs are equal and Dembetembe provides some helpful advice on what to look for in a CSI partner: “We generally try and make sure that they are best of breed. We want people who are leaders in their space, who have a proven track record in what they do, how they deliver it, the way that they do the monitoring and evaluation. The way that they implement their projects and the benefit for beneficiaries. We want to make sure that the partners we have are aligned to our own vision and goal. Ours is about advancing lives, wherever we can, in the communities that we serve. And I think in all the organisations we support, it is very clear to us that they are big believers in making a difference in the communities that they operate in.”

But, creating an effective CSI strategy doesn’t end with selecting the right NGO to partner with. It takes dedication, long-term commitment, and a willingness to become personally involved. Having run an NGO for several years, Dembetembe understands the challenges of an NGO and, having come to the other side, from within a corporation he has tried to make sure that his colleagues and other CSI practitioners are aware that the challenges an NGO such as The Love Trust face are enormous and that your funding is never guaranteed. 

“You can’t expect to see proper change,” Dembetembe says, “when the people you’re supporting are always at the mercy of changing requirements or limited resources. It is essential, especially for us as African Bank, as it is for any other funder to fully understand what it takes to bring about change. Only by doing things consistently and over time will you see some kind of difference.

Changing the education landscape is no different. You’re not going to see results in one year or two years; it will take a long time to get numeracy and literacy up to the right level. You have to start that journey somewhere and it ultimately starts at an early childhood development (ECD) level. If a child cannot walk into a primary school with a proper understanding of numeracy or literacy; with certain cognitive skills; or social skills, their journey is already doomed.

The part that The Love Trust plays is therefore critical, because it starts right at the beginning of the child’s learning journey. The more support we’re able to provide organisations such as these in the work they’re doing within the ECD space, the better it becomes for everything along that journey. This is how we will start to see real change. And it wouldn’t make any sense to stop the journey anywhere along the way. Because then what was the point? How committed could we possibly have been to try to change education outcomes if we were not committed to the organisation providing it?”

Dembetembe also explains that the relationship between corporates and NGOs is symbiotic. “From a business point of view,” says Dembetembe, “our partnership with The Love Trust has helped in allowing us to expose our brand and products to new communities, new customers, which is always a good thing. And, on a personal level, our staff has gotten to know an amazing organisation that does amazing work. They’ve also had an opportunity to go to some of these ECD centres and make a difference.

For any human being, there is no greater feeling than being able to give and give selflessly, and our staff epitomises that in a lot of the CSI work we do. Staff volunteering is at the core of what we do, as African Bank: we want our staff to be out there, to get their hands dirty, to show those who really need it, love. I think the kind of partnership that we have, with The Love Trust, has opened many doors and many hearts, for people who now want to do so much more and have a better understanding of the challenges average Africans are facing in our country every day.”

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