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Effective corporate investment in social development: recognising people’s basic needs

CSI and ESG are both core business strategies for value creation. Yet, they often fail to consider the basic needs and real experiences of the people and communities requiring support. 

In the wake of Covid-19, the world is realising that economic systems and social structures ultimately depend on two critical elements: people and the natural environment. Corporate social investment (CSI) and environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) are the buzzwords in boardrooms worldwide. 

So, the question is not why your business should get involved, but rather how

Meeting basic needs first

CSI and ESG are not new concepts. CSI shows the world that companies think beyond merely their own self-interest. ESG grew from this in the 1960s and today “represents a value creation core strategy for companies by generating a positive and meaningful impact on society and the environment.”

CSI and ESG are important because a well-functioning society relies on well-rounded and fulfilled individuals. This requires cooperation between all walks of that society, to ensure that people’s most basic physiological needs – like food and clean air – are being met. 

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs explains that if basic physiological needs aren’t being met, it is much more difficult to strive for higher and/or psychological needs. These needs may include safety, education, self-worth, and a sense of community – concepts that are central to a healthy, well-functioning society. When one in 10 South Africans go to bed hungry every night, their higher-level needs are pushed into the background. Well-nourished people no longer living in survival mode, on the other hand, gain the ability and desire to meet these higher needs. This, in turn, leads to self-actualisation and a more fulfilled life. 

“With the push towards ESG, every business on the planet is incorporating elements of food security, water, energy, and environment into their sustainability plans. It is vital to operationalise this awareness and, wherever possible, convert this wave of sentiment into tangible change,” says Food & Trees for Africa (FTFA) Executive Director Chris Wild. 

Food security as social development

In a community where basic needs such as access to food and water, go unmet, other needs such as physical and psychological safety are compromised. These communities tend to experience higher levels of crime and domestic violence, chronic stress, physical and mental health problems. 

However, much research has been conducted into how food security supports and develops other aspects of society. Subsistence agriculture is widely endorsed by sub-Saharan governments; the rural food security systems it creates generate income through diverse livelihoods. In Kenya, this rural network structure empowered local food producers with knowledge to adapt and sustain their incomes and livelihoods post-drought. This was achieved through active public-private partnerships (PPP) targeting increased agricultural productivity.

Food gardens play an integral role in meeting some of the most basic human needs, by creating food security. FTFA’s community market gardens assist in achieving long-term food security around South Africa, especially in communities heavily impacted by poverty. These communities are particularly susceptible to severe hunger and despondency, due to high unemployment levels and few income-generating opportunities. 

“This programme has empowered thousands of people nationwide to grow nutritious food to feed their families and earn an income. The socio-economic upliftment enables people to be more self-reliant and regain their dignity,” says Robyn Hills, FTFA Head of Programmes.

“Communities are uplifted in ways beyond simply meeting immediate food security needs,” adds Hills. “Other developmental aspects include income generation and skills and knowledge transfer.”

The positive impact of food gardens is shown by their natural multiplier effect. “In areas where community food gardens are established, there is almost always consistent exponential growth in the number of new food gardens started out of people’s own initiative,” Hills explains.

Nourishing our future

Malnutrition and/or micronutrient deficiencies early in life can adversely affect physical, mental, and social aspects of child health. This has long-term consequences for their health throughout life. School feeding programmes designed to improve health and wellness are thus one of the best ways to achieve impactful social development.

FTFA’s EduPlant programme remains South Africa’s most impactful food security, greening, and nutrition programme, supporting a wide network of schools and communities.

“The EduPlant programme develops and teaches school curricula that foster a more sustainable future. It contributes to a healthier environment, improved nutrition, and better lifestyle choices for South African children,” says EduPlant Manager Bharathi Tugh. “The Department of Education’s support is an indication of the importance of including agroecology and permaculture in the school curriculum.”

Smart ESG with FTFA

Until, as a society, we are able to lift people out of a perpetual cycle of hunger, poverty, and malnutrition, our collective advancement will remain hindered. FTFA encourages sustainable business practices and investments in society that address some of South Africa’s most pressing issues. By partnering with us, your business can be a positive force for environmental and social upliftment.

FTFA selects the projects and locations most feasible for long-term success, producing high-quality quantitative and qualitative reporting that follows best practice. Our ESG approach is to provide tailor-made, fully integrated, sustainable programmes guided by each partner’s unique purpose. 

“With over 30 years’ experience, our solutions are based on a wealth of assessment data and sound monitoring and evaluation,” says Wild. “Our cross-programme integration creates value chains across and within communities.”

To find out more about our ESG programmes, please contact or call us on (+27) 11 656 9802/3.

basic needs, corporate governance, Corporate responsibility, CSI, environmental, ESG, food security, future of food security, governance, , , sustainable business
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