Communities, sustainability and corporate social investment projects: are they but white elephants?

Stander, Jovita
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ABSTRACT Set against the backdrop of one of South Africa’s coal-fired power station construction projects, this study looks at the sustainability of corporate social investment (CSI) infrastructure projects and the means of the communities involved in such projects in maintaining the infrastructure. There has been much discussion in literature about the sustainability and sustainable development of CSI projects, yet the literature has offered very little to support the notion that CSI projects in general, and CSI infrastructure projects in particular, are indeed sustainable. Literature from the private sector suggests that there is no shortage of funding, as billions of rand are spent on CSI projects. However, if this money is spent on projects which are not sustainable, the funding will eventually go to waste and not have the desired long-term effect of benefiting the intended communities as well as generations to come. The study seeks to address the question of how sustainable infrastructure projects are in practice and whether the communities involved are equipped with the necessary skills, knowledge, financial resources and management acumen to sustain them. The study’s specific objectives are to ascertain how the various stakeholders understand the term ‘sustainability’, identify the types of CSI project that stakeholders are involved in, define the involvement of government in CSI infrastructure projects, and establish whether local communities have the means to maintain and sustain CSI infrastructure projects. The study has taken into consideration six CSI infrastructure projects among a rural community situated within the sphere of influence of a power station construction project. The research methodology took the form of a case study, as this approach allows for the investigation of a situation within real-life circumstances. Qualitative and quantitative data collection techniques were used to collect the research data from the three groups identified as playing a role in the CSI projects covered within the context of the case study. The results of the study show that companies donate second-hand materials, such as furniture, IT equipment and stationery, and make once-off financial contributions. They also fund and build infrastructure such as clinics, schools and community halls. In addition, companies are involved in the training of graduates and the funding of study bursaries for non-employees. Sustainable projects are projects that require no further external funding for the project, organisation and/or community involved once it has been completed. The most sustainable projects are education and health projects; infrastructure projects; and projects which entail job creation, revenue streams and empowerment. Government’s involvement in CSI projects is deemed not to be sufficient. This may be ascribed to the absence of controls and accountability, a lack of funding, and varying development strategies, with one strategy focusing on pro-poor development while another focuses on independent development. This scenario can be improved by aligning the CSI agendas of the government and the private sector towards a concerted effort. Although the communities indicated that they were able to maintain CSI projects by following an ad hoc approach rather than a sustainable one, the results suggest that recipient communities are unable to sustain CSI projects due to a lack of education and not having a basic understanding of the reasons why projects fail. Furthermore, the study shows that communities do not have the means to maintain and sustain CSI infrastructure projects without the assistance of donor companies. Without donations, infrastructure projects are bound to become white elephants in a state of disrepair until such time as a donor company is willing to commit funding for their maintenance. Due to the lack of participation by companies identified in the donor group, it is recommended that further research be done among this group in order to obtain data on how donor companies view their involvement within the communities after the donated infrastructure projects have been completed and handed over. The research did not explore the reasons why government’s involvement in CSI projects is perceived as being lacking, and further research into this matter is recommended.
Stander, Jovita Swanepoel (2018) Communities, sustainability and corporate social investment projects: are they but white elephants?, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg,