Botswana: Covid-19 and New Directions in Corporate Botswana Social Spend

‘Clearly, the time has come for social spend to be approached in ways that are smarter and more sustainable, delivering long-term positive Impact’ (Zim, 2018)
Gobe Taziba*
Corporate social spend has been ongoing in Botswana since time immemorial. Scattered documentation of such spend can be found in various annual, CSI, and project reports. This is largely because in Botswana there is currently no known, at least to my knowledge, consistent consolidated report of total corporate social spend and impact for any given sector or period of time. Lately the novel Corona virus has given us a glance to study the possible total value of consolidated corporate social spend through the recent central COVID-19 Relief fund, set up and managed by Government of Botswana in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The major non-government contributors were the private sector. In fact, the call for resource and financial national mobilization was largely targeting and targeted at the private sector. However it is also important to acknowledge and document that families and individuals also responded to the call and contributed to the fund. Something very exciting, worthy of recognition and celebration. This is not a first in our country, senior citizens never miss an opportunity to share and remind young generations that the University of Botswana (UB) was built by the collective contributions of ordinary Batswana through a landmark Resource Mobilization drive termed ‘Motho le Motho Kgomo’. However this spirit seems to have long perished among our people and country. For most of us it was a great indication that it’s still possible and we still got it as a nation to achieve great things if we work together towards common national ambitions and goals. This is a subject I will deliberate on in detail in subsequent installments. I am also of the opinion that the fund has become what I would term ‘a missed silver lining for sustainable meaningful Social Impact’, a subject I will discuss in a future installment as well. For purposes of this installment I will focus on and highlight the positive best practice attributes brought to light by the fund and the impressive but largely undocumented social spend culture in Botswana before the Covid-19 economy. I also want to speak to the visibly huge and worrying mismatch between valuable social spend and meaningful sustainable social impact among targeted and supported economies and communities.

Anyone who has been wondering if the private sector in Botswana ever puts aside their hard earned profits for social and community good, take a look at the figures of the Botswana Covid-19 Fund. Anyone that has ever wondered if corporate Botswana revenue and profits can allow them room to spend a little bit on transformational and meaningful social impact, take a look at the figures of the Botswana Covid-19 Fund. Though collective private sector corporate spend has largely been undocumented, recognized and celebrated in Botswana, compared to other countries, it would be untrue for anyone to claim there is nothing happening on the ground in this regard. There is a commendable deal of activity happening in this regard. A fair amount of corporate funds have, and continue, to be ploughed back into our societies, communities and households. In some cases way much more than most of us imagine or suspect. A significant amount of corporate funds have been channeled to various socio-economic initiatives across the country in areas such as youth, women, and community empowerment, education, health, and infrastructure development.

The next logical question; if government, development partners and the private are investing a deal of resources towards social empowerment, why are we not witnessing meaningful transformational social change and growth? For instance despite all the fair social investment effort Botswana dismally failed to achieve the majority, if not all the Vision 2016 goals. Unemployment in Botswana is extraordinary and obstinately on the upward trajectory. Gender based abuse and violation remains sky high and keeps escalating. The 2019 World Population Review places Botswana as 2nd country worldwide on rape cases at 92.9 per 100 000. Children in remote areas still walk unbelievable and unbearable distances to access basic education with the hope of increasing their chance of escaping generational poverty and living better lives. The number of people living below the poverty datum line is disturbing and continues to rise. More disturbing, it is estimated that poverty in upper-middle income country standards will increase to over 60percent in 2020/21 (World Band Group Poverty & Equity Brief, 2020). Botswana’s Gini-Coiffecent -a measure of the distribution of income across a population, is no different. By global standards, Botswana remains one of the most unequal countries in the whole world. Similarly, the latest Global Happiness Report classifies Batswana as one the unhappiest people in the whole world, classifying us with war-torn countries such as Afghanistan. By any measure and definition these empirical facts, and many others not captured, cannot point to a country doing well in terms social impact. They do not paint the picture of a country well positioned to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the year 2030 and our very own Vision 2036 by the year 2036. Simply put, they paint a gloomy scary picture regarding our future as a nation.

In light of the gloomy and scary social impact and investment paradox, it is quite clear there is need for deeper reflection among all social impact players and stakeholders. Firstly social spend in Botswana is largely done in silos, everybody is doing their own little effort in their own corner, in most cases they do not know what other entities are doing. This has created a very dangerous and disastrous reality of double-dipping and duplication of efforts. This unfortunate reality results in valuable resources that could have been spread for greater social good and impact being over invested and saturated in one community and/or household. Whilst other communities and/or households could have benefited from a more calculated and coordinated distribution of the investments. This on its own greatly undermines the possibility of achieving meaningful transformational social impact. CSI in Botswana is not pivoted on strategic instruments such as the National Development Framework (NDP), Vision 2036 and UN SDGs. Most CSI initiatives are guided and determined by the nature of proposals received. However, sustainable and meaningful social impact can only be achieved through a deliberate well informed social investment guiding policy or instrument. International best practice teaches us sustainable social investments are grounded on long-term well thought-out and executed social investment policies. Corporate Botswana must re-orient its social impact projects portfolio. To effectively address community needs on the ground it is important that social investment responds to specific target situations. Second, project monitoring and evaluation instruments must be purpose-built to achieve and drive social development sustainability. There is also need for CSI practitioners to engage and work closely with government, especially at local level. It is very common and normal in Botswana for CSI to be conducted without involvement of relevant government structures. This is a classic and basic recipe for disastrous. To achieve meaningful social impact there is need to engage all stakeholders, particularly at local level. CSI investors, practitioners and stakeholders need to finally have a common meeting point. This can be in the form of consistent annual conference(s) and/or publication(s) just to mention a few. This is important for sharing of best practices and avoiding bad practices, exploring partnerships and scaling up progressive initiatives. This is very critical in averting social investment funds wastage.

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The apparent current and foreseeable paradox between social investing and social impact is regrettable and should not be left to proceed unchanged. Our country is going through one of the most trying times. Government alone cannot address the current and foreseeable socioeconomic problems brought about by the pandemic and other emerging development challenges. Social investing, CSI to be precise, is one the key and strategic avenues that hold substantial hope and opportunity for our communities in particular and country at large to recover and move forward. As Sizwe Zim -renowned Social Impact commentator encourages ‘Clearly, the time has come for social spend to be approached in ways that are smarter and more sustainable, delivering long-term positive Impact’ At BONASO we cherish the hope of a world working together to accomplish great things, fight the enemies of progress and bring prosperity and humanity to the nation of Botswana. We are ready to provide technical support to all corporates and social investors determined to create legacies and meaningful transformational social impact among our beloved communities and society as a whole.
Gobe Taziba* is a team member at BONASO & a member of the Tripartite Think Tank. He can be reached at: [email protected] / [email protected]

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