Doing good is good business. Always.
It’s a cold, hard truth that many businesses exist primarily to make a profit and deliver dividends to their shareholders. But companies that understand that their purpose extends beyond a financial imperative often generate better returns in the long term, in the service of adding value to the world around them.
I’m not talking about companies that donate to charity, or that have great corporate social investment programmes. Both of these unfortunately often entail throwing money at a problem, but little in the way of further involvement, with the upshot that nothing really improves on a sustainable basis. And that’s a waste of time and money.
What I am talking about is companies that make doing good integral to their business operations; companies that insert it into their organisational DNA, and make it part of them. That’s when the real magic starts to happen.
The paradoxical thing is that there is actually a business case for doing so: while benefiting communities or broader society through their efforts, such companies also derive benefits that enhance their business. Media exposure, brand growth and reputational gain all contribute to making doing good, good for business.
The 21st annual Business and Arts South Africa (Basa) Awards, which took place this week, is a great example of how doing good can be good for business. By supporting artistic endeavour on a large scale, to the benefit of the artists involved and all South Africans, the supporting businesses derive significant benefit.
[Let me declare at this point that the company for which I work, Hollard, is the lead sponsor of the Basa Awards, and has been for some years now. But this is not about Hollard; it is rather about the many companies that have been recognised by the Basa Awards over the past two decades.]
Before anyone decries the arts as being a “nice-to-have” in the light of more pressing societal issues, I would like to make the argument that the more we support the arts and artists, and the more we make art accessible to every person in society, the better our society will be. And the better equipped it will be to deal with those more pressing issues.
If we are to build a country that is safe, happy and healthy, and that truly belongs to all who live in it, we cannot ignore the arts. The arts are commentary and protest, and the expression of realities that are often hidden from view. They are the highest expression of human emotion and go to the heart and soul of a nation. That, in my book, makes them a must-have when it comes to growing a nation.
This year, 30 finalists competed for Basa Awards across 11 categories. Large organisations such as Absa, BNP Paribas, PPC Cement, Rand Merchant Bank, Spier and Liberty competed for honours with smaller (but no less committed) companies such as the Fulcrum Group, Aluminium Trading Group, Instinctif Partners Africa, CN&CO and EuroCape Holdings. Nominations spanned initiatives ranging from an arts academy for disadvantaged students, to art and curatorial residencies, theatre productions, cultural tourism initiatives, art exhibitions, dance and music festivals, and even a reading project.
The entries were judged according to societal impact (does the project speak to society at large, and does it have emotional and cultural intelligence?); equity and return on investment (does the project benefit both the business and the artists, not necessarily financially?); and reputation (have the business, the artists and the project enjoyed a good or improved reputation as a result of the project?).
All of the nominated organisations (not only those that win) deserve all the accolades, plaudits and publicity they get. And more. Not for merely supporting the arts, but for the enormous and lasting impact they have had in doing so. For offering financial sustainability to artists, for providing jobs and skills to a wide variety of people, for stimulating economic activity and helping to uplift communities. For providing ordinary South Africans with creative products that stimulate, delight, provoke and even outrage us.
They have helped us think deeply about the world around us, contemplate what is just or not, see the beauty in ordinary situations. They’ve helped us ponder meaning and significance. They have helped us to engage with our world – ultimately, they have made better human beings of us all.
And while they clearly deserve the enhanced reputation and brand growth earned by participating in the Awards, nominated companies will also in all likelihood find themselves transformed. True engagement with the arts is likely to result in improved staff happiness, resulting in better productivity and enhanced customer service levels. That drives customer loyalty. And that inevitably translates to greater financial success.
Which brings me back to my point of departure: that doing good is good business. Particularly when it comes to the arts.
• Heidi Brauer is the chief marketing officer of the Hollard Insurance Company