Shortly after arriving in Zimbabwe, I became involved in the world of corporate social responsibility (CSR). U.S. Embassy Harare's Public Affairs Section partnered with the Regional Center for Social Responsibility (RCSR) to launch a comprehensive CSR outreach campaign supported by the State Department's Fund for Economic Innovation in Public Diplomacy. As a Political and Economic Officer, I was grateful to have the opportunity to engage on a critical business issue and participate in this ground-breaking Zimbabwean initiative.
I learned quickly that many Zimbabwean companies do not traditionally engage in areas of public welfare. Neither business schools nor companies provide CSR training; companies that designate CSR responsibilities to employees view them as an extension of marketing. Most do not interact with public officials to outline shortfalls the private sector can fill. The result is that companies make decisions on CSR with limited background information. Recently, however, Zimbabwean companies are starting to see the positive benefits of these programs. With a recently stabilized economy, middle class Zimbabweans have the purchasing power to choose between service providers and are showing a growing appreciation for non-political, local community engagement.
For example, Securico, a woman-led security company, has gained international fame for both its successful business model and its commitment to CSR. Founder Divine Ndhlukula, was recently named 2013 African Woman of the Year at the African Achievers Awards gala in Nairobi. She participated in the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs' African Women's Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP) and is starting a locally-based AWEP chapter in Zimbabwe with fellow program alumni. Securico pays school fees for employees' children through grade six and partners with Global Vision to provide education to out-of-school youths. It also commits resources to encouraging children's participation in sports, empowering women by providing them with jobs traditionally held by men, and increasing HIV and AIDS awareness. Securico and other forward-thinking companies understand the need for a holistic approach to doing business in Zimbabwe.
Another exchange program alumnus, Joel Gombera, is helping to change Zimbabwe's approach to CSR. Gombera participated in the International Visitor Leadership Program and works as the group marketing manager for a large Zimbabwean financial institution with an active CSR component. Gombera founded the the Regional Centre for Social Responsibility (RCSR). With support from the State Department's Fund for Economic Innovation in Public Diplomacy, RCSR promotes awareness of CSR benefits among Zimbabwean corporations. Their programs focus on assisting schools. Through these programs, important linkages and partnerships are forged between the education sector and local corporations that could help address the large funding gap for Zimbabwe's schools.
RCSR, with U.S. Embassy support, is adeptly working with local businesses to convince them that CSR in Zimbabwe promotes companies' own growth objectives and positive government and community relationships. We hope the program will start a national dialogue, and I look forward to continued engagement with RCSR to promote economic growth and address issues of common interest.