Companies can help create legacy of livelihoods for people

The responsibility of uplifting the most vulnerable can't be left only to government, and it's up to every organisation in the public and private sector to mobilise efforts, the writer says.
The responsibility of uplifting the most vulnerable can't be left only to government, and it's up to every organisation in the public and private sector to mobilise efforts, the writer says.
Image: Riccardo Lennart Niels Mayer \ 123rf

SA's growing poverty challenge affects black women and children more than any other group. Corporations are realising that they need to offer effective and sustainable solutions to address a problem that threatens to shrink an already stagnating economy.

According to Statistics SA, over half the country was living in poverty by 2015, with women and children being the hardest hit. Over 30.4-million South Africans lived in poverty in 2015. Half of all these people were women, while 67% of children under 17 lived in poverty.

With unemployment having jumped to 29% in the second quarter in 2019, its highest level since 2003, poverty affects more people than ever.

The responsibility of uplifting the most vulnerable can't be left only to government. It is up to every organisation in the public and private sector to mobilise efforts.

While there are no "institutional" barriers that hinder women's progression in the workplace in SA, we cannot ignore that there are still many obstacles blocking them from climbing up the ranks.

It's no secret that a massive gender gap in the workplace persists and there continues to be under-representation of women in key positions, leaving most women feeling disenfranchised and disempowered.

This is in part due to outdated organisational cultures, a lack of serious commitment towards diversifying our workforce and ensuring gender representation.

One of the biggest opportunities that corporations have today is in breaking down these barriers. Key players in the economy should strive to empower their people, particularly young women, to realise their full potential.

The first and easiest step is creating a conducive environment where women can truly thrive and realise their career aspirations.

In celebration of Women's Month last year, we launched 'Women@CCBSA', a women-led network at Coca-Cola Beverages SA. Through this virtual village-like network, women in the company connect with each other and access resources and tools, case studies and practical guides to advance their careers and have meaningful work-life balance.

I'm particularly proud of this initiative but we also had to seek change in the communities we operate in. We launched a R100m supplier development fund for small black emerging suppliers including women and youth, to build their businesses.

In the last year, we went further by spending R2.35bn supporting 567 black-owned suppliers, 265 of whom were black female-owned suppliers.

And it's working - we have not only assisted in the creation of a more inclusive economy, but we have also helped to create a more stable environment where businesses can flourish, and more young women can be empowered.

It was encouraging that 57% of the employees of these beneficiaries are rural black women.

Another integral component to our efforts has been CCBSA's Youth Empowerment Programme, which identifies youth who display a strong entrepreneurial inclination and gives them the opportunity to create sustainable, growing businesses.

These steps are only the beginning. We can never assume to have found the answer to the enormous challenges our country faces, but we have started to create what will hopefully be a different and positive legacy for our communities and country at large.

We need to continue seeking new ways of developing people to create livelihoods and, hopefully, wealth, and chart a new way forward for future generations.

*Ratshefola is managing director at Coca-Cola Beverages SA

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