Kimon Phitidis knows better than anyone how important education is to South Africa’s future. “Without educated learners moving through the school system and into tertiary, we cannot come close to meeting our employment or growth targets. And without educated and employed people, companies have no future market and no future pool of skills to draw on. This is everyone’s problem,” he says. Phitidis has built his business, Social Innovations, by helping companies to channel their corporate social investment funds to effective and impactful education projects.
“In 2010, around 33% of CSI spend was allocated to education and about 90% of companies with CSI funds support education in some way,” he indicates. The exclusive focus of Social Innovations on education projects has given it a differentiating edge among other CSI consultancies.
CSI is a constantly evolving field and Phitidis has had to ensure that he’s at the forefront of trends in both social investment and education. “Increasingly, there is a focus on the impact of CSI programmes. It’s no longer enough for a company to say they have spent money. My clients therefore want the comfort of knowing that their programmes are addressing a real need, and in order to ensure continued relevance, I need to keep my finger on the pulse of the latest research in this space,” he says.
Corporates are also seeking greater alignment between their core business and their CSI spend and Phitidis designs education programmes with this in mind. “We consider both the social and commercial benefits when putting a programme together, and we’re more than just consultants – we implement programmes on the client’s behalf.”
Being a specialist has also enabled Social Innovations to build up a wealth of learning and expertise, which further serves to enhance its offering. “This learning is shared across regions and programmes. We now employ 58 teachers on a contract basis, and use many of them to run training sessions and workshops so we can share and spread best practice in programme implementation,” says Phitidis. His biggest challenge remains the long lead time to bring on a new client. Social Innovations might have established itself as the go-to company for education-related CSI projects, but there is still a lack of urgency in getting a programme off the ground.
Highlighting the commercial and brand benefit, together with ensuring compelling alignment to the client’s core business, has been key to overcoming this challenge, as Phitidis outlines: “As an example, we know that PEP is the biggest retailer of school uniforms in the country and very engaged in the school space. We put together a school-based programme for them with deep educational benefits but that also generated an enormous amount of goodwill for the brand and promotional activity.”
In a sector in which ‘sustainability’ is the key buzzword, the ability to link social investment to triple bottom-line benefit will go a long way to securing the future of the company.