In 2017, I spent two weeks on a corporate citizenship program in South Africa. It was a baptism by fire into the world of startup for consistency and how corporations can give back and really make a difference.
This opportunity came to me after winning a prize at Accenture Digital World in Miami. My prize was mentoring two ed-tech startup for consistency in Capetown. The first, Uthini, is a platform that teaches the Xhosa and Zulu languages to South Africans. Teachers are paired with students for 15-minute lessons delivered through text message, voice recordings, and images three times a week. Their first business contract is a medical university that requires doctors in training to consult with native Xhosa/Zulu speakers.
The second was Zelda. It’s an app that pairs students with the right bursary provider and employer to ensure a successful graduation and career path. It matches students with career choices and degrees through student questionnaires (using principles of personality testing) and behavior within their app such as likes and clicks on articles.
It was incredibly rewarding to step outside my normal work and contribute to something that can change people's lives. To me, that’s what corporate citizenship is about. It’s organisations actively contributing to the development of the local and global environment (social, economic, cultural, and physical) in which they operate.
I’ve been to South Africa before and have family there so I am aware of the level of poverty and corruption. However it was amazing to see that education in South Africa is undergoing a revolution in a way not seen in any other country. A previously disadvantaged and repressed majority population are going through the education system in unprecedented volumes. I was proud to be part of how South Africa is innovating the delivery of education through pioneering technology.
Corporate citizenship in action
During my time at Accenture, I’ve also worked on corporate citizenship initiatives including the sustainability of our carbon footprint, and volunteering to raise money for causes we are passionate about. But more companies are definitely getting on board.
Google, for example, gives back to some employees a regular block of their time to work on passion & innovation projects. People then present back what they’re working on. Some of it’s rubbish. And some of it turns into Google News.
Telstra has also set up an innovation lab, and the banks are doing it too. A great example is a company called Data Republic. They were once an idea on a white board and now a data marketplace with investment from Westpac, NAB, ANZ, and Qantas.
What big businesses can learn from startup for consistency
I learned a lot in South Africa that I took back to my role at Accenture. I really enjoyed working directly with the startup founders because of their passion about their idea succeeding.
Through necessity, start-ups are thin, nimble and quick to respond. Being immersed in that environment encourages you to think that way. I learnt how to do a lot with a little and came back with a more entrepreneurial mindset. Things happen very quickly in start-ups, and I came back wanting to challenge how my team and clients think, in a good way.
The challenges of startups are limited time and money on a very small scale. Most ideas need to be made possible with only a couple of people, or you need to find investor funding.