By Masenyane Molefe, Executive Trustee at PPS Foundation


COVID-19 impact
Although South Africa’s economy is starting to show green shoots of recovery – as the government gradually lifted restrictions, the road ahead is uncertain, steep and bumpy.

To compound this situation, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on lives and livelihoods. Even more worryingly – according to a report by the United Nations (UN), which describes the pandemic as “a crisis with a woman’s face” – most women work in sectors that are hardest hit by the pandemic, with 24% more likely to lose their jobs, suffer income falls and exacerbate the widening gender pay gap.

The big question remains what civil society, the government and individuals can do to alleviate the impact of COVID-19 deepening unemployment and poverty.


Vaccination drive
The first obvious solution has been and is still for people across the country to get vaccinated because the vaccine is our only tool to manage the virus. Since the first COVID-19 vaccines became available, we have seen how they have dramatically reduced severe illness, hospitalisation and death across the world.

To support efforts to get the country to ramp up vaccinations and mobilise citizens to act and stop the virus, corporates have allocated money to initiatives such as the Solidarity Fund, which is designed to fund impactful initiatives that will augment the national health response, contribute to a national humanitarian effort. According to the most recent stats provided on the COVID-19 South African Online Portal (, over 41% of South Africa’s adult population are fully vaccinated. We need to quadruple our efforts to get as many people as possible vaccinated in support of the government’s well-laid-out plan to ramp up vaccinations.


Corporate social investment
There is pressure on corporates to effectively address social biases within the communities where they operate. It is good to give, particularly to those who have meagre resources, to keep the wolf from the door.

The 24th edition of the annual Trialogue Business in Society Handbook states that although Corporate Social Investment (CSI) dipped slightly to an estimated R10.3-billion during 2021 from R10.7-billion spent in 2020, it is praiseworthy that during these tough times, companies did not dramatically reduce spending due to COVID-19 and a decrease in corporate profits.

The handbook also shows that companies diverted their spending to food security, agriculture and disaster relief during 2021.


Trialogue, a CSI consultancy producing the handbook, says education remained the most popular cause, benefiting mainly previously disadvantaged students, who were the hardest hit by the pandemic. In 2020, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s white paper found that students from privileged backgrounds – supported by their parents and eager and able to learn – could find their way to alternative learning opportunities, whereas those from disadvantaged backgrounds often remained shut out when academic institutions were no longer able to carry out physical lectures.

The pandemic, related lockdowns and physical distancing measures caused not only unprecedented disruption in the provision of education and training but also catalysed innovation in distance learning. While access to learning was maintained in some contexts through a rapid shift to distance learning in universities, the pre-existing social and digital divides have deprived the most marginalised groups of continued learning and put them at risk of falling further behind.

It is pleasing that through some of the corporate interventions to those in need, many students felt that the impact of COVID-19 was moderate, with 41% indicating that they battled with no contact during the hard lockdown, 30% felt more anxious, and 34% found the shift to e-learning challenging according to the PPS 2021 Student Confidence Index (SCI) survey. The PPS SCI saw 3 304 respondents – all tertiary students – participate in the survey.

While 26% of the students said mobile data was expensive, things are improving. Regarding the preferred learning approach, 48% of respondents said they preferred a hybrid learning approach. This could be as a result of interventions by not-for-profit organisations such as the PPS Foundation. Cognisant of these challenges, the PPS Foundation provided several higher learning institutions with funds to buy digital devices and internet data for students during the crossover to e-learning.

However, the harsh reality is that the pandemic has added more pressure on students, causing massive anxiety. The SCI survey revealed that 51% of tertiary students are more anxious about the future impact of COVID-19 compared to 2020.

Corporates and not-for-profit organisations are driving programmes that enable students to continue with studies, educational institutions to facilitate lectures, and recent graduates to transition smoothly from student life to the world of work. Acquainted with the challenges of companies, the PPS Foundation provides several programmes aimed at arming students and young professionals with the necessary skills, tools and mechanisms to help address the critical skills gap. These resources are made available, and through partnering with like-minded individuals and organisations, young people are developed.

Therefore, the importance of uninterrupted education has never been more prevalent, and without deliberate interventions such as the prioritisation of education, lifelong learning, job training, skills development and social-economic development strategies, and embracing new normal activities like remote working, the situation may deteriorate further.


The National Development Plan (NDP), the government’s bold and ambitious blueprint for reviving all key aspects of South Africa, envisioned that by 2030, small businesses would contribute 60-80% to the gross domestic product increase and generate 90% of the 11 million jobs. Looking at where we are now, it will take a herculean effort to achieve this.

One sure way to stamp out unemployment is by creating a policy and operational environment where entrepreneurs and small businesses can thrive. Entrepreneurship can also be supported through companies’ CSI budgets. According to the Trialogue survey, there is massive room for improvement here as only 30% of corporates spent an average of 6% of CSI expenditure on supporting entrepreneurs.

Interestingly, the PPS SCI survey shows that a rising number of students are pursuing entrepreneurship and have embraced the freelance and side-hustle economy with both arms. One in three students has a side hustle, with 31% intending to grow these once employed. This is the most important upside of the COVID-19 pandemic. Technological advancements have made the ability to work from anywhere in the world possible and opened many other digital opportunities.


Organisations from around the world – including activists and scientists – gathered at the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2021 to continue the global wrangle over emission-reduction commitments.

Thankfully, the debate has shifted away from whether global heating is a reality or not. The focus is on developing climate-change solutions. There is a drive towards innovation to minimise the impact and to limit disruptions to economies emanating from climate change.

COP26 recently documented that collectively there needs to be a focus that looks beyond safeguarding lives and livelihoods to bettering them. The hard lockdown has motivated people to take stock and identify other ways to give back to and support communities who are affected by the pandemic and climate change.

Wayne Elsey, Founder & Head Coach/CEO, The Funds2Orgs Group posts that companies and businesses do not have much choice. “Consumers understand that we are in trouble, and they are increasingly spending their money on companies that deliver on sustainability. For instance, as someone in the shoe business, I see how brands such as Stella McCartney and Nike shifted toward sustainability,” he explains.

Moreover, it may feel like a distant memory now, but a mere four years ago, Cape Town was on the cusp of an apocalyptic “day-zero”, where the city would be without water due to drought. From the airport to hotels and farms, everyone came together to find solutions. What the country feared the most was that Cape Town would lose its status as a premier tourism destination, decimating jobs in the sector that the city’s economy so much depends on.

South Africa is also vulnerable to climate change from extreme weather events such as flooding and wildfires. Without intervention by civil society, corporates and the government through legislation and CSI budgets to drive education and the fight against pandemics such as COVID-19 and global heating, the poor are becoming poorer and more adversely affected when compared to those with the means.

This may result in deterioration of underlying socio-economic and political risks that could lead to events such as the July riots becoming a regular occurrence. We are now aware of the economic impact such uprisings have on the economy, including more than R32 billion paid to insurance claimants.

The bulk of this money came from the budget and could have been used for the country’s economic benefit, such as investing in infrastructure and providing support through grants. Kudos to the corporates who are socially aware and use their financial muscle to create a cushion for those without the means.