Poverty and inequality are two of the world’s most pressing challenges today, depriving people of their fundamental human rights and dignity worldwide and exposing them to hunger, disease, violence, and oppression. Poverty and inequality limit people’s access to quality education, health care, and social protection, which are essential for their well-being and development. They also prevent them from participating in the social and economic life of their communities and countries. Poverty and inequality are not only a matter of justice and compassion but also a matter of urgency and efficiency, meaning that poverty and inequality are not only unfair and inhumane but also urgent and inefficient problems to solve. These are problems that waste human potential and resources. They create more costs and challenges for the governments and organizations that try to address them.
One example is the healthcare system in South Africa. According to an article published by the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa has a two-tiered, highly unequal healthcare system. The public sector is state-funded and caters to the majority – 71% – of the population. The private sector is primarily funded through individual contributions to medical aid schemes or health insurance, and serves around 27% of the population. The public sector is underfunded, while most South Africans can’t afford the exorbitant cost of private care.
This situation leads to inefficiency in several ways. For instance, the article says that lower levels of poor health utilisation increase the risk of severe illness and death due to COVID-19 and other diseases. People who are poor and unequal have less access to good education, health care, and social protection. These things are important for their well-being and development. They also have fewer opportunities to join the social and economic activities of their communities and countries.
The International Monetary Fund says that low growth and rising unemployment have contributed to the persistence of inequality in South Africa. This refers to the fact that poverty and inequality are unfair, inhumane, urgent and inefficient problems to solve. They waste human potential and resources. They make it harder for people to contribute to society and the economy. They also create more costs and challenges for the governments and organizations that try to address them.
They pose a severe threat to the stability and prosperity of the world, as they fuel social discontent, conflict, migration, and environmental degradation. They also waste valuable human resources and talents that could otherwise contribute to the growth and innovation of the global economy. According to the World Bank, more than 700 million people live in extreme poverty, surviving on less than R10-00 daily. Moreover, the gap between the rich and the poor is widening, with the wealthiest 1% owning more than half of the global wealth.
It is imperative to address poverty and inequality sustainably and inclusively, meaning that it respects the environment and the rights of all people, especially the most vulnerable and marginalised.
One of the key ways to do this is through social responsibility and community involvement. Social responsibility refers to the obligation of individuals, organisations, and businesses to act ethically and contribute to the well-being of society. Community involvement refers to the participation of citizens in the decision-making and problem-solving processes that affect their lives.
Social responsibility and community involvement can have a positive impact on poverty and inequality in several ways:
- They can raise awareness and empathy for the plight of the poor and marginalised and inspire action and advocacy for their rights and needs.
- They can foster social cohesion and trust, which is essential for reducing conflict and violence and promoting democracy and human rights.
- They can mobilise resources and expertise, enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency of development interventions and public services.
- They can empower the poor and marginalised by giving them a voice and a stake in their development and enabling them to access opportunities and benefits.
- They can create social value and innovation by generating new ideas and solutions that address poverty and inequality’s root causes and consequences.
Poverty and inequality are not only caused by individual factors but also by structural and systemic factors that are beyond the control of the poor and marginalised. These include the policies and practices of governments, institutions, and markets that shape the distribution of resources, opportunities, and power in society.
In South Africa, the government has a constitutional mandate to provide essential services and social protection to its citizens, especially the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. However, the government has faced various challenges that limit its capacity and effectiveness to fulfil this mandate. These include:
- A chronic energy crisis that has disrupted the electricity supply and affected the productivity and competitiveness of various sectors.
- A lack of institutional capacity, inadequate numbers of social workers, community development workers, child and youth care workers and other professionals, poor management and coordination, corruption and fraud.
- A decline in infrastructure spending has resulted in deteriorating roads, water systems, schools, hospitals, and other public facilities.
- A weak economy hit by low growth, high unemployment, rising inflation, corruption, and fiscal constraints.
- The government has failed to deliver on its commitments to assist vulnerable groups such as the homeless people, survivors of gender-based violence, and the jobless.
- Lack of long-term vision in understanding that there are no easy solutions and that our government need to look at LONG TERM solutions and policies to benefit the next generation.
These challenges have contributed to the persistence and worsening of poverty and inequality in South Africa. They have also eroded the trust and confidence of the people in the government’s ability and willingness to address their needs and concerns.
In this context, social responsibility and community involvement become even more critical and necessary to complement and supplement the efforts of non-governmental, non-profit companies. By taking social responsibility seriously and getting involved in their communities, individuals, organisations, and businesses can:
- Fill the gaps and meet the needs not adequately covered by the lack of government services and programmes.
- Provide feedback and input to the government on improving its policies and practices to serve the people better.
- Hold the government accountable for its actions and performance, and demand transparency and accountability from it.
- Mobilise resources and expertise that can enhance the quality and efficiency of service delivery and development interventions.
- Empower themselves and others to take charge of their development and well-being and to participate in decision-making processes that affect them.
Social responsibility and community involvement are both a moral duty and a strategic necessity to address poverty and inequality in South Africa. They can help create a more inclusive, responsive, and effective social welfare system that can improve the lives of millions of people.
One example of an organisation that embodies social responsibility and community involvement is The Cradle of Hope NPC. This non-profit organisation assists women and children in desperate need in South Africa, making a difference in the lives of thousands of women and children who have been victims of domestic violence, sexual trauma or human trafficking. They further provide a meal to around 2000 individuals daily across the 15 active programs they run. It inspires others to join their mission and support their work through donations, volunteering, or spreading the word.
The Cradle of Hope NPC exemplifies how social responsibility and community involvement can help address poverty and inequality meaningfully. Caring for the less fortunate provides them with help, hope, dignity, and respect. By involving themselves in their community, they are solving problems and creating opportunities by uplifting women and teaching them to be self-sustainable, thereby empowering their own communities. By being socially responsible, they are not only doing good but also doing well.