Top-tier transitions: what we can learn from South African multinationals paving the way

Written by Topco Staff Writer


Charndré Emma Kippie

COVID-19 has made significant changes to the South African business landscape. Even so, we continue to see leaders, in their respective fields, make vital contributions to social upliftment and economic transformation.

If this year has taught us anything at all, it’s the fact that no entity or enterprise has been left untouched by the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to the emergence of an entirely unprecedented new economy and social order. Despite unceasing plummets in market share prices, leaders in global business ventures continue to exhibit robust endurance, and exemplary social consciousness, during these vexing times.


As a diverse nation, with an emerging economy, South African multinational companies (MNCs) are equipped with the ability to work wonders for building sustainable and viable new markets, yielding transferable skills and new technologies, and marking South Africa as a top-notch investment destination. Such corporate heavy weights are often placed in the proverbial ‘hot seat’ as they are closely examined for their impact upon social development and maintaining balance and equality across designated communities of concern. At the very top of the agenda, it is essential that South African MNCs are able to ensure that both their company, and the country as a whole, are eligible to equally benefit from massive business endeavours and CSR programs.

Despite the devastating financial implications of a global pandemic, there are key South African MNCs who have adopted a ‘business as usual’, can-do attitude, in an effort to lend a hand towards navigating life during these difficult times. Strategically placing emphasis on social responsibility, environmental sustainability and empowerment, companies such as BMW South Africa, Vodafone, and Levis Strauss, are extending their affluent networks and creating innovative partnerships to organically assist business growth, whilst also revamping the business sector for a much more sustainable future. As leaders in South African multinational business culture, these three multi- award-winning conglomerates are pushing a new wave geared towards transformation that is impactful and enduring – and there is much to be learned from their individual approaches!


BMW South Africa stands as a globally renowned automotive brand today. Recently ranked at 23rd place for being one of the World’s Greatest Employers (2020), and 27th place in the category of World’s Most Valuable Brands (2020), the BMW Group comfortably sits within the Top 10 automotive manufactures in the world. With a reputation that precedes itself globally, BMW South Africa remains a key contributor to multinational investments and economic stability, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic which has ultimately crippled many other automotive giants in SA.

Now, more than ever, BMW South Africa understands the growing need for corporate intervention and assistance with redressing social inequalities and environmental impact – understanding that it is not just their business and employees who are battling in the current social climate. In February this year, BMW Group South Africa, handed over five BMW i3 vehicles to the South African Business Coalition on Health and Aids (SABCOHA), to be used by community-based care workers for riding out and assisting victims of gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF) in local communities that have been plagued with more and more cases of rape and murder. This came at no better time, with GBVF shockingly on the rise during lockdown, especially. This initiative is part of the Automotive Industry Transformation Fund and was founded by the group’s partners to alter the automotive value chain and facilitate participation in the sector by marginalised groups, including the youth, people with disabilities and women of colour.

The automotive group’s contribution (of reportedly R6-billion) is momentous in that it demonstrates growth in the government-civil society partnership; growth in bonds formed between the South African business sector and international partners which positively succours the fight against GBVF. Also aimed at providing relief during this time, the German government has partnered with BMW South Africa to upgrade hospital facilities to make considerations for the rapid influx of new patients affected by the virus. The R76-million project has assisted with the renovations and upkeep of 8 South African hospitals thus far, as well has boosting poor infrastructure at 4 local clinics. Member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, Dr. Milan Nedeljković, spoke out publicly about BMW’s responsibility in committing to the future of South Africa, and safeguarding its people:

“For us [the BMW Group] it’s about more than just producing vehicles for sheer driving pleasure. It’s about being an integral part of society and improving the livelihood of our employees, their families and their surrounding communities”.


Vodacom and its parent company, Vodafone, have taken the route of empowering masses via connection and access. Globally-speaking, the Vodafone Foundation (founded in 2016) understands that communications technology plays a pivotal role in imbuing the values instilled within their core approach – ‘Connecting for Good’. At the forefront of their projects, the message stands that their corporation will go beyond mere ‘charitable’ measures, in an effort to bring about inclusive opportunities and skills development for employees and the larger African diaspora. As of now, their primary focus is on investing in selected projects that will produce meaningful change that is impactful. Therefore, their focus has predominantly been on transforming spaces which typically and historically have side-lined women and children: educational institutions and the greater labour force.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) recently released ‘The Global Gender Gap Index 2020’ rankings. Each year research is done to determine the rate of global progress towards gender equality. Statistics prove that South Africa has made minimum improvement, dropping in position to 121st place for Wage equality for similar work criteria, according to the WEF. This ties in with stats on leadership roles occupied by women in our country – only 38% of women in South Arica have obtained senior positions in management and CEO roles. Surprisingly, however, we are currently ranked at 17th position (going up two places since early 2018) in the world for gradually combating gender inequality. For more, you can download a copy of the latest stats here:

Even in the face of this pandemic, Vodafone and Vodacom continue to invest in the education and skills development of their female employees, customers and children around Africa, using their digital capacity and data supply to give women and children equal access – a key factor in accelerating growth and social development in the 21st century. As stated in their public mission statement, Vodafone is committed to (now more than ever) becoming the world’s best employer for women by 2025. Alongside this ambition, we have seen Vodafone’s Instant Network Schools benefit more than 86 500 students and 1000 teachers to date, giving children and refugees across Africa access to quality, accredited qualifications, and important learning tools and meaningful learning opportunities. Empowering female children from such a susceptible age is a foot in the right direction. Young women can then choose careers for themselves having been equipped with the necessary tools for change. With such pertinent long-term investments, it is no surprise as to why Vodafone has been recognised by Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index this past year for being a global leader of building inclusive, fair workplaces with strong company community engagement.

Vodafone Group CEO, Nick Read, opens up about the company’s passion for growth, inclusion and accessibility:

“Africa needs to connect to a better future. Vodafone is committed to doing its part. This aligns with our purpose -which are the values we stand for and high standards we hold ourselves to account – to build an inclusive digital society, in all countries we operate in, while halving our environmental impact by 2025”, he expressed. “We need to utilise the power of digital [data specifically] to increase access to various public services to enhance citizen living conditions and employment prospects… We are also partnering with governments on digital skills and more education projects – for example, the zero-rated e-schools curriculum in South Africa”.


On the topic of digitalisation, fashion enterprise Levis Strauss & Co. has recently been proving how and why they keep their finger on the pulse of social and political trends – community outcries online are now a driving force behind addressing social injustices and converting digital impact into real-life change for the better. Levis Strauss always keeps all ears and avenues for critical conversation open. Previously, we’ve seen Levis Strauss: South Africa use their influence to encourage the youth of SA to have their say in electoral voting procedures as the popular hashtag #UseYourVoice circulated last year. Also using social media as a springboard for discussing female empowerment in SA, Levi utilised #IShapeMyWorld in a campaign geared towards celebrating fearless women who step up and break barriers to make a difference in their respective communities. As a fashion-focused MNC, Levis has obtained a vital understanding of how to listen to customers and convert community debates and opinions into valuable leads for social change. This is why giving back is not viewed as a corporate stipulation, here, but rather the fundamental and relevant groundwork for fostering a healthy, open-minded community culture that is crucial for future growth and expansion.

This year the Levis Strauss Foundation committed to granting R5-million to important causes around South Africa, including esteemed partners such as the Nelson Mandela Foundation and AIDS Legal Action Network. Along with these long-standing partners, they have welcomed new pioneering local organisations, namely Greenpop (a sustainable living pioneer) and 18Twenty8 (focused on the empowerment of women aged 18-28). The South African based team has donated thousands of hours to volunteer in local communities in need this year. And just recently, the MNC hosted the ‘Pioneer Nation Festival’, an event aimed at assisting young entrepreneurs in South Africa specifically. “Consumers are very conscious of the role big brands play in their communities”, says South African Managing Director Nuholt Huisamen.

“Community involvement is an important part of our heritage. We will continue this culture of giving back and remain relevant to our consumers”.

These three global conglomerates have not shied away from crisis, using the pain and pressures of this global pandemic as power; power to fuel their long-term ambitions and spread social change and transformation. The transition has not been easy, but it has equipped these leading MNCs with the drive and passion they need to uplift, not only their companies, but their surrounding communities in need of support and guidance. Being a MNC comes with great responsibility and influence, and these leaders believe in being a force for positive change in South African communities with a lasting impact. Three lessons to take away from their brands: rise up to social challenges, identify your core business strengths and utilise them as weapons for positive change, and appreciate the concerns and opinions of your customers – the customer is always right, as the old saying goes.




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