You would imagine that, for an auction company started in 2011, every waking moment should be spent on advancing its own corporate cause, building its brand, attracting customers and impressing banks, liquidators, loss adjustors, and investors alike. Reliance Auctions, however, has a selfless approach that, apart from ground-breaking initiatives such as selling action realty franchises to entrepreneurs, also involves a strong element of corporate social investment (CSI).
Once a month, for a few hours from around 10am on a Friday morning, Reliance’s founder and CEO, David Soutter, takes a core component of his staff complement of 36 people to Stop Hunger Now Southern Africa in Prolecon, Johannesburg.
There, to the thumping pulse of loud music, and under the watchful eye of officials overseeing health and safety regulations, they proceed to play a small but significant role in preventing hunger among the underprivileged.
Stop Hunger Now’s national operations manager for South Africa, Brian Nell, explains that the NGO, formed in the US in 1998 and active in South Africa since 2008, has so far packed about 5.5 million meals this year.
“Our task is really twofold”, he says. “We approach companies for funding, which pays for our ingredients, and engage with the staff of the same benefactors, corporates and other volunteers to do the actual packing.”
Each box of food aid consists of 36 packets of vitamin sachets containing 23 essential vitamins and minerals, including a full cup of soya, scoops of soup mix with rice added in to ensure each unit weighs around 440g.
Given that most of the food goes out to kids between the ages of one and six at early childhood development (ECD) centres, strict adherence is paid to nutritional value.
But the most important ingredient, Nell says, is the contribution companies like Reliance make towards meeting targets.
“CSI involvement is crucial. In SA we have something like 3 million kids facing hunger every single day. It’s a huge crisis and we would not be able to reach these kids if it weren’t for the contribution companies like Reliance make.”
The outpouring of aid work, with around three to four CSI sessions taking place at Stop Hunger Now every week, is of such a nature that it has also enabled ECD centres to save money.
“We have a whole programme,” adds Nell. “We distribute food to about 185 ECDs, just in Johannesburg, crèches essentially, that, for every 20 children, receive a box of food, which in turn creates a saving of about R100.
“We then assist with monitoring spending, making sure savings go towards installing fire extinguishers, first aid equipment, enabling teacher training and so on.
“The aim is really to get these crèches registered with the department of social development so they can get regular subsidies from the government.”
According to Nell, the World Health Organisation’s goal to eradicate global hunger by 2030 is well under way, particularly at ECD level, where “there is an increased focus on and more involvement in feeding kids younger than six”.
Alarmingly, there’s a growing need at tertiary level where a lot of older children don’t speak out about going hungry because of the stigma that’s attached to it.
“Up to 40% of first-year dropouts are attributed to home problems and hunger is one of these,” he says.
Dropping out from its CSI responsibilities certainly isn’t an option for Reliance, even though its continued altruism comes at a price, requiring time, human resources and company transport.
However, when witnessing the benefits of teambuilding through CSI care work, it quickly becomes clear why Reliance’s staff are addicted to its Stop Hunger Now efforts.
With a pair of large venue speakers facing the packing tables, volunteers jive along as the ingredients are measured, and the packets weighed, sealed and boxed, ready to be delivered, more often than not by the volunteers themselves.
“We distribute to Westbury,” says Soutter. “It’s an impoverished community where there’s a lot of drug abuse, single mums, widows and children that are in need.”
Soutter, a seasoned auction realtor who worked for several other cut-throat companies before starting his own outfit and is faced daily by the prospect of a tough and tightening market where competitors won’t think twice before slamming the door on you, says their CSI involvement is one of their monthly highlights.
“I don’t think our resources can be better applied. It’s all about doing something for the community, helping kids have a wholesome meal at least once a day.”
Whether it’s through bringing the hammer down on the head of hunger and boosting the morale of his staff in so doing, or by other means, Soutter and his fellow directors are determined to carry on investing in
HUNGRY FOR SUCCESS David Soutter, CEO of Reliance Auctions, and one of the company's staff members on the packing line at Stop Hunger Now, where the company assists as part of its CSI responsibilities