South Africa’s social investment story

25 August 2017
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This article by Paul Pereira mentions the seminal CSI work of Michael O’Dowd who was the Chairman of the Free Market Foundation’s board between 1978 and 2005, and one of the intellectual driving forces of anti-Apartheid classical liberalism in South Africa. Veteran journalist Ken Owen referred to him as an eclectic, writing “in the tradition of millennia of philosophers” like Aristotle, Confucius, and Karl Popper. In the 1960s O’Dowd predicted that the forces of the free market would eventually lead to the demise of Apartheid, something the National Party finally realised in the late 1980s and early 1990s. O’Dowd is also widely considered to have been a pioneer of corporate social investment (CSI) in South Africa. As Chairman of the Anglo American and De Beers Group Chairman’s Fund, O’Dowd spearheaded the company’s rural schools programme and contributed heavily to the establishment of the first universities of technology for black South Africans. He did all this while insisting Anglo American not use CSI as a marketing tool. According to Gavin Keeton, “He believed in doing good by stealth – don’t stand up and talk about your good deeds”. In Leon Louw’s obituary after O’Dowd’s death in 2006, he wrote, “He always seemed willing to devote limitless time and energy to the affairs of all the organisations with which he was associated. We asked when he found time for his considerable Anglo American responsibilities. ‘On Thursdays,’ he quipped.” 
This portrait of Michael was painted by Frances Kendall.

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