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Should We Dump CSR?

Written by :
February 21, 2021
CSR & Sustainability
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Covid-19 is unprecedented. Like many other crises, it has spawned economic uncertainty. Companies respond by taking drastic measures. 

Sadly, one of the popular first victims of these measures is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Companies argue that it does not make sense to spend on other causes when the company’s own cause (business survival) is under threat.

Does that mean that companies only care about their responsibility to society when times are good? 

CSR was meant to help subjects in need, including people, animals and the environment. These are all part of our society. 

The greater the need, the greater the opportunity for meaningful CSR intervention. 

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Logically then, the more dire the times, the more desperate the need of these subjects. Arguably more desperate than the needs of companies. Because these subjects often have very limited recourse, unlike most companies.

In fact, there is obvious business sense in Strategic CSR, such as:

1. Putting you in the spotlight – companies that do good attract attention,  which leads to more business.

2.Building community goodwill – feel-good emotions accompany CSR efforts, and strikes a chord with society at large.

3. Providing meaning to employees – staff discover greater pride and purpose at their workplace, and therefore displaying higher commitment.

4. Being a magnet – good CSR programmes attract and retain talents, improve  external financing possibilities and invite investment interest.

5. Giving the company an identity – instead of being just associated with money-making, companies become associated with wider causes. This is the beginning of legacy and longevity.

But is CSR only for the good times? When companies have some spare change? When business is not good, as it is for many industries now, does it no longer make sense to prioritise CSR? 

If that is so, we are deciding that our contribution to CSR will fluctuate according to our economic fortunes. Even as we say it, it begins to feel uncomfortable. We know there is something wrong with that model

Companies came into being to fulfil a personal need. People came together to help each other move towards mutual objectives, usually economic success and security.

That means, companies were formed to benefit me and others together with me. However, over time, a “me-first’, “looking-out-for-No. 1” ethos began to invade the modern business culture. Just look at the questions associated with of some of the terms we use:

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No matter how you rationalise it, our corporations have grown into self-centred organisations. The priority has become this company, and these profits. Until I move to the next company. Then the priority immediately switches this new company, shameless mercenarism in action. Very few employees have a sense that they are giving. Instead gain is cheered and growth celebrated.


The CSR-Centric Company

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What if the worth of companies was defined by how much benefit it brought to those it chose to be associated with, not solely by profits or market position? That would bring CSR closer to the centre of the operations of the company and render the CSR beneficiaries more stable in the support they receive.  

Prioritising social concerns within company activities is important because:

Companies are on a collaborative journey with the whole of humanity. 

We do not exist in a bubble, we succeed as a community.

Marks & Spencer is one of the organisations that understands that. Their Plan A is an operating model to embed sustainability into their business units which includes their focus on social wellbeing, education and employability issues. They do not just tackle these issues within their own company but invites their stakeholders including their partners, employees, and empower communities to help giving back to the communities in need - 

This initiative gives while inviting others to join in the giving, providing them a solid platform to do this. The ripple effect of this programme has huge potential to benefit so many beyond the natural reach of a company. The company recognises its privileged place in society and chooses to make society better with its resources and reach.

Companies have the power to influence. 

If they don’t use that power for the greater good of humanity, an incredible opportunity for good would have been missed. Companies are in a position to encourage their employees and stakeholders to grow their own level of societal giving. If organisations want to leave a legacy, they need to foster others who will keep the spirit alive. 

Salesforce, the world’s premier CRM company, is one company that does just that. It brings soul to their employees by encourage them to volunteer their time and skills to deserving causes. Each employee is given seven days volunteer time off (VTO) to “make the world a better place in whichever way they choose” Imagine the passion this will spark among employees for chasing the meaningful, instead of just the profitable.

Companies have the ability and resources to create products and solutions for the needy. 

In comparison with many charity organisations and governmental agencies, companies have higher access to market-pioneering research and technologies. They also have some of the greatest talents and minds within their workforce.

This provides them with better opportunities to innovate and discover lasting solutions to social needs.

The direct selling giant, Amway, discovered a humanitarian problem, i.e. that seven million people under the age of 5 die each year due to preventable causes. Think about that for a second. 7 million child deaths annually! Preventable! 

Instead of turning to the next page, Amway conceived the Nutrilite Power of 5 Campaign to address child malnutrition. Through this campaign, Amway developed the Nutrilite Little Bits packet that contained 15 micronutrients. These packets have now had documented and significant success in treating malnourished children in a number of less-privileged countries including Guatemala, Zambia and Mexico.

How can a company become CSR-centric?

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1. Start somewhere. Anywhere!

Do not wait until you have enough. That attitude is fearful and non-entrepreneurial. The true businessman takes risks quicker and more emphatically than the average one. Include CSR thinking into your set-up. The initial stage does not have to be huge, it just has to be real. 

All companies start small; so it is with CSR. There is a period of testing and adjusting. There is a learning curve. There is the process of gaining increasingly wide buy-in from management. All this takes experimentation and a small dose of guts. 

So start. With something. Anything!

2. Start now!

As with most things of value, there is often no perfect time to start. So start now. At least with the research and planning. Huddle and discover what CSR initiatives would align with your core businesses. Work out how and what you can commit to these initiatives. 

If your financial reserves are low right now, then what are the non-financial resources that you can put together for CSR impact? Project how these initiatives can bring return to your company. 

So much to do, so little time. So start now.

3. Develop the language of CSR

We have found that companies that get into the CSR game late find it difficult to muster understanding, enthusiasm and, ultimately, commitment. The CSR language – and consequently, attitude - must be fostered as early as possible, influencing minds and motivations. 

Develop a corporate caring language and a management bent towards societal concern through CSR, no matter how small in the beginning. The human spirit responds to such movements. Try it. You will be pleasantly surprised.

4. Place CSR on par priority with profitability

The truly caring corporate citizen would keep CSR on its primary dashboard. Profitability concerns would centre around how to keep the company consistently profitable so that it could be, also consistently, a force for social good. 

History has shown that this approach keeps companies sustainable. Customers respond positively and intuitively to CSR-centric brands. Millennials love working for these brands. How is this not profitable?

5. Bring CSR closer to the core of the company’s business

If you are strategic and intentional enough, your forays into CSR may just bring it into the centre of the company’s operations. In the search for CSR solutions, you will find market-worthy propositions

The now famous case of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh is an acute case in point. Professor Muhammad Yunus, the bank’s founder, conceived the idea of bringing easy financing to the critically poor of Bangladesh, chiefly its women. His research eventually evolved into the starting of the bank, which has been a success beyond all expectations, bringing financing to millions of underprivileged people. Today, the bank is 90% owned by the people it serves, the rural poor

CSR should never be dumped.

The company that plans and persists with its CSR programmes – for better of for worse – signals that it is both a stable and a caring company.

That company will be profitable for a longer time, because it will attract loyal employees and customers. The company will be remembered and recognised by the public, because they provided assistance and real impact when they were needed the most.

The company wins, together with all its stakeholders, including society at large.

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Written by :
February 21, 2021
CSR & Sustainability
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