Limiting Perspectives about Sustainability & CSR

Over the past few years, through 200 editions of the CSRFiles Digest; we have considered many issues, concepts and activities of organisations ranging from Corporate Social Responsibility, Sustainable Development, Corporate Reporting, Corporate/Sustainable Governance, Gender, SMEs and Agriculture to Sustainable Businesses, Sustainable Capitalism, Sustainable Healthcare, Environment, Extractives, Power, Renewable Energy, Urbanisation and Economic Growth, to mention a few.

In the last edition, the 200th, we began a revisit of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) from the concept stage, examining the approach of organisations to communication across different sectors of the Nigerian economy. After a critical review, we concluded from obvious empirical evidences that CSR and CSR communication are capable of transforming both a business and the community in which it operates. This edition therefore drills further into the topic of CSR and considers some perspectives and perception about CSR and Sustainability that limit the approach of organisations to implementation and communication strategies for impact.

The cultural perspectives of Corporate Philanthropy

Although Corporate Philanthropy (i.e. the donation of gifts or money towards a social cause) is often considered the most basic level and form of CSR, which can otherwise be called CSR 1.0; it had since evolved to a more interactive, stakeholder-driven model that yields tangible impact. CSR 2.0 has also been proven to be far greater than one-off acts of charitable giving often carried out by businesses as part of their strategy to be (or seen to be) a good corporate citizen. CSR is about designing and adopting an inherently sustainable and responsible business model, supported by a reformed financial and economic system that makes creating a better world the easiest, most sensible and rewarding thing to do. Each dimension of CSR performance is therefore embedded into the core operations of a business.

The perceived challenge of achieving business growth through CSR
The growth and sustainability of a company comes after engagement with the community of business operation. For CSR to be relevant to the local community, there must be an engagement of the local stakeholders in the formulation, implementation, and evaluation processes. Many organisations are discouraged by the cost of ‘putting things right’ or making significant changes to operations due to the attendant costs. They often argue, that to integrate sustainability is to incur costs without consideration of long-term value and benefits.
The increasing power of the stakeholder and importance of engagement
CSR can only grow and develop out of a company’s core business and engagement with its direct communities. The culture of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and best practices of an organization should be meaningful to the staff, distributors, suppliers, entire community and all its stakeholders. For instance, an insight into how Promasidor Nigeria developed its main CSR initiative reveals that the initiative was borne out of the desire to contribute to the community after stakeholders/consumers’ needs survey was carried out. Now in its 17th year, these social investments have been able to spur about 400, 000 children, in 2016 alone, to seek additional coaching on mathematics in order to build capacity to participate in the competition; this underscores the significant contribution to educational development.

The many risks of engaging stakeholders
Great brands start off with insight and a strong engagement strategy; building competence through engagement with external and internal stakeholders. Again, the case study of Promasidor Nigeria with Cowbell Milk demonstrates how a product successfully revolutionalised the beverage subsector of the FMCG industry in Nigeria through the introduction of one-time consumption opportunities for core stakeholders. Such a strategy is only conceived from engagement with communities via first-hand learning from consumers and an understanding of limited financial resources in a volatile and uncertain economy. Therefore, the company was able to change the status quo in a market segment with the use of a unique packaging strategy.
Listening, engaging, and understanding consumers will contribute to research and further product development, as well as targeting social needs. Furthermore, with the advent of social media, direct engagement can be heightened and feedback instantly gathered. Moreover, staying innovative, checking new trends in other countries and suggesting them to Nigerian consumers could be an avenue to effective engagement.

The question of Organisational Leadership
CSR and sustainability values should be institutionalised within an organization however be driven by the senior management to ensure compliance and communicate its importance. The management must be engaged and committed to entrenching CSR and sustainability into the DNA of a business. To attain global leadership position, a company’s management should make sustainability, (just like transparency and integrity) a pillar of the business and emphasize this outlook to its community. Moreover, the culture of direct consumer engagement should be spearheaded and passed down from the CEO. However, sustainability cannot be arrived at by accident but with serious and concerted efforts.

The dilemma of funding Sustainability in periods of economic downturn
Managing your social responsibility is like any other aspect of managing your business. You can either do it well or you can do it badly. If the process of managing social responsibility leads you to take your eyes off the ball – as argued by some critics – such that you stop paying attention to the core business, the challenge is not that the CSR strategy is not aligned with the business operations – put simply that you are doing it badly. Well-managed CSR supports the business objectives of the company, builds relationships with key stakeholders, whose opinion will be most valuable when times are hard; thereby reducing business costs and maximising its effectiveness.

The ‘obvious’ challenges of entrenching CSR?
An organization will need to factor in some criteria to ensure that whatever CSR initiatives it implements enhances the over-arching strategy developed internally such that scaling is seamless, when necessary. These include:

i. Selection of employees: Employee selection must be based on integrity and credibility. This serves as an underlying factor that businesses looking at leveraging CSR as catalysts to business leadership have to consider when seeking market dominance.

ii. Resource and management: Resources should be clearly earmarked towards increasing the inclusion of all stakeholders in a business approach through an effective management system. Knowing what resources can be earmarked for increasing inclusion will help in determining, well ahead of time, the required scheduling and planning of resources required for the programs.

iii. Effective communication: Effective communication with all stakeholders should be given high priority. They should be consulted at every point to ensure that the motives of any initiative chosen are attained more so, no matter how altruistic an initiative is, stakeholders need to see the relevance.

iv. Clear and documented policy: A clear CSR policy is the first step towards instituting structured and effective CSR projects. Nonetheless, proper documentation is the first step towards incorporating standard CSR practice into the daily operations of an organization; it guides against unstructured CSR as well as CSR overlap.

Furthermore, your CSR initiatives must be creative, scalable, responsive, glocal, and circular.
Excerpts are from the CSRFiles Journal editions one, two and three, as well as from the 2016 AR-CSRTM Keynote Address

Title: How do they do it? Community Investment Professionals and their Operating Environment – A look behind the scenes

As a growth strategy and sustainability measure, companies are increasingly placing community investments and social responsibility at the centre of their corporate operations.
This report, different from the conventional Community Investment (CI) / Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reports on activities and projects, distinctively reveals how the custodians of community investments in a company – corporate investment professionals operate.
CIRT, a platform that advocates best practices for corporate investment in Asia published this insightful report based on interviews with CIRT professionals across four (4) Asian regions, to showcase how daily investment activities are carried out, the necessary skills to be a successful professional, roles, characteristics, and the operating environments for these professionals.
Emphasizing the importance of communication, project management, and stakeholder relations’ skills as indispensable to a CI professional, the report can qualify as an attributive manual to an intending CI professional. Furthermore, situating the work environment of CI professionals by all other departments in a company, in the activities of interrelating with foundations, NGOs, and communities, the report can serve as a guide to an already practicing CI professional.
It then drives its objectives home by citing what exactly CI professionals/units of leading companies in the practice do. A reader can understand how the Bank of America Merrill Lynch selects its CI partners, learn about the community engagement of PwC, and discover the Coca Cola application for community support, to mention a few of the over ten (10) leading corporations showcased.
The report, unique but absolutely relevant; is useful as a guide not just to Asian corporate investment professionals but to their counterparts and CSR professionals and managers all over the world, in performing better in community impartation and business growth.

Publisher: CSR Asia Community Investment Round Table (CIRT)
Date of Publication: 2015

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