My honest view is that any worthwhile business has a responsibility to the local community in which it operates. To me this is simply a case of logic and company ethics.
There are cynics out there that I am aware of that simply don’t buy the notion of CSR. We’ve all heard the argument – companies simply do it for PR purposes and to market their brand by association with good causes; the main objective therefore not being the causes they purport to support, but to increase sales.
The fact is, there may actually be a tiny modicum of truth in that.
However, if it’s done correctly, the argument above really doesn’t scratch the surface as there are a host of further considerations at stake. My view is that, whilst CSR clearly does represent good publicity for any company, a by-product of which may be increased brand awareness or positive associations, which could influence the consumer, this is a small price to pay in purely ethical terms for the host of benefits available. The fact is, companies play a fundamental role in the society in which they exist, especially if you consider impact on the local economy with job creation, resulting incomes that are the circulated, which in turn support further business growth, job creation and sense of welfare generally. Provided companies operate in an ethical fashion both commercially and as a responsible employer, they can and do play a very positive role in society. Furthermore, companies that benefit from positioning their firm in a certain location in profit terms, should then think about how to return some of these benefits back to society and especially the specific ‘community’ location that facilitated this. The symbiosis of this situation is further brought to light if you consider how companies may seek to benefit causes related to children or education since they may like to take a long term view on the location they may seek to rely on for a skilled workforce in future. I can’t imagine how even the greatest cynic out there would have an issue with that!
Back to my earlier point, so much of this hinges upon the notion of companies doing it correctly…
I have definitely seen examples of companies cynically jumping on the CSR bandwagon purely to score ethical points for gratuitous purposes. That said, by following a few steps, it’s possible to elevate a company CSR initiative way beyond this category to something far more meaningful and impactful that creates long term mutual benefit to company reputation and the communities which they are supporting. My view is that no-one should be taking issue with the latter category, provided it meets the following criteria:
Based on action and not just donations
Any company can attempt to stave of corporate guilt at festive times of the year with the odd whimsical whip round. Such transient gestures are very unlikely to bring any measurable long-term benefit. Real CSR comes from ‘roll the sleeve up’ action, such as evening or weekend team events helping communities actually on the front line.
Links to company values, vision and purpose
CSR agendas which truly resonate both with staff and the causes they seek to support are invariably linked to the company purpose and values the companies seeks to live and breathe. For example, companies that have a vision linked to ‘building futures’ (which is quite common!) should think seriously about what this means in its broader sense – support for educationalist causes such as teaching language or numerical skills therefore spring to mind.
It’s a regular thing and not a one off
So, everyone in the office feels fantastic they just spent a morning supporting a local welfare centre with a host of activities. The welfare centre itself is also delighted to with impact and conveys its thanks publicly, which leads to some excellent social media content for the company. 6 months later, there’s no further action, follow up or related support. There’s simply no value in this – it has to be regular to be meaningful.
Genuinely helps the local community in a direct way
I’ve drawn attention to the symbiotic nature between companies and the communities that support them through staffing resources, land, infrastructure, and policies. Therefore, if a company is successful as a result of this combination of factors, surely support should go back to the causes most closely associated with this supporting community? For me, this logic is the very essence of successful CSR.
Proportionality between the effort and the PR content
To close, I will simply draw attention to the need for good taste. If a company does seek to promote its good name based on the causes it seeks to support, this should never stray towards being gratuitous. Timing is key here – a stream of content the week after the event, which is endorsed by the cause itself and strikes while the iron is hot should be well received and have a positive brand impact. Continual regurgitation of the same story months later with raise doubts around commitment and authenticity.
The inspiration for this blog comes from a couple of sources. Firstly, since being in Asia, I have come to the realisation that we cannot simply take in life from our good fortune. As an ex-pat, living in South East Asia has been a wonderful journey and experience both personally and professionally, so I increasingly see CSR as an essential opportunity for repaying the favour – simply good manners if you like, so anyone claiming I am jumping on any bandwagon will get this response from me. And secondly, I am delighted to be in Singapore this week, and whilst I am here, Salt will be engaging in the first of a series of CSR events relating to ‘care in the community’ – our chosen cause this week is MINDS. For anyone interested enough, please visit the weblink below to learn more – suffice to say we are delighted to give up the time and look forward to supporting further good causes as we build our presence here in Singapore.