Not a very long time ago, the experts were still weighing the costs and merits of CSR. But, it is an established fact in today’s business environment that socially responsible organizations command higher respect and consequent benefits. In the broadest sense, Corporate Social Responsibility can be defined as the duty of companies to take an active part in enhancing the society.
In most countries, companies above a certain size of operations are required by law to engage in CSR activities. However, there is a growing trend in favor of voluntary participation by entities of all sized. In addition, most Fortune 500 firms these days run some kind of an employee volunteering software. Companies encourage volunteering and often provide paid time-off to workers, who volunteer with nonprofits in their neighborhood.A contribution can be as simple as using recycled stationery and eliminating wastage of resources. It could also be as elaborate as mandatory environmental cleanup activities. For CSR to be effective, it should include the following:
- Well-defined policy
- Dedicated team to formulate and monitor the programs
- Right NGO partners to execute the projects
- System of checks and balances
Programs that go hand-in-hand with the key product or service offerings meet the twin goals of giving back to the society and promoting business offerings. In the larger context of societal obligations, this approach should not be frowned upon because for-profit organizations are also answerable to their stakeowners, including employees and shareholders. An example of this approach is P&G using a part of the proceeds from the sale of its sanitary napkins to spread awareness about female hygiene among under privileged sections. Another example is Toms Shoes giving a pair of footwear to the needy for every pair sold.
CSR marketing as above, however, forms a small part of the overall efforts, which must be built into the core functions of the company. This includes ethical sourcing, fair trade practices, worker benefits (such as literacy, family planning, affordable housing support and so on), environmental sustainability and other measures depending on the type of value chain.
The choice of the right NGO partners is critical. Corporations usually like to work with partners, who have established track records, legal compliance, verifiable accounts and efficiency in fund utilization. It goes without saying that the selected functionaries should have experience in the areas identified by the company and delivering the program as intended.
Among the emerging CSR trends, collaborative initiatives and public private partnership (PPP) models are gaining traction. We will cover more about the subject in future posts.