Friday, May 7, 2010

[Volunteer] The quest for better Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

The quest for better CSR


NASSCOM Foundation (NF), the social development arm of NASSCOM in collaboration with Dr. Wayne Visser, Founder & Director, CSR International, organized a value enhancing workshop on CSR, Marketing and Communications in New Delhi.

NF works towards fostering corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the IT-BPO industry in India. Its endeavor is to further structure the CSR of its member companies, and amongst other efforts, has initiated CSR forums across the country. The workshop was the first of its kind in Delhi and was also part of a 30 country 'CSR Quest' World Tour by Dr. Visser, to share best practices in corporate sustainability and responsibility.

According to Dr. Visser, continuing with an old approach to CSR where it is not part of business strategy, is dangerous. He said, "CSR has undoubtedly had many positive impacts, for communities and the environment. Yet, its success or failure should be judged in the context of the total impact of business on society and the planet. Viewed this way, on virtually every measure of social, ecological and ethical performance that we have available, the negative impacts of business have been an unmitigated disaster, which CSR has failed to avert or substantially moderate. One of the shifts we should achieve in CSR is to stop looking at it only as philanthropy. Relying on philanthropy is not going to solve the problems; we need to change CSR to be far more integrated into all functions, it needs to be flexible, two-way communication with stakeholders, which involves real-time innovation and is far more scalable."

This workshop, involving over twenty-five CSR professionals from NASSCOM member companies, broadly redefined CSR and its relevance in current organizational strategy. It covered how to create sustainable and responsible businesses; how cause-related marketing can improve sales; how to plan an effective public relations campaign; how CSR should be at the heart of businesses; what makes good CSR reporting; and what ethical marketing and businesses are all about etc.

The first session began with establishing that CSR is not what you do with your money, but how you are making it. Dr. Visser shared widely accepted definitions of CSR and the CSR pyramid. He pointed out the importance of CSR in public as it helps companies build an optimum public image and brand equity. This was followed by a discussion about how we can define stakeholders and the role that they play in helping us define our CSR approach and message.

The next session focused on cause related campaigns and understanding the nature of the bottom of the pyramid and its importance in today's world from a marketer's point of view. This was supported by the facts and figures from the mobile phone industry. A short video on Dr. Visser's interview with Grameen Bank's founder, Prof. Muhammad Yunus presented views on the importance of social entrepreneurship and social business.

The following session focused on CSR reporting trends. Dr. Visser emphasized the importance of proper reporting on CSR activities. The concept of 'greenwash', which is the practice of some companies disingenuously spinning their products and policies as environmentally friendly, was conveyed to the participants in an interactive and a fun filled manner. Dr. Visser then gave an idea of the various international frameworks and management standards which are being used for CSR reporting. The participants were also taken through the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) principles and indicators which is one of the world's most prevalent standards for sustainability reporting. He pointed out that the CSR policies in developing countries were not as formalized as in the developed countries.

The concluding session about the changing role of CSR gave an insight as to how the concept had evolved over the years. The future of CSR depends on the factors of creativity, scalability, responsiveness, glocality and circularity. It is also crucial to align a company's CSR activities to its core business.

To explain he gave a wonderful example of the program 'One laptop per child' in which creativity is shown in the product, which is a potent learning tool designed and built especially for children in developing countries and is powered by a hand-cranked battery. 'Scalability' was another important aspect that he dwelt on. If innovation can be applied beyond existing boundaries, it brings leads to greater impact and partnerships are instrumental here. When we talk about going beyond all the geographical boundaries it also becomes essential to adapt the scheme to the unique requirements of the people of that place wherein we bring the concept of 'glocality'—think global, act local. 'Circularity' refers to us completing the loop of resource consumption or waste disposal. The concepts were brought in beautifully by a comparative study between how Web 2.0 has evolved and how CSR 2.0 needs to evolve in the same vein.

Rufina Fernandes, CEO of NASSCOM Foundation, commented, "Our aim is to support member companies channelize their resources and potential towards the inclusive development of India. We have initiated donation programs for free software and hardware to non-profits, IT training for NGO and government officials, an exclusive employee volunteer platform, and set up a network of close to 300 knowledge centers across India to this end. These initiatives optimize the IT-BPO industry's core competences to advance development in our country."

Dr. Visser said, "In a recent study of CSR in the BRIC countries, India stands strong in philanthropy but weak in HR (labor) policies. Overall, India falls after South Africa and Brazil but above Russia and China." On being asked that whether he thinks CSR should be mandatory in India, he said, "Very few countries have been successful at making CSR mandatory. India should focus on making CSR reporting essential. How much companies spend on CSR is not as significant, because money does not necessarily convert into impact created. What is important to see is how the company is making its money."


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