Monday, September 5, 2011

CSR: Impact Over Profit

The need to push and sustain national development has become urgent despite incoming foreign aid. Support will never be enough unless we learn to be self-sufficient and cooperate for long-term benefits. I attended a seminar some years ago acknowledging the strengths of the different sectors in society. It was said that the private sector's strength lies in generating and using wealth efficiently (ROI vs costs). Whilst the NGOs strength lies in the developmental process of building communities.

I have heard about concerns of NGOs building dependencies rather then capacities. It takes time to tell because change does not happen overnight and it takes consistency and effort to manage how we do things and get over attitudes handed down by generations. In my mind, I thought national development was impossible unless we get more support from the big players. Mulit-national corporations, by character, are set-up to maximize resources and generate wealth, taking educated risks along the way. The government does have access to funds though it needs to be accessed by the right people. Talk about corruption in the Philippines is too dirty, I'd rather not compound it. NGOs, I thought, were highly dependent on external funding/grants. What would happen to a beneficiary's development project when the funding suddenly stops? I acknowledge that a growing number of private enterprises have started their non-profit institutions to fill needs.

Well, lets say its too complicated to talk about the government's role here. Immense efforts are being taken. But I'd say many of us have had too much expectations from the government. The checks and balances of the different branches doesn't seem to be working well. Bottom line here is, it would be overwhelming and inspiring to see more get involved and inspire the much needed changes.

Since the 90s, perhaps with PBSP as one of the earliest to intermediate (as explained by Dr Roman) corporations with social enterprises, many corporations have been doing CSR programs in health, education and the poverty for years. These are just a few areas where help is most needed in the Philippines. With social media hastening the spread of news and information, a lot of companies have started to promote their CSR activities. Well, yes, it is similar to soliciting the public's help and good PR at the same time. After all, we need all the help we can get and many fellow Filipinos need our help. I can be sure they have spent so much, hopefully gaining the trust of more consumers and (let's not forget) how this plays a role in their ROI.

I have been yearning to ask, where will these CSR programs lead to?

Last September, at the Conference on Research in CSR, I learned more about trends, opportunities and research in CSR as experts discussed their experiences and studies on CSR. It is good to know that CSR strategists are now looking into long-term community benefits (aside from a project's return value). In considering impact, businesses should look at how businesses are run.
Dr Wayne Visser, CSR International
Successful CSR programs that improve the resource generation of their businesses have been cited. In his study, Dr Ben Teehankee shares that well-driven CSR programs not only increase consumer's trust  and improve brand recall, it also increases the company's chances in getting better employees. A popular example given by speakers is the awarding of scholarships to outstanding students.

CSR programs are also into improving their supply chain. In doing so, more are getting into partnerships with small enterprises and NGOs for sustainable resources management. This is a huge leap considering small and micro-businesses have been struggling to reach profitable markets. A major concern for handicraft producers, for instance, is to tap into the mainstream market. And because these producers are taught to manage their natural resources, MnCs who partner with them help by embracing fair trade practices. With more stakeholders joining to protect the environment, I look forward to a hastened and magnified effort in fighting the impact of climate change. I'm really happy about this!

Ms Lydia Sarmiento, MAP and LCF,
and Prof Fransisco Roman, Jr, AIM RVR CSR
Dr Francisco Roman, however, emphasized, "It is easy to measure output but not outcome." As more stakeholders take part, more considerations must be set to determine the impact on these stakeholders. Mr Wayne Visser cautioned practitioners to look beyond reports as they often miss actual performance. Dr Roman revealed that assessment tools are being developed to measure the different levels of CSR reach and impact. CSR practitioners will have to keep posted until it has been finalized.

In closing, Mr Alex Escano shared the Bayanihan story of an indigenous tribe in Mindanao. MSU Scholarships were granted to a handful of deserving students. The tribe supported the students by building a house where the students will stay without spending on lodging expenses (approved by the MSU administration). They hauled the materials and constructed the house. Every week, the tribesmen alternated bringing food for their students to cut down on living expenses. It was truly inspiring to hear such stories and I hope to share more as I look deeper at social enterprises and what it can do for us.

My family and I support causes related to health, education and the environment. To name a few, we've joined the TEN Movement and the Million Hectare Challenge (Road to 2020). If you are new to CSR, you may want to check CSR International's website. Perhaps you can also help spread the word and invite friends to take as little as 5 minutes a day to support causes that are close to your heart. It can make a difference in a fellow Filipino's life.



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