Recently, Microsoft’s announcement to donate USD 1 billion of their cloud services to 70,000 non-profit organizations and university researchers over next three years was received with much applause. Not because of the amount of investment pledged, but because of the vision and sustainability of thought behind it. Microsoft, a leader in the world of computing, has through this philanthropic initiative displayed a real penchant to use its corporate social responsibility to support socially active organizations that need financial help. The multiplier effect this initiative will have on the social sector would be impressive to say the least.
Though it has become an integral part of business structures of large corporations, corporate social responsibility is often not taken as seriously by many organizations. While most large companies have dedicated CSR divisions, their activities and initiatives are not well thought through and executed. Often we see companies making major announcements but following them up with just a few cosmetic moves that would make decent photo ops but hardly any tangible long-term impact. Well thought out CSR policies, sustainable activities to align an organization’s vision for the society with its philanthropic goals are not commonplace.
Make no mistake, in a world driven by profits, a strong commitment to corporate social responsibility makes a lot of difference to a company’s brand image. Entrepreneurs and managers who have a long term vision and sagacity understand this, and look at CSR as a social investment rather than expenditure. A positive brand image makes for a good market value and also attracts talent to the organization.
So, what should an organization’s CSR plans and objectives look like? Are impressive sums of money pledged to social causes enough or should there be more definition and sustainability to CSR objectives?
Not Just about Money
Engaging employees to serve the community and society at large is not a new concept per se. Corporates have for long engaged in community service as part of efforts to build a socially conscious ecosystem. Corporate social responsibility in modern parlance has a wider connotation and deeper meaning. Writing a cheque every year to a charitable organization or donating money to an initiative once in a while do not account for an organization’s CSR goals. CSR as a concept is equally about ideology and making a sustainable impact as it is about money. Even small scale initiatives conducted on a sustainable basis can sometimes have a significant impact over a large sum of one-time donation. For instance, an organization which encourages its employees to conduct weekly classes for underprivileged children in an urban slum definitely plays a more important CSR role as compared to another organization that restricts itself to writing a cheque to an NGO active in the slum.
Instituting sustainable programs
To underline it again, sustainability of CSR programs make a larger social imprint than the sum of money pledged. It is important for an organization to have a vision of its social goals and lay out a long term strategy for it. In fact, some companies which take a long-term strategic look at CSR even invest in instituting programs that address social or environmental goals. Celebrating 150th anniversary of Sun Life Financial, for example, its Asia Service Centre India donated 150 solar lamps in an electricity-deprived village near Sariska, Rajasthan. For this activity, a team of about 14 employees visited the location, interacted with village dwellers and explained to them the functionality and advantages of the lamps. As brand ambassadors of Sun Life, the employees took great pride in providing the villagers access to electricity using a clean and sustainable energy source and consequently create social and economic opportunities for the beneficiaries. Establishing foundations that work for dedicated causes is a useful way of instituting sustainable programs.
Supporting Causes that Matter
It is important for an organization to have an underlining CSR ideology. Instead of gathering a bunch of unconnected causes into your CSR basket, it is preferable to have a dedicated one that you support. Organizations often pick up programs that best align with their core ideology. This helps them stay relevant and connected to their business domain. For example, an organization working in the field of power can innovate to produce low-cost power generating solutions for rural communities.
Involving & Aligning Employees
In 2014, a survey on CSR conducted by rating agency Neilson found that as many as 67% surveyors desired to work with socially responsible companies. This indicates that good CSR is important in attracting and retaining talent. An organization’s CSR goals are best realized when they penetrate its culture and start reflecting in its employees’ ideology as well. Engaging employees in CSR helps them feel useful to the society and improve their self worth.