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Can Combining Forces Help Corporate Social Responsibility?

On Saturday, June 13, I had the opportunity to participate as a panelist in the 2015 Rotary CSR Roundtable at Bangalore where NGO representatives, corporate communication leaders, CSR practitioners and academia gathered to debate the subject – ‘Integrating Two Worlds – Corporates And Communities’.

The first panel on ‘United Effect:  When CSR Partners Collaborate’ discussed CSR collaboration, reporting, the importance of trust in the partnerships, criteria for selecting partners and governance models.  In the other discussion, when I joined the panel on ‘Integrating Two Worlds: Corporates & Communities’, the topics of debate included the role the impact of CSR on employee engagement, the role of CSR communicators and practitioners in enhancing value, the focus on individual social responsibility and the linkage with retention.

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The audience raised pertinent questions and asked the panelists to consider ‘CSR as post-paid’ – in terms of maximizing the power of funds available and measuring outcomes more effectively. Another feedback which the panelists received related to addressing the ‘right issues’ rather than what matters to the corporations. In that sense, it seemed that many felt the need to work more collaboratively and through the eyes of others.

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My key take-aways from the discussions were:

  • Trust and credibility among NGOs and corporations needs further strengthening – the concerns of openness, transparency and reliability were highlighted
  • Most felt that the 2% CSR guidelines has resulted in a more positive behavior among corporations. NGOs are seeing a difference in the way corporations engage after the Act has come into play
  • There are immense opportunities for corporations and NGOs to exchange ideas and lessons – however, this area lacks focus and attention
  • NGOs and corporations have diverse approaches of arriving at partnerships – the former expect companies to be invested for the long term, get leaders involved, have a vision, be accountable, stay hands-on and look beyond ‘numbers’ as a ‘mathematical model’ to arrive at a benchmark for success. On the other hand, corporations expect NGOs to set clear goals, be credible, think of areas of mutual interest and stay committed.
  • Lots of conversations revolved on ‘shared value’ (how businesses-NGOs can partner effectively for common outcomes), ‘board room CSR’ (the way CXOs are involved more on CSR spend and delivery) and the skills demand gap (where corporations have a role in understanding the processes and systems for supporting NGOs in doing their best).
  • The combined CSR spend available across the country got discussed more in terms of how it is now becoming an ‘industry’ in itself with mushrooming NGOs and opportunities to collaborate more.
  • A call for companies to be CSR ‘certified’ was made and the need to encourage social entrepreneurship got discussed
  • One panelist called for organizations to ‘avoid starting CSR if it can’t be sustained’ highlighting the need for long term goal setting.
  • There were calls to integrate CSR ownership with performance management and to ensure every employee got involved and recognized.
  • Fears of CSR getting the unkindest ‘cut’ when it came to budget reductions were raised. Most organizations looked it as a ‘good to have’ option and that needed change.
  • Measurement of CSR impact is misunderstood and rarely considered. Organizations continue to look at ‘soft’ measures such as improved team work, new skills which employees learn and continue to take a ‘heart over mind’ approach.
  • There seemed to be reluctance among practitioners to overtly communicate CSR citing factors such as perception among stakeholders and the need to be ‘low key’.
  • On the growing importance of CSR practitioners as boundary spanners there is a need for communicators to play the role of a catalyst, map talent with the most appropriate need. The opportunities to impact morale and pride were immense. With a view on the inside and outside CSR practitioners were able to transcend boundaries better than other employees within organizations and therefore play a critical role in CSR.
  • There are expectations from industry bodies to facilitate CSR involvement although organizations were themselves better placed to overcome trust issues and lead direct and local engagement for the communities they serve.

Overall, the interactions helped to surface key issues and bring relevant concerns to the fore in a non-judgmental manner. Excellent work by the Rotary Club for organizing and bringing stakeholders of CSR closer.

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