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Are you Embracing ‘Employee-Led’ CSR and Communication?

‘A small favor’ said the subject line. An e-mail winged in from a motivated employee calling interested individuals to chip in aid of the victims of the worst floods South India has seen in decades. The mail goes on to articulate the project, the effort, the expectation, the plan and people involved. Right down to the finer points of how ‘aerial surveys’ and ‘fund transfer’ can get done online on the website. What was interesting about this initiative was the passion and creativity which the mailer communicated. All within a span of a few days – the floods situation worsened in the last week or so.

I am sure most organizations would love to have something so well thought through and ‘employee-led’.


 The recent NASSCOM Foundation report ‘Catalyzing Change 2008-2009, Towards Inclusive Growth’ however points to a maturity model that highlights ‘engaging employees’ but does not call out ‘supporting employee-led initiatives’. Out of the 6 factors in the model only one relates to employees, the rest focus on funding, policies, interventions, and domain expertise and resource allocation.

Interestingly, out of the total of 42 large Indian companies who participated in the survey only half have a full fledged group or resources driving the agenda, only 26% have a structured CSR policy in place and 29% have a sustainable model for CSR.

For many companies, contributing to corporate social responsibility can pull them in many different avenues. What constitutes CSR and who owns it is still a grey area in organizations. One of my students raised this pertinent question – was it HR, the CEO, the Communications team, a dedicated group or external agencies who championed CSR? As far I know companies which truly believe and practice what they preach a dedicated resource or a group of individuals manage this very vital function in the organization. In some cases, a core team from various functions come together to jointly run the program. I have seen the latter run well only when it is ‘employee-led’ and ‘enabled’ by the business. Without a strong commitment from the leadership employees often see these initiatives as eyewash.

In the October 5 edition of Business World, one consultant puts it aptly – ‘it has to be seen in a value framework that determines the way the organization works.’ Otherwise it is a ‘ritualistic undoing of guilt’!

As an internal communications professional I have driven and closely supported large scale CSR interventions and employee volunteering initiatives in the organizations I have worked for. Apart from the immense impact it has on employee engagement the sense of belonging and team spirit such programs create is enriching. Unfortunately, very often communication professionals are involved too little or too late in the overall scheme of things.

Like the example above, oganizations can tap and channelize energies on key initiatives that are close to employees’ hearts and have a relevance to the business and their existence.

With the changing new media environment where collaboration and equal involvement are key factors, partnering with your employees’ CSR beliefs is most conducive for a better world.

7 thoughts on “Are you Embracing ‘Employee-Led’ CSR and Communication?

  1. great article Aniisu. I really think that organizations have a long way to go in tapping this potential opportunity in CSR of engaging the hearts and minds of people in doing good for the larger collective. The numbers that I have seen are pretty dismal too in terms of number of organizations who give this a thought and specific focus by having dedicated resources for CSR, without which it really is, very rightly put ‘a ritualistic undoing of guilt’. I often wonder, what is it that would make a persuasive case for organizations to take decisive steps in this direction. There is already so much literature and research published on the overall bottomline impact as well as brand impact of CSR. Yet, it continues to be thought of as one of those ‘nice to have’ programs, and not something that will create tremendous value. Perhaps it requires someone, like HR or Internal Comm to champion this cause, for without anyone to push for it, CSR will be relegated to the sidelines as it has been. Or, on the other hand, it may require government intervention, like a mandate or so – I read somewhere that in Gujarat it is mandatory for public sector enterprises to spend a % of their revenue on CSR. Why can’t all states make this a mandate? And not just public, but private enterprises too?
    Something needs to change, for CSR to become a necessary and not just ‘nice to have’ function inside corporates.

  2. Great article, and I agree with you Mona. Something needs to change for CSR to become a necessity, and not just a ‘nice to have’ program. And I think Annisu, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Allowing these strategies to be owned by employees across the business, and enabled/resourced by the business, will it ever happen.

    The trick is to clearly understand the value proposition of CSR and employee engagement as part of the strategy. Unfortunately, most of the time it appears to be about creating more ‘activity’. How many people showed up? How many hours were contributed? How many meals were served? These are important metrics, but they are not the point.

    It’s kind of similar to customer relation management. If a business had a CRM strategy because everyone else did, but was unable to utilize it as a key tactic to improve their business, then it’s mostly a waste of time. CSR can be a great business strategy for productivity and growth. But not if the company doesn’t really understand why they are doing it in the first place.

    But Aniisu, you wouldn’t have written such an insightful article if you didn’t already believe all this. So this is me, just agreeing with you.


    Chris Jarvis
    Senior Consultant, Realized Worth, Toronto, Canada

  3. Hi all, as I was browsing this latest post and subsequent comments, I need to share my situation with you.
    I work as an Internal Comms specialist for organsation A, selling itself to B very soon.

    As we were brainstorming on various Internal comms activities we could adapt just after the announcement, I realised scrapping out the pre-planned CSR campaign earlier, will be prudent.

    Should I continue with a CSR employee engagement activity in such a critical time or sort of run a messaging campaign which acquaints employees with ‘change’?


  4. Hi Kabir, thanks for writing in.

    The question is quite relevant to this particular post.

    If the CSR campaign is pre-planned and is part of your organization’s charter I see no reason to remove it from your plans unless the decision is driven by costs or resource utilization.

    I am sure the ‘change management’ message is already underway since to communicate such mergers is time consuming and complex.

    Hope this helps.

  5. I have experience of this

    While it holds true for companies which are smaller in size, the involvement is more. However in a bigger company the its difficult just to track even broadly employees CSR beliefs. Comments?

  6. A very nice post and insightful comments too. I feel for CSR to happen meaningfully in organizations it may be necessary to have values and ethics embed deeply in its culture. And this again will depend on a leadership that communicates these values by example.


  7. Hi Aniisu,

    First of all let me congratulate you on a well written and thought provoking article. You have raised some pertinent points and I wanted to respond to these…

    At NF, we believe that corporate social responsibility / corporate sustainability, or any other term that business use, refers not just to community investment projects, but also to how a business ‘behaves’ in the workplace (primarily employee related), market place (related to customer, investors and vendors) and environment. Essentially we believe that any business entity is a part of a larger eco-system and must undertake to carry out its activities in a manner that constantly regenerates the eco-system.

    Hence two factors need to be taken into consideration – (a) community investment projects are only one part of CSR and (b) employees are typically only involved in community investment projects, as their contribution in all other realms is considered a part of their job.

    It is important to remember that when we talk of corporate social responsibility, we are talking of a ‘corporate’s responsibility and not that of individual employees. It is true that a business can and should instill a sense of active citizenship amongst its employees, however, its CSR efforts will be judged on the basis of what it does as a business and not just on the basis of what its employees do. I agree with the Business World article about moving away from the ‘ritualistic undoing of guilt’ type of activities that are ad hoc and dispensable. CSR has to be mainstreamed and for it to be an embedded function, it has to be a top down mandate.

    At this point I would like to point out that community investment projects are largely employee driven in the IT industry in India. In fact responding to Ira’s comment, NASSCOM Foundation’s experience has shown that CSR in small and medium sized firms tends to be primarily employee driven while in larger businesses it tends to get institutionalised and in some cases gets disconnected from employees. In certain large companies, while corporate funds for community investment are channelled through the CSR division / corporate foundation, employee funds are controlled by employee volunteer committees.

    Regarding the CSR Maturity Score in Catalysing Change 2008-09, while the Engaging Employees factor explicitly refers to employees, there are two other factors where employee contribution in terms of time and resources are considered – Organizational Importance and Source of Funds. In the former, volunteers drove CSR in 14% of companies in the research while many of the foundations are also run by volunteers. Under funds, 14% of companies use only employee resources for CSR while 55% use it as a supplement to corporate funds for community projects.

    Finally, in the Catalysing Change 2008-09, when we have referred to employee engagement we refer to both employee driven CSR activities and those that engage employees in the corporate CSR activities. And it is important to note here that 93% of participating firms have employee volunteer programs, whether structured or unstructured. This is a very good indicator of the volunteer spirit in the IT industry.

    The overall CSR Maturity Score of the IT industry in India is 59% which while positive shows that we still have a long way to go. Considering that the industry is relatively young, we have made a strong start and in the coming years will emerge as leaders in this area.

    Sagarika Bose
    Vice President – Research & CSR Advisory
    NASSCOM Foundation

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