Harnessing the collective might of organizations to focus on common goals and improve community impact isn’t an easy task. Especially, when the CSR charters are varied and resources are limited. However, through transparent engagement, strong partnerships and consistent practices, the sky is the limit. In the 3rd edition of the CSR Communications Series, Shaina Ganapathy – Head of Community Outreach, Embassy Group outlines her organization’s citizenship ambitions and communications charter, how it has built pride among employees, drives robust relationships with stakeholders and creates lasting value.
This series invites CSR practitioners to share perspectives on the role of communication in showcasing the organization’s citizenship intentions, involving employees in driving social change and making a difference to employee engagement and the world.
1. How is CSR/sustainability defined by your organization? How important is CSR communications for your organization and why?
At Embassy, CSR is building a sustainable eco-system and contributing to the social, economic and environmental development of the communities in which we operate. At Embassy, we truly believe that for a sustainable future, it is imperative to build a healthy, tolerant and more connected society by providing quality education, improved health services and infrastructure facilities, and fostering livelihoods for people from socially and economically disadvantaged communities. Giving back to the society around us is embedded within the ethos of the Group. This of course, was significant when it came to our COVID-19 relief efforts. At the very onset of the pandemic and the national lockdown, we were able to mobilize our network of NGO partners, Government bodies, corporate occupiers, vendors, employees and more to support a wide variety of beneficiaries across diverse geographies – including frontline fighters, daily wage and migrant workers, and their families. Employees of Embassy donated 72 lakhs from their salaries towards the provision of over 4,75,000 meals for those in need, having inculcated the importance of giving back in whatever meaningful way they could. CSR communications is highly important for the organization as it allows for both internal and external stakeholders to develop an awareness of our efforts in contributing to the development of our communities. Particularly, we aim to highlight programs such as our Corporate Connect platform that champions inter-company collaboration towards achieving a broader radius of social impact. Embassy Group hopes to join hands with the 190+ corporate tenants within our Business Parks to engage other companies in addressing the diverse number of issues facing society today. Communications plays a key role in establishing the program’s value, the importance of partnerships in the CSR space and inviting other organizations to join us in creating greater benefit for the society at large.
2. How does your organization communicate CSR? What methods, channels and resources do you use?
Today, the internet plays a prominent role in corporate communications, which applies to communicating CSR initiatives as well – it allows for real-time updates and engagement with internal and external stakeholders. We firmly believe that everyone within the company should be aware of and champion the company’s initiatives. The use of internal social media portals enables us to organize employee engagement and volunteering, CSR events, updates on new partners and NGOs, and the overall changes to the CSR policies of the Group. Further, it is also vital to ensure that all consumers, clients and other external stakeholders are kept abreast of our initiatives, with consumers and clients today becoming more socially conscious than ever before. Transparency is a necessity of CSR being an on-going dialogue, and the way in which we engage in that dialogue denotes how we are perceived. Social media platforms, our website, newsletters and other digital media is utilized to reach our stakeholders effectively. With the ever-changing global standards of community development, we create reports on our alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals and ESG. Needing a larger reach to encourage collaboration in the space, we also utilize press releases, industry relevant magazines and other publications.
3. Is there a dedicated team or individual for this role? If yes, what skills do they have and what skills does your organization value most?
We have a dedicated team within the organization, which at a Group level, oversees curating all CSR projects, outlining resources, identifying partners, supervising their on-boarding, monitoring the execution of each project and then reporting back to the various entities. This channelizes CSR funding towards in-depth holistic programs, rather than piece-meal projects or cheque-book charity. Within that team, we have a designated person for the role of CSR communications. Their role is to oversee all internal and external communications, collateral development, reporting and events. Within the Group, we value timely communications, storytelling to highlight the outcomes of our programs and galvanize support of either clients or our internal employees, promotion of active engagement and the ability to initiate a dialogue that unites partners on the same issues, multiplying the impact.
4. Are there budgets allocated to CSR communications and to what kinds of activities does the organization invest most on?
There are minimal budgets allocated to CSR communications, our focus is to get the message across in the most cost-effective way and direct most of the funds towards our activities.
5. What trends do you observe with CSR and related to communicating with internal stakeholders?
People today are more conscious and socially responsible than in past, and this applies not just to consumers, but employees as well. When looking for a workplace, a company’s social outlook is of consideration. Employees today want to be enthusiastic about the organization they work for and are looking for more than just a 9-5 job – imbibing the company’s morals lead to more commitment towards the organization, their colleagues and further work satisfaction. Therefore, it’s an exciting development with employees being able to contribute towards the ethos of the group, rather than just central messaging. The use of more democratic platforms for communication allows for people to add to the discussion and create a dynamic atmosphere within the company. Pertaining to the growing trend of Whatsapp as a method of communication as well, employees these days can rapidly update their colleagues and receive rapid updates themselves.
6. Share how CSR communications is practiced at your organization – who leads it, how is it organized and what are the principles you follow?
CSR communications is inextricably linked to our company ethos. We have a designated communications member of the CSR team, who works with the Corporate Communications team to guarantee that our CSR activities fall within and enhance the image of the Group at large.
7. Describe a campaign you are proud of, that resulted in business outcomes or impacted social goals?
Underpinned by the philosophy “together we can do more”, we created the Corporate Connect model, which champions collective action for increased social impact through partnerships with our corporate occupiers. As Embassy, we are in an advantageous position through our relationships with local communities around our properties, to not only identify the requirements on the ground, but also support with project management and providing infrastructural solutions at optimized costs. Despite a growing conviction amongst corporates that success in business is tied to engagement in social progress, the challenge remains that to effect true social transformation in India is beyond the scope of one company or initiative. Identifying a common mandate for collaboration is the key to ensuring impactful implementation of CSR programs in a lasting manner. As such, our Corporate Connect program, launched in 2017, aims to bring together the corporate occupiers of our business parks with a shared vision for our communities. Till date, we have been able to mobilize 21 corporates towards 41 CSR projects in the areas of Government School education, infrastructure and public space enhancement. In addition, we have curated a series of CSR forums to provide a shared platform to discuss CSR objectives and efforts, where Embassy takes the lead in bringing together stakeholders to ideate on emerging themes in development, efficient practices and scalable models for sustained impact. We have curated eight Forums under the Embassy Engage Series to date on topics as wide ranging as sports to re-evaluating the CSR law. We are so proud to share that through our Corporate Connect program, we were able to support over 9.2 lakh students and invigilators who were at the SSLC examinations by providing hand sanitizers everyday over a 6-day period. In addition, we also donated sanitizers for 9,979 evaluators for a 10-day period. This initiative was undertaken in partnership with 5 other corporates, which enabled us to support the enormous undertaking of safeguarding the health of students and their teachers.
8. What advice do you have for CSR practitioners to communicate effectively?
Make use of the plethora of digital tools at our availability – communicate with transparency to reach the largest audience. This is particularly evident in times of Covid-19, where at Embassy, we were able to mobilize support very quickly through solely digital channels. CSR is relatively young avenue of employment, which means there’s a great scope for innovation in this space as well. Use storytelling to emphasize the importance of collaboration. A strong, aligned focus in partnering together, identifying innovative solutions, executing projects and bringing in the involvement of stakeholders is the path we see towards sustainable impact.
9. What advice do you have for those aspiring to join this evolving domain?
Be prepared to be adaptable – this domain is indeed ever evolving, which means aspiring CSR employees may need to be prepared to handle a multitude of rolls and types of work. COVID-19 has changed the way we approach the way we conduct business and how we perform CSR. This period has allowed teams to re-think and re-structure our plans on how we give back to society and build new relationships, as well as our role in managing this unprecedented experience. CSR also requires partnerships with a variety of stakeholders from the Government, NGOs, other corporates and more. One must be able to understand how to think strategically, identify what role your organization can play in this and how to connect the dots.
10. How can organizations get better with CSR Communications?
Be proactive rather than reactive; put into place a strategic plan that aligns with your company’s larger brand. Make sure that everyone in your company buys into the CSR mission, from the CEO down and use every available channel to do so.
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