Communicating corporate social responsibility is important to demonstrate positive intent and align stakeholders. Taking stakeholders into confidence and building trust through CSR communications is vital for sustainability programming and success. In the 6th edition of the CSR Communications Series, – Peter Brun, Chief Communications Officer at VFS Global articulates the crucial role of CSR communication in engaging and inspiring stakeholders. He also shares an exciting employee engagement program that creates a culture of giving inside the organization.
Peter, based in Dubai, is the Chief Communications Officer of VFS Global and an award-winning communicator with over 25 years of experience as a communications expert, journalist, TV/Radio presenter and editor-in-chief with leading global organizations. He was named the “Best Media Spokesman of the Year” by the Swiss media and loves people and their stories.
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.
- How is CSR/sustainability defined by your organization? How important is CSR communications for your organization and why?
CSR at VFS Global is strongly connected with the principles of Sustainability. Our business decisions are based not only on financial factors, but also on the social and environmental impact of such actions.
Our sustainability strategy is guided by the Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) framework covering Human Rights (including Labor Rights), Environment Protection and Anti-Corruption under the core principles. Ethics & Anti-Corruption Training, Diversity, Data Protection, Employee Engagement and Environmental Concerns are among the other critical business KPIs with which we ensure to be compliant.
2. How does your organization communicate CSR? What methods, channels and resources do you use?
Different channels as used for different stakeholders – shareholders, employees, customers and community. We coommunicate with shareholders through periodic reporting as per the ESG guidelines, keep employees informed on all CSR programs, activities and events, share periodic communication with customers or larger community leveraging social media channels and our website as well as regularly interact with media on our programs.
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?
The responsibility is with the Chief Communications Officer and a dedicated team manages the function centrally. The skills needed for this function include understanding the importance of sustainability to the business, driving the sustainability/ CSR strategy considering community challenges and how effectively the organization can contribute, program managing initiatives, promoting employee volunteering and engagement in CSR programs, understanding of financial, legal and reputation risks of CSR and driving effective communication. Further, CSR Champions are appointed across all regions where we operate, to drive activities locally.
4. Are there budgets allocated to CSR communications and to what kinds of activities does the organization invest most on?
Global budgets are approved as per the annual plan and further allocated to different regions (where we operate in) and for centrally driven activities. Additionally, local budgets requested and allocated for certain regions who are very active in community initiatives. Our activities are undertaken in line with the overall strategy focused on ‘preserving environment’ and ‘promoting education’. We also do signature programs in partnership with reputed non-profit organizations/ charities. Other initiatives include employee volunteering, giving programs and community initiatives undertaken locally by regional employees.
5. What trends do you observe with CSR and related to communicating with internal stakeholders?
Corporations are gradually adopting SDGs into their responsible business actions. It is no longer about the CSR activities that are aligned with the business operations, but a realistic ESG model that appeals to most of the corporate world.Brands are demonstrating interest in the business potential of sustainable development and are crafting long-term strategies integrating economic success, environmental quality, and social equity.Communicating with internal stakeholders for stronger participation and better impact covers:Regular communication with employees to align them with our CSR goals and deliverables
Communication with key stakeholders for alignment with ESG deliverables and reporting
Comprehensive communication campaigns around specific CSR activities and projects driven to encourage employees to give back to their local communities.
6. Please share how CSR communications is practiced at your organization – who leads it, how is it organized and what are the principles you follow?
Communication to employees is driven and overseen by the central CSR/ Corporate Communications team and we follow these principles:
- It is aligned with content strategy to depict our CSR tone and beliefs
- It contains comprehensive details providing adequate awareness of the activity
- It evokes impactful messaging to create a strong and lasting impression
- The messaging is sensitive to the region or cause, and does not offend any cultural norms or sensitivities of the society, in terms of imagery or content
- It possesses a professional look and feel, in line with the brand guidelines
- 7. Describe a campaign you are proud of, that resulted in business outcomes or impacted social goals?
At VFS Global, we believe giving is not about making a donation, but making a difference!
And with this thought in mind, we launched ‘Give For Good’ our annual program conducted across all regions between November and December each year with an aim to inculcate a culture of giving within the employees.
- Provide a platform for the employees to give back to the society
- Instil a sense of pride among employees by empowering them to create a positive difference in their communities
- Drive a sense of community within the organization by enabling employees to work towards a common purpose
- Sensitise employees about causes that affect their surrounding communities
- The global pilot ran in 2019 starting mid-November till end of December, leveraging Thanksgiving and the holiday season across the world, which is associated with ‘expressing gratitude’ and ‘giving back’
- Key themes given to all regions were volunteering, fund raising and donation (both in-kind and cash)
- Each region/ country/ location identified their own project/ initiative under the cause they felt strongly about, but aligned with global CSR focus areas
- All regions were offered the flexibility to execute projects per their convenience, ensuring business operations were not impacted
- Structured pre-set template was provided to ensure consistency in reporting and impact measurement
- Communication was overseen by the central team to ensure its in line with the overall communications strategy and messaging
- A separate template was designed for all local/ activity-specific communication, to lend consistency and to retain the overall look and feel
- Regular emails with glimpses of ongoing activities and impact were shared with all employees to encourage them and to create awareness on what’s happening in other regions
- 45+ cities
- 20+ initiatives
- 8 causes
- 700+ volunteers
- 2500+ hours of service
- 8. What advice do you have for CSR practitioners to communicate effectively?
My advice is to continue communicating with stakeholders (internal and external), driving constant messages on the importance of CSR/ Sustainability to the business and seeking their support in delivering the goals. Leverage key achievements, programs and events to communicate. Engage stakeholders actively, where possible, with CSR programs/ events organized by the company – the personal experience goes a long way. Also, engage employees actively into CSR activities and encourage employees to take up community initiatives in personal capacity – so they become your brand ambassadors. Lastly, ensure appropriate recognition of the employees to encourage them and inspire others
9. What advice do you have for those aspiring to join this evolving domain?
It is very important to have passion for this function. It involves being a bridge between the company and communities around. Certain skills are very important to develop such as:
- Managing ambiguity – CSR is an umbrella term that covers a range of different activities as meanings are different for different people.
- Knowing the subject – Key to being able to manage the ambiguity in CSR is having a good working knowledge of the issues that it covers, good enough that you understand the principles and can apply them to different circumstances
- Understand how to influence people – The best companies have CSR teams who define their role by their ability to influence across the business.
- Business understanding – If you’re going to be effective, you have to understand the business. You have to be fully conversant with how the company makes its money, what makes its business model work, and what are its mainstream risks and opportunities.
- Listening skills – Key to many of the skills above is the ability to genuinely listen
- Project management – The ability to develop strategies – both external and internal – and to put in place programs to achieve your goals
- Understand metrics and reporting – You need to be able to report impact, so you need to have some understanding of data analysis and metrics.
- 10.How can organizations get better with CSR communications?
My recommendation is to ensure 360-degree campaigns by levering various channels. Align regular and structured communication with CSR focus areas. Empower stakeholders with the right information at the right time on CSR programs and synergize with overall strategy. Also, actively engage stakeholders with CSR activities.
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