The World is Going Social and for once we are not Talking about Media

I have recently been reading more about Social Corporate Responsibility (SCR).  It has been tweeted by numerous marketing pundits as one of the next big things to look out for in 2013.  At the same time I was reading “The Blue Sweater” by Jaqueline Novogratz, who argues that “neither grants nor markets alone will solve the problems of poverty”  This lead me to consider what are the markets and businesses role in addressing poverty, inequality and their environmental impacts within their communities.  If it is done with the right intentions and with clear outcomes, which are of benefit to both parties, can it make a difference?

In my search for an answer I came across the term ‘Goodvertising’ as used by Thomas Kolster in his recent article  He argues that “it combines what’s good for people and planet with what’s good for brand and bottom-line”.  To understand what CSR is now and might mean in the future I looked at what a number of the largest companies are currently doing in Kenya.  My starting point was Kenya Airways (KQ), I was impressed that they had a section on their website dedicated to CSR but, I have to admit, less impressed with its contents.  I would argue that they are clearly operating a corporate philanthropy scheme, but that the projects they have highlighted can not be considered CSR because they do not demonstrate the win win for donator (KQ) and donatee.  For example three of their CSR projects are based in schools.  While I accept the argument that KQ is a large employer and needs an educated workforce, it is hard to see how assisting with additional desks, classrooms and a dining area will achieve KQs long term stated aim of a larger pool of better educated graduates to choose from.  I would be interested to see in 10 – 15 years time how many of the children from those schools end up working for KQ.

If companies want to contribute towards the education of their future workforce I would argue that Samsung provide a better example through their “Hope for Children” outreach program.  The program is a graduate program for students leaving technical collages in Kenya.  With no cost to the student they provide a one year training course to teach the students how to fix modern technical devices.  The CSR link is much clearer.  Samsung sell the phones and train the engineers to fix them and deal with any technical faults.  They aim to have 2000 graduates by 2015 all of whom will be in a position to fix their phones and tablets should anything go wrong.  These devices are not cheap and it is a little like a car, it is not much use to you if you can’t get spares and nobody knows how to fix it.  To me, the benefit to Samsung of running this kind of training scheme are obvious to their bottom line.

Also compare and contrast KQ with Equity Bank and what they are achieving through their Equity Bank Foundation.  The Foundation actively supports top performing but vulnerable children through education from the end of free primary school to University.  Their program includes internships with the bank itself.  Not only have they provided opportunities for 1000s of high achieving individuals who may otherwise have gone unnoticed they have also created themselves a highly qualified future workforce, as demonstrated by a number of their graduates who have joined their workforce at a senior level.

CSR is not just about people and employment but also relates to an organisations environmental impact.  I noted with interest KQs tree planting program.  I usually travel by air a couple of times a year and often feel guilty about my own carbon footprint.  I was interested to read on the website what KQ had been doing.  I was disappointed that there was no mention of Carbon footprints but only of the fact that the Ngong Hills are under KQs flight path.  I am not suggesting that this is a bad thing – but is this CSR, I am not so sure.  According to various carbon emissions calculators, for my recent journey, I should be planting 6 trees.  To help me assuage my guilt maybe I could be given the opportunity to offset some of my emissions at the point of sale, or using air miles to buy trees.  Or maybe KQ could buy back Carbon Credits.  This would help to offset the companies carbon emissions and they could buy these credits from sustainable organisations working within communities in Kenya, to for example, provide solar lighting solutions.  That to me would be real CSR.

Finally I have to mention Safaricom.  They are a rare example of where a market has provided a very profitable service which has had a huge impact on the poor.  There is no avoiding the fact that the expansion of mPesa to mShwari has made banking services accessible to a significant population who were previously considered to be, or considered themselves to be, unbankable.  I would not for one second suggest that this is pure CSR, Safaricom are going to make a financial killing out of this, but you can not deny the fact that mShwari offers an invaluable service to millions.  Perhaps this is what happens when CSR is taken to the next level where benefiting your community just makes good business sense.

So in assessing whether CSR can make a difference to poverty and the environment, whilst also impacting positively on the bottom line of an organization, it is my belief that it is possible to achieve both.  However for this to be successful companies need to consider not only what they are giving to who but also what they are getting out of it – and not being ashamed of these outcomes.  Ultimately mutual benefit is one of the main advantages of CSR.

Sam Crosthwaite  – Client Service Manager