Monday, November 22, 2010

Putting the corporate back in corporate social responsibility

Monday November 22, 2010

source: The Star

Monday Starters - By Soo Ewe Jin

IN my interactions with various people in Corporate Malaysia, the one topic that is guaranteed to perk me up is when we talk about corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Many of the big boys have well defined strategies and they should be applauded for doing their part to ensure that their businesses are socially responsible.

But, as I have written before in this column, CSR must not become just a mandated responsibility, or an opportunity for top company officials to bask in the media limelight every now and then.

For CSR to work in a company, all the people who work there must be a part of it, and not apart from it.

They have to take pride in what the company's mission is all about and be willing participants in the journey. In short, they must believe.

If, for example, you as the CEO decides to embrace the green agenda because it is the most exciting and PR-savvy option, your staff may be wondering what you are talking about because they can see that the work they do is everything but green.

Likewise, you may bask in the limelight by giving away 20% of your profits to an organisation that promotes women's causes, yet ignore the fact that the women who work in your company are infuriated that there is a definite glass ceiling as far as they are concerned.

Sometimes, excessive publicity works against genuine social responsibility.

I have challenged a number of people to embark on a policy where they will do good but not get any media write-up and they think I am joking and quickly change the topic.

I find that there is a genuine concern on the part of the smaller companies to embark on CSR initiatives but they are often intimidated by what the big boys are doing. Or at least seen to be doing.

When we were promoting the inaugural Star Outstanding Business Awards, we took great pains to explain to the would-be participants that nothing is too small or insignificant to be recognised.

We explained that if they cared about the community or the environment, and not just the bottom line, when they are starting out, they will be contributing to a better future for all.

One of the eventual winners, for example, was a small shoe company in Terengganu called Kedai Kasut YOU which won the Gold in the Community category.

Kasut YOU started its business with only two shoplots along Jalan Banggol, Kuala Terengganu in April 2002. It now has 11 outlets but what wowed the judges was the fact that they had a simple CSR initiative whereby they gave out free shoes to the poor in the areas where they operated.

I know of many companies that quietly go about doing their CSR in this manner and I believe our society is so much the richer for it.

The catalytic effect is a very powerful one. It is important for any CSR policy to first impact the staff before it can impact those they come into contact with every day.

As an analogy, when we make a phone call to a company, we are nowadays put through a system that requires us to push so many buttons that we eventually give up.

What is hilarious, of course, is that we will be greeted with a message that says, Your call is important to us, or We value you as our customer.

And sometimes when we do get to a real human being at the end of the line, she may not be particularly helpful.

At the end of the day, as employees, we must be good ambassadors because our words and actions can either enhance the company's CSR policy or negate its real value.

The people at the top of the company are few in numbers. They are like the generals who issue orders to the ordinary soldiers.

But if they want the soldiers to march to their tune, they must themselves walk the talk. And that applies to all aspects of the business, not just the CSR policy.

  • Deputy executive editor Soo Ewe Jin applauds Maybank for its creative global social responsibility initiative when it garnered all its 10,000 employees worldwide for a day of community work on Saturday to make a difference where they are.