I am currently pursuing my M.A. in Development Studies at the University of Nairobi, Kenya thanks to a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship. In a past life I worked in Public Admin, but I am most content when trying to address the problems facing the global community by way of the commercial marketplace that makes it all go round....
A ground-eye view: knowing the community you serve
I'm going to try and include various CSR definitions in my posts as much as possible, and welcome community members and JustMeans clients to do the same. Here's a definition provided by JustMeans member and frequent blogger Elaine Cohen (from her upcoming book CSHR: The Corporate Social Human Resources Manager)
Corporate Social Responsibility: A way of doing business which is based on ethical principles and structured management controls, and which takes into account social and environmental considerations alongside economic considerations when making business decisions, and attempts to create positive impacts on all stakeholders.
It's Monday night in Nairobi and I'm feeling the residual soreness from a biking safari in Hell's Gate National Park today. It's the only park in Kenya where you're allowed to experience the park from foot or on a bike (the lack of lions and elephants makes this relatively safe, the presence of cape buffalo and leopards a bit less so!). As I cycled past grazing zebras, lanky yet graceful giraffes and an assortment of antelope and impala I marveled at the unparalleled insight I was granted regarding the environmental challenges facing the park - insight that would be easy to miss if I were perched high atop a safari van or 4x4 and focused solely on a lion gnawing on the leg of a warthog. After about an hour and a half on bike, I followed my guide down into a gorge and found a thin trickle of water (during rainy season no less) whose previous iteration was a rock-slicing torrent of a river. From my stand on the shore the severity of the water shortage and environmental degradation in Kenya really hit home (two things I should note that many CSR-enthused companies in Kenya are trying to address, which I hope to highlight in future posts).
My on-the-ground safari got me thinking about how charitable projects that are tied to CSR programs are selected. If you really believe in the power of both corporate intent and funding to make an impact where it's most needed, how projects and problems are identified and addressed is a critical issue. I'd like to know more from JustMeans clients how they go about selecting CSR supported projects, and what role employees play in the process. In some ways, specific sector companies and employees could have all the expertise needed to use their CSR efforts for good in the arena they conduct everyday business in (for example a local water pump/technology company that focuses their CSR efforts on access to water and water quality). But when a company wants to expand their influence to pertinent community issues that they have less direct experience in, how can they go about getting that on-the-ground view and insight that would allow them to truly understand the problem, and then maximize their contribution and program efforts?
Though I'm a firm believer that such projects are just one small component of CSR as a whole, they are often the best opportunity a company has to market their CSR efforts and intent. Perhaps more importantly, they can act as positive vehicles for transforming company culture and operations on a much bigger scale, especially if employees are afforded an on-the-ground experience both identifying and running the project.