CSR: Balancing Social Responsibility, Brand Visibility And Philanthropy

CSR-CopyEVERYBODY craves for good perception, even corporate entities. This is why many organisations, beyond providing services and products make some effort to ensure that the process of producing and making available goods and services is ethical and promotes public good. And many organisations and individuals do this under what they refer to as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

The United Nations Industrial Development Organisation said Corporate Social Responsibility is a management concept in which companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and interactions with their stakeholders.

In Nigeria, many organisations often flaunt their credentials in the area of being socially responsible, highlighting not just how committed they are, but the huge sum that had been expended on CSR programmes and projects. But for some experts, especially Public Relations practitioners, what many flaunt as CSR programmes and projects are not, because they often engage in social marketing in disguise. For these stakeholders, the best many corporate entities have done, so far, is to engage in giving back and philanthropy, a minimal aspect of being a socially responsible organisation.

And former UK President, Gordon Brown vividly captured it when he noted recently that, “Today, Corporate Social Responsibility goes far beyond the old philanthropy of the past – donating money to good causes at the end of the financial year – and is, instead, an all year round responsibility that companies accept for the environment around them, for the best working practices, for their engagement in their local communities and for their recognition that brand names depend not only on quality, price and uniqueness, but on how, cumulatively, they interact with companies’ workforce, community and environment.

“Now, we need to move towards a challenging measure of corporate responsibility, where we judge results not just by the input, but by its outcomes: the difference we make to the world in which we live, and the contribution we make to poverty reduction,” the former Prime Minister noted.

Last year, the founder and chief organiser of the yearly CSR awards, Ken Egbas, said that CSR involvement in Nigeria has grown by over 1000 per cent revealing that when the award started about eight years ago, only N600 million was the expenditure, but as at last year has grown to about N47.8 billion. Ironically, while spend is growing, many organisations in the country are not meeting up with standards and still treat their stakeholders with disdain. It is a fact that consumer satisfaction is dwindling.

For instance, consumers daily complain about drop calls and illegal deductions. This is also the case with banks that make deductions from customers without any justifiable reasons. Nigerian organisations, which flaunt high social responsibility credentials often employ casual workers or outsource their workforce who are paid peanut by the outsourcing company.

Recently, Nigeria witnessed a national flood incident. To help victims of the flood, many companies promised donations, but it was learnt some of these organisations did not redeem their pledge and they have started enjoying the tax rebate that comes with the pledge they failed to redeem.

Commenting, the Group Managing Director of Rosabel, Mr. Ayo Oluwatosin, also agreed that the CSR sector in Nigeria is growing, pointing that there is more consciousness on the part of organisations, government and the communities about issues and importance of being a socially responsible entity. Although he said awareness is growing and organisations are making efforts to execute CSR projects and programmes, that is just one aspect of the whole process.

But are corporate organisations truly keying into CSR philosophy? Oluwatosin felt that is a second level of the discourse, because understanding the origin and spirit of CSR as a phenomenon is key to abiding by its principles. He said it is primarily about the moral responsibility that organisations have to their community of operation.

“But companies are failing not only in Nigeria, but globally in that moral responsibility that is now a legal and social responsibility. This is because if businesses will not do what is right morally, then they have to be forced to do what is right and the reason you have legal cases. For any business, the trust is that you must do something for the community. The idea is that if the community prospers and grows better, your business will grow, it is like a circle.”

Also, the Executive Director of CSR-In-Action, Bekeme Masade, stated that a look at what CSR is would help give an insight to how far the sector is in Nigeria. “It is a way that companies do business that they take into cognisance, the finance, social, environmental and ethical issues. What tend to happen is that companies focus on social responsibility as a source of promotion, and it is a bit like marketing. This is a sort of challenge that we are facing right now. If you are talking about it as corporate sustainability, then a business has to sit back to develop a corporate strategy that takes into cognisance the four aspects highlighted above.”

Asked to examine the sector in Nigeria, Lead Consultant/CEO, ThistlePraxis Consulting Limited, an organisation committed to sustainable issues, Ini Onuk, said she would rather attempt to describe the pulse of the sector at the moment, because there are, indeed, many organisations with intent to do CSR, but are largely misled or ill-advised and as such they are still stuck with philanthropy and charity. 

Oluwatosin said that a company’s moral responsibility to the community should not be taken from a parochial angle, because the community refers to both internal and external publics. “So it will be narrow and parochial to define communities as just people outside. Those that work with you and for you, shareholders, consumers and customers, governments and the physical community of operation are all communities that the company serves. So, when we are talking about social responsibility, all those stakeholders have to be taken care of in some sense.”

He said it is a contradiction that CSR spend is growing amidst poor services. He further said that an organisation that is truly socially responsible should naturally provide quality services and products.

“For instance, a company that claims to be socially responsible and owes staff salaries for three to four months, is a contradiction, because even the staff is a community to be catered for.”

Masade maintained that there is no way an organisation would take into consideration the four thematic areas without doing a good CSR project and programme. Citing a scenario, she said, sometime ago, at a conference, some ladies in the telecoms were asked questions after making a presentation on how well their company was doing and how much they were investing in the area of social infrastructures. According to her, the team from the telecoms spoke so well about what they have done. “But I asked why do people still complain about poor services. And they got upset. This is the issue we are facing here.”
On the claim that spend on social responsibility is growing in the midst of poor services and products, Masade said that could only happen when an organisation has not sat back to plan how it wants to be an ethical company that really wants to look after the consumers.

“It is not just about people liking me, because I am giving them something, it is about me, sitting back and thinking about how my business in all ramification can have a positive or negative impact on society. The United Nations Global Compact has 10 principles that are focused around four major things, human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption. If a company is responsible and thinks about these four issues, do you not think things would be different, especially, if they have processes and procedures around these?”

According to her, when there is a violation of any of the issues, there would be a flag up by the internal mechanism. “As long as companies are not ready to sit down to go back to the drawing board, to say yes, our long term vision is to be the biggest financial institution, then how am I going to be that financial organisation, without thinking through my impact on the society. If otherwise, then that company is just literally promoting themselves through CSR.”

On organisations engaging in social marketing under the disguise of CSR, she maintained it is not limited to Nigeria, but the norm around the world. “What they have different in other developed clime from ours is that they have established systems that compel people and business to act in certain way. And when we do not have such system, then people tend to do things, as they like. Human nature is really that selfish and do things as it suit them.

“You are spending so much money publicising, because you want people to see what you have done, but to whose benefit. But if the companies had certain governance structures in place, and a board and ethics committee that work, then that sort of things would be flag up, they will notice. So, a system that works will not allow that to happen.

“When I think of sustainability, managing resources in all ramification comes to my mind and you are not managing resources well if you spend so much money to be seen in the newspapers on a project that costs less. The best PR as they say is the word of mouth PR. So, if you are working as well as you should in your community, they will by themselves sing your praises. I do not think businesses need to do some of those fanciful things to get people to see what they are doing. Unless it is necessary that people really need to know about the things and there are less obvious ways to project the things that you have done. I know it is very useful for companies to let people know what they are doing. There is a place for that; the marketing department should do that. If you are investing in a community, because you want the betterment of that community, then your focus should be that.”
Onuk disclosed that her company has substantially contributed and invested in awareness, and elevated the discourse of CSR in Nigeria to meet international tenets and principles, as well as its proper integration into organisational strategy. 
“But in spite of this, there are very few organisations that are retroactively integrating CSR, but do little or nothing to report their activities. This is because they want to shy away from a false perception of increased scrutiny and expectations, which may be accompanied by more demands from stakeholders.” 
She said, “in addition, it is still the most popular concept and this makes sustainability a more holistic approach of competitive value and social responsibility, which are inherently the same, but practised across public and non-profit sectors, more distant. Due to the absence of regulation on practice spend or even reporting, CSR is yet to attain the needed level of compliance to drive widespread impact. 
“At the moment, only the financial services subsector is adequately regulated by CBN through Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles (NSBP). Other key sectors begging for regulation include oil and gas, manufacturing, logistics/transport/haulage, service delivery, telecoms, etc.”
In summary, Onuk argued that while CSR is growing very slowly, it is still far from its potential due to the size of the country’s economy and relevance of the business environment. 

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