Lessons from the Trenches

Tuesday 19 December 2017

Article by Marla Bozic

corporate social responsibility

Last month I was fortunate to be part of a robust discussion on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) Australia. The forum brought together leaders in the philanthropy space, including Gavin Fox-Smith, Managing Director and Kris Ashpole, Community Impact Lead from Johnson & Johnson Medical; Rosalie Wilkie, Social Impact Partner, PriceWaterhouseCoopers;  and David Tudehope, Chief Executive Ofiicer, Macquarie Telecom Group.

For me, it was refreshing to see how the conversation around Corporate Social Responsibility has shifted and matured over the past few years. CSR is no longer a “philanthropy badge” that can be waved around to show that a company is channeling funds towards a good cause. A good CSR program is now considered an integral part of most businesses’ long-term strategies, essential not only to gain public trust and demonstrate alignment of values, but for attracting and retaining talent. And given that recent studies show more than 70 per cent of employees are either ambivalent about or completely disengaged with their jobs – a malaise which costs the Australian economy around $55 billion a year – there is a sound business case for making a genuine investment in CSR.

For the leaders I had the pleasure of meeting with last month, Corporate Social Responsibility was much more than just a tick of a box. Instead, they spoke with passion about the specific CSR strategy they’d developed within their organizations, and how it had been carefully crafted not only to effectively engage their staff, but to create the greatest impact in their community. 

Among these discussions were some key insights in terms of how to ensure CSR programs remain authentic and beneficial, and how they can become tools for education and advocacy while also being powerful brand assets. So consider this piece Lessons from the Trenches of Corporate Social Responsibility, which I’m sharing in the hope of helping more organisations develop and strengthen their own CSR programs.

Your CSR strategy has to align to your corporate vision. (Gavin Fox-Smith)
If your core business is about providing products or services to improve health, then your CSR strategy should likewise be aimed at improving community health. In aligning your CSR strategy with your core mission, you’re helping ensure that it’s authentic, while reinforcing the benefits of your core business to staff and consumers alike.

Invest in your people. (David Tudehope) 
Your people don’t just want to know you’re doing good as a company – they want to be part of it. According to a 2017 Deloitte survey, 89% of staff ‘believe that companies who sponsor volunteer activities offer a better overall working environment than those who do not’. That makes investing in opportunities for staff to be meaningfully engaged in social impact initiatives a must if you’re seriously about staff engagement.

Lead from the top, but ensure your employees are on board as well. 
Employees need to see their leaders walking the talk when it comes to CSR. But when it also means getting a broad and diverse group workforce to rally behind a great cause, good ideas don’t just come from the top – your staff are the ones who can often best see how their time, talents and resources could be put to work for the good of the community. That’s why staff from all levels need to be engaged in the development of your CSR strategy.

Live and learn. (Rosalie Wilkie)
The first idea is not always the best, and as partnerships, communities and business plans change and evolve, so too should your CSR strategy. The key is making sure you build in the time and resources to evaluate and refine your strategy along the way. 

A community champion is worth their weight in gold 
If I’ve learned only one thing in my role of Head of Partnerships, it’s that while there might be a genuine willingness for staff to support a good cause, without dedicated champions, some initiatives can fizzle before they even get started. Supporting and rewarding these champions is critical to building engagement.  

A well thought out and well executed CSR program can add many benefits to your business, in addition making an important difference in the community. It can build staff engagement while facilitating leadership development and great networking opportunities. It also has the potential to assist your business to better connect with and learn more about customers and other businesses in your community. If you’d like to find out more, please visit United Way or contact AmCham on 02 8031 9000.


Marla Bozic is Head of Partnerships at AmCham member company United Way.

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