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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

CSR: Building partnership with media, mobile operator

A one-day media workshop on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) was held at the Lagos Business School recently with the scholarship of Etisalat Nigeria. REMMY NWEKE who was there reports that stakeholders’ engagement via the media needs optimization.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been severally described, but according to the European Union Commission (EUC), CSR is ‘a concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and interaction with stakeholders on a voluntary basis’ bearing in mind that responsible behaviour leads to sustainable business success.

Invariably the aforementioned definition may have motivated the mobile operators in the country, especially the Etisalat Nigeria to recently institute a CSR center at the Lagos Business School and organize the workshops for media and stakeholders buy-in on behalf of the larger society.

Director, Lagos Business School/Etissalat CSR Center at the Pan African University, Sir Chris Ogbechie, said there are two old stereotypes of CSR, in his paper on ‘Fundamentals of CSR in Nigeria.’ He outlined these categorizes to include that “Businesses are viewed as purely self-serving, pursuing profit in ways that are inherently destructive to human culture, well-being and the environment” as well as that “Business have always acted defensively when social issues that affect them are raised – lobbying, public relations, advertising and other cosmetic measures.”

He listed some of the issues and challenges that should be covered in CSR to consist diversity, child labour, workers’ rights, water, climate change, recycling, carbon neutral, environment, waste control, pollution, energy, corruption, transparency, health and safety, work-life balance, equal opportunities, philanthropy, human rights, community programmes, resource usage, poverty alleviation and nutrition to name a few.

For Ogbechie, integration of company and community is key to a successful CSR strategy, saying there is an inevitable link between business and society, even as he stressed that a healthy business depends on a healthy community to create demand for its products and provide a supportive business environment.

“A healthy society depends on competitive companies that can create jobs, support decent wages, build wealth, buy local goods and pay taxes,” he said, adding that there is a long-term synergy between economic and social objectives.

He warned that consequences of neglecting CSR as a corporate management tool could mean more litigation against the company and its key officers, loss of top talents and credible investors, increased cost of capital, decline in stock value, loss of business partners and customers as well as public contracts, particularly from international organizations like World Bank and European Union among others.

The chief executive officer, Etisalat Nigeria, Mr. Steven Evans in what he called ‘A Holistic and Sustainable CSR Strategy’ declared that the mobile operator sees CSR as philanthropy currently, but added that largely CSR originated because of the concern for business ethics and social dimension of business, since 19th century entrenched in industrial revolution.

He said penultimate Wednesday, August 17, that several terminologies, theories and approaches have been used interchangeably and long before the term CSR such as philanthropy had gained credence. And for Etisalat, CSR guiding factors include socio-economic analysis of Nigeria and assessment of primary areas of need with some synergistic characteristics with its business, while financial capacity to have a meaningful impact. Hence, Etisalat has developed its CSR commitments and strategy as well as initiatives with a blend of philanthropic, stakeholder and strategic approaches.

Evans said that at Etisalat, CSR represents a complete and balanced relationship with stakeholders, which means that the mobile operator has responsibility to create value through sustainable products and services for society and shareholders; ensuring best ethical standards in dealing with stakeholders; minimizing its environmental impact as well as contributing to the well-being of the over-all society, whereas making certain that the ability to meet the needs and aspirations of the firm’s shareholders is not compromised.

Etisalat, he said, has two pronged CSR approach, namely bottoms-up and tops-down which enables the company to empower various socio-economic levels, including promotion of a culture of employee engagement to encourage personnel contribution and feedback, via connect sessions driven by value champions, in addition to staff volunteering scheme remaining a key aspect of the internal CSR and veritable platform for bonding and personal fulfillment.

As an innovative company, Etisalat, he said, is constantly looking for new ways to drive the growth of its business, which has spurred the management and employees to set high standards and strive to beat them, while fiercely protecting its brand, which is in synonymous with excellence. As such, he said, Etisalat has influenced key stakeholders differently through involvement in training of business leaders, policy and decision makers on the significance of CSR cum best practices to enable them become genuine influencers to benefit those at the lower socio-economic levels, especially on the CSR Bill.

In efforts at contributing to sustainability, Evans pointed out that Etisalat has become a valuable resource for all stakeholders including students, universities and companies, thus improving the overall CSR strategies and contributions to sustainability, while partnering business and academia for action-oriented initiatives in real-time to create CSR best practices. He cited an instance with the Adopt-A-School, merit awards for deserving students, teacher training initiatives as well as Fight Malaria and career counseling scheme in addition to the social responsible product and services via Eco-SIM, which is an environmental footprint that reduces 16g of CO2 in a SIM card to 8g per card.

Mrs. Dayo Oluwole of Kasher Quality Consulting on “CSR Reporting and stakeholder communication” berated the media for not doing enough in projecting CSR, but was quick to add that media practitioners need to understand what is at stake to be able to report adequately on issues of CSR, adding that the engagement of stakeholders either directly or indirectly via the media, needs to consider the gain and maintenance of a social license to operate, which would afford a better understanding of the interests and concerns of the civil society as they relate to businesses.

Gaining of insights into the emerging public issues and trends of relevance to businesses, she said, must be seen as improving stakeholders’ understanding of efforts to enhance sustainable communities, and obtain their insights on those efforts. This, she noted must involve the establishment of a core set of stakeholders willing to serve as third-party endorsers to an organizations, coupled with the fact that reduction of risk to business and brands of anti-company campaigns by sharing information, developing trust and building mutual understanding cannot be overlooked.

She cited a recent survey by Globescan on Issues and Reputation of 2007, saying that non-governmental organizations were the most trusted, followed by religious groups, large national corporations, media, national government and global companies in that order. Oluwole also blamed media for playing a parallel role on CSR issues, saying that although media is one of the most powerful, yet it’s least trusted and least accountable institutions in the world, hence media companies are both carriers and barriers when it comes to the CSR and Sustainable Development (SD) agendas.

According to her, media could make the difference and increase the trust on the profession by making links to the big picture, build trust through factual and technical accuracy, tell powerful stories, project optimism and avoid guilt while pressing the ‘glory button’ to help people feel good in taking small initiatives, spotlight heroes to emulate and linking big ideas with everyday realities and interests.

Mr. Yomi Fawehinmi on‘The Concept of Sustainability Reporting’ told participants that there are four principles, namely content, quality, boundary setting and others, while the testing for quality of reports must embrace balance, comparability, accuracy, timeliness, clarity and reliability, advising organizations in the country to desist from using this essentially as public relations tools and limiting stakeholder engagement as well as discussion on the report.

Dwelling on ‘The Role of Mass Media in CSR’ Mr. Tony Okwoju charged media practitioners to leverage on the avalanche of new media technologies to communicate and report better on CSR, saying that the demand is on the rise and media as a bridge builder in every socio-economic empowerment must be seen as playing its role actively. He later presented certificates to participants on behalf of LBS management.

Reacting, most participants commended Etisalat for this initiative and invited others companies to emulate the mobile operator.

Responding on behalf of his colleagues, Mr. Peter Jones Aliero, applauded the partnership between LBS and Etisalat and urged them not to relent, even as he assured that media would continue to do its beat in enlightening and engaging the Nigerian public.

However, the bottom line here is that despite all the initiatives being put in place by the private sectors in recent times, especially since the evolution of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), the media, no doubt has played its role, but more of such roles should begin to focus on the CSR and Sustainable Development initiatives of private companies without exclusion of the media itself.

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