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CSR: core values and business strategies

Strategic CSR requires businesses to create maximum value in their contribution

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Culinary training provided by Fullerton chefs as part of Fullerton Academy training programme.

GOOGLE corporate social responsibility or CSR and you will find images of a pair of hands cradling a green globe or a heart. CSR has often been thought of as a practice for businesses to contribute towards doing good for the environment or the society at large. But when it comes to measuring the true value of CSR programmes, not many companies adopt a systematic way to evaluate the programmes' value and impact.

By the United Nations' definition, the concept of CSR involves the voluntary acts of the business sector - outside the realm of government regulation - to improve their own sustainability and that of the world in which they operate.

Companies take on different approaches depending on their interpretation of CSR and priorities. Some embark on extensive sustainable development plans aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals; others commit to corporate giving programmes to benefit the underprivileged communities.

In light of the investment in finance, time and resources required to engage in CSR, how can businesses create maximum value in their contribution? Beyond being just a do-gooder, businesses should align their CSR strategy with that of the company's core values and business strategy.

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Intel Vietnam

An example would be Intel Vietnam. Under the auspices of ASEAN CSR Network Fellowship, my study visit to Intel's flagship plant in Ho Chi Minh City revealed some insights.

Their vision statement: "Create the future of Intel and Vietnam" greets one upon entering the sprawling factory space. When approached to set up the billion-dollar factory plant in Saigon Hi-Tech Park in the 90s, Intel worked with the local authorities to build an eco-system in the city that could support the business and its functions.

Setting up office in a city that was far from the ideal state of operation then, they had to lend their expertise in technology to revamp the city's Customs system, cutting down the processing time of imports and exports from two weeks to a matter of seconds.

They also went further to exert their influence over the local authorities to adopt anti-corruption practices, which has resulted in a far-reaching multiplier effect on their entire supply chain. The multi-national company's investment evidently benefited both the city and its own business.

Another example of strategic CSR that creates tangible value for the company comes from Dorothy Ng, corporate communications manager of Swire Pacific Offshore, a fellow of the Company of Good Fellowship.

Sharing her company's stand that "the long term value creation for shareholders depends on the sustainable development of its businesses and the communities in which they operate", Ms Ng elaborated on the different community investment initiatives in education, environment and talent development undertaken by her company through strategic local partnerships.

In Singapore, Swire Pacific Offshore supports the development of local talents by working with universities to offer bursaries and scholarships. Some of the graduates subsequently join the company's Management Associates talent programme and are provided with opportunities to advance their careers in the company.

Jason Chuei, the head of CSR for APAC for Expedia Group, a fellow of the Company of Good Fellowship, also shared the positive value which CSR programmes have brought to the business. In a world rife with online travel agencies, it would make the most sense to book with a website which offers the best deal and price.

Yet, Mr Chuei quips that Expedia has found fans in individuals who make Expedia their first choice because they subscribe to the company's corporate giving culture.

Surveys conducted with Expedia employees every six months which include a question on "How do you perceive Expedia as a caring employer?" revealed positive results, which can be attributed to the company's structured CSR programme focusing on four main areas: travel and technology, local community needs, what Expedians care about and UN Sustainable Development Goals.

In the pipeline, Mr Chuei plans to create a systemic metric to evaluate staff engagement level and its corresponding impact on retention rates which will further contribute to the value of CSR programmes for the business.

The interest to ensure staff retention is especially relevant to the hospitality industry which faces a chronic manpower and talent shortage issue.

What can be done to attract more talents to join the sector and keep them motivated? I believe one of the ways to address this perennial issue would be for companies to instil a sense of purpose in employees through CSR programmes, therein offering employees an opportunity to create value for the community and for employees to unlock their talent and potential.

Fullerton Academy

An example would be the Fullerton Academy programme started by The Fullerton Hotels Singapore. The Fullerton Academy matches Fullerton employees and vendors with underprivileged teens to provide the latter with apprenticeship in various training areas including culinary; dining and service etiquette; as well as storytelling through photography and videography.

One of the key objectives of the programme is to expose the teens to various career options in the hospitality and travel industry. After an 8-month long training programme, the teens reported higher engagement and a number of them expressed keen interest in taking on further training in the hospitality sector. Staff involved in the programme also responded that they felt the programme was meaningful and hoped to do more to impart their skillsets. In terms of value creation, the Fullerton Academy has set in motion a huge potential for the company to tap into the talents of the youths for the workforce of tomorrow.

CSR programmes also provide avenues to engage external stakeholders meaningfully, allowing businesses to multiply their philanthropic efforts. According to Lydia Ang, head of Corporate Social Responsibility of CapitaLand Group and General Manager of CapitaLand Hope Foundation, CapitaLand's community development initiatives strengthen the company's social licence to operate and can help businesses engage better with their customers.

  Ms Ang also serves as a mentor in the Company of Good Fellowship. Citing the CapitaLand Giving Marketplace as an example, the activity leverages on the company's strength and network as a real estate company to provide a platform for social enterprises and charities to rally together, and promote their causes to staff, external tenants and stakeholders. The result is a community of good where participants actively donate, share and connect.

Strategic CSR requires a closer examination of the key areas of impact between business and society, drawing on the complementary capabilities of both to address challenges that affect each party. Just like any strategic initiative, the investment in a CSR programme should be evaluated rigorously and be grounded in value-creation potential. Before embarking on your next CSR programme, seek to understand the issue from a business and societal perspective prior to sinking your resources into it.

The writer is the Assistant Director, Marketing and Communications at The Fullerton Heritage, and she handles the CSR and communications portfolio. She is part of both the Company of Good Fellowship and the ASEAN CSR Fellowship.

  • This article is the first of two articles written by participants of the Company of Good Fellowship, a talent development programme that empowers business professionals to give back, better.
  • For more information, visit www.companyofgood.sg/fellowship.