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Delivering social impact and business value through CSR

Parimatch Foundation chairwoman Katerina Belorusskaya explores the business advantages of a well-designed and implemented CSR programme

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is not just about businesses ‘doing good’ – it is integral to corporate reputation. Therefore, social purpose should be built into corporate strategy, or better yet a company’s business model. The case for this is compelling, as CSR initiatives serve not only to effect positive social change, but to attract customers, partners and prospective employees, and even promote innovation. In this way, CSR has real business value and the potential to create competitive advantage.

Today’s consumers expect brands to be socially responsible, and increasingly this is a deciding factor in the choices they make – even more so when this is the only difference between two otherwise identical products. Indeed, research conducted by Unilever found that a third of consumers are choosing to buy brands based on their social or environmental impact. However, it is not as simple as picking a social cause to underpin marketing communications and product development.

Customers above all seek authenticity, and a common misstep is businesses aligning with causes that do not reflect the brand or company values.  When forming a CSR strategy, it is important to design and support initiatives which speak to a company’s mission and vision, as well as stakeholders, otherwise, no matter how well-intended these efforts may be, they will ultimately fail to resonate and succeed in the long-term. The best place to start is to go local, to create positive impact in nearby communities.

As people prioritise social purpose in their personal lives, they are also looking to do the same with their choice of employer. An influential factor for potential recruits is therefore alignment of personal values with those of a company, with CSR being a key indicator of company culture and leadership style. CSR programmes are crucial for not only engaging prospective employees but current – and involving employees in CSR initiatives can increase job satisfaction and create a sense of achievement.

Corporate volunteering, whereby employees are able to spend time supporting their choice of initiative, is a particularly effective approach to inspiring employees. However, focusing on a company-wide campaign alongside this can build morale and strengthen a team, by promoting working together towards a common goal.

CSR strengthens reputation (over time)

Social purpose programmes, when well designed and implemented, have a positive impact on a company’s reputation and brand image. However, this is only achieved through a sustained and consistent approach. There are huge reputational risks involved for companies which fail to fulfil their obligations or perform hollow gestures instead of committing to and pursuing a cause over the long term.

If CSR programmes are to have the desired reputational effect, it is essential to put in place a comprehensive, multi-year strategy and programme, rather than support causes on an ad-hoc basis. Contributions must be meaningful and sustained to build trust, have a demonstrable impact and avoid the risk of drawing criticism.

An often-neglected consideration is that CSR efforts can promote and nurture innovation. In addressing social issues there can be an opportunity for companies to use their expertise to develop innovative solutions – and promote their capabilities in certain areas. It is always worth considering how an existing product, service or skill set can be applied or enhanced to tackle a social issue.

In turn, this may also result in a business discovering new ways of approaching processes or product development. Outreach programmes which support budding entrepreneurs are also a way for companies to create an ideas and talent pipeline directly into the business.

 

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