As the holidays draw near, many companies all over the world are doing two things: reviewing their 2014 performance and selecting charities to receive their official nod to holiday generosity. It’s worth asking how many of them have connected the two in terms of their 2015 strategies. Corporate philanthropy isn’t just an obligation, after all; along with helping others, it’s an opportunity to inspire employees and attract new customers.
A few decades ago, no one expected companies to play the Good Samaritan. But in today’s era of “compassionate capitalism,” it’s almost de rigueur for companies to demonstrate some type of altruism, whether it’s promoting green causes, improving their local community, or lending their support to a global cause. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become so hardwired into our business culture, in fact, that enterprise brands can look stingy and uncaring if they lack a robust program.
Of course, there’s something else typical of big corporations today, and that’s global expansion. And the intersection of global business and CSR can be a tricky one to navigate, given the different cultural priorities regarding these programs. Leaders often follow the mantra “people, planet and profit” when it comes to investing in CSR but that can be a bit too simplistic on an international scale. To launch an effective program, global leaders must consider the following factors in their approach.
Figure out which buyers care about your initiatives.
While there’s been some debate on how deeply CSR programs influence buyers, one Neilsen report shows marked differences by region. For instance, while only 40 percent of European buyers are willing to pay extra for products from socially conscious companies, 64 percent of consumers in Asia-Pacific and 63 percent of buyers in Latin America, the Middle East and Africa would do so.
That kind of discrepancy shows up between generations, too. If your company typically targets Millennials, you should know that they comprise 51 percent of global respondents who will pay more for sustainable products, unlike Generation X and Baby Boomers. These statistics can help guide your decisions on where to invest in CSR programs and how to promote them.
Design a strategy that will ignite your workforce.
CSR programs may not always interest your customer base but they will most definitely act as a morale booster for your workforce. The importance of having a purpose at one’s job has been proven time and again – and participating in a global mission can be even more galvanizing. This is especially powerful for remote teams, as sharing the same mission can deepen connections between far-flung colleagues and dispersed offices.
For instance, each region might contribute toward a different local cause, such as building a water treatment plant in a struggling community – but everyone will post photos and updates to the same internal site. Another option is having everyone adopt the same internal initiatives. Going green is obviously a popular one; offices can hold contests on reducing waste and packaging materials, exchange ideas on setting up carpool systems or show off their new energy-efficient lighting. Employees in Hong Kong who might normally never interact with employees in Toronto will enjoy common ground that ultimately fosters deeper engagement for everyone.
Consider cultural priorities.
Every region has its own ideas of what constitutes a smart investment of CSR dollars. In European countries, for instance, achieving a quota for women leaders is still a firm priority along with diversity training and recruitment. Supplier diversity is another focus. The goal is for organizations to use a wide range of supplier types, including under-represented businesses like those owned by women and minorities. By diversifying their supplier base, companies can increase competition and create an increasingly varied market of customers and clients.
In a different direction, a United Nations study reported that over two-thirds of global green stimulus comes from the Asia-Pacific, led by Australia, China, South Korea, and Japan. South Korea in particular is focusing quite a bit on environmental efforts such as climate change mitigation, building resilience to natural disasters and low-carbon development.
Sometimes companies must commit to CSR that holds a personal significance for their partners. For instance, companies who’d like to do business in Africa are encouraged to first engage with the community. As a result, many businesses hoping for lucrative oil contracts will help build local infrastructure like schools and transportation to increase their chances of getting those contracts.
Ultimately every global company should consider the impact of CSR on its workforce, its customers and its communities before making a major investment. The wrong program can go ignored by both employees and customers – but the right program can put a halo of appeal around a brand image and support a good cause at the same time.