Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has gained prominence as part of every company business strategy.
Industry Opinions

Leveraging on partnerships for Corporate Social Responsibility

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has gained prominence as part of every company business strategy.

Companies now consider it an important element in business planning and have set clear frameworks under which their CSR is implemented. Companies like MTN, Madhvani Group, and Coca-Cola have set up entire foundations to manage their CSR.

Of late, it has become more common for companies to enter partnerships to implement CSR initiatives. This comes with many benefits but only if managed well, argued panellists at an American Chambers of Commerce (AmCham) Webinar last week, sponsored by Coca-Cola Beverages Africa.

According to Tony Otoa, Stanbic Business Incubator Executive Director, partnerships are essential because they attract more organizations to the cause because of brand affiliation. This creates more buzz and shared costs for the campaign.

Simon Kaheru, Public Affairs and Communications Director at Coca-Cola Beverages Africa said partnerships increase the impact of a CSR project.

“Companies get together to make an impact in the community. You more often get into partnerships not because you want to spend less money as an individual organization, but because you want to do more.

For instance, if the Rotary Club is doing something for the Mengo Blood Bank and need UGX100m, they will be happier getting that and more, so that they can do a lot more – collect more blood, reach more people and spread the message. When we go into partnerships, we ask: how many people we shall impact and how many people’s lives have we improved?” he said.

Majestic Brands Chief Executive Officer, Ronald Kawaddwa, added that organizations normally vet their partners when implementing such projects.

“You have to be careful who you bring on board. It’s advisable to understand whether the company you are bringing on shares the same ethical standards as you. It is not just a matter of getting the money. We must be able to share the same ethical background, part of ethics is accountability; getting back to your partners and say this is what we did,” he cautioned.

Accountability and transparency are key in sustaining partnerships. Employees are drawn more to companies that have a good CSR track record.

And, for large brands, it is important to show social purpose and a personal belonging to their people and communities.

Kaheru also emphasized the importance of including the community in implementing any CSR project, as part of that accountability. He said it was not enough for Stanbic, Rotary and Coca-Cola to get together for a cause if there was no community involvement in the partnership – especially for the sustainability of the projects.

“In most of our undertakings as Coca-Cola, we involve community-based organizations that are closer to the people on the ground. There is evidence of benefit from the partners on the ground, because if the people receiving don’t confirm that they actually benefited from what you have done, then you probably cheated them.

If all the world sees colourful page adverts, wonderful tweets and Facebook posts with people holding dummy cheques but the person on the ground is not saying ‘yes I felt good, I received something wonderful’ then there is no clear accountability. And that’s why it’s important to always focus on the community. Prioritizing ‘people’ is extremely important,” he advised.

Companies should avoid the bandwagon effect of jumping onto initiatives without proper planning. It is advisable for companies to invest in CSR research and planning.

Every situation is different thus it’s important to be cognizant of context for every initiative. This will help avoid blanket solutions that are not impactful.  Most companies often fall prey to the bandwagon effect thereby investing in initiatives that have minimal impact or no impact at all.

CSR and innovation are key drivers of business growth and the foundation of business competence. As such, companies need to do more than just tackling normal issues. Brands should view challenges as an opportunity.” I love the way companies around the world especially those with big Ad spends around CSR, they are driving more into issues of social justice,” Kawaddwa said.

Overall, the panel agreed, CSR should be an integral part of the organization’s business operations.

“That way, you can comfortably refer to it as Sustainability and not CSR. It should be part of your DNA and your culture as a company and as employees of that company.

“At Coca-Cola, a lot of our sustainability projects revolve around our business. For instance waste recycling, water replenishment and supporting women and youth in entrepreneurship,” he said.

“But always remember: the first role and responsibility of business is to do business – do business in a fair manner that ensures you are paying your rightful dues to the government so that the government can deliver social services to the people.

“We need to ensure that the general public puts pressure on companies to do business the right way. That’s how nations grow,“ Kaheru added.

BY ATHIENO STELLA MARION