[Blog 36] The Chief Guru Chronicles 111: Less Dollars, More Sense

Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR is the word these days as more and more consumers seek products and services from firms who engage in socially and environmentally sustainable practices.

Companies, in turn, are subsequently pressured into integrating CSR through their business interactions. When it comes to CSR, there are certainly broad ways for business to form economic value while benefitting the society in positive ways. However, if we look at how CSR is being played out in developing nations across the South East Asian region, we can observe how there seems to be much misconceptions surrounding the topic where many firms tend to associate CSR with purely philanthropy.

For such firms that operate in countries with deep histories of violent, conflict and political unjust, their CSR programs are often merely designed around providing donations to fund civic buildings in rural areas like schools, clinics and hospitals—and most of the time, it just stops there. Many times, charitable funds that have been accumulated are unfortunately not utilised efficiently—and this is where many businesses miss the bigger point of CSR. Aspirations to combat poverty and provide equal opportunities to members of the society often fall short simply because there is no adequate mode of actions to affect real change.

Back in the 2000s, I once had the pleasure of working in a hotel establishment that took interest in vitalising CSR more responsibly within the third-world country it was operating in. At the time, rural villages in the area lacked business know-hows and appropriate resources that were required to sustain a functioning and productive environment. The starving and malnourished locals depended on sparse vegetations and limited livestock to get by while children had little access to proper education. As you might imagine, writing them a cheque would not do much good for anyone involved.

Our company decided to take definitive action by first supplying plant seeds and livestock to support local farmers with the capacity to be able to improve the rate and quality of their produce; all of which were then bought by us, the hotel. This way, the villagers were able to independently pick up the skills required to form a profitable system of enterprises that can bring about long-term income. On top of teaching how to enhance their financial literacy, the company’s HR team also established a school where fundamental subjects such as English, Mathematics and Science were taught. This was done with the objective of improving the standard of education so more employment can be generated and suitably qualified students could then be recruited by the hotel. The significance of all these CSR activities were to advance and hopefully sustain the social, professional and economic livelihood of the community through generations to come.

To be more socially and environmentally responsible entities, firms today must start reassessing their CSR efforts. They must take into account not only the society at large but the specific communities that their operations depend on no matter what industry it may be. Remember that it’s not always about delivering monetary aid. Consider the following mantra: teach a man how to fish, instead of handing him a fish. Apart from just championing social and environmental issues on the basis of sympathetic donations, go the extra mile to actively participate in the bettering of the community’s wellbeing by giving your time and imparting your knowledge to the underprivileged.

It may seem like an erratic process but only with such substantial initiatives and community engagement will you strengthen your business and simultaneously perpetuate an environment that promotes sustainable living.

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This article is part of a series of accounts of The Chief Guru Chronicles, a monthly column which recounts our Founder & Chief Guru Tommy Ng’s experience and encounters in HR management across various countries and industries. The purpose of this column is to provide helpful information on the subjects discussed, and to educate readers through challenges experienced. It should not be perceived and used as a professional advice. Any views or opinions are not intended to malign any religion, races, ethnic group, organisation, company, individual or country. In addition, we do not make any warranties about the completeness, reliability and accuracy of the information. As a disclosure, some names, information and situations were intentionally concealed or edited in order to protect the identity of the involved parties. Except as expressly consented, the contents may not be reproduced, transmitted, or distributed without HR Guru Pte Ltd permission.