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Corporate social responsibility key for businesses to boost ecosystem

Shilpa Bhasin Mehra/Dubai
Filed on May 22, 2020

Charity begins at home and so is true for CSR.

We are living in an unprecedented time. Covid-19 is transforming the way the world lives, works, buys, and relates to one another, and the changes seem to come by the minute. This unchartered territory of a global pandemic has inspired both fear and hope; shaking business & commerce while stimulating innovation. First time in history, maintaining distance has brought the world closer.

In the midst of fear, confusion, and anxiety, companies emerging as leaders are those that recognise the fundamental truth that it is not the time to abandon CSR rather it's the time to show how much it matters.

As many companies turn inward, the ones reaching out to care for their customers, employees, and communities are rising above their competitors, inspiring confidence and cultivating loyalty in addition to growing brand affinity and strengthening corporate reputation.

A great many large companies talk about having a social purpose and set of values, or about how much they care for their employees and other stakeholders. Now is the time for them to make good on that commitment. Research suggests that people only truly believe that their company has a purpose and clear values when they see management making a decision that sacrifices short-term profitability for the sake of adhering to those values.

When the US drugstore chain CVS chose to go more deeply into health care, it decided that it could no longer sell tobacco products, giving up $2 billion in revenue. This case has become legendary as far as CSR is concerned. Companies write off the costs of restructuring, product failures, or acquisitions that go wrong all the time. Everyone will understand writing off losses due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Charity begins at home and so is true for CSR. What companies do to help their laid-off employees  above and beyond what is required or expected - will be remembered and repaid in increased loyalty, higher productivity, and a lasting reputational benefit for many years to come. The bold and creative steps they take today to deliver immediate assistance will define their legacy tomorrow. Corporates need to remember that staff turnover is expensive, therefore efforts to retain employees make good business sense. Furthermore, millennials often want to feel that they are contributing to the greater societal good, and want the organization to which they devote 40+ hours a week to be guided by principles that extend beyond profits.

Traditional CSR activities include educational programs, investments in local or underprivileged communities, increased hiring of minorities, and initiatives to reduce carbon footprints or to support environmentally friendly projects. During the Covid-19 crisis the list has been broadened to include initiatives such as free access to platforms, donations of healthcare related equipment, and more employee-friendly corporate policies.

There are also a growing number of investors who want to support socially responsibly organisations. Now is the time each company needs to analyze where and how they can help. One doesn't have to be an Amazon or Google to do CSR. What problem is your company uniquely equipped to help solve? What resources, logistics, equipment or personnel can you mobilise that others cannot? What is within your power to control? Consider your core competencies and be creative with how you leverage them.

For example, perfumeries and distilleries are converting their facilities to produce hand sanitiser. Technology equipment manufacturers are now making surgical masks. Service providers are waiving late fees, expanding free services and canceling shutoffs. Contemplate unexpected ways to ease the pain for employees and customers while demonstrating your unique capabilities.

The government is leading the way forward, with mandatory guidelines, waiver of fees, reductions in costs of living and doing business. Large corporates are doing their bit but since these times are unprecedented the CSR is also required to be on the same scale.

Corporates please remember this is not a time for self-promotion. Even the appearance of trying to take financial advantage of current circumstances is radioactive for any brand and is certainly not worth the potential benefits.

Yes, Netflix and Uber Eats can get away with a kind of real-time marketing to attract more subscribers because they're meeting a genuine surge in demand. Outside of a handful of such examples, the vast majority of products and services has no relationship to the needs created by the coronavirus crisis and trying to somehow create one is risky, to say the least.

Let's put the lofty principles and goals of CSR into action. Carpe diem.

Shilpa Bhasin Mehra is the founder of LegalConnect. Views expressed are her own and do not reflect the newspaper's policy.


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