Socially Responsible Business: Expectations vs. Reality

There is no denying that times have changed. Not too long ago, only a few Fortune 500 companies included sustainability in their reports. However, these days, more and more businesses-both big and small-are embracing social responsibility as an integral part of their existence.

A 2014 Nielsen survey found that, worldwide, 55 percent of online consumers who responded reported that they were even willing to pay a premium for products and services from companies that are socially and environmentally responsible.

In short, having a corporate social responsibility project makes a business more appealing to consumers and increases its profitability.

Millennials and Corporate Social Responsibility

It’s not just consumers who express their support for companies that are socially and environmentally responsible. A Deloitte survey had earlier revealed that 70 percent of millennials listed the company’s commitment to the community as one thing they took into consideration in choosing an employer. Given these results, it is understandable why more and more companies are embracing the concept of social responsibility in their bid to make the world a better place to live in.

Changing Lives Through a Corporate Social Responsibility Project

One company with a corporate responsibility practice worth emulating is designer prescription glasses and sunglasses maker Bloobloom. With its Pair by Pair program, the company is transforming lives in Rwanda and will soon be doing the same in other African nations, such as Ghana and Nigeria, as well as in Southeast Asia.

For every pair of Bloobloom’s glasses purchased, the company donates one pair to less privileged Rwandans. Bloobloom also partners with non-profit organizations to train locals to provide eye care in those communities – regardless of the patient’s race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. Bloobloom’s policy is simple: “clear sight is a right.”

Why Some Projects Fail

While it is true that more and more businesses have made social responsibility an inherent part of their daily routine, not everybody achieves the objectives that they have set. Communication problems are often to blame.

A study by The Conversation has revealed that communication is a vital tool in ensuring the success of corporate social responsibility projects – in particular, to prevent uninformed assumptions about the needs and priorities of host communities.

Proper and effective communication is also key to a consultative decision-making approach, which is likewise important. The easiest way to involve the intended beneficiaries in both the initiation and implementation processes is to ensure that the locals view a corporate social responsibility project as community oriented.

Apart from effective communication, the study has also confirmed that businesses must be sensitive to the culture and traditions of the host communities when initiating their corporate social responsibility projects. For instance, in most African societies, a piece of land is important to people’s existence and identity, as most of their cultural beliefs and traditional practices are linked to it.

However, some corporations, especially multinationals, choose to ignore the beliefs and traditions of the locals. They don’t seem concerned if they acquire ancestral lands or even burial sites as long as they compensate the people and find them a place to relocate. While some of these companies may think that the beliefs and traditional practices of the locals are absurd, little do they know that what they choose to ignore is a cause for alarm to the affected locals.

One example that came up in the interviews conducted by The Conversation was that some companies saw it as perfectly fine to acquire graveyards as, after all, they also paid the affected families and re-buried their ancestors. What they did not know was that the very act they committed was already a taboo: that community believes that the act of exhuming dead bodies and relocating them to a different graveyard could invoke the wrath of their loved ones in the afterlife. Hence, it is important for companies to be sensitive to the locals’ beliefs and traditions to avert the animosity that can derail their social responsibility projects.

How to Improve the Chances of a Corporate Social Responsibility Project

Nonetheless, effective communication and cultural sensitivity are not the only things needed to ensure a successful corporate social responsibility project. It is also important for a business to be transparent about its corporate social responsibility policies both to its employees and external shareholders, and encourage them (especially the employees) to take part in the project.

While talking about the success of a corporate social responsibility project to others may be viewed by some as bragging, it is also important for a company to do so in order to inspire other businesses to do the same. Additionally, it is a great marketing strategy as it makes customers aware of the business’ policies.

After all, customers favor businesses that have a heart for the community and are not only concerned about making money.