Tuesday, 11 October 2011

‘CSR is next battle ground by organisations for profit’

Ken Egbas, managing director, TruContact Limited, the organiser of SERA Award, in this interview with Daniel Obi, says the new battle ground for organisations on profit will be corporate social responsibility. Excerpt

Why do organisations think CSR is a cost to bottom line rather than an opportunity to engage with consumers and boost profit?
I think that is still a bend that organisations need to go beyond. There was the time when people could not defend before management how corporate social responsibility could aid their bottom line. But all that is changing. Now, we see organisations surely coming to grasp with the triple bottom line concept of people, planet and profit.

We are even seeing quite some organisations going a bit deeper by trying out the quadruple bottom line, which depicts commerce, community, conservation and culture. As far back as two years ago, we had quite a lot of organisations just asking questions about global standards. But if you check you will see quite a number  that have signed up on those international standards, whether it is ISO 2600, GRI, global compact and the rest.

Moreover, slowly but surely, these organisaations are also getting to understand that the face of marketing or the need to reach out to consumers is rapidly changing. The future battle for the greater market share is going to be fought on a different turf. The new battle ground will be the platform of corporate social responsibility.
Apart from awards, how do you correct the impression that CSR is a cost?
The impact of the SERAs, the corporate social responsibility industry has been great. Six years ago when we began promoting CSR in Nigeria, not many knew what it meant or were even talking about it. But now hardly a day passes without you opening the newspapers and magazines and seeing corporations brandishing their CSR credentials… whether they are doing it right or wrong is another matter entirely.

It might interest you to know that when we put together the outlay of the SERAs- Nigeria CSR Awards, we had an initial roll out plan with a span of 10 years. In the strategic outlay, we deduced that we were going to spend the first three to four years advocating the direction we wanted organisations to move their corporate behaviour towards.

In this stage, we were just going to allow them bring all they had on their CSR plate to the table- whether it was right or wrong. Then subtly begin to show them the right way to go. In the second stage, which is where we are at the moment, we planned to move them in the direction of proper implementation and measurement.

Then from the sixth or seventh year, we hope that through the first two stages, we would then have brought corporate Nigeria to the point where we begin to look more seriously at the issues of compliance and benchmarking against the best global practices.  In all of these, I will tell you what is fact, the reward for us as an organisation at TruContact is that we are currently waging and championing the biggest corporate behavioural change campaign ever in Nigeria.

We have also been involved in training CSR practitioners. In the last two years, we have organised the most impactful training in Nigeria, bringing from all over the world the very best brains to interact with our own practitioners
Some organisations neglect their internal workforce on the understanding that CSR must be external, is this correct?
This is very wrong. And I can also confirm to you that the corporations most guilty of this are organisations that use CSR just as white washes or window dressing. If you scrutinise them further you will discover that they are those companies that you cannot connect their CSR programmes to the DNA of their corporate value propositions. CSR is usually an expression of something that is first internal before it can be expressed externally.
Is it proper to legislate CSR?
Whether CSR should be legislated or not is really a tough call as those against it hold unto that very strong argument that for CSR to be CSR it must be voluntary. I don’t have any problems with this posturing. I have been involved in CSR long enough  to be able to tell you very authoritatively that there are a few corporations in Nigeria who are already doing more than any bill will have them do.

The argument these companies put forward is that the bill might just make them do the basic minimum the bill might stress. I really have no bone to pick with these organisations. My issues are with the organisations who hide under this debate and have remained inactive in responding to the social and environmental negative impacts of their operations in Nigeria, and there a quite a number of them.
Some of these businesses are even multinational companies. The sort of things they get away with in Nigeria they won’t even dare in their home countries without being blacklisted.

Assessing the SERAs-Nigeria CSR award in the last four years
I would say to you that it has been a long, hard and lonely road to travel. I recall back in December 2008, shortly after the second edition when we could barely pay contractors and we were neck deep in debt. My feeling then was to pack it all in until one call from someone from the remote parts of the north telling me to come and see what a certain telecom company had done to make their lives worthwhile.

For an eternity, they had always had to have children trek 10 kilometres to school every day until this organisation built them a state-of-the-art school. It was after that I made up my mind to keep the project going. I was so convinced that I offered the board my continued services without my salaries being paid.

That was how convinced I was we were unto something major. I am very glad today that we persisted. The precise reason why we came up with the SERAs is that we see it as our attempt to contribute to a more equitable, just and sustainable system.
The focus of the SERAs is to promote corporate sustainability and responsibility by causing corporate organisations to rethink and prioritise their corporate sustainability agenda as a way to contribute to sustainable development, which is why the theme for 2011 is - Leading Change: Building green and competitive brands.

What are you looking forward to in the fifth award and going forward?
They should look forward to a very glamorous event. We would be presenting Nigeria’s very finest corporate citizens to all Nigerians. And out of those we term the finest - we would be showcasing the very best. Not only are we promoting governance in the private sector, the millennium development goals awards - the category for selecting the governors across the country who are using the commonwealth of their people to drive developmental agendas in line with the goals set by the United Nations. For the first time, we have two winners; Adams Oshiomole and Obong Godswill Akpabio – the governors of Edo and Akwa Ibom states, respectively, both will be in attendance.

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