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And the Nominees are…

This post talks about what we feel are good philanthropic initiatives worth replicating and philanthropic initiatives we wouldn’t spend a cent on. If the name of the organisation is withheld, it’s out of courtesy. Conversely, naming organisations is not an endorsement of their organisation, but the praising of that aspect of their operations. Do you have some to contribute? Share them with us.

Oscars Kiwi

In our 4th year of operations, and in line with the recent Oscars, now’s as good a time as any to share our feelings about philanthropic efforts we’ve come across.

Here are our awards to the top 5 philanthropic initiatives that we’d emulate, and the 5 philanthropic initiatives we wouldn’t spend a cent on.

Without further ado, the awards for the 5 worthy of emulation philanthropic efforts go to…

Plan International Lao’s Water & Sanitation programme.

A tip of the hat to Terence McCaughan and gang in Laos. Hygiene is one of the simplest, yet most underrated efforts because it’s unsexy (think polio vaccinations vs washing your hands before eating). Yet simple water-borne ailments affect huge numbers of children in least developed countries.

Plan went into villages to educate villagers on the importance of proper sanitation and the effects of contamination of food/water sources from poor sanitary habits. Like a growing number of NGOs, they facilitate discussions with villagers about the issue.

What struck us was that they bothered to ask the children what they wanted for themselves in terms of sanitation. A shy boy squeaked, “I just wish the adults wouldn’t s**t in the school compound so that we can play after school.” That’s comprehensive consultation there, where EVERY VOICE MATTERS.

Byrraju Foundation Rural BPO

India has grown much economically since the liberalisation reforms in the 90s. So have the figures of women completing university. But a degree is no good when tradition dictates that women stay home and play primary caregiver to children, husband, and parents.

So what did Byrraju Foundation, an NGO fully funded by Satyam do? They brought jobs into the rural areas by setting up rural Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) in villages, where capable rural men and women are employed in business back-end outsourcing outfits. These BPOs support Byrraju’s parent Satyam in the IT sector.

Where women used to earn extra income through the sale of the occasional sari or the odd coconut, they know have stable and consistent jobs. And this initiative is likely to continue as PHILANTHROPY HAS NOW BECOME A PART OF THE BUSINESS OPERATION. Great work guys!

Grameen’s Informal Pressure

Many would have heard of the Bangladeshi Grameen Bank and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus. For those of you who haven’t, Grameen Bank provides microcredit, that is, lending little sums of money to people who would not be able to qualify for bank loans because of the small sums involved, because banks treat them as a credit risk, or because they do not have the necessary collateral.

There are some problems with microcredit, and there is a huge debate now on microcredit, but I want to draw your attention to the way Grameen dishes out loans.

In order for microcredit to succeed, the loan provider needs assurance that the instalments are repaid. Enforcement, however, is difficult because these borrowers do not have much to begin with, and seizing their already meagre possessions in return is wrong at so many levels.

What Grameen did in South America was to ask all borrowers to form networks of 5, where each one can loan up to $1,500. The monthly repayment sum is $30 each. When one defaults on payment, all of them are responsible. This uses the power of informal networks to pressure potential defaulters from defaulting, creates a collective safety net where an individual will not feel alone, and ensures the smooth and continuous running of the Bank.

A prime example of  HOW TO USE EXISTING SOCIAL STRUCTURES TO HELP YOUR PHILANTHROPY, and DEBUNKS THE MYTH THAT NOTHING GOOD COMES FROM POORER COUNTRIES.

GC’s Bamboo Irrigation Project.

Now for a bit of a plug: GC’s very own Bamboo Irrigation Project aims to bring irrigation channels to farmers who previously only grew a crop or 2 from the monsoon rains. With irrigation built from sustainably harvested bamboo, which grows rife in South East Asia, farmers can now grow multiple crops throughout the year, instantly increasing their income.

Furthermore, these bamboo pipes can channel water to a central biosand filter adopting nature’s own principles in purifying water for consumption.  Best yet, this SOLUTION IS ENTIRELY ORGANIC TO THE COMMUNITY and requires very little outside intervention beyond the initial stages, ensuring that rural communities are no longer dependent on the good graces of the wealthy and expensive interventions that they can ill-afford on their own.

Preamble to point 5: Ages ago, when we were just in the meet-n-greet phase with some of the great NGOs out there, we were introduced to an amazing project. Unfortunately, we never had the chance to support this brilliant one, and it fell victim to back-burner syndrome. If you are who this project belongs to, drop us a line to claim credit so we can give your programme the support it deserves!

Maternity Shed

Hygienic conditions are important to maternal and infant mortality during delivery. Or for any medical treatment in fact. That’s why our hospitals and clinics are incredibly sterile.  Yet such conditions are difficult to achieve in rural settings where cooking fires produce soot and animals have free rein in the homestead.

This organisation built a communal maternity ward for the village so that women and midwives could do their thing in sanitary conditions. But no woman would use it.

The reason? These villages hold the belief that women must deliver on their own land, or a host of misfortunes would befall the hapless mum and child.

The solution? They collected a handful of soil from each household and mixed it in with the cement that paved the maternity ward. That way, every mother would be giving birth on a piece of her own land.  That’s why UNDERSTANDING THE LOCAL CULTURE is so important in development work.

And that’s why Global Causeways does everything we can to direct our clients corporate philanthropy dollars to supporting these, and other like-minded, sustainable, sensible, and all-round warm-and-fuzzy programmes.

 

And the award for the 5 efforts we won’t waste a cent on goes to…

Building yet another school

Building schools is an incredibly popular philanthropy project as the feel-good factor is incredible. When I first started out, that was exactly what I wanted to do.

But this feel good factor stems from ignorance. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, hardware is often the easiest part of the issue, and it’s the processes and people that are more important.

Building a school is great, provided that kids have the time to go to school, there are teachers to teach, there is a curriculum to follow, there are materials that the children can use, and there are gainful employment opportunities for these newly-educated.

Just building a school without considering these concerns is like buying a car for someone without checking first if that person has a license to drive a car, the desire to keep one on the road, convenient access to a gas station, or worse, if the person is blind.

These projects are everywhere, from giving tractors for farmers that can’t afford to run nor fix them, to water treatment plants that have broken down, or week-long English teaching programmes in areas that have been exposed to English for the first time.

These are NOT PHILANTHROPIC ACTIVITIES, THEY ARE PERSONAL INDULGENCES.

Sending stuff to needy poor communities

Related to the point above, the core difference is that this relates to everyday items.  From CRM campaigns that pledge 1 pair of shoes for every poor person if you buy a pair yourself, to donation drives sending old clothes, school stationery, socks or even teddy bears to needy communities worldwide, or raising funds to support these drives.

I can see why this makes sense to many. If you can do good while marketing your products, disposing of your old stuff, or just emptying your loose change, everybody wins right?

Problem is, you aren’t actually doing any good. Short of high-tech equipment that cannot be found in the country (which begs the question of why you are bringing fancy gizmos into poor countries in the first place), most of the stuff that you are sending can already be found there.

Your injection of free foreign products in the market is in effect STIFLING THE LOCAL ECONOMY and pushing local shop owners out of business. Why would someone pay for new clothes when there are boxes after boxes of that stuff coming in? This isn’t philanthropy, its commercial dumping with a heart.

It CREATES UNNECESSARY CARBON EMISSIONS because if these items can already be found in the recipient country, why would you want to ship/fly it from halfway across the world?

It CREATES DEPENDENCY on recipient communities because it encourages the notion that stuff will come in without effort.

It DEMEANS THE LOCAL POPULATION because you assume that they will want your hand-me-downs or that they actually want your fancy sneakers.

I can just picture this scenario. My children are suffering from chronic malnutrition, my water supply causes water-borne diseases, and my farm is not producing enough food. You come in to my village and hand me teddy bears or brand new branded shoes. I burst into tears of gratitude.

Camera for rape victims

Hillary Clinton in 2009 announced during a visit to Congo that the US will contribute $17m to combat sexual violence in the DRC. Among the initiatives is to “… supply rape victims with video cameras to document violence…

Seriously? Where’s the best angle to place the camera? WHAT EXACTLY IS THIS PROJECT TRYING TO ACHIEVE? Don’t let Tabbi hear you talking about this, this really sets her off.

Week-Long English Teaching Stint

I’ve come across so many community service projects where students or employees go to Cambodia (an extremely popular destination for English classes) to teach.

Teaching kids English is a great idea as they can now peddle their wares to tourists. Only trouble is, they rarely stay more than 5 days. I almost failed French in college, and I took it for 4 months. How much English do you think these kids learn in 5 days?

We’re not saying there isn’t a place for this, but how about formulating a curriculum first and staggering your volunteering throughout the company so that the recipient community enjoys a sustained exposure where they could actually learn something? Again, why isn’t this being done? Because teaching poor kids is sexy, writing a syllabus is not.

You’re already paying a small sum to get there, AT LEAST MAKE THE WORK COUNT for something.

Aceh Longhouses

After the tsunami, there was a flood of NGOs and people trying to help Aceh back up on their feet. It was heart-warming to see humanity stand up and help with such conviction.

As part of the reconstruction efforts, many organisations built longhouses so that those who lost their homes would have a new place to live. However, we were told by a mission worker with extensive experience working in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea specifically and the region generally that many of these places are currently standing empty or used not for residential purposes.

Prying more, he shared that the reason was because these constructions did not provide for sufficient privacy among families, and the dominant Muslim faith demanded that women remain covered among non-family members.

Another classic example of NOT UNDERSTANDING THE LOCAL CULTURE, and that GOOD INTENTIONS ALONE ARE NOT ENOUGH.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the post. More soon.

Are you working in a company that has a great philanthropy or employee volunteering program? Have you come across any organisations that you feel are doing great work. Let us know, we’d love to find out.

 

Benson Tan is the Managing Consultant of Global Causeways, a Corporate Social Responsibility, Philanthropy and Development Consultancy operating from Singapore. You can reach him at ben@globalcauseways.com or follow him on Twitter, or both.

Research Shows Smoking Prolongs Lives and Builds Immunity

There are many similar reports out there that claim all sorts of positive associations, and they may sound convincing, but dig a bit deeper and you realise it’s a load of hogwash.

Do you buy the above headline? I don’t, and unless you have a vested interest, I don’t think you do too.

There are many similar reports out there that claim all sorts of positive associations, and they may sound convincing, but dig a bit deeper and you realise it’s a load of hogwash.

Why then do we take companies CSR/Sustainability reports at face value and indicative of their ethical business behaviour? In the same way we brush off claims that product Z is the best in the market, or works 99.99% of the time as marketing gimmicks, demanding further proof, we shouldn’t be fooled by the marketing gimmicks of CSR/Sustainability reports, especially when deciding our purchasing, investment or employment decisions.

Here are some examples of what companies are, are not saying, with their publications.

Gas is the New Green

MNCs like Shell, GDF Suez and Statoil are touting gas as the new green alternative source of energy. They claim that it can reduce EU’s CO2 emissions and is more affordable than other green alternatives, thanks to a new extraction technology called “fracking” and measures that show that burning gas in power stations produces half the CO2 emissions from burning coal.

What they didn’t tell you is that because of the difficulty of extracting gas from rocks, fracking or no fracking, the process produces as much, if not more, CO2, and is susceptible to dangerous leaks of methane, which is 4 times as deadly as CO2 in climate change terms [here]. Furthermore, the process uses large amounts of water and chemicals, and evidence from the US shows that scarce groundwater has already been contaminated [here].

That, to me, is a fracking load of hot air.

What Exactly is a CSR/Sustainability Report?

The Global Reporting Initiative defines it as:

… a single, consolidated disclosure that provides a reasonable and balanced presentation of performance over a fixed time period…

The key here is performance over a fixed time period. In other words, how the company has performed on its issues compared to the last time period.

Here at Global Causeways, we use the report to help the company communicate to its stakeholders:

… the issues that the company has decided to address this time round, why these issues are chosen first, how the company proposes to measure them, why these measures are chosen, a periodic comparison of the results against the last time period and an explanation, and future goals.

This may seem like a mouthful, but the logic behind is simple. Why choose these issues? How do you measure them? Why are they measured in this manner? What are your targets? How did you perform? What can stakeholders expect the following year? If a company is genuine about their CSR/Sustainability efforts, they would have no problems communicating these issues, even if they fell short, and we would gladly assist them. Conversely, we believe that it is companies who publish obscure, vague or misleading reports that would not want us to find out the true state of their CSR/Sustainability efforts. Meaning to say they have something to hide.

We’re not the only ones who have problems understanding obscure or misleading CSR/Sustainability reports. Elaine Cohen, CSR Consultant and author of “CSR for HR: A Necessary Partnership for Advancing Responsible Business Practices”, has observed the difficulties in making sense of the figures in CSR/Sustainability Reports [here] and CSR/Sustainability Reports that are, in fact, marketing collateral [here].

Here’s a somewhat sobering, though hilarious, account of a company’s CSR/Sustainability efforts and an email reply from an angry local [here]. Enjoy reading!

Do you agree/disagree with us? Do you like the article? Let us know your comments and help Global Causeways share it.

Benson Tan is the Managing Consultant of Global Causeways, a Corporate Social Responsibility, Philanthropy and Development Consultancy operating from Singapore. You can reach him at ben@globalcauseways.org or follow him on Twitter, or both.

Tackling Education is More Than Just Building Schools

Can you reasonably expect your company to succeed just by purchasing/renting an office space?


Can you reasonably expect your company to succeed just by purchasing/renting an office space?

It’s a ludicrous question, and a healthy dose of common sense would answer the question.

A company needs more than that to succeed. You need to acquire the tools of production, be it machinery or computers. Then you need sufficient manpower and must ensure that they are well equipped to fulfil the tasks required of them, if not, you increase headcount or send staff for further training.

Next, you have to make sure that your employees are sufficiently motivated and turnover is low (CSR is a great way to address this issue), find the right employees willing to relocate to overseas offices, and if your office is far from amenities, provide transportation, and if not possible, bring the amenities to them or hire employees who live closer to the office. And of course, you must ensure that the company has sufficient cash flow to pay your staff regularly.

Now you can look at your company’s market share. You want to ensure that your product/service pricing is competitive and suitable for your target market, that your product/service is easily accessible, culturally sensitive, instruction manuals are given in the appropriate language, and your products/services are not inherently discriminatory (Yes, we are aware that there are gender/ethnic/religion specific products, which is fine, so long as you aren’t trying to sell jock-straps and wondering why so few women are buying them).

Next you want to consider whether your customers/clients continue to use your products/services. You products/services must be easy to use, and if not, assistance must be readily available, your customer service and after sales service must be adequate, and you may want to consider in what ways your products/services are child-friendly or the circumstances under which they might be contraindicated.

In a way, education intervention is like running a business. For it to truly bring poverty rates down, you need more than the obvious hardware – the school. You need other hardware like schoolbooks and stationery. Then you look at whether there are sufficient teachers and the quality of teaching, and if supply is inadequate, look to improve teacher training and recruitment.

Even if there are sufficient teachers, teacher absenteeism may be high. This may be caused by several reasons. It could be that teachers do not want to teach in minority areas, the school is too far from the town and amenities, low or irregular pay so that they have to farm to provide their own food. These are processes that may take up to a decade to rectify.

Having all these in place, you can now look at enrolment rates of the school. Enrolment rates may be low even with all these in place, and the reasons why must be addressed too. It could be that the family is poor and requires the child to work or help in the farm, the school is too far away, an inability to speak the language of instruction (especially true in ethnically diverse countries), the lack of female toilets or a high occurrence of rape in and en-route to schools (especially in places where female chastity has real economic ramifications).

We must also look at the retention and graduation rates of schools, and if retention rates are high or graduation rates are low, maybe it’s because children are missing school because of harvest or agriculturally intense periods, the method of instruction is poor, or because girls have reached a marriageable age and are now laden with domestic duties of married life.

But ultimately, the most important aspect is whether education really teaches the children any useful skills that they can use to increase their income. This is summed up eloquently by the article “Inputs and Outputs, But No Outcomes” by MJ from Bottom Up Thinking:

Let’s hope that donors… realise that there is a lot more to education than just upping the enrolment rate. Bragging about how many new schools you’ve built counts for little until children start graduating with economically useful skill sets. New schools built, more textbooks provided, additional teachers trained, increased enrolment: these are all useful milestones, but ultimately, only the final outcome counts.

And if that final outcome is not children who have graduated with an education that empowers them to improve their lives, then the next press release about your activities might as well say “$5M pledged to school construction… 200 schools built… 100 not operational… 75 used as communal storage areas… 25 functional… 20 children enrolled/school (operational)… 1 graduate… CEO says ‘we didn’t know about the numbers, but actually we just wanted to take pictures with the newly built schools for our annual report… I don’t suppose the children really matter do they?’.”

Now wouldn’t that make a great PR picture?

Benson Tan is the Managing Consultant of Global Causeways, a Corporate Social Responsibility, Philanthropy and Development Consultancy operating from Singapore. You can reach him at ben@globalcauseways.org or follow him on Twitter, or both.

Unintended Consequences of Changing Your Aid Dollars Annually

Adopting different causes every year cannot be considered Corporate Social Responsibility, and is actually detrimental to the development of poor communities.

In Singapore at least, corporate understanding of CSR is weak, and I can confidently say that most companies consider that giving to a charity is a fulfilment of their CSR obligations (yes shoot me now). But if you think that’s bad, it gets worse. Companies here seem to think jumping from charity to charity serves the company’s interest best by being seen to contribute and satisfy consumer trends (Cue Aceh 2004, Poverty Alleviation 2005, Environmental Conservation 2006, Climate Change 2007, Burma 2008, Climate Change 2009, Haiti 2010, and Japan 2011).

In addition to getting it wrong (giving to charities is corporate philanthropy, and is just a small part of what CSR entails), these seemingly altruistic and well-intentioned actions actually end up doing more harm than good.

It’s well known among development practitioners and academics that it takes at least 5 years to see real progress and that you’d be lucky to see it in 3. (Sure, we’re all looking for that silver bullet, but take any claims to that with a pinch of salt). Yes 5 years. At least. Development is hard work, and there are so many variables involved. You don’t get PhDs in a year, or expect to become a C-suiter in the company if you have joined as an executive the year before, or expect to speak fluent Mandarin after only picking it up in the year before.

But you might still think its ok. As long as corporations give to charities and poor communities everyone wins right?

Well you’re wrong, at least most of the time. It may work for relatively short time-span projects, like building new schools (Don’t even get me started on the problems of fixating on building schools as the solution to education!), wells for access to drinking water, or a complete vaccination program, but sadly, most of development has a longer time-span.

Take funding a child’s education for example. It’s extremely popular for many NGOs to offer you a choice of funding a year of a child’s education for $x/year. Research also shows that the ROI of education is 5 years. This means that it takes at least 5 years before the child and his/her family can see an increase in the child’s income. Also consider the factors working against a child going to school; pressures to help out with subsistence agriculture; pressures to find an odd job to supplement household income; distance of school to home, amongst others.

Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a subsistence farmer from a poor village in a low-income country, which mind you, has not had the benefit of education, and may be a stranger to the concept of education beyond village elders teaching what needs to be taught. Now this foreign agency comes over and waxes lyrical about the benefits of education, and offers to foot the bill, but that means taking the child away from your income or labour computations. You may think “Well ok, why not, it’s free anyway and they will earn more in the future”. Everyone will have to work harder because you now have one less pair of hands, but hey, it’ll be worth it.

Fast forward a year, and the same agency comes back to tell you funding has stopped, and because you can’t afford to foot the bill, please withdraw your child from the school. Armed with this one year of basic education, your child goes out to see if he/she can find a better paying job, only to realise that he/she gets paid the same amount as anyone who has not been to school. Guess what? By the time your next child comes, or when your child has children, they probably won’t send them to school because to them, schooling increases personal hardship and has no benefits.

The same analogy extends to health vaccinations, where you see your child in pain and feeling weak after the vaccination, and inadequate funding means the child does not get the full treatment and therefore is still prone to the disease. You’re not going to send your next child because to you, it does nothing against the disease and increases personal suffering.
The lack of full funding is also why many NGOs’ community development projects terminates at the pilot stage or cease halfway through the full project term. It’s cruel to raise hopes and deliver disappointment.

We can already see this in the mind-sets of people living in failed or failing democracies. So much is promised with democratisation in the beginning, only to end in the swapping of one democratically elected despot for another with no real benefits for the common man. You lose faith, and it’s so much harder to convince you the next time round that democracy works, only that the implementation is wrong. The culprit? A certain government who practically shoved democracy down many emerging nations’ throats without actually seeing the whole process through, just as long as it’s a democratic government and not a communist one.

(Pardon me, I have digressed, and let me return to my point)

So I argue here that NGOs who run projects without making sure they have the full funds available or the possibility to call on the full funds to see the project through are behaving selfishly and doing a great disservice to themselves and others in the industry. And the corporate strategy of jumping from one cause to another annually just reeks of corporate irresponsibility, and it’s antithetical to the corporate responsibility it claims to be. This is not CSR. Nowhere close. It’s like saying Iceland is in the tropics.

CSR essentially means that a company behaves ethically and considers the social effects and environmental effects with its every action. You have to think about what your trend chasing is doing to the wider community, and if you persist with your trend chasing, then you can be sure I will be exposing your act of corporate irresponsibility.

If you are serious about your CSR or philanthropy; if it comes from the heart, is strategic, well-planned, and is not a trade-off with corporate interest but in fact supports your organization and the community you want to invest in, your consumers will be able to see it, and will respect you for it, even if the cause you adopt is not en vogue this season.

Benson Tan is the Managing Consultant of Global Causeways, a Corporate Social Responsibility, Philanthropy and Development Consultancy operating from Singapore. You can reach him at ben@globalcauseways.org or follow him on Twitter, or both.

Welcome Note – Concerned Corporations, Consumers and Communities

Well it’s finally here. We’ve started a blog (as you can see here) on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Philanthropy and Development. Our starting point is that as corporations, consumers and communities become increasingly concerned with global issues like climate change, poverty, hunger, human rights, environmental conservation, effective government, effective governance, corruption, or any other global issue, the need for dialogue and the opportunities for collaboration are immense.

Here at Global Causeways, we show companies how to gain a competitive advantage with their CSR/sustainability strategies and implementation, as well as help conscionable consumers get more information on sustainable companies, make responsible purchasing decisions, hold irresponsible companies to account, and make individual lifestyle choices that in their own small way contribute to protect global interests.

Part of what our work is also to help communities develop and move out of poverty by giving them a voice in the development process (and that includes children, women, the disadvantaged, discriminated, out casted, disabled, minorities, etc.), and seek funds from wealthier neighbours, communities and nations, we also consult with philanthropists who want to make the right investment decisions beyond mere good intentions and evaluate the effect of their donor dollars.

If you’re interested in finding out more, whether you’re a business owner or corporate staff looking to incorporate CSR/sustainability in your company, a socially responsible investor, a conscionable consumer, an activist, or one of the many people in the world who belongs/belong to a poor community, we’d love to hear from you.

Join our community. Be a part of “Concerned Corporations, Consumers and Communities”. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or email us.

This is our world. If we don’t look after it, who will?

Benson Tan is the Managing Consultant of Global Causeways, a Corporate Social Responsibility, Philanthropy and Development Consultancy operating from Singapore. You can reach him at ben@globalcauseways.org or follow him on Twitter, or both.

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