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Thu 14 Aug 2008 04:00 AM

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CSR programmes: A win-win model?

Corporate social responsibility has become something that global companies can no longer afford to ignore.

Corporate social responsibility has become something of a buzzword and, in similar vein to the environmental issue, something that global companies can no longer afford to ignore.Having said that, it is an undeniable fact that CSR programmes and any other activity through which companies give back to the community, have a long-lasting positive impact on millions of people throughout the world, providing opportunities and transforming lives.

It is however, equally true and important to spell out that companies who run, or contribute towards such programmes know that it makes good business sense to do so both for PR purposes and to open up new markets and create new potential customers.

It is important for companies to focus their CSR efforts towards their areas of expertise.

So where does the PR end to give way to goodwill? Are these two goals mutually exclusive? Is there an inherent contradiction in being socially responsible and being concerned with the bottom line?

CSR cynics may argue that because good CSR makes good business sense it must inevitably be flawed. Of course, what these cynics fail to grasp is that this is not a zero-sum game - CSR is not about winners and losers. When done properly, it is a win-win situation. Companies are in business to make money, but what is the problem if they help the community in doing so?

The reason CSR makes good business sense, the reason it contributes to the bottom line, is because consumers care. Companies with a good CSR record are rewarded by customer loyalty: consumers are happy, the company performs well, and communities across the world benefit from CSR programmes.

It is important for companies to focus their CSR efforts towards their areas of expertise; areas in which they can genuinely add value and at the same time allow their business to reap the rewards in the long run. This is critical for the sustainability of any CSR effort as it will guarantee a long-term commitment that will allow the projects to come to fruition and really benefit the community they target.

Gone are the days where business was masterminded behind closed doors; today everything is scrutinised by the consumer on the global stage. Consumers demand that the businesses they invest in or buy products from perform ethically and responsibly.

And rightly so. As consumers, individuals have at least the same amount of power that they do as voters. Just as they expect their elected representatives to implement effective and ethical policies, so too they have expectations of the companies they buy products from.

At this point, the die-hard cynics would say that this might be true, but the problem with big business is accountability: whilst governments are accountable to their citizens, corporations are accountable to their shareholders, consumers and communities at large. From the smallest shopkeeper to the large blue-chip companies, businesses are only too aware that consumers vote with their feet.

Customers throughout the world know the value of their hard-earned cash, and will gladly shop around to make sure they are spending wisely, and getting what they want. Increasingly, for many consumers this means not only low prices and high quality, but also a good, ethical track record, and, yes, accountability. Businesses should not only enable accountability, but actively encourage it.

This is a key factor for any CSR programme but one that is very straightforward to achieve - avoid going it alone. You will be guaranteed accountability when you join forces and run CSR programmes in conjunction with other global or local bodies, such as non-governmental organisations, government departments, business or universities.

You and your business should not be afraid to start a CSR programme that will make both you and your shareholders happy and give new opportunities to your community. You all move forward together; it is indeed a win-win model.

Ferruh Gurtas is the Corporate Affairs group director for Intel Middle East, Turkey and Africa.

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