Shared Value: Integrating Social Responsibility into Business

This Guest Post is written by Affan Haider, who works in the Corporate Communications department at Telenor Pakistan.

By Affan Haider

Recently, I was having an interesting discussion with Aamir Attaa on Khamoshi Ka Boycott; the topic veered off towards the international phenomenon of redefining social responsibility as part of longer term business strategy. Due to our mutual interest in the topic, Aamir invited me to do a post on the phenomenon, as below.

CSR and BusinessTraditionally, the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility has been, to use a light term, counter-productive. For some reason, it has pitted society against business, social development against profits and portrayed organizations as evil.

Social responsibility within organizations need to be seen less as a stand-alone function, cost constraint or charitable deed, and need to be seen more as a strategic direction.

For this to happen, it is very important to not only look at the overall business strategy, but also points of intersection between society and all functions within the business. But before we go into the discussion of these mutually beneficial intersects, we need to understand why this integration is the need of the hour, and trend of the future.

An organization is also known as a corporate entity, corporate, just like individuals have certain rights, obligations and implied ethics, based on the law of the land and norms of the society. Around the world organizations are realizing that good of the society ultimately is good of the business as well. Improved socio-economic conditions within a set of people lead to increased purchasing power, which can lead to increased spending on products / services of various organizations and improved infrastructure availability in the country.

On the other hand, increased consumer awareness is slowly but surely influencing purchasing decisions on the basis of ethical conduct and social responsibility of the organization that the product / service originate from. We do hear the common argument of ‘That’s not the case in Pakistan’, but that is about to change.

For an organization to integrate social responsibility into business practices, the overall philosophy, vision and values of the organization need to be aligned with the concept of social responsibility. Values like being respectful, being inspiring, keeping promises and making it easy help lead the corporate thought-process in the right direction. Integration of social responsibility concept in vision and values will also ensure long term strategic focus on the responsibility elements.

Don’t get me wrong. The prime purpose of an organization remains to earn profit and increase value for its stakeholders, especially shareholders. An analogy could be that of an individual: Of course the person needs to earn to feed himself and his family, but he still should earn without doing any wrong and continue to fulfill his social, cultural, ethical and legal responsibilities.

Same is the case with organizations. However, organizations generally tend to go beyond the minimum legal obligations to ensure incorporation of social responsibility in their strategy.

To elaborate the concept of social responsibility into various business functional areas, here are some examples:

Social responsibility in HR practices: Around the world, a number of surveys have conclusively proved that good HR practices is one of the premier parameters used by the general public to consider an organization socially responsible. From equal opportunity employment, to diversity at workplace, to adhering to labor laws and health / safety related practices, all combine together to make an organization socially responsible.

Social responsibility in Supply Chain: A socially responsible organization would look both inwards and outwards. Incorporating fair procurement decisions, emphasizing safe work conditions, helping partners adhere to all national and international treaties on labor, health, safety and environment related practices, etc., are all part of a socially responsible organization’s day to day routine.

Social responsibility and Corporate Governance: A socially responsible organization will be fair in financial reporting, governance practices, transparency and any use of lobbying.

And last, but not the least, social responsibility in brands: A product or service is the final representation of the organization to the society. All social responsibility elements mentioned before are extremely important, without which an organization will not be able to call itself socially responsible; however, this social responsibility must translate / reflect into an organization’s message to society.

This is exactly where brand communications such as Karo Mumkin and Khamoshi Ka Boycott come in.

It is that final stage in the evolution of integration of business and corporate responsibility which is still elusive in Pakistani advertising scene. Yet, it is the future. With growing consumer awareness and emphasis upon socially responsible businesses, I am sure you will see a lot more of it from various organizations, sooner than later.