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When CSR reporting becomes a nation statistic


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Still on the subject of CSR, one begins to wonder if in order to be a socially responsible entity; you should be judged by what you do or who you really are. Of course action speaks louder than words so it is easier to be identified by what you do or in this case by what projects you do. CSR in Sri Lanka is by and large, judged by what activity you are in rather than what you are in order to be that socially responsible corporate citizen. Of course when it comes to measuring your corporate citizenship and as to how well you have performed as opposed to others; it is better to have something to show for, so that one could win awards and benchmark one’s self amongst peers. As I said in my previous column, the whole area of CSR has become rather murky with the corporates getting into the race of winning accolades and creating an arena where awards and praise become the most important thing on the CSR platform. No doubt this may not be the case for everyone, so my generalising might seem unfair, but it seems that this subject needs to be discussed as it is important not only from the point of view public creating opinion but also in terms of making good business sense to understand what we are doing here on our small island and to pitch that against what is happening in the world at large. As most of our industries are working in an export driven market, our products will come under scrutiny and understanding what corporate social responsibility means beyond our shores becomes very important. Is there CSR without reporting? The question therefore is – is there CSR without reporting? This may sound like a rather frivolous question to ask, given the fact that everything these days has to be reported and then rated. Is CSR something that is in our DNA and therefore something that needs to be a part of everything we do, for example; the way corporates manage their employees, their finances, their environment, etc. Yes that’s the People, Planet, Profit (PPP) model. But what kind of place would the world be, if we did not have to report and audit all our activities? Would we still find the need to be good corporate citizens? Although this may seem an absurdity in today’s context, there is a basis on which that I ask it. At the last awards ceremony organised by the Chamber of Commerce, the keynote speaker Hilmy Cader said “that Sri Lanka needs business whose corporate responsibility is integrated with their core operations rather than simply reporting fancy top lines and bottom lines based on financial transaction.” So is there CSR without reporting? Well I was probably getting a little melodramatic. of course there is reporting but what are we reporting for, I suppose our attitude and agendas need to be examined. Do we have box ticking mentality? Is the emphasis on reporting rather than being a socially responsible citizen? One the problem it seems is that most Sri Lankan corporate entities don’t have a defining formula for CSR other than a philanthropic aspect. CSR part of company DNA Chandula Abeyawickrama, the Chairman of CSR Lanka, was recently on a fact finding mission in Germany. Where he visited some of leading companies in that country. He says that there is no great emphasis on CSR in that part of the world as this has all become a part of their DNA. For example, at any given time thousands of youth work as apprentices in all these which comes at a huge cost to the business but this is done bring transformation to this particular group of stakeholders. This is not considered to be a project but a part of their practice; meaning that these companies are being a great part of the solution for the unemployment problems of their country. CNBC reports that “Germany’s youth apprentice schemes have been hailed as the country’s biggest weapon against youth unemployment, with more than 65% of young people starting careers with vocational training after they finish school. “The country’s youth unemployment rate of 7.5% is the lowest in Europe and pales in comparison to rates of over 50% in Spain and Greece. No less than 5.51 million people under 25 were unemployed in the European Union (EU) in June. European leaders and labor ministers have pledged 8 billion euros to fight youth unemployment and the German ‘dual education system’ has been mooted as a way to solve the problem.” This is a very creative way of looking at the unemployment problem and the way they get scalability to this endeavour is by collaboration, creating a massive social impact. This I believe is true Corporate Social Responsibility, and it does not need any reporting or awarding, because the result is a national statistic. Lack of focus on social issues Abeyawickrama says that micro initiatives by Sri Lankan companies doing CSR projects by far and large ignore the dire needs of society and says that among Sri Lanka entities there is a lack of focus on social issues. These sentiments are also echoed by Hilmy Cader who says, “Perhaps a reason for the abundance of micro-initiatives and the lack of understanding is that there is very little and if so, limited synergies and cooperation between companies on CSR initiatives. There really should be an award for companies that work together on initiatives compared to simply awarding them on their individual excellence. Society can greatly benefit from the same CSR dollar being spent if there is greater focus in picking one or two key areas of need, understanding these domains, getting down to the grass root level and finally pooling resources together and synergising.” Chairman of the newly-formed CSR Lanka Ltd., Abeywickrema says that Sri Lanka is sitting on a social time bomb, and it is only a matter of time before there is youth unrest due to unemployment. What is worse is that the corporate sector, which would be most affected by this, seems to be sitting pretty, without understanding what lies in the future. Abeywickrema is strongly of the belief that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) must be looked at from a different perspective than what it is now. “We are at present looking at our social responsibility projects on a very ad hoc basis. Every year, close to three to four billion rupees is spent collectively by the corporate sector of our country. But because of the here a little, there a little methods that are being used, we are not able to address the larger issues at hand.” The Chairman of CSR Lanka says: “We’ve had three youth uprisings in the past; two in the south and then the biggest one in the north. Thousands and thousands of our youth died. The root cause for all of them was economic non-inclusion.”

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