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CSR: Proper perspective and doing it right

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By Tyron Devotta Sri Lanka’s first-ever CSR Conference took place last week, with some of the top corporates in the country attaching their names as strategic partners and sponsors of the event. Some of the names included Dialog, Holcim, Microsoft, Sampath Bank, Coca Cola, Singer and Dynamic AV. The organising body of the conference was the newly-formed company CSR Lanka (Guarantee) Ltd., which has ambitious plans to bring clarity and focus to the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) landscape in Sri Lanka. Its scope can be considered quite large, taking into consideration that the total annual CSR spend of 40 big corporates in the country, is estimated to be at around Rs. 4 billion. The CSR Conference, which was held at King’s Court Cinnamon Lakeside, was filled to capacity with well-known names in the corporate sector in attendance.                 CSR Lanka Chairman Chandula Abeywickrema gave the welcome address with opening remarks made Netherlands Embassy Deputy Ambassador Lianne Houben. CSR International Founder Prof. Wayne Visser gave the keynote address, and Institute of Policy Studies Executive Director Dr. Saman Kelegama also addressed the gathering.   New paradigm for CSR A fair part of participants were young men and women who showed great enthusiasm in asking questions and commenting during the sessions. The general mood throughout the day was one of vibrancy and spontaneity, which sometimes even bordered on the abrasive but overall, every suggestion and comment were taken in a progressive spirit as this new paradigm for CSR was being created in Sri Lanka. The driver of the CSR Lanka Conference was also launched last week with a charter signed by its Chairman and Board of Directors. The charter pledged to practice and spearhead the company’s mission to provide strategic guidance and necessary resources to create long term sustainable value in CSR efforts of the corporate sector including small and medium enterprises. The concept for an apex body for CSR in Sri Lanka was conceived in 2012, when Paul Richardson and Nissanka Bandara from USAID urged Chandula Abeywickrema and Rizvi Zaheed to look into the need Sri Lanka had for an autonomous body, which would encourage and direct Sri Lanka’s corporate sector to take a more holistic view of CSR. The result was the launch of CSR Sri Lanka, which was first formed with the support and guidance of USAID and has now become an independent entity.                                 Improving quality of life One of the key objectives of the company is to improve the quality of life for Sri Lankan society by providing people with a better future through public and corporate sector engagement. It is their belief that businesses need to have a more strategic approach to their CSR. The Chairman of CSR Lanka said that the triple bottom line is so interwoven with each other that no stakeholder can sacrifice one for another. “Responsible living, responsible investment and responsible earnings, should all be articulated with conviction in order for businesses to be responsible corporate citizens of Sri Lanka.” Mindful of the corporate sector’s significant role in bringing strategic focus to CSR efforts to enable long-term value creation, the Board of Directors and Members of CSR Lanka (Guarantee) Ltd. has grouped social issues that require CSR efforts, into several key pillars i.e. Youth Empowerment and Social Entrepreneurship; Education; Health and Welfare; Water and Sanitation; Disaster Relief; Food Security; and the Environment. The Netherlands Embassy’s collaboration was greatly appreciated by CSR Lanka as they provided two Dutch global experts in the field, to share their knowledge at the Conference. A three-day knowledge exchange program for 33 selected CSR heads from Sri Lanka’s corporate sector was also conducted by them, prior to the conference.                                   Commitment and leadership commended Speakers, panellists and delegates at the conference commended CSR Lanka and its board for their commitment and leadership in forming an apex body for CSR in Sri Lanka and said that they have set the tone for high expectations from an institution of this nature. The 2014 National CSR Conference was a Carbon Neutral event. This was achieved through an estimation assessment of the event’s Carbon Footprint and the subsequent purchase of a matching amount of registered Carbon Credits to offset the footprint. The assessment considered the return flights of international guest speakers, hotel stays and total estimated local transport, total estimated transport of local participants and event organisers, and the event’s total estimated electricity consumption and waste generation.                                                                                                                                     (Content for this article was compiled from presentations, speeches, discussions and interviews on the sidelines of the CSR conference) Pix by Upul Abayasekara  

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