Finding ROI in CSR

Melbourne image shot by Andrew MacLeod

Melbourne image shot by Andrew MacLeod

Last Wednesday, I joined a number of Melbourne PR professionals for a chat about Corporate Social Responsibility with the CEO of Committee for Melbourne, Andrew MacLeod. It was the fourth in the series of PRIA Leadership Breakfasts.

Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR (not to be confused with the sugar brand) has many names. But whether you call it corporate responsibility, corporate citizenship, sustainable responsible business, or corporate social performance, you’ll agree it’s a vital part of any modern organisation.

So it’s no surprise many people were keen to hear what Andrew had to say about CSR. Before becoming CEO of the Committee for Melbourne, Andrew had a fascinating and varied career as a Marine Litigation Attorney, the Senior Advisor on Disaster Management for the United Nations and with the Red Cross dealing with military factions in Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

As the Senior Adviser on Disaster Management for the United Nations, Andrew ran high-level humanitarian teams to deliver results in the most arduous of circumstances, across cultures, borders and front lines of battle. And if those credentials don’t have you kicking yourself for not attending, he also advised many major companies on their community investments, corporate responsibility and community improvement programs through an organisation called Responsible Investment.

Andrew kicked off his presentation by challenging the room of PR professionals to find a better way to communicate CSR to shareholders, customers, employees and community members. No doubt we all left the discussion ready to tackle the challenge head on!

He shared some great examples of corporate social responsibility and community improvement projects as well as some funny and frightening stories about living in various conflict zones around the world. Each example demonstrated the important role CSR plays in our modern world.

He also talked about the need to recognise the dual roles of philanthropic CSR (giving without the hope of personal return) and CSR programs with a return on investment. He encouraged everyone to search for the return on investment rather than shying away from it.

He used BHP’s community investment program in Africa, which has reduced malaria in the communities around their smelters by 80 percent and improved productivity, as an example. He also pointed out the importance of ensuring programs are self sufficient and sustainable. There’s no point putting the world’s greatest program in place if it’s going to collapse the moment your organisation leaves town. It’s a bit like the old proverb about the difference between giving a person a fish or teaching them to fish … you know the one!

CSR is also about  innovation and collaboration. Andrew told us about an interesting project the Committee for Melbourne is working on with VECCI and a number of organisations employing overseas students to reduce the violence associated with travelling home after late shifts. The program is designed to educate employees about safe commuting and other work practices. He pointed out that we’ve all had experiences of not being told about a custom or tradition, which can lead to misunderstandings! It reminded me that as communicators, we can never assume!! We always need to ask ourselves does the audience have enough information??

If you’re interested in learning more about CSR, check out the Australian Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility.


the c word

PS. We borrowed the image in this post from Andrew MacLeod. As well as being the CEO of the Committee for Melbourne he’s an avid photographer and has taken some beautiful shots of nature and Melbourne. I particularly liked this one … Captains of Industry!!

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