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Business Advice

Doing well, and doing good

See how you can foster CSR while building your business
CATS Classified In The Straits Times - July 26, 2011
By: Sheila Lim
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Doing well, and doing good

When Jamie Oliver aka The Naked Chef appeared on the scene more than a decade ago, I wondered why the young TV celebrity was so immensely popular. But recently, I began to count myself as one of his fans.

Having followed his cooking programmes for quite a while, I’m impressed by how he always pours so much passion and creativity into whatever he does. His entrepreneurial spirit has also resulted in the establishment of several restaurants in Britain and Australia where delinquent and marginalised youths are given opportunities to pick up culinary skills that will hopefully set them on the path to a better life.

But what I admire most about Oliver is that he has boldly mounted an almost impossible mission – to change the unhealthy eating habits that have led to the rise in obesity in the populations of developed nations. His daring one-man “crusade” to educate young children, parents and authorities on healthy eating habits started in British schools, where he revealed to the world the kinds of “junk” that young children are being fed by their schools and parents daily. Their diet consists mostly of fried and processed foods, such as nuggets and flavoured milk, which contain ingredients high in sugar and fat.

Oliver also took his “Food Revolution” quest to an American town that’s known to have  “the highest number of obese people”, where he faced strong resistance from the people in that community, including the media, school authorities, parents, corporations and vendors. Undaunted, he took on the seemingly insurmountable challenges and eventually even succeeded in winning over some of his harshest critics.  

Unlike other “reality shows” that rake in big bucks by exposing unsavoury details about people’s private lives, Oliver’s ambition to tap the power of the media for social good is to be admired and should be emulated

Reasons to embrace CSR

The term "corporate social responsibility" (CSR) has been bandied about of late largely because we are waking up to the devastating effects of global warming. Realising the urgency of stemming the problem, more and more organisations are beginning to look at how they can do their part to “save the earth”.

The common perception of CSR is that it is about doing charitable and philanthropic acts. However, CSR goes beyond that; and being environmentally conscious is but one aspect of it.

The concept of CSR came about in the late 1960s and early 1970s with the advent and growth of multinational corporations (MNCs). It is essentially about businesses doing well and doing good at the same time.

When a company embraces responsibility for its actions and aligns its business strategies to corporate social responsibility goals, it can impact the environment, consumers, employees, communities, stakeholders and all other members of society in positive ways such as these:

  • Fostering community growth and development.
  • Eliminating practices that are harmful to the public sphere.
  • Bringing intangible benefits such as a good reputation for the company.
  • Raising the morale of employees and giving them greater pride in their company, which could in turn improve productivity, performance and profits, and attract investors.

Singapore Compact is the body that’s committed to bringing the CSR movement forward in Singapore.  Over 200 organisations, including large corporations, SMEs, co-operatives, unions, federations and NGOs, have joined Singapore Compact in implementing CSR practices. In addition, 70 companies have signed up as signatories to the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) network in Singapore.

Though the awareness of CSR in Singapore has been increasing over the past few years since the formation of The Singapore Compact, the adoption of CSR practices in Singapore is still in its infancy, and more needs to be done to help companies understand and implement such practices.

For the good of all       

For an economy to thrive, businesses must be competitive and profitable to create income, wealth and tax revenues. But how will they address the need to meet the never-ending quest for higher profit margins and the negative social and environmental effects of doing business at the same time?  

Corporate executives can build social and business value by defining and implementing strategies to incorporate social responsibility practices throughout their business. They can choose to:

  • Create quality products in compliance with laws and regulations. For example, manufacturers and retailers of food items and toys should ensure that their products are safe for consumption/use.
  • Market their products in an ethical manner. Recent stories of young women prostituting themselves in exchange for luxury fashion accessories, or a teenager selling his kidney to acquire the latest electronic gadget, show just how impressionable the young are, and how harmful it can be for them to imbibe the wrong social values.  
  • Improve the lives of the needy and marginalised. Besides doing charitable acts, companies can develop schemes to ease the financial hardship that low-income/elderly employees have to bear, or initiate projects to benefit the community.   
  • Help to protect and save the environment. Businesses can develop and employ ways to operate with minimal wastage of natural resources and damage to the environment.   

I brought up the example of Jamie Oliver’s quests earlier on to highlight how entrepreneurs can assume CSR roles to remedy the damage wrought by “crass commercialism” and the blight of affluence.

Every entrepreneur has a part to play, whether it’s in educating people to eat more wisely to maintain their health, preventing young women from falling victim to the “supermodel syndrome”, or stemming the disastrous effects of global warming.

 

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