Making Corporate Social Responsibility Truly Impactful: The Role of the Media
Mutualism, which is at the core of Corporate Social Responsibility, is a type of symbiotic relationship where all parties involved, benefit from their interactions and no one is at a loss of anything.
Breaking it down to a layman’s language, the case of the cow and bacteria will suffice. The bacteria live in the digestive system of cows. The bacteria help the cows by breaking down plants that the cows eat. In turn, the cow provides a place to live and a source of food for the bacteria. They both benefit from each other and none is parasitic or at risk of the other. This is how Corporate Social Responsibility works.
Corporate Social Responsibility is the idea that a business has a responsibility to the society that exists around it. The organization recognizes and prioritises social awareness, environmental factors and ethical labour practices. It shows that the organization or business is not all about profits. CSR is all about the People, Planet and Profit. But looking at it critically, the companies benefit most when they sincerely and honestly engage in CSR practices.
Any business organization that ignores CSR practices, does that at its own perils. Whether amongst its workforce, immediate environment or host community, consumers, shareholders, government which is the regulatory authority and the media which is termed their key stakeholder. Committing to sustainable business practices go a long way to increase the profit margin of organisations.
According to the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), a properly implemented CSR concept can bring along a variety of competitive advantages, such as enhanced access to capital and markets, increased sales and profits, operational cost savings, improved productivity and quality, efficient human resource base, improved brand image and reputation, enhanced customer loyalty, better decision making and risk management processes.
In a nutshell, business success goes beyond profitability, growth rate and brand recognition. A company’s performance is judged by how its activities impact the community, economy, environment and society at large.
However, because there is a natural tendency to either compromise or even make nonsense of good initiatives, rules are set. And where rules are set, there are bound to be organisations or agencies to ensure compliance to those rules. This is where the media comes in.
It is not in vain that the press (news media) is christened the Fourth Estate of the Realm, this is considering that it has the capacity to challenge the status quo, ensure accountability and compliance, as well as influence change in policies.
The media is a very important stakeholder of business organisations. It plays several roles in the life of any organization, all depending on the organisation’s mode of operations. The media first and foremost is responsible to the public before anything else. The implication is that the interest of the masses (organisation’s stakeholders) is uppermost in the line of duty of media practitioners.
However, this does not also take away from the fact that the media should also be conscious that CSR should be mutually benefitting for all parties involved, corporates and stakeholders, without room for compromises.
CSR practice, being guided by the ISO 26000 of 2010, which is a set of voluntary standards meant to help organisations in implementing CSR activities, provides guidelines on three core areas. These include: Recognizing and engaging stakeholders; Ways to integrate socially responsible behavior into the organization, as well as lists out seven key principles of social responsibility of accountability, transparency, ethical behaviour, respect for stakeholder interests, respect for the rule of law, respect for international norms of behaviour and respect for human rights. It emphasizes the importance of results and improvements in performance on social responsibility.
With the rules already in place, it is the media who undertakes the task of the watchdog, closely monitoring to ensure those corporates work by the books. Take for instance, in the ISO 26000 rule, organisations must engage with stakeholders before embarking on any form of operations or projects. This way, they are able to better understand what the stakeholders want, when they want it, how engaged they are and how the companies’ plans and actions will affect their goals.
Where there is a default or breach, the media has a responsibility to draw the attention of the organisation to it, not with an intent to bring them down or disparage them in the sight of the public, but rather to cause them to examine their practices and bring them back to track.
Beyond being a watchdog and ensuring that organisations do the right thing, the media has a huge role to play in how CSR is broadcast to the world at large. It is simply not enough for corporates to do their bit for social causes. They must also let the world know so that others are inspired as they set examples for others to follow.
Irrespective of the depth or how well-intentioned the CSR activities of business organisations might be, if the media does not shout it out on their behalf, it remains a candle that is lit and placed under a table rather than on a hilltop. And though businesses can self-assess the impact of their CSR activities, but an independent third party social impact assessment remains the most genuine, as you cannot be a judge in your own case. It is only when the media through its dissemination channels throws the activities in the public space that a good number of people will come to identify with it, express and share their opinions as well as make demands.
The media can be used as a strong marketing tool to boost the brands of corporates by portraying them in the good light and helping to position them favourably in the sight of consumers, investors and regulators. This positive public image can go a long way to improve the revenue of the organization.
Another role that the media play in bringing about an impactful CSR involvement is increasing customer loyalty and engagement, which also leads to sustainable operational processes and gives organisations advantage over their competitors.
These and many more are some of the roles that the media can play in bringing about a truly impactful CSR and the reason they are termed indispensable in the sustainable development project.
*International Organization for Standardization (ISO), is a specialized international agency for standardization composed of the national standards bodies of more than 160 countries.