CSR guru offers golden advice

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HR heads who are eager to improve CSR within their own organisation may want to take note after a leading industry figure offered some golden advice which is applicable to companies of every kind.

“The first thing I would say is that we’re very happy to share our expertise with other companies because we would like to see corporate citizenship grow,” says David Raper, the Asia Pacific head of corporate citizenship at tech giant IBM.

Raper is heavily involved with the IBM’s Corporate Service Corps which is arguably one of the most successful global CSR initiatives currently in operation. In less than 10 years, the CSC has channelled the skills and expertise of around 3,000 IBM employees to support more than 1,000 projects around the world.

The projects have included bringing eductech to rural Ghana, improving access to cervical cancer services in Peru, and helping Ethiopians become more resilient through improved water, sanitation and hygiene practices.

All told, the program has donated more than $70 million in market value consulting services across 37 countries – but it’s not just the communities that have benefited – IBM has also reaped the rewards of rolling out such a program.

According to Raper, participation in the program rapidly develops an employee’s ability to lead in a global environment, increases their cultural understanding and boosts their overall engagement and motivation levels within IBM.

However, there are a couple of key points which Raper says are crucial to the long-term success of the program and can be applied within organisations of any size.

“It’s very important to select your employees in a rigorous way,” says Raper. “These people are getting a lot of investment, they’re doing really important work in the community, and the NGOs we work with invest the time and attention of their own senior leaders to work on these projects so we need to ensure the projects are going to be delivered well.”

At IBM, applicants are typically high-performers who are already doing some volunteer work within their own community – they’re also required to write an essay so decision-makers can determine who has the best aptitude and approach.

“You also need to be choosing people in a way that’s fair because, as we’ve seen at IBM, CSR initiatives can be a very competitive and very popular so employees need to have confidence that, like all of your programs with the company, it’s being administered in a fair, equitable and performance-based way.”

Raper also says it’s vital that any company embarking on a similar initiative identifies strong and reliable partners which can offer key competencies that may be lacking within the organisation.

“There are many things IBM does well and then there are things that are outside the core competencies of business so we partner very deeply with NGOs that we work with regularly to help us implement each and every deployment,” says Raper.

“We also go through very vigorous scoping exercises with the beneficiary organisations to make sure that what we agree on as a project scope is something that’s going to be relevant and important to them and they’re going to be able to implement and take it forward as well,” he continues.

“Really taking those partnerships very seriously has been one of the keys to the success of the program at IBM.”

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