Redefining CSR for the Post COVID-19 Era

As the world grapples with the shocks incited by COVID-19, businesses across the globe are confronted with the dilemma of aligning their operations to current trends while staying relevant to their respective audiences. In a bid to stay afloat and maintain profitability, some companies have been forced to make critical decisions regarding staff retention, salary cuts and downsizing to mention but a few. Regardless, a good number of companies in Nigeria have promptly responded to social responsibility calls and presented a united front against the deadly pandemic. These unprecedented series of events signify an imminent paradigm shift in the modus operandi of CSR activities worldwide.

To shed light on these issues, the Global CSR Foundation, held its annual summit in May, 2020, featuring a host of distinguished global experts from China, Nigeria, India, and America, who convened virtually to share best corporates practices for the COVID-19 pandemic and envisage a redefined outlook on Corporate Social Responsibility in the post-pandemic era. The webinar was conducted via the Zoom platform with simultaneous English-Chinese translation.

Based in New York, USA, the Global CSR Foundation is a non-profit organisation dedicated to empowering corporations, organisations, and individuals to participate in the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The summit is organized to create a platform for leaders across the globe to engage in candid conversations and share insights on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

Reputable professionals across academia, public health and multilaterals, alongside representatives of the organisers and co-organisers participated in the summit, at which four interactive panel sessions were held, including two panels each for Beijing and New York. The Beijing Panel featured Zhao Pu, Founding Partner of Pulei Capita; Lin Weixing Founder of Successful HR Group; LawYee Ping, Chief Strategy Officer of ChildWise International and several others.

Claire Kells, Senior Manager of the United Nations Global Compact; Dwight N. Hopkins, Professor at the University of Chicago; Bekeme Masade-Olowola, Chief Executive of CSR-in-Action; John J. Forrer, Director of the Institute of Corporate Responsibility and Professor at George Washington University were some of the speakers on the New York panel.

Dr. Padmin Murthy, First-Vice Chair, Global NGO Executive Committee DGC, Global Health Lead of American Medical Women’s Association and a professor at New York Medical College, kick-started the conversation for the second New York Panel by raising a pertinent issue of how the pandemic is aggravating inequity, especially in women. She also voiced her concern over the burgeoning rate of domestic violence against women and poverty this period due to the abrupt suspension of economic activities.

She said: “Women make up 70% of healthcare professionals but these women hardly have access to PPE’s. I know so many of my colleagues who have passed away as a result of not having access to PPE’s.”

While commending the efforts of the private sector, she urged them to ensure female health workers have access to medical equipment just as their male counterparts. She further stressed on the exigent need to sensitise the masses on according frontline health personnel the respect they deserve and imploring them to refrain from ill-treating medical staff. Donations, she said should be deliberately targeted to vulnerable such as health care workers who receive meagre stipends and low-income earners in deprived regions.

Chief Executive of CSR-in-Action, Bekeme Masade-Olowola, shared profound insights on the CSR landscape in Nigeria. Citing a United Nations report, she revealed that 35% of women worldwide have experienced intimate partner violence amidst the pandemic because partners are spending more time together. She praised business interventions into the amelioration of COVID-19 and tasked businesses to action CSR activities that were in tandem with their core business, giving the example of Stanbic IBTC, a commercial bank in Nigeria, which has taken up the responsibility of providing support to female staff who may need support with work-life-balance during these difficulties times, or who may be victims of domestic violence.

She mentioned the notable CSR partnership initiative, CACOVID, which is a private-sector coalition launched to assist the Nigerian government in combating the coronavirus disease, as well as the crowdfunded COVID-19 relief fund ‘WeAreTogether’, which was also launched by a group of tech entrepreneurs and innovators who leveraged their networks to outsource fiscal stimulus for Nigerians. These private sector and multilateral contributions fueled the government’s decision to establish a COVID-19 framework for fund management to promote accountability in the use of relief funds and transparency.

Beyond monetary contributions, businesses need to fully realise that their decisions impact several stakeholders across the value chain. The onus lies on the management of such companies to ensure that business operations do not impose undue costs on these stakeholders. Imbibing a culture of sustainability would forestall a number of the environmental and social challenges plaguing the nation.

She further added that businesses that will survive the pandemic are those who have developed close, iterative and inclusive relationships with their key stakeholders and those who are innovative with their approach in dealing with people internally and externally.

Masade-Olowola, who is a Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Board Member, and the Chief Executive and Founder of CSR-in-Action, Nigeria’s foremost sustainability consulting, training and advocacy firm, has been at the forefront of bringing global best practices of development to the nation and equipping businesses with the requisite tools to impact their communities. The agency developed the first ever community management tool, the Community Engagement Standards (CES), a tool for ensuring iterative, inclusive and effective interactions between extractive companies and their host communities. The CES has 44 indicators covering the entire lifecycle of extractive operations.

Speaking on the broader level trends occasioned by the pandemic, Prof. Forrer noted that there will be pressure on resources to fund CSR initiatives. Donations will be channeled to only high impact projects that in turn yield returns to the companies. Also, fund allocation will be based on a cost-benefit analysis of projects to ensure resources are efficiently utilized.

According to him, “COVID-19 has exposed the inherent divides, particularly in health care and digital services that exist in communities. Companies would have to define what their responsibilities are for these populations factoring the needs of their suppliers, customers and employers. This would require rethinking and a fair amount of money to redesign new strategies to impact communities.”

Forrer remarked that the pandemic is changing the status quo with regards to CSR practices globally. This presents an invaluable opportunity for companies to consciously make their actions more inclusive and sustainable for host communities.

While the goodwill displayed by corporates during pandemic is laudable and worthy of recognition, the sustainability of these efforts in the long-run needs to be determined. Will businesses continue to display this level of responsibility or will they revert to their business as usual operations after the scare is over? The future of Corporate Social Responsibility ultimately lies in the decisions businesses make today; the pandemic has only amplified the urgency with which these decisions need to be made.



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