First things first: contrary to the belief of the majority of corporate Nigeria, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is not fulfilled by corporate philanthropy. In fact, there is a clear difference between the two as succinctly stated by Peter Baines (a business consultant and philanthropist) as follows, “The differences between the two can be measured in the return that flows back to the giver.” While corporate philanthropy produces benefits including improved employee engagements, higher retention rates, and a measure of good will with the public, true CSR is the practice of sustainable and responsible methods of operation which increase efficiency, innovation and profit, whilst minimising cost and negative effects on the environment and on communities.
Consequently, corporate philanthropy is only a dimension of CSR. According to the Business Dictionary, corporate philanthropy encompasses the charitable donations of profits and resources given by corporations to non-profit organisations, which generally consists of cash donations, but can also be in the form of the use of their facilities, or volunteer time offered by the company’s employees. Donations are generally handled directly by the corporation or by a foundation created by the firm. However, companies who want to reap real benefits must adopt a more holistic approach which will show clear responsibility for the impacts of its activities, thereby building trust with all stakeholders.
Evidently, CSR in Nigeria is yet to reach its full potential. While much is being done to push the practice and development of CSR within the nation, there is still a stark lack of understanding and participation from majority of businesses operating within Nigeria. Experts in the field agree that this is largely due to the knowledge gap on the Return on Investment (ROI) that proper CSR practices – with emphasis on reporting – provide. And to solve that problem, Sustainability and External Relations Professional, Dr Uwem Ite, proposed the following in a recent presentation, “CSR Development in Nigeria: Why so slow in so long?”
Dr Ite, first established that CSR is still being defined, even on a global scale with new processes and competences being developed every day. Now, while CSR should cut across every business function, operation and resource, we typically have a specific department bearing sole responsibility for CSR – or corporate philanthropy as described earlier. This is likely because not everyone has the requisite bandwidth or knowledge of CSR issues, and blame can be laid at the feet of four principal parties.
The first – the public sector. In the international discussion of CSR, the public sector – or government, to make things clearer – has been tasked with the responsibility of ‘mandating’, which involves setting the highest standards for responsible behaviour and performance; ‘facilitating’ the CSR Agenda by providing incentives for the private sector to undertake the necessary business reforms; ‘partnering’ with responsible organisations actively; and ‘endorsing’ great performance and notable efforts.
The second – the corporates: Dr. Ite, in his presentation, mentioned that the organisations have neglected their duties for far too long, assuming that CSR is the burden that multinationals must bear, rather than the best course of action for any kind of business, big or small. It is, therefore, no wonder that there is usually no buy in from the senior management in most countries– who should actually be driving the cause passionately – and the attendant limited resources and funds that are released in pursuing a CSR agenda.
The third – the academic sector, the NGOs and the CSOs. With a unique platform to shape the perception and understanding of the younger generations and the public, these groups hold a lot of sway over where we are now, and where we go from here. It would, therefore, be of great help if these groups were more active in driving awareness for CSR, right from the formative years, constantly communicating its benefits to relatable organisations.
The fourth – CSR professionals. CSR professionals who have not progressed knowledge-wise and competence-wise have also contributed to the slow development of CSR in Nigeria. The need for constant development in such a dynamic field cannot be overemphasised because of how much CSR guides behaviour and performance. Professionals – both within and outside private companies – must, therefore, be easily adaptable, and keep up to speed with trends, new learnings, and opportunities.
He concluded the same way you probably have: there is still so much to be done. However, if every group of people mentioned above focuses squarely on its responsibilities, we will fare much better, much quicker, in building companies that will not only set the standard locally, but will be set apart even when analysed on a global scale.