Strategic community investment planning

Chris Ye years ago, a large number of companies made huge donations to Sichuan within a short period after the earthquake. However, due to a lack of systematic recourse allocation, lots of material donations were wasted the moment they arrived in Sichuan as they had become redundant. The efficient use of monetary donations was also questioned later when corruption scandals associated with some mainstream foundations shocked the public.
The number of published CSR reports also started to boom after 2008. Reading these reports, it is clear that lots of Chinese companies hold that community investment is mainly about donations, as pictures of companies’ management holding big cheques is the key content for the “community investment” section in many CSR reports.
Five years later, when the earthquake hit Sichuan again, businesses still tried their best to help the area but many were more considered about their donations. They checked available information on real needs from social media or on-line platforms before they donated materials to the earthquake area, and money was donated via transparent organizations which were able to show how the money goes to people in need.
This is an exciting improvement, but it’s not the end. Considered responses to disasters are hugely important, and for companies without, for example, relevant logistics expertise, donations may be the most appropriate form of support. However, earthquakes do not hit every day, and donations are not always the best way to help community development. It’s time for business to go beyond donations and start strategic community investment planning.
Community Investment is the voluntary contributions or actions by companies to help communities in their areas of operation address their development priorities, and take advantage of opportunities created by private investment—in ways that are sustainable and support business objectives. This is according to the IFC’s definition in the Strategic Community Investment–A Good Practice Handbook for Companies Doing Business in Emerging Markets.
To start strategic community investment planning, companies should:
Understand the community needs
It’s very important to understand the community’s real needs before the company starts to plan and conduct the community investment program, as this makes for a strong foundation. Whilst it may be easy to close the door and have an internal discussion, community needs are not a ‘decision’ to be made but rather are real and present in the community. To start to understand the real issues, companies can ask the following questions. What are the groups that may need help? What are the issues with the group? Is business involvement able to help improve the situation? What’s has been done to solve the problems? What are the lessons learnt from their experience? Is there anything missing in the current efforts and solutions? Can the company fill in the gap? What improvement can be achieved for the community? Be careful of reaching conclusions merely based on assumptions and guesses. To understand the needs, let the community talk.
Identify and allocate resources
Talking about internal resources, people usually think of programme budget and staff working-hours spent on the program. However, there is more to explore. For example, if a company plans to start a community investment programme targeting a group with a specific disease, staff/staff with family members with experience of this disease could offer lots of insights of the problems, possible solutions and network for reaching the targets; if a company decides to launch a community investment programme improving the management skills of grass roots NGOs, tips from the company’s management would be great resource.
Companies could also increase the programme impact by engaging external resources. Establishing partnerships with local government, academics, NGOs, volunteering groups, business partners, or industry peers may involve those who have a better understanding of the issues and more experience of addressing the problems in a proper way.
Connect with the core business
In the traditional concept, where community investment was totally separate from the business, community investment was considered as a pure cost for the company. As a result, it was often difficult to get management support for sustainable inputs for the program, especially when the economy remains weak from the financial crisis. A successful community investment programme that strongly connects with the company’s core business would help to improve the company’s business performance and brings in more input for programme development in the long-run.
Keep impact measurement in mind at the planning stage
In China, companies talk a lot about the inputs, and sometimes also outputs, of their community investment programs, but few companies measure and disclose impact. Impact measurement provides strong evidence for communication and also enables companies to improve and expand the programme in the future. A tip on doing impact measurement is to plan ahead. Many companies who see the value of impact measurement face the challenge of insufficient data for “before-and-after” evaluation. Setting clear objectives and KPIs for programme impact at the planning stage helps keep track of the data and information throughout the program.
Huawei’s “Telecom Seeds for the Future Project” is an interesting example of a strategic community investment programme that is closely connected to the company’s core business and draws heavily on internal expertise. The fast-growing ICT industry requires a large number of technical talents to solve the challenges raised in the process of development. However, the ICT students in college have little access to information on the current state of the industry. To address this need, Huawei runs the “Telecom Seeds for the Future Project”, to close the gap between the knowledge learnt at school and the real case in the business world, supporting the development of local ICT talents. Cooperating with ICT colleges in local universities, educational institutions, and other organisations, Huawei provides scholarships, training, internships and work experience to thousands of students in Congo, France, Germany, Ghana, Guinea, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, Malaysia, Morocco, Norway, Russia, Singapore, Thailand, Uganda, United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. Via this project, Huawei has created and made available 16 training centers, and partnered with more than 50 universities around the world. The programme has served as a crucial platform that enriches students’ experiences, preparing them to work efficiently in real IT and telecommunications companies. Huawei plans to strengthen, evaluate and expand the programme across current and future markets by strengthening local partnerships. For more information on Huawei’s community investment, please click here.
(Source: CSR Asia Weekly)

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