When CSR Becomes Brand Differentiating Factor

Raheem Akingbolu writes on how brand owners are adopting Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) philosophy to communicate their business differentiation, citing Guinness Nigeria and its Water of Life project as an example of such initiative…

The belief that consumers’ perception could be changed to generate brand value through overtures from companies has continued to encourage more organisations to invest more in CSR. While reviewing the business activities in 2012, a consortium of experts on CSR in the United Kingdom established that companies that took active roles in promoting their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes last year were viewed more favourably than those that didn’t have visible programmes.

Speaking about consumer’s attitude to CSR, the Head Consultant at ThistlePraxis Consulting Limited, Mrs. Ini Onuk, had in a recent interview told THISDAY that consumers were always willing to associate with organisations that identify with their plight. She said: “The moment an organisation picks interest in the affairs of its operating environment, a kind of bond is being created, which is capable of connecting the two parties. Though a selfless contribution to societal development, CSR investment brings symbiotic gains.”

Water Provision as CSR Platform

The importance of water has caused some well-meaning corporate organisations to adopt water provision as their CSR platform. In fact, it became the trend at a time both multinational and local companies latched on to it. The motley crowd of brands and companies trying to leverage the platform that the concept provides as their CSR initiative at a time made brand differentiation difficult.

Adopting the strategy makes good sense. For one, it helps to address one of the fallouts of rapid and urban water systems. In part, it also addresses the theme of the year 2011 celebration of the World Water Day – ‘Water for Cities: Responding to the Urban Challenge-’ aimed at spotlighting and encouraging governments, organisations, communities, and individuals to actively engage in addressing the challenges of urban water management.

An example of a company that has set itself apart in the area of CSR is Guinness Nigeria, especially through its Water of Life project instituted in places like Agoi-Ibami, Cross River State, OzaNogogo, Delta State, Lantoro, Abeokuta, Ogun State, Ijora-Badia, Ajegunle and Mafoloku in Lagos State, to mention a few. These high capacity water projects donated by Guinness were built for the communities to own and operate through engagement with the community development associations, traditional rulers, and local government officials.

Part of a successful CSR initiative is to empower and allow the communities take ownership of the project after it is instituted. By doing so, the beneficiary communities monitor and operate it in the best way possible. This ensures the projects are not vandalised and serve the community for a long time.

The Ijora-Badia and Mafoluku Water of Life Projects lend credence to this school.

David Hampshire, then Managing Director of Diageo Africa, commissioned the Badia project in 2004. Before then, sourcing water was problematic especially in Ijora-Badia and residents sometime go as far as Marine Beach, about three kilometers away to fetch water. Those who could not go the distance were forced to pay through their noses to buy water from local water merchants. All that changed when Guinness Nigerian Plc built and commissioned the water project.

Plaudits for Guinness

The Water of Life project has proved to be very popular with the beneficiaries. In Yakurr Local Government Area of Cross River State, the people of Agoi-Ibami community have taken ownership by constituting a community of well-meaning citizens to safeguard the mini waterworks system comprising a water treatment plant, reticulation network and a standby power source donated to the community by Guinness Nigeria. The task before the committee is to ensure that the mini waterworks serves the community for a long time to come.

Reiterating benefits of the project, His Royal Highness, Charles Iku Ujong, Clan Head of Agoi-Ibami community, said, “We are looking forward to the coming of the rainy season with joy, confident that the health challenge and portable water crisis that have come to be associated with heavy rains have now been consigned to history by Guinness Nigeria Plc.”

Ujong noted that his people had suffered enough during rainy seasons in time past from lack of clean water because heavy rains give rise to excessive water, which leads to unhygienic environment and compound the health challenges confronting the people, giving rise to waterborne diseases. The royal father expressed gratitude to Guinness Nigeria for the investment made by the company in his community, saying that it had enhanced the livelihood of people in the community.

The story is the same at Ona-Ara Local Government in Ibadan, Oyo State before Guinness Nigeria extended the gesture to the community in 2009. Before the building and commissioning of the Guinness Water project, the indigenes of the community depended on fetching water from wells in the community or going long distances to fetch water. The Water of Life Project was a welcome development by the community and has served them well up until now

It is interesting that ahead of this year’s edition of World Water Day, Guinness Nigeria Plc, a Diageo Company, has thus come under the klieg lights as a corporate citizen that identifies with the UN General Assembly, which set March 22 as the World Water Day. However, while it is hoped that the project is further spread to other remote communities in dire need of fresh water, one also hopes that beneficiaries will take a cue from the likes of Agoi-Ibami, Ona-Ara and Badia communities and learn to take ownership of the project.

 

 

 

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