Recently, more awareness is being created around the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) with the aim of putting the corporate organisations operating in Nigeria market on their toes, so as to live up to expectation in their relationship with the society where they operate. Two things call for this: the belief in some quarters that some organisations are taking consumers for granted, and what is being perceived as the abuse of CSR concept by a large number of companies.
 
To this end, professional bodies and individuals have since begun series of campaigns to educate consumers on their right and point the attention of organisations to their duties.
 
Last year in Ghana, Public Relations Practitioners from the African sub-region pledged to develop guidelines for CSR for their members in Africa. This was part of what was contained in a communiqué issued at the end of five days retreat (from April 28 to May 2, 2008), in Kumasi, under the auspices of Federation of African Public Relations Associations (FAPRA).
 
The theme of the conference, ‘Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR): Global Trends and Public Relations Implications’, was designed to equip participants with mental and material capacity to advance CSR/CSI initiatives, which according to FAPRA President, Mr. Joseph Emmanuel Allotey-Pappoe, has become a global phenomenon among various segments of the society.
 
Despite its glamour and the celebration of members’ accomplishments, the intellectual bent of the conference did not diminish as the theme was effectively dissected. It was at the conference that it was established that CSR was more than corporate philanthropy; hence, it should be seen as giving back to society.
 
Specifically, participants counselled that CSR efforts should move from being charitable to promoting developmental activities. Corporate institutions, it was said, should see themselves as part of the society and develop a professional approach to handle CSR issues.
 
CSR activities, it was argued, should be a combined effort of business, government and developmental institutions. “Indeed, there should be more coordination and collaboration of corporate efforts to maximise the impact of CSR programmes,” the president had argued.
 
Again last year, precisely on November 21, a workshop was organised by a Lagos based PR agency, Sesema PR, with the aim of looking at the concept of CSR, its evolution, emerging global best practices, and the main patterns in CSR practice in Nigeria among other things.
 
The workshop, which takes place at the Golden Gate Restaurant, was tagged ‘Corporate Social Responsibility in Nigeria – Are Companies Really Doing their Bit?’
 
Like the Ghana gathering, the workshop took participants through the need for CSR and why it is necessary for organisations to get it right. The workshop further pointed out that CRS activities, if well handled, can turn things round for brands.
 
While the above steps were taken to educate members of the public and organisations on CSR, another attempt at upping the ante led to collaboration between the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) and a Lagos based PR agency Tru Contact, in August 2007, by inaugurating an annual award tagged ‘Celebrating Corporate Social Giving’.
 
 
Through the award, the two bodies began to recognise organisations that have done well in CSR, and encouraged others to follow suit. According to the organisers, it was conceived to create more awareness about social giving and recognise organisations that are doing well in their response to societal needs.
 
In an interview with THISDAY, the Chief Executive Officer of Tru Contact, Mr. Ken Egbas, said the objective is to draw attention and raise awareness, on a national scale, about CSR.
 
While stating that some members of the public are still not in tandem with what should be referred to as social giving, Egbas made reference to a book written by Jim Gustafson, titled ‘CSR in Business the Ultimate Resource: Best Practice Handbook’.
 
Therein, the concept is defined as “An ongoing commitment by a business to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while demonstrating respect for people, communities, society at large and the environment.”
 
A former Corporate Affairs Manager of Union Bank, Mr. Kabir Dangogo, who stated that some organisations are doing well in their CSR activities in Nigeria, simply defined CSR as the art of giving back to communities what has come from the same communities in which companies pursue their legitimate businesses.
 
Using CSR to Gain Brand Equity
Can a brand leverage on its CSR activities to build its equity? This is a frequently asked question that often generates controversy among analysts and stakeholders in marketing communications terrain.
 
While some argue that CSR should be seen as selfless efforts taking by organisations with the purpose of adding social value to the society where they operate, many others believe that it is natural for organisations to get positive result from their social investments because of the connect that often takes place between brands and the society as a result of CSR commitment.
For instance, following the consolidation in the banking sector in the 2006, which mandated all banks to re-brand, Guaranty Trust Bank’s new logo began to adore major roundabouts in the country.
 
Though the purpose was to use it to beautify the various roundabouts and give direction to strangers, it achieved more than that because the gesture quickly familiarise members of the public with the new logo.
 
In another development, the prompt response of the same bank to the call on individuals and organisations to help rehabilitate the dilapidated structures in the nation’s public schools also increased the love the public had for it.
Considering the kind of opposition tobacco smoking daily attracts in the market, only a few would expect that Tobacco Manufacturing companies would still attract fair comments but the truth is that through CSR activities, it is not easy to discard some of the companies.
 
For instance, in Nigeria, the CSR activities of BATN Foundation has become a major PR platform through which the brand is approaching the market, following the restriction on tobacco advertisement.
 
According to a recent report issued by the foundation, since 2002 when it was established as a community development programmes, it has embarked on 78 projects in 34 states of the federation and hoping to cover the 36 states soon. The report particularly stated that it was only Bayelsa and Borno states that have not been covered.
It is further stated in the report that over 600,000 people have benefited from the foundation, putting the total spending and value of BAT Nigeria’s social investments since inception at well over N1.3 billion.
 
In an interview with the Area CSR Manager of British America Tobacco Company, Mrs. Oluwasoromidayo George, advocated a rounded CSR agenda, which according to her would help economic development and well-being of members of the public.
On why her organisation contributes a substantial part of its income to CSR activities, she said there really shouldn’t be a business or industry that needs to act more responsible than a tobacco industry, also no company should be asked to act in any other way than in a responsible manner.
 
Our community development focus areas are sustainable agricultural development, sustainable potable water supply, sustainable environmental protection and empowerment through vocational training and skills development.
The Head of PR at Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), Abuja, Mr. Yushau Abdulhameed Shuaib, is one of the marketing communications practitioners, who see nothing wrong in deploying CSR as a marketing drive or tool for propagating an ideal of a brand.
 
Shuaib, who is presently a graduate student of university of Westminster, London told THISDAY in online interview on Monday that “In as much as the essence of any PR or integrated marketing communication programme is to create goodwill and sustain or improve relationships towards the organisation’s reputation and services;
 
“CSR can be a good PR approach in the market place. One thing I always say is that any organisation embarking on CSR should be sincere and make sure such a gesture is relevant to the society it is targeted at.”
 
The PR practitioner, who stated that some organisations have done well in the market, said there was nothing wrong if organisations have marketing, reputation and PR agenda for undertaking particular projects.
 
“I am sorry to admit that nothing is deliberately done in vain but for gain. You don’t undertake a project just for the fun of it, definitely it must be geared to gain something,” she enthused.
 
In his reaction to the same question and the insinuation that the concept is a propaganda tool used by some organisations to lure consumers for patronage, Dangogo said there is nothing bad if an organisation worms itself into the minds of its patrons through its commitment to their social needs.
 
He disagreed with whoever holds that CSR is propaganda, adding, “I do not believe that CSR is mere propaganda or a marketing gimmick. It all depends on how a corporate organisation handles its CSR. Where an organisation is genuinely helping out a community, it can easily be discerned;
 
“But where there is a deliberate attempt to use CSR as a marketing gimmick or as a pay-off for anticipated patronage, those being targeted can also understand where the organisation is coming from;
 
“If a bank, for instance, donated computer equipment worth N100 million to a university and all it does is print its corporate logo on the donated items that should be all right. But if such items were donated to a state government’s ministry, it should not be difficult for people to get the idea behind the donation,” he said.
 
Rating CSR Activities
The fact that some are not getting it right notwithstanding, many organisations are daily receiving accolades for their social contributions to Nigeria’s development.
 
Few years ago, Zenith Bank of Nigeria stole the show when it took it upon itself to rehabilitate the Ajose Adeogun street on Victoria Island Lagos, while some critics condemned the positive reactions that followed the development because of the belief that the bank took the step to help its business in the area, not a few people argued that it was an action taken for the general good of the society.
 
In the same way, MTN, GTBank, Coca-Cola and Afribank have taken steps that positively affected members of the public, which are daily being referred to as positive measures that corroborate government effort at providing social facilities for members of the public.
 
Asked if the various organisations are doing enough, Chief Executive Officer of Sesema PR, Alima Attah, admitted that some companies are doing a good job and really understand what CSR is all about. She however expressed regret that what many organisations are doing can be seen as community relations or donations erroneously referred to as CSR.
 
To get the best of CSR practice, Attah called on corporate organisations and government to work together for the general good. “Governments and large organisations should be looking at ways to resolve some of the major issues facing the country, remembering that resolving these could only make things better for them in the long run.”
 
A member of the Federation of African Public Relations Associations (FAPRA) who co-author the book; ‘Corporate Social Responsibility: the Case for Small and Medium Businesses Involvement’ with a lecturer in the Department of Theatre Arts at the University of Abuja, Barth Oshionebo, told THISDAY that CSR as a concept and corporate activity in Nigeria is gaining more acceptance in Nigeria.
 
He added that there was more to CSR than what is currently being demonstrated in the country. On how to build a best practice, he said “Although some people are advocating legislation as a result of frustrations, this may not be the ultimate solution. In any case how many organisations obey the laws governing their operations?;
 
“The way to go is to create more awareness and punish any infraction of the existing statues. There is a need to make it clear to all that CSR is not the exclusive preserve of big multinational companies. Small business entrepreneurs should also get involved at appropriate levels and this would make a lot of difference in the society,” he stated.
 
The General Manager of Ogilvy PR, located in Opebi Lagos, Mrs Ajala Ekundayo, also agreed that some organisations are getting it right, but called on organisations to be sincere in the effort at contributing to the society, adding, “It is through sincere deploring of CSR gestures that both the organisation and the society can get the best.”
 
SOURCE: Thisday Newspaper (www.thisdayonline.com)

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