Posted in MBA

CSR: To outsource or not to outsource

This is a weekly academic blog for my MBA class Lasallian Business Leadership, Ethics, and Corporate Social Responsibility.

 

One of my burning questions in CSR class is this: Should CSR be outsourced or performed externally?

CSR is not just an activity to be performed for society. Sometimes it could be as simple as paying employees well, providing benefits allowing work-life integration, and making sure they are heard and valued.

Additionally, some companies are in better position than most NGOs to conduct activities that benefit society. An example of this is my own company which has the technical expertise, network, resources, and manpower to create programs that will have a broader and deeper reach. A lot of NGOs may create social programs within our industry, but they may be significantly less knowledgeable, less connected, and less equipped to fulfill the mission.

Yet there are companies whose industries are by nature difficult to conduct CSR with. Example of these companies that produce industrial components that do not concern consumers. Examples of these indsutries are high-grade chemicals, indsutrial steel, tobacco, liquor, mining, and more. What if aside from existing good labor practices, they wanted to benefit society competitively?

In reality, sometimes the most ethical or socially beneficial things that companies may do is to simply stop existing. There are just some business that may be legal and profitable but are damaging society.

Another thing that most companies can do is to simply outsource their CSR. I know this sounds like dole outs and merely dumping money on charity. But there are times that I think it is far better than initiating CSR activities in which companies do not have expertise in.

The famous example of tree-plating activities have often wasted land use and seeds because these companies do not bother doing research on the kinds of trees that can adapt to the terrain and the seeds’ effect on the soil. Similarly there are CSR activities totally not related with company’s industry whose budgets and other resources such as time and money often go to waste.

Meanwhile, there are hundreds of NGOs out there who have excellent programs but zero funding. They have the competency to reach out to society but not the resources. It is my opinion that, to bridge the gap, some companies should merely provide financial support to these NGOs instead of undertaking their own.

Even though financing a charity is not good for publicity compared to well-publicized CSR activities that do not make lasting impact, society can benefit more by taking a cooler and more rational approach.

Posted in MBA

Will I work for a company without CSR initiatives?

This is a weekly academic blog for my MBA class Lasallian Business Leadership, Ethics, and Corporate Social Responsibility.

As mentioned in my previous blogs, majority of my generation now prefer to work for companies with a publicized CSR initiative. It used to be a difficult choice, but now many more companies are incorporating CSR activities as part of their business practices.

Currently, I work for the CSR-arm of a company. Previously, I worked for an NGO. Ever since I was young, I wanted to work for the development sector. I was influenced by reading the life of saints though I am by no means religious. I liked the idea of having a mission that benefits the greater good.

Another reason is that my parents more or less work for the public. Mom and Dad initially worked as educators at a private school. Dad went on to be a lawyer and Mom rose in rank and is now a PhD student and a principal at a big school in my hometown. Both of their jobs are not corporate in nature but involved interaction with people from all walks of life. This is why I do not measure my success in terms of the company I am associated with or the pay I receive. Teachers’ pays are not very big yet they have massive influence over the next generation.

In class, we were asked a question once, “Who among you are willing to trade a higher paying salary for a job that benefits society?” Nobody raised their hands. But if I had not been too timid, I would have. Before working for the NGO, I was offered a government job that paid more than PHP 10K than what the NGO offered me. The NGO was also farther from home and smaller in size, while the government work was only 1 ride away from home and is way larger in terms of size.

Yet I chose the smaller, farther, lower-paying NGO because I was needed there more. So the question remains, will I work for a company without CSR initiatives?

I probably would, but not for long. Aside from my early desires to work for the development sector, I have been highly influenced by my college education in UP, whose tagline is, “Serve the People”. Even though I try to work at jobs with high pay and high position, there’s an inherent need for me to give back to society.

It’s important to note, however, that not all development sector organizations and companies are good. It is ironic that even though an NGO can perform well for their beneficiaries, they may sometimes be unprogressive towards their labor practices, which is why I wrote my first blog, The Vocation of NGOs.

Between an NGO with poor labor practices and a company with good policies (e.g. going paperless) but no CSR initiatives, I would choose the latter. CSR and development are not just industry or method you choose. It is an ideology you practice.

Posted in MBA

Retelling the Story of Stuff

This is a weekly academic blog for my MBA class Lasallian Business Leadership, Ethics, and Corporate Social Responsibility.

One of the most eye-opening video I watched in my life is The Story of Stuff  recommended by my then-Sociology professor.

The Story of Stuff was a 20-minute animated clip by Annie Leonard. She was an ordinary person with a sudden environmental awakening that she commissioned the mini-movie’s creation in 2007. Even in the early popularity days of social media, the clip soon became viral.

The Story of Stuff was about the materials economy composed of processes such as extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal. Each of these processes are open to abuse.

In the Philippines, extraction became a popular issue after the closure of mines and scrapping of mining contracts by Sec. Gina Lopez, declaring that the Philippines is not fit for mining. Her goal was “to heal the land”.

As someone who climbs the mountains, I have seen the damage done by mining and logging even in nearby provinces such as Rizal. We would sometimes see an entire half of a hill baldened by these activities. Aside from environmental and aesthetic purposes, these makes the province prone to landslides and flash floods.

Production in the Philippines is smaller compared to more industrialized countries. But another form of abuse is labor practices and working environments that are not safe during production. An example of this is the Kentex Factory fire. Almost 80 factory workers died because of being surrounded by highly flammable materials, poor ventilation, and overcrowdedness.

Since the Philippines is also not industrialized enough for production, we are mainly only a small part. Greater economies and even business can afford to take our resources, use our manpower for their production, and then redistribute the products we made so that it returns to us more expensively.

Yet ironically, the Philippines is also known for being massive consumers. The existence of sprawling malls, being the market of luxury brands and the latest technologies combined with our high expenditure and low income-savings quotient make us, a Third World country, the ultimate consumers.

Finally, after the process is completed, we find out that from the very beginning, most products are destined to go to landfills. That includes the sources we extracted and even the chemicals and artifical elements we used for production. In a linear economy, everything goes straight to the trash.

Because some of the biggest international businesses are more power than majority of lower-income country governments, we see the role that businesses play to reverse this. Watching The Story of Stuff made me feel powerless at a certain point, because I know that simple actions such as boycotting from a sole consumer will not make changes. I think we can make better changes if we make more business leaders take repsonsibility thru education, policies, and dialogue.

I hope that my generation, with hyper-awareness of foreign affairs thru social media, will be the ones to make a change as we assume roles in the government and in businesses.

Posted in MBA

The Invisible Students

This is a weekly academic blog for my MBA class Lasallian Business Leadership, Ethics, and Corporate Social Responsibility.

 

Coming from UP, our primary battle-cry is that of the right to education. But as the years progress, being called iskolar ng bayan is somehow slowly losing its meaning. The truth is, much of our tuition fees are no longer government subsidized.

In 2007, a year before I enrolled to UP, there has been a 300% tuition fee increase. The default bracketing system of new students is also raised higher that, in a sense, you will have to prove just how poor you are before you can avail of cheaper tuition fee. In fact, to belong to the lowest bracket (Bracket E), you will have to prove that you’re so poor, you cannot even afford to buy a cell phone. That’s a very unrealistic standard as even the poorest urban slum dwellers have a cell phone.

As such, I came to UP with a much higher tuition fee than batches ahead of me. They now call batches 2007 onwards as “the rich kids”. During my college years, they also changed the standards so that new enrollees now belong to Bracket A by default, in which they will have to prove they qualify to lower brackets just to pay a lower tuition fee.

These changes in government subsidy caused a change in the demographics of UP students — and it’s not because there are more privileged students that pass the UP College Admission Test (UPCAT). It’s only because much of our underprivileged counterparts pass the UPCAT but choose not to enroll primarily because of the higher tuition fees and the hoops they have to go through just to fulfill the requirements.

My blog post four years ago was about the Kristel Tejada, a college freshman and the eldest daughter of a taxi driver from Tondo who committed suicide because she was unable to pay her tuition fees. While there were students who commit suicide because they have failing grades, Kristel committed suicide just because her family did not have the financial means to send her to school. This was unacceptable, considering she was considered worthy of a state university education.

This brings us into a question: Is education still a right or has it now become a privilege?

The thing about privilege is that we do not know when we have it. When I was in college, I took for granted that my parents will pay for my tuition and my school requirements. I expected and received weekly allowances. I knew with certainty that I will finish in four years without stopping unless I failed a subject. It’s only now that I had to finance my own graduate school education that I realized how lucky I was.

Meanwhile, my other counterparts cannot even finish an undergraduate degree because they did not have parents like mine. Most important of all, the only reason why I can afford to pay for graduate school now is that (1) I was able to finish college, and therefore (2) I was able to get a good-paying job. The reality is, other people can’t even get past Step 1!

Back in college, I had friends that belonged to Bracket E. But frankly, I never noticed that a lot of my fellow students drop out in the middle of the term because their parents can no longer afford to send them to school. I never knew that a lot of my classmates choose to work part-time or stop for a while just to make ends meet. Worse of all, I never noticed that the underprivileged are being removed from the landscape because they don’t even make it past enrollment day!

It would have been acceptable if we studied in a private school. But it seemed like a crime knowing that we are at a state university where the government is mandated to provide for these deserving students.

What I enjoyed most about my UP education is academic freedom. Here, it did not matter what I wore, if I drove a car, what I look like, if my professors like me, or even if I get high grades. All that matters is engaging intellectually within and outside of class. Sadly, a lot of deserving students cannot even enjoy academic freedom as it comes with a financial burden. These students are so focused on merely surviving through the semester and worrying if they will have enough money for the next. They learn early on that even though they are just as qualified, they will have a harder time finishing school just because they happen to be poor.

The problem with losing sight of the underprivileged simply because they cannot make it to school is that we no longer see the people we should look out for. The more underprivileged students drop out or pass up enrolling, the more privileged students think that the right to education is being fulfilled. It breeds apathy and a lack of awareness, which to me, beats the purpose of our education.

We may be knowledgeable within the walls of the classroom, but greater education is being aware of what happens outside of it and what we should do about it. Otherwise, all that higher education will only become a means for us to perpetuate the system of accumulating wealth just so our children will not suffer the same fate as the invisible students who cannot make it to class.

Posted in MBA

Millennials and the Future of CSR

This is a weekly academic blog for my MBA class Lasallian Business Leadership, Ethics, and Corporate Social Responsibility.

Millennials have been getting a bad rap for being self-entitled “kidults”. But reluctant adults as we may seem, based on the recent Horizon Media‘s Finger on the Pulse Study (2017), we might actually change the world.

The new generation grew up during the rise of self-esteem messaging. We grew up insanely idealistic, slightly self-entitled, and socially hyper-aware. Often, we’ve been called as temperamental brats and narcissists. We are also digital natives who have witnessed the rapid advancement of technology and interconnectivity. As such, lonesome as we may look with our palms stuck on our smartphones, we actually belong to a digital tribe. Add that to the quicker spread of information that immersed us to as many advocacies as you can think!

As we now occupy the labor force and the market, businesses and nonprofits have leveraged the millennial culture to sell their own businesses and nonprofits. Advocacy and brand messaging now seemed to be interchangeable.

 

The Way Millennials Buy

In the era of superheroes, millennials seem to aspire to save the world, one shopping bag at a time.

This is evidenced by successful marketing via injecting social relevance into the most commonplace products and services. Even the most commercial brands have learned to incorporate words such as organic, natural, biodegradable, eco-friendly, reusable, healthy, and local to their products and services.

CAUSE + Sumption has become a way of life, in which millennials purchase from businesses with the same values that they espouse. And it’s not just about businesses having a three-month long campaign. Millennials are looking for the real thing! We are known to make well-researched purchases. The Intelligence Group’s Cassandra Report says that 72% of millennials research online before making an in-store purchase.

What’s more is that we also bother to check if these businesses are actually doing something for the greater good. A whopping 81% of our generation (Horizon Media, 2017) expect businesses to make a public commitment to good corporate citizenship. These activities may involve donating to charity, paying their employees right, or reducing their carbon footprint.

A successful example of this is Tom’s footwear’s giving back model, wherein purchasing one pair of Tom’s will purchase another pair for the underprivileged. Cafes doing a suspended coffee campaigns have also gone viral. This is where customers can buy two cups of coffee — one for them, and another for the next homeless man who walks in. There have been boycott movements for businesses running sweatshops, such as Gap, Nike, and Liz Claiborne. Locally, at the height of the friction with China, patriotic consumers are encouraging the masses not to buy goods made in China.

In short, millennials don’t just purchase products out of need. Our purchases are a badge that seem to reflect who we are, or what kind of citizens we aspire to be.

 

The Way Millennials Work

It’s even more surprising to find out that what’s in our heart is in our pockets.

Millennials grew up at the time when the triple bottom line has become the standard to measure corporate success. Sustainability reporting via the Global Reporting Initiative, as well as alignment with UN Millennium Development Goals, have also been adopted by more companies by the time we entered the labor force. As such, we have become more aware and therefore choosier when it comes to the companies we dedicate our productive times with.

Unheard of in the previous generations, millennials are even willing to go as far as getting a pay cut just to work for socially-relevant companies. The 2015 Cone Communications study showed that millennials are more willing to work for truly good businesses even if it meant having a lower salary. The gap between this worldview of millennials and the older generations combined are huge. It really is a mark of a generational change.

2014 Nielsen study says that 70% of millennials preferred employers who are committed to the community. This makes it a challenge for employers to keep their millennial workforce engaged by genuinely contributing to society via corporate social responsibility. It’s no longer just about having pool tables, company outings, and flexible hours as employee benefits. They now must answer the question everly millennial asks themselves, “What can I do for society while being at work? (a classic example of Work-Life Integration)” This has made employee volunteering time-off and matching employee contributions a great way for the company to make the ever-mobile millennials stay.

Some of us even go as far as designing our business around the development sector and corporate social responsibility. As an example, local startups are first to incorporate socially-relevant causes to their new businesses. Not a surprise, as most of these are run by millennials anyway. For example, Cropital is a site that allows micro-lending to local farmers. Another startup, Storm Benefits provide a means for employees to choose their own company benefits such as travel, wellness, and fitness product and services discounts.

These new studies on millennials and CSR all the more make corporate social responsibility initiatives a win-win. While companies can help society thru their ethical business practices as well as socially-beneficial products and services, they can keep their younger workforce engaged, and even attract more consumers to purchase from their brands.

As a millennial myself, I can’t wait to see our generation grow up and see what we can do for the future. If we are already ethical as consumers, employees, and citizens, we might actually fulfill our idealistic dreams of making the world a better place.

 

Posted in MBA

Ethical Advertising in the Nonprofit Industry

This is a weekly academic blog for my MBA class Lasallian Business Leadership, Ethics, and Corporate Social Responsibility.

Call it benevolent manipulation, but “poverty pornography” is a serious crime against the dignity of human persons, even if it meant selling campaigns that will help them in the end.

Ethics in advertising are not just for businesses. Unethical practices in advertising can also be used by the most well-meaning of nonprofits with the goal of gaining more donations. And even if the end is positive, the means still needs to be examined and ensured to be ethical.

Like businesses, nonprofits may operate within the bounds of laws, but may still be considered unethical. American Press Institute (2016) have found that only 37% of nonprofit media have created guidelines about funding. The API study also found that nonprofit managers will often not screen the fundraising collateral until it has already been published. In short, does ethics even matter in nonprofit advertising?

 

Guilt-tripping the masses

Making reluctant donors feel like they’re not doing enough to solve the world’s problem is a common tactic in the nonprofit industry. These ads are targeted to makes the public feel guilty of being better off than majority of the world. Unfortunately, the point is often communicated using unethical imagery.

The use of “poverty porn” to incite guilt, shame, feelings of inadequacy, and suspicion of apathy is just as offensive as business brands making use of unethical advertising practices to sell. It strikes at the core of our human insecurity of still never being enough.

Even the sourcing of these images is in question. Take, for example, photos of starving children in Africa with Michael Jackson’s song, “Heal the World” playing in the background. Though it is possibly real, this imagery has been overused that potential donors may have developed a certain degree of desensitization.

It is true that the use of emotions can encourage potential donors to feel compassion. However, this should not be at the expense of the beneficiaries’ dignity. Have nonprofits acquired fully informed consent on the part of the subjects? Were the people in the photos aware of the implications and the use of these images for the sake of the campaign? Do they feel obligated to pose for photos in exchange for getting help?

Shocking images of poverty without providing context is a way to trick reluctant donors into believing half-truths. An ethical move on the part of nonprofits is not merely providing shocking images of poverty but providing more context behind the photos. These are, after all, people and not some abstract fundraising collateral. In the long run, it may also cost the nonprofits their donations because of the erosion of trust between them and the public.

It also matters whether imagery and stories clearly communicate what the organization does for the community. It is one thing to insist that there is a need for more donations, but there should also be clarity and truthfulness as to how the nonprofit aims to solve the problem. In the end, what have they done to change the situation for the better for all those people in the photos?

 

Great shock for the greater good?

Other issues facing ethical advertising for nonprofit is the sum that goes to the budget. An example of advertising overspending is when a nonprofit spent millions of dollars on a Superbowl ad. A question emerged at the time, “Should nonprofits restrict the amount that goes to their advertising? Is a full-blown Superbowl ad absolutely necessary to advance the cause?” While there are no laws on advertising restrictions of nonprofits, the best that ethical nonprofits should do is to disclose and be transparent on how they spend donations.

Similarly, there have been numerous advocacy campaigns that are striking but are almost completely unrelated to the cause. The globally viral “Ice Bucket Challenge” raised funds for amyotrophic laterals sclerosis (ALS) research. Without a doubt, it has been one of the most successful and globally replicable marketing campaigns that have raised millions for the cause. However, other participants of the challenge have been known to imitate the Challenge without even being aware of the campaign behind it. Should the mere virality and funds raised for the challenge enough to consider it successful?

An even more disputed advocacy campaign is the use of near-pornographic images raise awareness on veganism and animal welfare. These featured celebrities in the nude, with mere fruits and vegetables covering their private parts. While the cause may be noble and the campaign received the attention it wanted, there remains to be a question whether it is ethical to employ pornographic tactics just to make a campaign memorable. Does being a sexual nonprofit ad make it any better than a sexual business brand ad?

Ostentatious displays of poverty, mass guilt-tripping, extravagant spending, nude campaigns, and replicable no-brainer challenges. Who’s to say a campaign is unethical if the results meant nutrition awareness, elevated funding for research, and providing basic needs to far-flung countries? Nonprofits have their own organizations to run and budget restrictions to work around with. But employing unethical tactics should never justify even the noblest and purest of deeds.

 

Posted in MBA

Field Notes: When Helping Isn’t Helping

This is a weekly academic blog for my MBA class Lasallian Business Leadership, Ethics, and Corporate Social Responsibility.

As the head of the resource mobilization of our Foundation, I needed to immerse myself into the community programs.

Much as I would like to stay in an air-conditioned office all day and talk to potential funders, getting to know our programs is essential in communicating our advocacy. So one day, I went on my first field work in Cainta, Rizal. My officemates warned me that I wear very old shoes that I can afford to never use casually again. After all, it wasn’t a pilot sanitation site for nothing.

Though Cainta is part of a first-class municipality and is located just at the hem of Metro Manila, there’s still a practice of open defecation here. The community is located inside an abandoned gated subdivision that was left for hundreds of informal settlers to illegally stay in. The abandoned subdivision has a partially complete playground and basketball courts but no constructed houses.

In the lots’ place are makeshift houses just a few meters’ width of houses made of plywood and haphazardly cemented bricks. Most of the “houses” do not have a connection to water or sewage. Instead, they make use of deep wells that comes from the high ground water just beside a creek. Unfortunately, this same creek is often both the community children’s swimming pool and public toilet.

During the ocular, we saw that the community toilet we constructed a year before already showed signs of deterioration. The walls have been scrubbed repeatedly, but there are still murky algae creeping upward. The plastic doors have been torn at the sides and the tiled floors are often dirty. But that’s not the main problem. The sewers have to be cleaned every other week, whereas the engineers predicted only twice a month of desludging. Last year, the community lasted eight months until the sewer was filled. Now, it was only a matter of days.

Because we wanted the program to be sustainable, we were looking forward to formally turn over the toilet to the community. We hoped that they would gain a sense of ownership by now, though the local government still had to appoint and pay for the neighborhood caretaker. Instead of free access, we also recommended that they collect a voluntary donation fee. This collected fee will supposedly be used for future desludging, cleaning tools, and maintenance of the toilet. However, we walked in to find that though they collected up to PHP 100K funds in one year (!), they are now left with only PHP 15K by the start of the year.

Our findings? The homeowners of the community used the funds for unrelated purposes such as electricity, load allowance, photocopying, decorations (obviously, not for the toilets!), and fiesta decorations. Our Program Manager reiterated that the donation fee is to be used for the desludging, especially now that they needed more frequent services than before. But the community leaders insisted that we just provide them an on-call service funded by the mayor himself. It became clear to me instantly that poor as the community may be, they are very used to dole outs from the government. Clearly, there was an air of entitlement.

The community was not impoverished. The municipal hall funded their electricity, load allowance, and much more, as the Barangay Captain herself confirmed. The community also has multiple moneymaking streams such as charging an entrance fee at the gates for vehicles who want to park overnight. Plus, by donation fees alone, they were able to pool more than PHP 100K, 20% of which came from the month of December alone. In short, “poor” as they are, they actually have money and, without a doubt, they know how to ask for more!

I came home that day from my first field work slightly disappointed but more challenged. We learned a lot from this pilot sanitation site especially in the area of community organizing. It was not my expertise, but they showed the reality of what happens on the ground during many well-intentioned corporate social responsibility programs and development work. There needs to be deeper knowledge not just on the corporate level, but down to the grassroots.

It really takes genuine care on the part of companies to actually plan and implement programs that are not just publicity-rich but whose impact to the community will penetrate to the deepest layers of inequality, injustice, and abuse. There’s no such thing as quick fix.