Most of the people working within the corporate sector in Pakistan are aware of the term CSR that stands for Corporate Social Responsibility. However, they have different connotations, perform it as a commitment to the society where they live and do business. The others may consider it an obligation imposed by the government. Therefore, the acts/actions differ, the first group takes pride in undertaking various initiatives and associate their company name/brand with the services they deliver for the society. They turn CSR into an opportunity for CSV – creating shared value. They create a mindset that generates value for society, an approach that is an integral part of the brand and permeates through policies. According to a report, companies/brands which are able to effectively integrate their CSR into their corporate vision often succeed in positioning and differentiating themselves from their competitors. On top of all creating shared values opens up new vistas for sustained growth.
Traditionally CSR activities comprises of education and healthcare in Pakistan. In Karachi, Dawood group has established educational institutions with an objective of imparting quality education. Aga Khan Foundation has been playing a key role in healthcare and education, particularly in the north areas of Pakistan. Jamiat Punjabi Sodagran and Alamgir Trust have also been the major players. One of the key corporate players is Pakistan Tobacco Company that has planted thousands of trees, with the prime objective to contain smoke pollution.
For years, companies have remained contended with spending the amounts that were made mandatory. They had a perception that whatever they were spending was right but rarely shared their spending with the stakeholders and/or general public. At the best they briefly mentioned in the annual reports to let their stockholders and employees know some of the CSR issues where the entities have taken some initiatives. However, they rarely tried to capitalize their spending.
However, now all the stakeholders i.e. customers, consumers, employees, and government officials wish to know what the businesses are doing to improve the quality of life of public at large. The leading brands/companies are even asking the suppliers to follow their sustainability goals to deliver consistent, efficient and ethically produced products. Textiles and clothing manufacturing are forbidden to use certain dyes. Tanners are also barred from using certain dyes/chemicals also sale of their products would not be allowed in importing countries.
A successful branding does not mean, extensive advertising but creating a trust. The perception that may emerge could be is skeptical, when certain jargons/cleachie are used blatantly i.e. ‘environmentally friendly,’ ‘sustainable’ or ‘fair trade.’ The critics terms such move as a publicity stunt. In order to gain trust, the corporate entity must act in a meaningful way.
Trust can be created by convincing the stakeholders to align themselves with brands and business entities that are making a deliberate effort to create a difference. A study by the Reputation Institute released lately shows that overwhelming of people would recommend brand/companies that are considered to be following CSR in its true spirit.
While one may find many branding cases, I have picked up Coca-Cola for its support for Edhi Foundation. While the commercials shown are intended to enhance sale, it also gives buyers a sense of participation. In fact the buyers would like to buy more as Coca-Cola has promised to double the collection. One may also say that Coca-Cola is capitalizing the public trust in Edhi Foundation. Public takes pride in supporting the operations of a legendary icon, who had dedicated his life to a cause, ‘well being of the humanity.’
Typically, the manner in which a company engages in CSR is closely aligned with its brand strategy, brand values, positioning, primary audience and the industry. For example, a clothing manufacturer might come up with a CSR plan that improves working conditions in factories located in the developing countries. Similarly, an establishment that makes paper products might commit to CSR that ensures the world’s most at-risk forests are protected and regenerated. Therefore, every business entity has to carved its own plan and implement it to attain predefined objectives.