Firms urged to collaborate in CSR

By Jessica Anne D. Hermosa, BusinessWorld

Posted at Nov 20 2009 01:59 AM | Updated as of Nov 20 2009 10:51 AM

MANILA - Companies should tie up with other organizations and even their competitors to boost the impact of corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs, speakers at the Asian Forum on CSR yesterday said. Opportunities for collaboration include working with other firms to make supply chains more sustainable or with the government to improve policies, they said.

Communication, the speakers added, is necessary for shared tasks to ensure partners have clear roles and have the same goals in mind.

“Collaboration is absolutely key in bringing long-term solutions,” Ayala Corp. Chairman Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala said at the forum’s plenary session, explaining that such a tack was more strategic.

“[Firms must] leverage resources and work with others for a bigger impact,” Shelly M. Esque, Intel Corp. vice-president for legal and corporate affairs, for her part said.

Areas ripe for collaboration include joint efforts among industry players to make supply chains socially and environmentally sound, said Jorg Hartmann, the German Technical Cooperation’s executive director for private sector cooperation. “Competitors source from the same companies ... What we need are more business associations that help small to medium enterprises build capacity and perform in a sustainable way,” he said.

A “coopetition” scheme must be pursued where innovations are induced by competition but viable markets are developed through cooperation, he said.

Aside from working with other firms, tieing up with the academe, advocacy groups, and development agencies should also be considered as these parties can bring in needed expertise, credibility and access to additional funds, Mr. Hartmann added.

The speakers conceded that joining forces with other organizations is a larger task than just taking on a project alone.

“Partnerships and collaborations will need more work. Governance of the CSR project is always a thing of negotiation,” Mr. Hartmann later told BusinessWorld at the sidelines of the forum.

“Companies will have to work out their differing goals so there will be no clash,” Felipe B. Alfonso, executive director of the Asian Institute of Management Center for CSR, said.

Mr. Alfonso said there are areas where tie-ups are taking place among Philippine companies. The La Mesa dam reforestation and the cleanup of the Pasig river have seen firms chipping in funds and expertise, he noted.

“What is important is for people to be comfortable with each other. They have to work out their differing goals so there will be no clash,” Mr. Alfonso said.

The same need for communication exists when companies plan to link with the government on their projects, John DaSilva, project development manager of the consultancy Kenan Institute Asia, said.

“Spell out roles preferably in writing and regularly evaluate each others’ progress,” Mr. DaSilva said in a breakout session.

State agencies, he added, are valuable to CSR project planning as they can clue firms in on what the public needs. They can also adopt pilot programs in the future to ensure sustainability.