Social responsibility: Making a difference
Earlier this month, Amway Korea hosted a friendly soccer match where children from multicultural families were invited to participate. The Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program with 10 years’ history first began with the 2002 World Cup soccer games, with an aim to give children from low-income families hopes and dreams.
As an amateur photographer, I had the pleasure of taking a bunch of pictures of the children’s innocent smile and their excited faces. When I was browsing through the photos back at home, I found myself staring at one of them. It was the picture of Kang Su-il, a professional soccer player who himself has a multicultural family background, playing cheerfully with the children. Kang taught them to play soccer, sharing his stories and talking of hopes and dreams. He told the children to laugh hard, have fun, and be confident in pursuing life goals and future dreams.
Corporate social responsibility means companies fulfilling their responsibility as corporate citizens. It is to help our neighbours in need through continuous and sincere programs. To this end, CSR activities must look at least ten years ahead and put in continuous and consistent efforts. Amway Korea’s Nutrilite Soccer Class, for example, was launched in 2002 with the World Cup games, but it was not until this year ― 10 years later ― that it really started to shine.
Recently, CSR activities are becoming more visible among businesses, especially large corporations, as part of their effort to ensure sustainable growth. It is because of the emphasis put on CSR as a way to gain consumer trust and promote corporate reputation and awareness. It is doubted, however, whether those activities are making real changes in creating a more compassionate society, since most of them focus on year-end donations, and lacking consistency, can hardly benefit those in need in a stable way.
The current situation is also reflected in the survey result of the Sustainable Social Responsibility Forum released on the 19th. The survey asked male and female adults, corporate executives, and CSR specialists both home and abroad to rate CSR activities of businesses, and the score was 2.75 out of 5, which was lower than average. Respondents cited lack of consistency ― 39.6 percent ― and volunteerism ― 24.2 percent ― as factors behind weak CSR activities. The interpretation can be that the CSR activities, albeit growing, are mostly seen as short-term events that still lack ‘sincerity’ to fulfil social responsibility.
To ensure continuity and consistency, CSR programs must go beyond mere donations, and deliberations on win-win strategies for business and society are necessary. In other words, companies need to develop flagship CSR activities that allow them to utilize internal resources, drawing upon their unique characteristics.
This is evidenced by examples of domestic and foreign companies including Kellogg, a United States-based cereal manufacturer. Up until the Great Depression in 1929, the No. 1 player in the U.S. cereal market was Post. The situation started turning around immediately after the crisis as Kellogg engaged in CSR activities including free giveaway of cereals to people who had lost their jobs during the Depression and to the destitute, while Post downsized their business.
Furthermore, Kellogg rearranged working hours at their factory in Battle Creek, Michigan, from three shifts of every eight hours to four shifts of six hours, creating more jobs for those seeking employment. It was a sensational success. Kellogg eventually caught up with Post and became No. 1 on the American breakfast table. Kellogg’s position as the market leader remains solid.
The IT Supporters Coming to You Campaign which has been conducted for four years since 2007 by KT, a domestic telecom company, is another good example. Their staff technicians visit rural communities, elderly people, low-income families and multicultural families with limited access to IT services, and teach them to use computers and other IT gadgets. This program is strategically relevant in all aspects including KT’s corporate identity, efficiency of utilizing internal resources as well as social needs, and it is making substantial contribution to enhancing their reputation.
This trend is growing gradually throughout the world. To respond to the changes in CSR culture, Amway Korea, commemorating its 20th anniversary, has launched the Health Guardian Campaign designed to help address the increasingly serious issues of child obesity and nutritional imbalance, in partnership with schools, kindergartens, and welfare organizations. Furthermore, Amway Korea, in collaboration with the Korean Nutrition Society, is in the process of developing Nutrition Quotient to improve social infrastructure for children’s nutritional health.
According to a report entitled ‘The Nature of Corporate Social Responsibility’ published by Samsung Economic Research Institute, there has been a paradigm shift where CSR activities are no longer an option but an indispensible part of corporate management. More and more companies view CSR as a core, value-adding activity, select key programs from a strategic point of view, and implement them consistently.
The report suggested six conditions for successful CSR programs, namely SPIRIT ― Social Investment, Positioning, Integration, Review, Involvement and Transparency. It claims that in order to move consumers and gain their trust, CSR programs need to have a ‘soul’. In other words, it is the consistency and sincerity that is key to successful CSR activities that change lives. I hope these good intentions of companies around the world become a powerful source of change in Korean society in the near future.
Park Se-joon is the CEO and president of Amway Korea.