It is often said that Pakistanis either miss the bus, or they are late to the party. However, to their credit, when they do get to the party, they dive in at the deep end! Proof of this is that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is spreading across the corporate world in Pakistan and evolving at the same time. This was apparent at a meeting of the CSR Club of Pakistan titled 'CSR as a driver for skill development' on October 13, 2017 in Karachi. The Club was established by Naeem Qureshi, who also heads the National Forum for Environment and Health; its members include individuals and a wide range of organisations including manufacturing giants, service organisations, not-for-profits and start-ups.
One of the most interesting aspects that came to the fore during the meeting was that in addition to large organisations, like Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company, start-ups such as Paxi, who are attempting to provide greater employment opportunities for women and the physically challenged, are trying to improve the skills and earning capacity of the general public.
Given that there are still no laws governing CSR initiatives in Pakistan, unlike in India, where it is mandatory for companies to invest two percent of their profits into society, it is encouraging to see companies undertaking CSR initiatives, although this is sometimes due to the fact that many multinational companies are required to comply with international CSR-related company policies. Meanwhile, several ‘national’ brands are emulating international best practices and have a robust CSR plan with an eye on the Triple Bottom Line, the buzzword in the CSR world which addresses three aspects of business which are no longer considered to be mutually exclusive: financial, social and environmental.
Furthermore, it is clear that CSR is now evolving into ‘Creating Shared Value’ (CSV) which entails initiatives that are conducted keeping specific business areas in mind. For instance, it makes sense for a milk company to invest in improving the livestock sector, rather than establishing a playground in a remote area or sponsoring a literary conference. Similarly, a biscuit manufacturer can invest in better wheat farming or the poultry industry where it sources eggs from, while a textile concern can invest in communities where the cotton they use is grown.
Many companies are now moving to this model and their direct beneficiaries are not complaining as they are deriving greater benefits from this approach. There are ancillary benefits as well, since other institutions, such as those in the health and education sectors are attracted to these ‘islands of excellence’ – communities which companies are investing in to enrich the lives of the people living there.
However, there is another front which all businesses must keep an eye on – climate change. The UN Climate Change Conference (COP23) slated to take place in early November in Bonn, Germany, will focus on ‘New Market Mechanisms’ – methods that can generate additional revenues with the help of the private and corporate sector to combat the effects of climate change which are a global threat, especially for poorer countries like Pakistan which requires external financial help to combat the effects of climate change.
The Conference will home in on the corporates and expect them to work towards greater engagement through not only dialogue, but by walking their talk and making financial and operational investments.
Since Pakistan is among the top 10 countries that are most threatened by climate change, this is something that CSR forums and clubs in Pakistan should now focus on. They need to have a robust plan of action ready to ‘climate proof’ their businesses, go the extra mile in tandem with the government’s plans for combating climate change, and in helping adapt to the effects that cannot be mitigated.
Afia Salam is a freelance journalist. email@example.com