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CSR isn’t Charity!

I could hear the sound of my wall-clock ticking and when it was blowing up at 11 pm, the one that I had been waiting for was online on Skype. At this very late at night, an ordinary 26-year-old girl should tuck into her bed and sleep tight; however, she just came back home and had her dinner. Being busy with her position as Practice Head of T&A Ogilvy Vietnam, managing a group of practical and rigid technological-related clients, she is supposed to be stressed out. However, miss Quynh Trang appears to be very satisfied with her current job as “I can help those practical people see another dimension beside machines and theoretical principles, another taste of life where humanity and sympathy for their disadvantaged fellows come in”.

Miss Nguyen Quynh Trang and the strangest interview meeting ever

Yes, it’s the feeling that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) gives to each person. Feeling good, feeling proud and feeling optimistic.

Ever since CSR becomes one big part of every company, no matter they are big or small, a concern is raised whose answer is controversial:

“CSR is from guiltiness or willingness for the good of the society?”

Reproduced from T&A Ogilvy 2011

According to Keinert (2008), CSR is “describing the relationship between business and the larger society surrounding it…” (p. 38). CSR doesn’t mean the same to everyone (Keinert 2008). Some may see it as a type of branding; some may see it as an advertising tool;  even worse, some see it as an action to ease the guiltiness in the mind of companies’ management board. In most cases, people don’t see CSR as an action of a group of people but of a particular top person in the company only.

Miss Trang affirmed that only a small part in the purpose of CSR is branding so we don’t have to be afraid that people misunderstand our action. However, the companies themselves have to clarify the differences between CSR and Charity. We can either financially support poor people or give time to help them with actual physical activities (Zullo 2011). It’s all for social advantage because charity itself is an action that we give poor people something to make their lives better; but here “CSR is a way for a company to “pay back” to the society what it takes away so basically it speaks for the responsibility of a company towards the society and also its customers. It represents the philosophy and the values that a company stands for.” In addition, miss Trang admitted that “regarding branding, it is also a communication tool to arouse the good image of the company in the audiences’ perception.” Speaking of “taking away”, what business actually exploit is the local resources such as people, land to build factory, etc. In other words, they create jobs, and at the same time, taking a husband away from his home to work for them. That’s ironic!

Stepping in the agency’s shoes, what miss Trang said made me come up with some new viewpoints. We are not in the opposite side with the clients; in fact, we are helping them gain trust and favor from stakeholders and customers. Therefore, we should understand our clients’ business to offer a suitable CSR plan. All of a sudden, the set of words “Live the client’s brand” (Solomon 2008) pops up in my mind. This is the wisdom that we were taught at school as we should get to know the value of the brand and the vision that the brand sets. Thereby, our CSR plan is more likely to meet with the client’s expectation. Interestingly, there is no particular field of CSR; yet, there are global programs for CSR and “it is most effective in practice when it is tailored to match the company’s capability to pay back the taken resources with the social concerns.” miss Trang stated.

Reproduced from Canon 2012

Time was still passing while the long hand of my clock had almost reached number 12. It’s midnight. While it was such a quiet night scene outside my window, there I was, sitting in front of my laptop in my little room talking via Skype with miss Trang who was still excited talking about “Kyosei”. She believes it should be the motto for every company, not just for Canon, which is famous for a series of CSR programs such as “Help with love”*, “One photo – One action”*, “For a green Vietnam”*, etc. It’s a Japanese term that describes fully the meaning of CSR and represents the heart of the company. Not only does the company feel good about themselves but also PR practitioners who get involved in any CSR campaign would feel proud of themselves.

The kids are very happy”, miss Trang recalled. Each trip visiting different school in remote areas to give poor children stationery for studying gave her different experiences.  Looking at disadvantaged people shining their smiles, T&A Ogilvy actually gives them a reason to believe in the brighter future. Especially with Canon, one of T&A Ogilvy’s long-lasting clients, whenever they hold a CSR campaign, there was always a Japanese representative coming along. By that, everyone involved can see that Canon truly cares about its CSR campaigns as the representative himself directly participates into these trips with his entourage.

Reproduced from Julie 2010

Nonetheless, it is still a business involved with money. Therefore, the top manager doesn’t simply do CSR for nothing. On one side, CSR is effective in “gaining the positive brand awareness and brand preferences. Stakeholders normally tend to show sympathy and interest towards a brand which delivers benefits to the society”. Moreover, it’s “a way to show their commitment to their audiences and their stakeholders, not just an advertising gesture”, she admitted.

As much as I love to feel the humanity in this busy developing world, I reckoned that it was pretty late. Thereby, I finished up the inspiring conversation with one short but thorough question “What does T&A Ogilvy actually get through many CSR programs that the company has conducted?”. She gave me a saying depicting such a beautiful future scene in which T&A Ogilvy and their clients as well as the society share a harmony where each side gets the best of what they want.

“We must give more in order to get more; it is the generous giving of ourselves that produces the generous harvest.”

Personally speaking, I believe that social responsibilities is an invisible connection that pulls people closer; together we can build a better world for our children. Thereby, it must be considered not only by the business but every single individual; individual’s awareness matters.

(*): All these campaigns were implemented in Vietnam by T&A Ogilvy.

Word count: 1096

References:

Canon 2012, Kyosei: Canon’s Corporate Philosophy, homepage, Canon Inc., viewed 30 August 2012, http://www.canon.com/about/philosophy/index.html .

Keinert, C 2008, Corporate Social Responsibility as an International Strategy, Physica-Verlag Heidelberg, Leipzig.

Solomon, R 2008, ‘The art of client service’, Kaplan, New York.

Trang, N 2012, conversation,  28th August

Weltzien Hoivik, H, & Shankar, D 2011, ‘How can SMEs in a Cluster respond to global demands for corporate responsibility?’, Journal of business ethics, vol. 2, no. 101, pp.175-195

Zullo, R 2011, ‘Labor Unions and Charity’, Industrial and Labor Relations Review, vol. 64, no. 4, pp. 699-711.

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