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Corporate social responsibility in Malaysia: 6 powerful ways for businesses to make a difference

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Every business can make an impactful difference, regardless of size or budget limitations, through CSR approaches tailored to suit their purpose and values.

The “do good, feel good” phenomenon— we’ve all experienced that warm feeling from acts of altruism and charity at some point in our lives. Successful business leaders not only realise the importance of giving back to society, but they also consider the social and environmental responsibilities of their business with the ultimate goal of sustainable global development. This concept of business operations grounded in economic performance with a simultaneous consideration for the bigger picture is stylised as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), an idea which has been gaining traction and recognition in Malaysia. 2019 has seen more Malaysian companies adopting a socially conscious approach in the form of CSR initiatives and philanthropic efforts. Clearly, CSR is not a passing fad and is here to stay.

Perks of Implementing CSR

A properly executed CSR strategy offers a plethora of benefits to your business:

Offers a competitive advantage in sales

Thanks to the era of information technology, the modern consumer is plenty capable of well-informed decisions when it comes to making a purchase. Unsurprisingly, a business’ personal mission statement and ethical stance are factored into their final decision when choosing. According to a study done by Cone Communications in 2017, 87% of consumers said they would be willing to buy a product or service based on a business's advocacy concerning a social matter.

Aids in talent recruitment

By implementing CSR, your business stands a chance of attracting like-minded talent. Employees are much more likely to work for a socially responsible business that aligns with their personal beliefs. Moreover, CSR reduces the employee turnover rate by a staggering 50%.

Results in tax deductions

Businesses can benefit from tax deductions by donating to recognised organisations or by making contributions to Digital Social Responsibility (DSR). As per the recently announced National Budget 2020, efforts towards the efficient use of digital resources by Malaysian companies also yields tax deductions and/or exemptions.

Improves overall workplace performance

Last but not least, a well-thought-out CSR program can give your business a sense of purpose, serving as the driving force that keeps your employees motivated. Businesses actively engaging in CSR have seen spikes in productivity and employee engagement.

Sounds great. How can my business make a difference?

There are a vast array of causes to support as a business, ranging from human rights to eco-efficiency; the challenge lies in finding one that matches your business’s purpose and values. Finding a cause that aligns with your passion is a great place to start. Here are some ideas for SMEs and startups to kickstart their CSR program, as exemplified by selected socially responsible Malaysian companies.

1) Volunteering

Contrary to popular belief, CSR does not always come at the expense of taking a hefty chunk out of your business's budget. Volunteering at your local old folks home or soup kitchen is an amazing way to give back at virtually no cost. You’ll find that volunteering is one of the most rewarding things you can do as a team, cultivating a sense of teamwork and solidarity amongst your colleagues. How’s that for establishing good working culture?

Example of volunteering activity as CSR

Image by Yayasan Sime Darby - Huluran Kasih Volunteer Programme.

 Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD) - Huluran Kasih Volunteer Programme

  • What is it: A structured and scheduled volunteer programme for employees; employees are at liberty to pick their own projects and are given time off from work in reward for volunteering.
  • Purpose: To nurture the spirit of volunteerism, while promoting awareness on the 5 pillars of causes supported by the foundation i.e. education, environment, community and health, sports, and arts and culture.
  • Achievements: Since October last year, YSD has carried out 18 volunteering activities which contributed 2,126 hours of service in total to positively impact society. To date, they’ve raised RM114 million from community-based initiatives.

2) Socially and environmentally conscious donations

Besides the aforementioned benefit of tax deductibles, charitable giving is also a way to network and build alliances with other organisations. By donating to a charity of your choice, your business stands to gain invaluable connections and future opportunities for collaboration. Looking for alternatives to direct donations? Other charitable avenues to consider include charitable trusts, gift annuities and pooled-income funds. Note: donations must be made to a government-approved charitable organisation or directly to the government in order to qualify for tax deductions.

Example of socially conscious donation as CSR

Image by Star Foundation - Wheelchair Programme

 Star Foundation - Wheelchair Programme

  • What is it: A program dedicated to providing donations and wheelchairs to qualified individuals and non-profit organisations (NPOs) who are in need of mobility support.
  • Purpose: To improve the quality of life of physically disabled Malaysians.
  • Achievements: To date, the philanthropic arm of the Star has contributed 183 wheelchairs as well as an estimated RM 500k to needy individuals and non-profit organisations.

3) Providing academic/research scholarships to disadvantaged students

Ever wanted to help a budding scholar out? A corporate scholarship program might just be the answer to your business’s CSR needs. Take a page from Google’s books by offering merit or need-based scholarships to university students; not only will your business be doing a good deed, but it also stands to nurture and empower a new generation of talent through educational opportunities. A suggestion would be to take this a step further by supplementing your scholarship program with a mentor support system for your scholars, so as to provide them with career guidance and better prepare them for their entry into the workforce. Another CSR initiative worth considering is funding research projects or making socially conscious investments.

Example of providing academic scholarships to disadvantaged students as CSR

Image by CIMB - ASEAN Scholarship

 CIMB - ASEAN Scholarship

  • What is it: A financial aid that covers undergraduate students’ tuition fees, living allowances, insurance and other related fees; offers additional professional development and mentor support.
  • Purpose: To empower the region's young talent and make a difference for those around them while exposing them to CIMB’s operations and culture.
  • Achievement: Sponsored 33 students for further studies in 2019.

4) Collaborating with relevant NGOs to spearhead a particular initiative

Another viable approach to CSR is through collaborations with other NGOs. This involves the exchanging of resources, information and expertise between two or more organisations to jointly achieve an agreed-upon outcome, such as providing homes for the less fortunate. Startups and smaller companies can benefit especially from a strategic alliance as the combination of manpower and capital would definitely yield a greater impact than that from the work of a single organisation. All in all, businesses ought to embrace partnerships with other organisations as some of the most innovative solutions are dreamed up from collaborating minds.

Example of collaborating with relevant NGOs to spearhead a particular initiative as CSR

Image by Dell - NextWave Plastics

 Dell in collaboration with the Lonely Whale Foundation (LWF) - NextWave Plastics

  • What is it: An open-source initiative that brings leading technology and consumer-focused companies together to develop a commercial-scale ocean-bound plastics and nylon supply chain.
  • Purpose: To promote sustainable production and educate companies on responsible sourcing and consumption.
  • Achievement: Close to reaching its goal of getting member companies to divert 1.4 million kg of plastics over five years.

5) Hosting workshops on digital literacy

A relatively burgeoning trend in the realm of business operations, Digital Social Responsibility (DSR) is a form of CSR with an emphasis on the efficient entrepreneurial use of digital resources for positive change. More accurately, our Finance Minister defines DSR as “the commitment by businesses to contribute to digital economic development while improving the digital skills of the future workforce with initiatives such as technology scholarships, training and upskilling for digital skills for communities in need”. As a 21st century business, what better way to give back than to tap into the digital resources available at the tips of our fingers? A simple way of doing so would be hosting workshops with the aim of providing the public with digital skills needed in the workforce.

Example of hosting workshops on digital literacy as CSR

Image by Microsoft - Pop-up Digital Skills Hub

 Microsoft - Pop-Up Digital Skills Hub

  • What is it: An event designed to teach students from low income (B40) communities basic digital skills.
  • Purpose: To give students the opportunity to learn about careers in technology, connect with Microsoft employees, and participate in hands-on technology workshops; to ensure children of all abilities have access to digital skills.
  • Achievements: 120 children between the ages of 9 to 17 years were equipped with the tools for digital literacy e.g. the basics of coding and computational thinking.

6) Advocacy via social media marketing

Perhaps one of the most controversial techniques for demonstrating social responsibility, social media marketing can nevertheless prove to be a powerful tool if used correctly. The advantage of using social media platforms to raise social, environmental and political consciousness is as such— it gives your business a sense of transparency as customers are led to believe that businesses have more on their agenda than simply making a profit. The multimodality of platforms like Instagram and LinkedIn further drives home the message your business aims to impart; including behind the scenes clips of your business’s sustainable production line, for example, really gives a good impression. Bonus: social media is one of the best ways to engage with your customers and glean insight on pressing causes to support.

Example of advocacy via social media marketing as CSR

Image by LUSH - Social Media Campaign

 LUSH - Social Media Campaign

  • What is it: The business’s use of social media and content creating platforms e.g. Instagram and YouTube to educate consumers.
  • Purpose: To advocate for environmental awareness and sustainability while promoting their cruelty-free products.
  • Achievements: Besides raising awareness on pertinent issues, the business has put their resources to good use by inventing ‘carbon positive’ packaging which cuts down on non-biodegradable packaging.

Much like a marketing campaign, your business’ approach to CSR requires much thoughtful consideration and careful planning in order to succeed. The key to this is tailoring your CSR actions and activities to suit your business specifically; narrow the scope by identifying your business’ purpose, values and skills prior to selecting CSR projects so as to avoid making commitments that do not fit your business’ core attributes and your stakeholders’ expectations. Pay close attention to the issues that your customers are interested in and the impact your business can make at a community and global level.

Fortunately, the diverse range of approaches towards social responsibility means that every business can make an impactful difference regardless of size or budget limitations. At the end of the day, it’s the privilege of being able to mobilise social change that should drive your business towards social responsibility. By employing a few of these ideas, your business is well on its way to being the voice that influences public opinion for the better.