Participants in incentive programmes are the recipients of very expensive and lavish corporate events worldwide. While they have earned their reward, by incorporating the spirit of their organisation’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy, or developing their own, they have an opportunity to give a little back.
Many companies across Asia and the rest of the world have been quick to recognise CSR as a priority to their business model. They realise that by taking a proactive, long-term rather than an ill-conceived short-term approach to sustainability, they will lessen their corporate risk to potential environmental and social issues.
As a result of this new-found attitude, organisations are seeking appropriate partners with which to forge links in the demonstration of their CSR policies.
According to a report by Bursa Malaysia, CSR is best defined as “a company’s commitment to operating in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable manner while balancing the interests of diverse stakeholders”.
CSR is an organisation’s positive approach to issues that affect their employees, the community in which they operate and their impact on the global environment.
Incentive and motivational company Solterbeck recently organised an incentive trip for the highest level achievers of an Australian telco (in a display of corporate modesty, the telco has requested it not be named).
The participants were no novices when it came to incentive travel and have been feted and lionised all over the world in reward for their previous fine efforts.
Looking for something new, Solterbeck recommended a meaningful and less indulgent inclusion in the participant’s programme. As Zambia and Botswana were the chosen destinations, a bountiful itinerary of colourful events was organised, but it was the visit to a remote Zambian village that struck a chord with the delegates.
Visiting the location on a site inspection, Solterbeck met with the chief from a small village called Makuni. They quickly realised the juxtaposition caused by of a group of affluent revellers descending on the poverty-stricken village presented the option of a very different activity to the client.
The concept, which included the construction of much needed village huts and provision of computers for the only school, was eagerly embraced by the incentive group.
As a result, the group of 60 spent two days erecting the huts and installing computers with sufficient peripherals to keep the users fully stocked for years.
The effect on the participants was palpable and in comments collected by Solterbeck, the meaningfulness of the activity was the undoubted highlight of the trip.
Heather Broughton from Solterbeck explains: “The two days in the village had such an impact on the guests, they didn’t want a gala dinner that night, they settled for a simple reflective meal and relatively quiet night. They just felt it wouldn’t be right.”
In lieu of spending copious amounts of money on fireworks or a lavish gala dinner, the money was diverted into the provision of much needed and hitherto unseen computer equipment for the village school. And it seems the incentive group – who, by virtue of their past experience – was quite used to extravagance, was just as impressed with the outcome as the school and villagers.
But whether the enlightened approach taken by the Solterbeck and adopted by its client’s incentive programme constitutes an explicit demonstration of the host organisation’s CSR policies is questionable.
An integral plank in CSR policies centres on an organisation’s impact on the environment, and the conference industry has been relatively slow to respond.
Recent discussions at forums such as AIME have generated debate about the principles of CSR. Many suppliers to the conference industry see the inevitable development of CSR as a potential showstopper and view the more ecologically sound teleconferencing as a threat to their industry.
Organisations with defined CSR policies are committed to aligning their ideals with all their external activity.
Reluctance on the part of the conference industry to offer products which fit with their clients’ CSR principles may see changes to the way organisations conduct their conference activities.
The rapid development and affordability of new generation technology has established teleconferencing as a viable alternative and sits well with organisations concerned about carbon emissions caused by long-haul travel.
The comparative reduction in costs and human capital investment is an added bonus and will position a CSR policy as a catalyst for alternatives to traditional conferencing.
Relying on the old premise that there’s nothing like a good face-to-face meeting may not be strong enough to stand against the ideals of contemporary corporate policy.
As with many corporate trends, a groundswell of interest in CSR and organisations’ awareness of its effect on stakeholders’ welfare has created a more scientific approach to policy making.
Public pronouncements of CSR policy can now be seen in the home pages of many organisations’ websites. You’re not a jolly-good corporate fellow if you don’t have one.
The main planks to a CSR policy are how well a company fulfils its obligations in workplace, environmental and supply chain issues.
Another set of criteria focuses on industry sustainability where social, technological and economic trends – which could transform the company’s strategic and financial position – are considered.
So, it’s not all just a case of corporate altruism.
Hotels Take the lead
The early roots of highly visible demonstrations of CSR are found in the airline and hotel sectors.
Enlightened flight attendants of many airlines such as Qantas and British Airways with their UNICEF-sponsored “Change for Good” programme, which first kicked off in 1991 and encourages passengers to hand over their unwanted small denominations of foreign currency, has raised many millions of well-needed dollars for worthy causes.
There is the unpopular trend of adding a “voluntary” donation as the last item on a hotel bill allowing hotel chains to raise funds for their chosen charity, and it now seems to have fallen from grace as gesture of CSR.
The transparent practice of passing the onus from the corporation to the hotel guest was deemed by many as nothing more than a case of buck-passing – literally. In essence, all the hotel chain had to do was write the cheque with other people’s money.
This year, some positive steps have been taken within the conference and incentive space to ensure host organisations’ CSR policies are demonstrated in the activities of their delegates.
Guests at Ritz-Carlton hotels around the globe, whether FIT or as part of an incentive group, have the opportunity to volunteer their time to assist local communities. The programme called “Give Back Getaways” offers guests a variety of opportunities from learning traditional rice farming methods in Osaka to restoring heritage homes in the ancient water town of Wuzhen near Shanghai. While staff and guest involvement in the programme is predominantly on a voluntary basis, the activity ensures the CSR policies of Ritz-Carlton are being put into practice at a grass-roots level, albeit by the efforts of a third party.
Activities which ultimately benefit local communities are promoted by Ritz-Carlton in Bali, New York City, Florida, Jamaica and China and include coral saving, landmark preservation, tree planting and food delivery.
Sue Stephenson, hotel vice-president for community footprints, explains: “The Ritz-Carlton has always been committed to supporting local charities and causes. Our employees have donated tens of thousands of hours of paid time and their own time to organisations in their neighbourhoods. Our employees around the world worked for months to develop the ‘Give Back Getaways’ offerings and are immensely proud to have the opportunity to share the soul of our company with our guests.”
Similarly, the Shangri-La group of hotels has worked hard to develop a series of initiatives that directly express the intent of their CSR policies.
Activities such as beach cleaning, marine restoration, tree planting and protection in areas where Shangri-La properties operate are fostered under their CSR guidelines. These guidelines have a positive impact on environment preservation and also have introduced a more socially and environmentally friendly approach to the hotel’s scope of operation.
Other major projects under the Shangri-La programme include the management of a rehabilitation centre for baby orangutans in Sabah and provision of skills training to Pacific Islanders and Aboriginal groups for their local communiy development.
According to Symon Bridle, Shangri-La’s chief operations officer, “Shangri-La is very committed to the communities where it operates” .
By developing policies whereby the purchase of produce, including the manufacture of staff uniforms is, where possible, kept within the local community, their operations have a positive economic effect on the immediate social and economic environment.
Shangri-La has an overarching philanthropic mechanism in place which benefit their chosen beneficiary group – children. Its generic programmes are channelled to direct activities within structured efforts including the provision of shelter and special education.
In Thailand’s Anantara Resort Golden Triangle, similar community activities have been placed within the organisation’s CSR framework to increase community involvement and benefit. The resort includes providing shelter to 25 “street elephants”, in-house education programmes for the locals, use of as much local produce and materials as possible and preservation of local flora and fauna projects.
WRITING ON THE WALL
The conference and incentive industry can choose to ignore the impact of environmental awareness in the corporate and government sectors and continue to deliver high quality events in the traditional form.
Upwardly driven expectations will force the hand of corporates not yet in tune with their social responsibilities. This will create the unenviable “odd man out” syndrome for companies without a CSR policy.
Various dependent industries will ultimately respond to the demands of CSR as they had to inevitably address past issues around World’s Best Practice, Triple Bottom Line, Corporate Governance, Unconscionable Behaviour and Y2K.
Amway fun run
Melbourne hosted one of the largest incentive programmes in its history in April – Amway China.
In four waves, over 7,000 delegates descended on the city creating an economic impact in excess of AU$34 million (US$32.6 million).
For several years, Amway China has incorporated a CSR application into its retail operations and its spirit extends to its incentive programmes.
Although it may seem incongruous, given the plight of sweat-shop conditions and child exploitation in certain parts of the world, its chosen philanthropic cause is the care of children.
In each group, a fun run was organised through Melbourne’s magnificent Botanical Gardens. Every able-bodied participant donated AU$10 (US$9.3) to participate on a voluntary basis.
The result was a windfall for Berry Street, a charitable organisation working to create better opportunities for children and teenagers in Victoria, to the tune of AU$57,200 (US$53,560).
Audi Wong, president of Amway China, explains: “Over the past seven years, more than 1.6 million Amway agents have participated in fun runs wherever we have held an incentive programme. Disadvantaged children all over have benefited.”