Why the Success of a CSR Initiative Depends on your Social Impact AssessmentYolandaAD
It is assumed that organisations carry out corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives with the intention of bettering the communities in which they operate. However, whether the CSR initiative delivers on the desired benefits as envisaged, is not always easy to determine.
Historically, companies focussed on the ROI that their CSR initiatives delivered. But this metric did not adequately account for the impact of the intervention from the beneficiaries’ perspective. Consequently, a corporate social responsibility project can show a high ROI for the company by expanding brand awareness in previously untapped sectors of society, but if it doesn’t change the lives of the communities in which it is implemented, then its success is questionable.
In recent years, companies have increasingly begun using impact assessments to help funders, grant-makers and companies understand and evaluate the impact of their social investments on the targeted beneficiaries. This approach has helped funders and companies make evidence-based decisions in their CSR implementation and support.
Studies show that the success of a CSR initiative is dependent on a company’s ability to gauge community perception about how an intervention will affect the people and their environment, as well as how they perceive the proposed change. A social impact assessment (SIA) also helps a company gain insight into the sustainability, feasibility, and efficiency of current and future CSR projects. Consequently, the true success of a CSR initiative lies in its sustainability not ROI, as once-off CSR campaigns rarely have an impact as a long-term CSR strategy.
However, in many companies, the application of an SIA is often limited to being a project planning tool. This negates the true capability of the assessment which needs to examine both proposed projects and the likely impact it will have on people, while also predicting the consequences that will most likely result from the project. It should also identify the social advantages and disadvantages of proposed developments in advance in order to mitigate or eliminate the identified impacts.
Furthermore, human beings should remain at the centre of concern for all sustainable development since sustainable development drives the preservation of natural resources and our efficient use thereof. Thus, SIA needs to be reformatted into a process that guides sustainable development.
For CSR to be truly effective, innovative companies should apply outward focussed metrics as opposed to inward focussed measures when implementing their SIA. By considering the broader impact of their investment on the external environment, a truer measure of sustainable impact is possible.
About the Author:
Yolanda Gossel is the Founder and Programme Director at Five Tulips, a South African based sustainability and corporate social investment (CSI) consultancy. Five Tulips forges partnerships between communities, public and private sectors and individuals for social upliftment and preservation of our planets resources and ecosystems.
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