How to create unified CSR in a multinational business

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Co-ordinating CSR across multiple countries and diverse workforces presents a unique challenge, but can also bring many rewards. Multinationals have more power than most to influence and impact the communities they operate in, and with that power comes responsibility.

Naturally communities in different countries and cities will have different needs, but that should not prevent a multinational corporation from adopting a unified approach to CSR. Implementation may take a number of varying forms, but an overarching strategy is still needed to shape how that implementation takes place. 

Successful CSR programmes generally all have at least one thing in common – strong buy-in across the organisation. Whether you’re a startup with less than 10 employees or a global conglomerate with more than 100,000, the principle remains the same. A strong CSR policy must be well communicated to all arms of a company, with leadership coming from the top. 

Buy-in that filters down will always take root better than edicts dispatched from the boardroom, and CSR is definitely an area where the value of top-level involvement can have a major influence on uptake further down the ladder. 

Incorporating CSR into everyday activities is an important way to achieve a unified approach across multiple geographies. While philanthropy is by all means a worthwhile endeavour, CSR needs to be about more than giving. It must involve engagement with local communities on an ongoing basis, not just when a crisis hits or when a new development is planned. Staying in touch with communities on the ground helps multinationals align their goals with sustainable growth, as well as providing a platform for employees to give something back on a local level.   

Educating stakeholders about the benefits of sustainable growth can be a challenge in itself, albeit one that is becoming easier as the evidence mounts in its favour. Going green is no longer an overhead that needs to be absorbed – it’s a key driver of profitability. 

This is backed up by figures from the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), an organisation that works with institutional investors who represent more than a third of the world’s invested capital. Its 2014 Climate Performance Leadership Index, which highlights companies leading the way on climate change, outperformed the Bloomberg World Index by 9.6 per cent. This demonstrates that green initiatives – an essential part of CSR – can have a positive influence on the bottom line, as well as society at large. 

Environmental issues are just one aspect of CSR, but they are undoubtedly a key one, as we look to reduce carbon emissions and avoid the worst consequences of global warming. However, a unified CSR approach must be three-pronged; incorporating economic, social and environmental considerations. 

Partnering with NGOs or government bodies can be a fantastic way to engage with this approach, enabling businesses to reach out locally and share useful skills. It’s also a great way of aligning with organisations that are already doing good work in the community. 

This will take different forms depending on where it is taking place. In the UK HCL Technologies works with The Prince’s Trust, where senior project managers from HCL mentor young adults on CV writing and interview skills.

In India, where we are more established, we run education and employment initiatives directly. Education, sustainable growth and development are without doubt key components to building a shared, prosperous future. Once these pillars are firmly established, a unified approach across borders comes naturally.

Srimathi Shivashankar is associate vice president for diversity and sustainability at HCL Technologies

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