Companies can do more good together

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Companies can do more good together

An old African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This idea is a driving principle for why companies should embrace collaborative corporate citizenship.

In the wake of the global financial crisis and its debilitating effect on world economies, there is rising demand for the business community to assume greater social responsibility. Against this background, the corporate citizenship paradigm is evolving from the traditional model of philanthropic giving, to one in which corporations leverage a range of corporate resources and technologies to drive social change, or social innovation. Korean companies have increased spending for the social good, but they also need to focus more on quality to meet the growing demand for socially beneficial programs by collaborating with others.

Collaborative corporate citizenship programs can be placed in three categories based on the players and the content: customer-driven, partnership-based and network-based.

The customer-driven model is about engaging customers to generate ideas and support their related activities. Because customers directly participate in idea creation, social demands can be reflected easily. Moreover, customers’ ideas (collective intelligence) allow corporate citizenship programs to improve and evolve. Customer participation also helps companies advertize their programs indirectly.

In 2010, instead of buying Super Bowl ads, Pepsi spent money on a social marketing campaign called the Pepsi Refresh Project to collect refreshing ideas that could change the world. In seven months, more than 7,500 ideas were posted online, among which 256 were selected through general public voting. The ideas with the most votes received grants ranging from $5,000 to $25,000.

Partnership-based corporate citizenship involves partnering with one or more agencies such as government, nongovernmental organizations and international organizations. The partnerships typically combine corporate business know-how and financial muscle with the expertise of the nonbusiness partner. This month, Samsung Group in partnership with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology launched “Dream Class,” a program to close the education gap among junior high school students. Samsung provides the management know-how and funding, while the ministry selects low-income students and teachers (university students).

Japanese food manufacturer Ajinomoto partnered with Unicef to help Ghana’s fight against infant malnutrition. In collaboration with Unicef’s experts, the company developed localized baby food fortified with amino acids. To this end, Ajinomoto was able to successfully accomplish the project in a region where it had no prior business presence.

Network-based corporate citizenship refers to creating an open network platform where various companies or institutions voluntarily operate social programs. This coalition creates a collective impact, enabling the resolution of complex social issues. At the end of December 2010, Korean/British retail chain Homeplus launched “Every Little Helps Club,” which linked 54 companies and NGOs to promote social welfare, environmental protection and various other social responsibility activities.

Another example is the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, which brought together more than 190 retailers, food and beverage manufacturers, restaurants, sporting goods companies and NGOs to attack rampant obesity in the U.S. The participants operate customized programs that suit the conditions and needs of workplaces, marketplaces and schools, creating an ecosystem for health and wellbeing across America.

The success of a partnership lies in finding the right fit that is complementary. This model should incorporate a shared vision toward producing profits, or the level of support needed to meet social needs.

by Shin Hye-jeong

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