Companies Becoming Genuinely Responsible [opinion]

Simply put, corporate social responsibility can be described as the company’s whole approach to responsible development.

It comprises everything which the company does consciously, including local content, the way we employ people, the way we operate, etc. At Eskom Uganda Limited, we now call it “shared value”. This is broader than the traditional description of CSR, which largely hinged on social investment – or what has popularly come to be known as ‘Giving back to society’.

This generally took the form of a firm sinking boreholes in some desolate community, or visiting a babies’ home, for instance. But corporate social responsibility today has taken a much broader dimension, and at Eskom we aptly term it ‘shared value’.

Detractors argue that companies engage in this noble cause purely for public relations purposes, but that is narrow, old-school thesis. Companies have awoken to the new reality, that it’s not enough to grow as an island of prosperity in a sea of despair. That is simply not sustainable business.

Organisations such as Eskom do not operate in a vacuum they are part of the community as corporate citizens. At Eskom Uganda, three of our five core strategic objectives are hinged on corporate social responsibility, or shared value. These are effective talent and people management effective stakeholder and reputation management and enhanced risk and environment management.

We have been involved in health care drives that include blood donation, awareness campaigns for such diseases as HIVAids and cervical cancer, and most recently we partnered with the local leadership of Jinja to furnish a maternity ward in Kimaka, whose structure is yet to be completed. In the past three years, Eskom has distributed over 2,000 tree seedlings to local communities, among other environmental approaches.

I know that some companies may engage in “greenwashing”, or feigning interest in, corporate responsibility to earn undue mileage, brand recognition and visibility. But what I also know is that many firms here, like Eskom, are devoting real time and money to social responsibility programmes to benefit employees, customers, and the community at large.

With Uganda National Bureau of Standards and the International Organisation for Standards ISO getting involved, it’s even the more evident that such noble actions and selfless initiatives do not go unnoticed.

ISO 26000 provides guidance on how businesses and organisations can operate in a socially responsible way.

At the risk of sounding vain, Eskom Uganda knows all too well what an ISO certification andor recognition actually means and encourages and challenges all companies to aspire to this. In November 2012 Eskom Uganda Ltd was awarded ISO certification in three standards, becoming the first electricity generation company in Uganda to receive ISO certification.

ISO 26000 – is an international standard intended to assist organisations in contributing to sustainable development. It is intended to encourage them to go beyond legal compliance, recognising that compliance with law is a fundamental duty of any organisation and an essential part of their social responsibility.

For the most part, there is a temptation to think that our CSRshared value activities are a replacement or indictment of government’s core responsibilities. Far from it. We are only complementary and heeding to the clarion call of duty as responsible corporate citizens. Citizens should, therefore, be under no illusion that we are government’s replacement and government, on the other hand, must consider our actions as complementary.

Like it is with today’s citizen speak, we as corporations also “tusaba gavumenti etuyambe ” [We ask government to help us] and sustain the conducive environment for us to ply our trade, which will, in turn, give us further incentive to invest more in caring for our staff, community and other stakeholders.

As Nelson Mandela said, “Vision without action is just a dream, action without vision just passes the time, and vision with action can change the world.”

This ISO 26000 project that UNBS is coordinating is a grand vision to build capacity in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda for organisations to apply the social responsibility (SR) principles in their operations. If we put action to this vision we can we confidently say we shall have changed the way business is done and in effect, made our contribution to changing the world.

The author is managing director, Eskom Uganda. This is an extract from her keynote address at a meeting on corporate social responsibility in Kampala last week.

Source : The Observer

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