CSR S.O.S.

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on July 8, 2009

How fares c in this time of economic and political uncertainty? For the answer to that question, join this year’s annual CSR expo and conference tomorrow and Friday (July 9-10). The theme for this year’s conference, appropriately, is “Business Unusual: Skills, Opportunity, Sustainability,” or S.O.S. Raising the S.O.S. will be top executives from Philippine and multinational corporations, CSR authorities from here and abroad, journalists and non-government organization officials.

The conference, which will take place at the SMX Convention Center, intends to focus attention on economic development that demonstrates economic democracy, or greater and more dignified quality of life for the majority of Filipinos who struggle to feed and educate themselves. William Kramer, a featured speaker, is the founder and president of the Global Challenge Network (GCN), whose mission is to “create environmentally sustainable, equitable, and inclusive growth. Sustainability challenges are today’s most critical business issues and main political issues,” according to the GCN website.

Kramer is also a co-author of “The Next 4 Billion,” a seminal perspective on sustainable development that has provoked international debate, and he was instrumental in setting up www.nextbillion.net, a leading blog focusing on issues of business engagement and low-income populations. An accomplished publishing executive over a 30-year career, Kramer will speak on successful business strategies that benefit the various levels of the population pyramid, especially its impoverished base.

Also speaking during the morning of July 9 are widely admired Philippine executives Tony Tan Caktiong, chairman and CEO of Jollibee Foods Corporation ; Federico Lopez, CEO of First Gen Corporation ; and Annie Garcia, president of SM Supermalls. Each will present real-life business cases for CSR meant to uplift the low-income populations Kramer describes.

Mr. Tan is expected to discuss the challenges he and his associates faced when they decided to take on a giant multinational and transform a small ice cream parlor into a multinational enterprise in its own right. Now, Mr. Tan is helping aspiring entrepreneurs emulate his success and make important contributions to the capacity of the Philippine economy to create jobs and generate wealth for greater numbers of people.

Where Mr. Tan is passionate about entrepreneurship, Mr. Lopez-known as Piki by his friends and colleagues-is passionate about green energy and sustainable development. In conversations I’ve had with Mr. Lopez, it’s clear that he believes sustainable development depends on the intensity of the buy-in by local communities. First Gen and its subsidiaries work with local communities to develop livelihood programs that provide increased personal income while contributing to preservation of the environment.

Like Messrs. Tan and Lopez, Ms. Garcia will provide insights into how SM Supermalls is helping low-income Filipinos access opportunity. Producing a product is one thing. Getting it in front of potential customers is quite another, and very expensive, undertaking. That’s where SM Supermalls comes in, according to Ms. Garcia. The company helps small enterprises and entrepreneurs by providing access to markets. Just as important a lesson, though, is acquiring the discipline to participate in a modern supply chain. These enterprises must deliver on time, in agreed to quantities, and with strict quality control processes in place. That is sustainable development, not mere charity.

The conference also features a presentation by Biog Tomás Sercovich, corporate responsibility executive for Business in the Community Ireland, a partner to CSR Europe, a leading EU business network for CSR. Mr. Sercovich specializes in a rather broad range of CSR dimensions, including measurement of stakeholder impact and CSR performance, communication of corporate responsibility initiatives, and corporate responsibility among small and medium sized enterprises.

The objective of his session according to the League of Corporate Foundations (LCF) officers is to “lay the groundwork and engage the business community towards crafting a Philippine CSR vision.” LCF organizes the CSR conference. To lay the groundwork for that vision, the organizers are relying on the perspective and experience of Mr. Sercovich and other speakers for insight. Mr. Sercovich will be joined by Dr. Jun Uriarte, executive director for the ASEAN Foundation.

“We hope to learn from the experience and plans of CSR Europe, which is crafting the ‘Responsible Enterprise 2002’ roadmap,” the LCF organizers say. They will also be looking at work the ASEAN Foundation has done, which has taken important steps towards the formation of a regional network for CSR. As in the case of the EU, it’s becoming clear in Asia that prosperity and development can’t be sustained unless it runs deep.

The second day of the conference will also feature breakout sessions with specific focuses. I will be participating in one of them, “Communicating CSR in a Digital Age.” My role is to provide an overview of social network marketing. See you there.

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